Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Oh, Canada!

Spokane, on the eastern border of Washington, is a four hour drive from Seattle.  Vancouver, BC is only three hours to the north of Seattle.  Yes, it is quicker to go from Seattle to Canada than to the eastern side of the state.  So, grab your hockey stick, put in your Bob & Doug McKenzie tape, and imagine a fine cup of Tim Horton's coffee (with a donut, of course), while taking a literary/photographic trip up to the Great White North ...... eh!

The following is a summary collage of several journeys with a wheelchair across British Columbia: Several years ago, my brothers and I did a loop of the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island.  A couple of years ago, Ted and I drove our trusty Prius from Seattle to and past the Arctic Circle via the Dempster Highway. A year ago, we visited the town of Hope and its environs in the Cascade mountains.  We recently went skiing at Whistler, followed by a week on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.  And there have been many other trips to the BC mountains and forests.  Basically, we are Canada junkies and will cross the border any chance we get (suggestion: do NOT use this as an answer to the inevitable border guard question of "What is the purpose of your trip?"). 

This is most certainly not a comprehensive list; there is much more to explore, and I hope to keep working on that.  In general, facilities for people in wheelchairs -- including trails, hotels, and washrooms -- are great in southern BC, but they deteriorate with an increase in latitude.   However, and surprisingly, there are accessible trails all of the way to Prince George and beyond, and even in the Yukon.

Trail: Othello Tunnels

Location: Hope, BC
Distance: 3.5 km round-trip
Surface: packed gravel
Wheelchair: manual chair with third wheel or all-terrain chair
View: train tunnels, gorge with raging rivers and sheer granite cliffs, forest
Trailhead: parking lot for Coquihalla Provincial Park, off of Highway 5, about 12 miles northeast of Hope

This trail is the result of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s decision to connect the southern coast of British Columbia with the Kootenay Rockies in the early 1900s.  The trail is fantastic for wheelchair hikers.  Since it is an old railroad track, the grade is never steep.  The surface is mainly hard-packed gravel (the first tunnel has a large section of looser gravel, but it is easily passed with a third wheel).  The view is stunning – granite cliffs above and a raging river below.  The path is interesting – in 3.5 km (round trip) you pass through four railway tunnels (some long, so definitely bring a flashlight).  It can be closed for maintenance, so definitely check first.  

The Othello Tunnels trail is one of the most spectacular segments of the Trans-Canada Great Trail  -- the world’s longest network of recreational trails.  Construction of the 24,000 mile trail began in 1992 and now reaches from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic Oceans.  The network of trails is developed and maintained by volunteers and is made up of community trails and rail-to-trails. I don't know how much of this trail is wheelchair-accessible, but it seems to me that much of it must be, since the surface is usually paved or gravel and is listed as appropriate for cyclists.  I am especially interested in the trail across the southern BC mountains around Kimberly.  In fact, when I look at the map, I start wondering what the hell I'm doing sitting inside.

Location: Hope, BC

Distance: 1.5 km+

Surface: packed gravel

Wheelchair: manual chair with third wheel or all-terrain chair

View: mountains, valleys, wild flowers

Trailhead: parking lot of Cascade Lookout in EC Manning Provincial Park, off of Highway 3, about 40 miles southeast of Hope

Due east of Vancouver and less than three hours from Seattle, the small city of Hope offers an outdoor playground. We spent a half day hiking -- and then camped that evening -- in EC Manning Provincial Park, which (along with Skagit Provincial Park) is contiguous with Washington state's North Cascades National Park.

One afternoon, we drove to Cascade Lookout in EC Manning Park, where we were treated to sweeping vistas of tree-covered mountains.  We were able to enjoy these views from several points and directions.  There is a rocky dirt road from the parking lot that circles around the overlook.  We also went on the “Paintbrush Trail” – a wide trail of packed gravel, which follows the ridgeline, offering impressive views.  There were some steep ups and downs, so I was glad of extra assistance.  There are several trails in the park which may also be wheelchair-accessible, but I haven't had time to try them yet.

Trail: Inland Lake

Location: Powell River, Sunshine Coast, BC
Distance: 13km round-trip

Surface: crushed limestone and boardwalk

Wheelchair: power chair

View: lake, forest
Trailhead: Inland Lake Provincial Park 

I went on this trail with my brothers a few years ago.  Needless to say, we didn't travel the entire path.  But we did finish our hike with a welcome dip in the lake!  There are supposedly three cabins on the trail; I haven't investigated them, but it might make a great overnight trip.

Trails: Take it Easy and Monty's Way

Location Hidden Grove, Sechelt, BC
Distance: 400m loop & 800m there & back
Surface: "hard surface"
Wheelchair: manual chair with third wheel
View: forest with big trees, Salish Sea
TrailheadComing from Gibsons at the main traffic light in Sechelt turn right onto Wharf Road and then right after 600 meters to Sechelt Inlet Road. Follow Sechelt Inlet Road for 6 kilometres to the parking area and head of the trail marked along this road. 

