Kinbasket Lake Resort is unlike any campground I’ve ever been to or ever likely to go to again. Only an infamous stag in the wilds of Quesnel logging country comes close to this camping experience. There are those of you who will read this review and be chomping at the bit to camp here yourselves. There are those of you, I suspect many more, who will read this review and never wish even a single night’s stay at this place upon your sworn enemy. This is one of the greatest aspects of camping; there are as many different types of camping as there are different types of campers.
Last August (2014) after spending a good week camping in the Okanagan valley, we were headed back east toward Alberta and wanted a camping spot in the Revelstoke – Golden area to relax and rest up for the final leg of our summer vacation. We’ve camped in this area a few times for one night only and wanted to try a new place outside of towns in hopes of avoiding the inevitable train disruptions. Mountain camping in these parts is tricky with most civilization located along the TransCanada highway and its nearby twin, the CPR main line. Geology can be a bitch to development that way.
Preparatory investigation via Google, a particularly obsessive pastime of mine, led us to Kinbasket Lake Resort which fit our location desires to a tee, save for the ever present railroad issue. It looked a tad more rustic than we are accustomed too, but the views promised to be spectacular. Besides, while we aren’t back country tent campers, we fancy ourselves a little more robust than the typical modern camper with their 30’, triple axel, 5th wheel luxury mobile cottages. Kinbasket seemed like an ideal place to perhaps de-city-fy the kids a bit more than usual. So book it we did.
Upon our arrival we immediately realized that we were not remotely aware of what we’d gotten ourselves into. The access road to Kinbasket Lake Resort is actually five kilometers of gravel and dirt switchbacks taking you from the TransCanada down the side of a mountain more or less. This type of road is white-knuckle inducing at the best of times, what with the ever present threat of a giant, loaded logging truck meeting you around the next blind turn, but with a travel trailer in tow it was all kinds of stressful; like “where’s the Imodium” stressful. I can’t imagine what it’s like hauling one of those massive trailer setups I mentioned above down this road, particularly if it is raining. Then again, once you’re on this road you’re kind of committed to make it to the bottom. It’s not like there are driveways along the way you can turn around in if you change your mind.
This Is Not Your Grandparents’ Campground
If you’re lucky enough to make it to the bottom, as we were, it becomes apparent that Kinbasket Lake Resort is not your average KOA campground. This is a very rustic place. And certainly not a new development. The main office building, the bathroom buildings, and the rental cabins all look almost derelict at first glance. There are also hints of repair and rejuvenation throughout the grounds. Even after spending a couple days there it was hard to ascertain what exactly was going on with the place.
The sites are of random and varied shapes and sizes, almost indecipherable in a few cases while others have been combined into single, larger sites. Some are obvious tenting spots but most can handle up to modest sized trailers or motorhomes. Large trailers like the Alberta Specials I keep mentioned need to use “pull through” sites. Here, that basically means the trailer needs to be parked parallel to the campground roadway essentially across the frontage of the site. This struck me as an odd set up at first, but then I noticed that all these “pull through” sites had spectacular views of the lake behind then and I realized doing this makes for a rather appealing setup.
The site we had was in the middle of the campground and was nothing noteworthy with regards to view or amenity. It, like most of the others (nice views or otherwise) is essentially dirt. There are no gravel pads like at provincial parks or traditional campgrounds which means that good old-fashioned trailer leveling knowhow is required. This also means that tree roots can be a problem as was the case on our site. Like I said it’s rustic.
There is power and water at the so it’s not you’re just camping on a dirt clearing. The roads have gravel dressing. There are trees around but the campground is fairly open. Despite being located in logging country and surrounded by forest we are not camping in the woods. Some sites even have grass and some attempts at landscaping with young trees and shrubs. Cedars have been planted to separate some sites but many have died. There is shelter and shade from the sun if needed but still good site lines to the lake and windows to the sky which is nice.
The campground is tiered with some sites backing onto ‘cliffs’ along the lakeshore while other sites are right down by the water and boat launch. A few sites have truly spectacular views. Some are just shitty little tent spots that really offer nothing but a place to crash for the night. There is an extensive dock system built into the water for boats along with some canoes and boats but I don’t if these are for rent or use by campers. There is also a gravel boat launch with ample access for a substantial sized boat. No doubt with the launch and dock, water adventures are a big draw at Kinbasket.
A playground, comprise of handmade swings, tire swing, ropes and a large sandbox, for the kids to play on. It is pretty rudimentary stuff but also rustic and bulky and the kids seem amused with it for now.
The main office has a few snacks and essentials in a small glass cabinet as a “store” but you really should come here fully supplied. They sell wood for $8 a wheelbarrow load which is a terrific deal compared to the feed bag of wood purchased with those same dollars at most places. The firewood is cut right on site from full logs that must get delivered by the loggers working nearby. This is an interesting change from the norm and the kids find it amazing to get up close to such a huge log.
Kinbasket Lake Resort is east of the dry Okanagan valley and so campfires are once again allowed here which makes for happy kids and as such each site has a fire pit. You also get an old but sturdy picnic table.
The bathrooms have showers, stalls, and a urinal the likes of which would leave Red Green in tears. Showers are free and hot water is an on-demand system that only serves the showers not the sinks. Everything you need is here but it is very rudimentary and not especially aesthetic. The shower stalls are just that; stalls. The changing benches are in an open, non-private area beside the showers so if you’re bashful you won’t be showering here. It looks and feels like an old hockey rink change room and while that may not appeal to some it is certainly in line with the rest of the place.
Now before I irrevocably scare you away I want to take a moment to sell you on this place. The lake is truly a sight. Turquois blue as has become expected from mountain lakes, the resort is located near the southeastern most extent of the huge Kinbasket Lake reservoir created by the Mica Dam. The resort is located where the Beaver River enters the reservoir and there is a large, wooden logging truck bridge over the river which can be seen from the resort docks and easily walked to. The views from the bridge are spectacular, if a bit scary, as you are very high up above the water.
