Typically, when camping, the campground itself is the destination. Be it on a lake or within a national or provincial park, the campground is crucial to an enjoyable camping trip. But sometimes the campground is an afterthought; a cheaper alternative to a hotel or, in some cases, the only alternative to a hotel. Such was the case when we visited Barkerville Historic Town & Park in the summer of 2017.
Barkerville is a fantastic pioneer village and gold rush boomtown (you can read all about it in my review here) that is located pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Options for accommodations are limited due to its isolation and with our intent to spend two full days exploring the place we wanted a place to stay that didn’t require us to drive all the way back to a hotel in Quesnel each night, a solid one hour drive each way. And it’s a hilly drive at that, which we eventually discovered.
Since this stop was part of a larger camping trip through northern British Columbia, camping as close to Barkerville as possible made the most sense since we already had trailer in tow. Thankfully, there are three campgrounds operated by the Barkerville facility all within 3km of the townsite. We booked ourselves a spot at Lowhee campground as it looked to be the most family friendly and was the only one with a handful of power sites. Hey, I’m a bit of a prima donna sometimes.
First impressions can make or break a business, and I have to admit the website for these Barkerville campgrounds didn’t give me much confidence. Information is minimal and the provided maps are simply black and white drawings that don’t reveal much beyond the layout and site numbers. Even Google satellite images left me wondering how bland this campground was going to me. It wasn’t the focus of this part of our trip but I sure didn’t want to be left camping in a barren dump.
As luck would have it, these digital resources didn’t come close to giving Lowhee campground its proper due. Don’t get me wrong, this is far from a destination campground. You wouldn’t go all that way just to camp at Lowhee. But as a place to set up home while visiting Barkerville Historic Town, Lowhee is a perfectly serviceable and arguably appealing campground.
For starters, it is far more sheltered than it looks in the aforementioned media. There are plenty of trees around giving some shade and reprieve from the sun, and during the hot summer months that is most welcome. Secondly, it’s a rather attractive and well-kept campground which my biases didn’t account for. Out here in the boonies, by an old mining ghost town, I was expecting either a rundown campground or one that hadn’t had much effort put into its creation and/or upkeep. I was wrong on both accounts.
Most of the sites are smallish but very private. They have a thick, level gravel pads to park upon with a large concrete, stationary picnic table plus a fire pit. This is your typical BC government setup at provincially administered campgrounds. Our 23’ trailer plus full-size SUV took up a fair bit of space and you’d be hard pressed to comfortably get anything bigger in these sites. Some are slightly bigger but not much. If you have a large camper I suggest looking into Forest Rose campground instead as it has some pullthrough sites (and a group site!) that might accommodate you better. There are also a few sites at one end of Lowhee that are more open for those who inexplicably like to bake in the sun like desert carrion.
Despite there being an office onsite (basically a mining doghouse), it has limited “open” hours and I’m not really sure why it’s there. You pay for the campsite at the Barkerville visitor centre when you buy your park entry tickets anyway, so again I’m not sure the point of the onsite office. There are both reservable sites and first come first serve sites. One site has water and power. Why only one, I haven’t the foggiest clue but it’s a fun, little quirk about the place. Half a dozen sites have power only, one of which we reserved for our stay. All the rest (including those at the other two campgrounds) have no services.
Two sites have small cabins on them. These were being used during our stay so I didn’t get an opportunity to peek inside one. They are very tiny, presumably with only room for a bed and small table. I’m not sure what is included with these cabins but they are cute alternative for those without trailers or tents.
As I mentioned, we chose Lowhee believing it to be the most family friendly of the three campgrounds and we were not disappointed. There are two modern, metal playgrounds for the kids to enjoy and ours certainly did. One is rather small and is located beside the bathrooms and showers and thus near our campsite. Our kids quickly made new friends here and were eager to rush off and play as soon as meals were finished. The second playground is nearer the entry and offers more equipment to play on.
Firewood is sold onsite, hey maybe that’s the purpose of the onsite office, and costs $10 for a large Rubbermaid bin’s worth. This is large cut wood so you’ll want an ax or quality hatchet to cut it into better sized pieces for fires. Of course, as I’ve mentioned many times, we were visiting BC while it was burning down and thus there was a province-wide fire ban so no fires for us.
A sani-dump is located immediately across the highway from Lowhee campground. There are two stalls, both in the same direction, as well as potable water taps for filling up your campers. Cost to use the dumps is $4.00 but the lids were busted and could be used for free. No telling when, or if, this will be remedied.
You won’t necessarily have to use your onboard facilities since Lowhee has a decent sized bathroom and shower building centrally located in the campground. It has flush toilets and three separate shower stalls accessible from the rear of the building. Showers cost $1 for about 4 minutes of water. These facilities are hardly 5 star but they suffice and are kept clean. Only the most finicky of campers will have any issues with them.
There is a large, hand pump hidden in the woods between sites providing delightfully cool, but a bit earthy, water to drink. The kids found this interesting and spent a few minutes pumping up fresh water for our hikes. I wouldn’t want to drink this water all the time though. The coolness was glorious, but the sediment flavour not so much. Treated, potable water is available from several taps located throughout the campground including right beside the bathroom/playground area. This water is indistinguishable from home tap water.
There is a nice trail that runs alongside the highway from Lowhee all the way to Barkerville. This 2 km hike is pleasant and, where shaded, comfortable. Of course, you will be walking around Barkerville all day too so you might exhaust yourself before having to walk back to camp. Other trails in and around Barkerville take you to Government Hill campground and the Barkerville Cemetery.
There are some geocaches hidden nearby as well, and we enjoyed a couple hours of hunting those down one afternoon. One such cache will take you towards Forest Rose campground, not via trail, and past an operational gold dredging company. It’s operational in the sense that it has a sign and vehicles and indications that it functions but nothing was happening during our stay. Nonetheless, large mining structures and rusted equipment, not to mention wholly moved waterways, will interest the kids and amateur geologists alike.
Our midweek stay was quiet. The campground was virtually empty when we arrived and neither night had more than a third of the sites filled. This was primarily a result of the forest fires raging to the south of Quesnel. During a normal summer I’m sure the campgrounds are far busier. How the atmosphere is during these times is unbeknownst to me. I’m not sure how regularly the campgrounds are patrolled at night. The office onsite is only open from 5 to 7 and outside of those hours I never saw anyone who remotely appeared to be “in charge”. This might be commonplace or a symptom of the low visitor numbers due to the fires. All I can say for sure is that if patrols don’t happen when the campground is full, this place could get a bit wild. That would be unfortunate. One family with two young girls camping near us was pretty loud our second night. Not past 11, mind you, though it was still remarkably late considering how young these girls were. If that experience was a harbinger of how Lowhee campground is when packed full of campers, I’d have been mighty upset. But, again, this is all speculation. Aside from the screaming, singing girls, our stay was terrific.
I’m going to give Lowhee Campground 4 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5. No, this is not a destination campground. You won’t be booking this for your family vacation next summer. But as a convenient, well-appointed spot to camp while visiting the fascinating Barkerville Historic Town & Park, it is ideal. We enjoyed our stay and were pleasantly surprised at what Lowhee offered both in facilities and modest beauty. And it sure was better than driving back and forth to Quesnel twice a day, a chore that would have been exhausting in hindsight.