I'd never even heard of these trails until I started writing this post, but now I have another reason to return to the Sunshine Coast.  The trails wind through125 acres of big trees, such as Doug Firs and cedars, with views of the Salish Sea.

Location: Ucluelet, BC
Distance: 2.6 km loop
Surface: paved and?
Wheelchair: power chair and all-terrain chair, depending on part of trail travelled
View: Pacific Ocean, rocky coastal headlands, mossy rainforest, lighthouse
Trailhead: Follow the signs in Ucluelet

The path is partly in a mossy, boggy rainforest and partly along the rugged Pacific coast of West Vancouver Island, with rocky headlands and scenic ocean vistas .  The trail takes you past Amphitrite lighthouse.  There are many resting spots to watch the waves, take photos, and enjoy the view.

Location: Ucluelet, BC
Distance: 1 km loop
Surface: dirt
Wheelchair: all-terrain chair with assistance
View: Big old trees
Trailhead: Park alongside Pacific Rim Highway about 3 miles north of Ucluelet and follow bike trail to signed Ancient Cedars trail.

After a forbiddingly-steep beginning, the trail switches to regular ups and downs, meandering through forest with giant cedars, also offering views of the coast.

Trail: Radar Hill

Location: Tofino, BC
Distance: .6 km there and back
Surface: pavement and boardwalk
Wheelchair: power chair
View: ocean, mountains
Trailhead: Radar Hill exit on Pacific Rim Highway south of Tofino. For the upper lookout, park in the first parking lot.  For the lower lookout, drive farther and park in the second parking lot.

During WWII and the Cold War, this station monitored the skies to provide advanced warning about long range bombers.  These days, hikers can look for a spectacular view .  Unfortunately, we had neither the time nor the visibility to do this hike.  Reminder: parking pass needed (kiosks sell them on site).

Trail: Shorepine Bog 

Location: Tofino, BC
Distance: 1 km
Surface: boardwalk
Wheelchair: power or manual chair
View: bog with dwarfed and stunted trees
Trailhead: Take the Wickaninnish exit on the Pacific Rim Highway and continue about 2km until you see the sign for the Shorepine Bog Trail.

I haven't actually done this trail either, but the description is intriguing -- whereas most of the surrounding landscape is rainforest, this trail goes through a dry bog.

Trail: Cathedral Grove

Location: Qualicum, Vancouver Island, BC
Distance: ?
Surface: dirt
Wheelchair: manual chair with third wheel or all-terrain chair
View: Big, old trees, gentle river
Trailhead: In  MacMillan Park25k west of Qualicum 

Beautiful grove of ancient trees, including Douglas Firs and western red cedars

Trail: Universal Access Trail in the Ancient Forest

Location: Ancient Forest, Prince George, BC 
Distance: 450 meters
Surface: boardwalk
Wheelchair: power chair
View: Forest of big trees, rushing stream
Trailhead: Midway between Prince George and McBride (113 km) on Highway 16

When driving to the Arctic Circle, we relied heavily on the highway guide, The Milepost.  We were a bit incredulous when we read about an accessible trail through ancient red cedars outside of Prince George.  However, we stopped there, and discovered that there was indeed a fully accessible boardwalk through the inland rainforest -- a hike that was both accessible and beautiful!

Location: Whitehorse, Yukon (Canada)
Distance: short
Surface: boardwalk
Wheelchair: power chair
View: Rancheria River and Falls
Trailhead: Post 1112.5 km on the Alaska Highway

OK, This one is not in BC, but it's right across the border in the Yukon.  That's right!  A fully-accessible trail in the Yukon.  Once again, The Milepost had an unbelievable entry about an accessible trail, and once again, I was skeptical but game, so we stopped -- only to be truly amazed -- a fully-accessible trail in the Yukon.  The trail is a boardwalk, designed for the physically disabled, that leads to two waterfalls on either side of an island that the Rancheria River wraps around.

Trails: Glacier National Park, BC:

            Hemlock Grove Boardwalk

                                Abandoned Rails

Location: Glacier National Park, BC

Distance: HGB 300 m
                 1885 7.2 km there and back
                 AR 2.4 km there and back

Surface: HGB boardwalk and paved
               1885 probably dirt and gravel
               AR probably dirt and gravel

Wheelchair: HGB power chair
                     1885 probably all-terrain chair
                      AR probably all-terrain chair

View: HGB rainforest
          1885 railway interpretive, forest, mountains
          AR forest, mountains

Trailhead: Rogers Pass, Glacier National Park, BC

First of all, I cheated; I grouped all of these trails into one entry, since they are all part of the same park, and since I am getting tired of the computer.  Secondly, I admit that I haven't done any of these trails.  We arrived at Glacier National Park on the drive home from the Canadian Rockies in the middle of the 2017 forest fires, and we could barely breathe the air, so we continued driving to Seattle as quickly as possible.  Thirdly,  I can barely contain my excitement while writing about these trails.  Imagine!  Three accessible trails all in one park -- not to mention, according to the website, a loaner all-terrain wheelchair available at an accessible campground (Illecillewaet Campground at Rogers Pass).  This place is definitely on the top of my list for the coming summer!

Helpful Links (in no particular order):

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