Surrounded by lush, tree covered mountains there is a lot of appeal to this setting though the mountains not quite the significant Canadian Rockies yet. Unfortunately, this being logging country, several clear cuts are visible from the campground. I’m not a rabid tree hugger but it does strike me as ugly seeing clear cuts from a wilderness campsite. The ambiance, admittedly false, of a rustic mountain campground should be unmarred by man’s industrial activities in my opinion.
The logging roads and railway nearby offer plenty of hiking and exploration opportunity. We chose to stroll down the rail right of way with the kids investigating the interesting metamorphic rocks on the rock face along the tracks. Hobby geologists will enjoy this adventure as there are lots of pretty rocks to view and sample. Just beware of trains, of course. Then again, even train enthusiasts will enjoy the opportunity to get such an up close look at a moving freight train.
Undoubtedly the primary appeal of Kinbasket Lake Resort is fishing (and presumably hunting). The big lake and rushing river offer plenty of places to fish and several campers were doing just that. We were simply camping but the entire feel of the place suggests that this is a destination spot for outdoors men and women alike. That being said, I imagine canoers and photographers could enjoy this setting just as much. If these are your favourite pastimes then I wholeheartedly recommend giving Kinbasket a try.
However, and this is a biggie, be prepared for terrible sleep while you’re there. Or make damn sure you’re able to sleep through World War Three. Logging trucks and freight trains are the twin towers of terror that can easily make your stay at Kinbasket Lake Resort a nightmare.
The fact you access the resort via a long logging road is the first, blunt hint that there might be large truck traffic nearby. Your instincts will not disappoint if you were to make such an inference. There is absolutely logging truck traffic here in regular intervals both day and night. Lots of it! You’ll hear the knowing sound of jack brakes as the trucks round the switchbacks and as they approach the bridge over Beaver River. There would be about an hour of trucks passing then nothing for a couple hours then trucks again. This cycle went on 24/7 disrupting sleep if, like me, you’re capable of hearing. The 3 a.m. convoy is a particularly heartwarming one.
This Is Not The Orange Blossom Special
Oh, but it gets better. You’ll perhaps recall in my Bow Valley Campground review my complaints about trains passing on the CPR main line across the river from our campsite there. Good lord that was a library by comparison. Kinbasket is located a short couple hundred metres from our good friend the CPR main line. In fact, at its closest proximity to the resort the rail line actually crosses the logging road complete with a fully equipped crossing of flashing lights and dinging bells. And as you are likely aware, when trains approach such road crossings they are required to blast their horns several times. Oh I can assure you that is a peaceful little surprise the first time it happens while you’re in the midst of a delightful fantasy dream.
The train schedule is sporadic but it to goes on 24/7. The first night we were there several trains passed during our sleep waking me up every time with the rumble of approaching freight and then the dinging bells and finally the blasts of the horn. I swear there must have been four trains in the span of an hour that first night. The second night was much better but not void of train traffic. The kids, miraculously, slept through it all but it drove me insane. This is by far the biggest detriment to Kinbasket Lake Resort and I’d be hard pressed to visit there again unless I am deaf (a not so far-fetched possibility).
Trains and trucks, trucks and trains, and then there are the good ole boys with their wilderness toys. And by toys I mean ATVs. God’s cruel sense of humour is never better displayed than when he makes Albertans rich. Rednecks show up with their giant trailer/toy hauler combos, new ATVs, dogs, and quad cab dually trucks and they aren’t there for a peaceful weekend of star gazing I can assure you. Then again it’s quite evident this resort is made for them. We were the outsiders. We left the next morning so have nothing but prejudice to go on with this statement, but I have a feeling that camper noise can get a little rambunctious at night sometimes. Call it a hunch, but after a good day of fishing or hunting or trail riding on ATVs (all three perhaps) I’m guessing these folks like to let off a little steam.
One final novelty of Kinbasket Lake Resort is the owner. Older hockey fans might recognize his name, Rick Chartraw, as he was an NHL player in the 70s and 80s winning 5 Stanley Cups (4 with Montreal and 1 with Edmonton). Rick is a gruff looking character, much like his resort in retrospect, but is incredibly friendly. He’s a no nonsense guy and this resort is his baby but he made us feel welcome and is helpful and a good host. He has a selection of pictures from his hockey career displayed in the main office which most Canadians will find of interest. Rick even brought out a Habs Stanley Cup ring for the kids and I to have a look at and take pictures of which was terrific. He’s probably pretty used to the fawning of hockey fans and it’s great that he does so with such good grace. I imagine he’d even be willing to sit around and shoot the shit with campers over a fire and some beers.
Overall, I think you need to be looking for a place like this. It’s rustic. It’s not comfort camping. It’s for sportsmen first and foremost but also for the more tolerant hiker and nature lover. It’s definitely not for folks looking to find a quiet vacation spot. I like it for the most part I just hate the trains and the trucks and the ATVs. I don’t need luxury camping and for what this place is the fact it has power and hot water and even a sewage dump is pretty nice. But the trains and the trucks just ruin for me. Sure the kids love to look at them but that is a short-lived treat. Otherwise they are just loud, noisy nuisances that ruin my sleep.
So how do I rate the Kinbasket Lake Resort? For me personally, I’ll give it 2 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. The noise was just too much for me and it ruined what is otherwise a unique, albeit rough, camping experience. For avid sportsmen/sportswomen and/or those capable of sleeping through trains and logging trucks and looking for an out of the way, rustic campground this place is fantastic and I’d bet they’d give it 4 or more Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. I’m just not that camper.