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  • Writer's pictureRacquel Foran, Publisher

Off Grid with Van Helen

It was time to take the old girl out on her first vanventure; she (and our destination) did not disappoint.

View from our campsite at Bear Creek Campground - Harrison Lake in the distance.


The process of getting Van Helen inspected and insured was frustrating. We were eager to take her out for our first vanventure. Unfortunately, Jim's last day of summer holidays arrived before we got everything settled. And, when we finally started looking for destinations to visit we quickly realized that camping/RVing was the thing to do this summer. Our go-to destinations - BC Provincial campgrounds- are all booked solid until at least mid-September, and we haven't quite decided if RV parks are the way for us to go. This forced us to do a little more research to find our kind of destination. That is, forested, near water, and quiet.

Jim and I are not new to camping. We tent-camped nearly every year from the time our oldest was five until she was 20. We frequented Provincial campgrounds because they usually offered everything we were looking for, which was more or less the same back then as it is today.

After a little digging I finally found a great resource for finding campgrounds in BC. I'm almost a little afraid to share it as I hate to see these campgrounds become overcrowded. But most take a bit of effort to get to, so I think only serious and respectful campers will make the journey. So for a complete list of campgrounds, recreation sites, and trails around BC visit the Province of British Columbia's Recreation Sites and Trails BC website.

Because we were only heading out for a couple of days, we didn't want to spend more than two hours or so driving to our destination. We decided to focus on the Harrison Lake area. (For those not familiar with British Columbia you can learn more about the area here.) One of our favourite spots to camp in the past was Hicks Lake in Sasquatch Provincial Park. And our research on the recreation sites' website revealed two recreational sites off the Harrison East Forest Service Road. (There is actually a third, Cogburn Beach, but it is tent only). Our plan was to head out early morning on Sunday, August 15 in hopes we would catch someone leaving the Hicks Lake campground. If this failed, we would take our chances and head down to the recreational sites.

We were grateful we had a backup plan because when we arrived at the entrance to Sasquatch Provincial Park we found Park Rangers turning cars away. Not only were the campgrounds full, but so too were all the day use facilities - it was only 10:30 a.m.! We were, however, permitted to pass to access the recreation sites via the forest service road. The information on the website said that the road was okay for two-wheel-drive vehicles; it was 11 km to the first site, Cascade Peninsula, and 15 km to the second, Bear Creek. If both sites were full, there was nothing beyond the second site and we would have to turn around and make another plan.


We quickly discovered that not all information is as informative as it should be. A 15 km drive down a forest service road that was labeled appropriate for 2-wheel drive vehicles sounded manageable, the reality was a little more intimidating.

(Visit our Road Condition page for a complete road review.)


When we came upon Cascade Peninsula at the 11 km mark, the sign at the entrance said the campsite was full so we carried on to Bear Creek. When we arrived there, that sign also indicated the campsite was full. The driveway down to the site was steep with a hairpin curve; I was not confident the van would make it back up if we went down. But we could clearly see RVs that were much larger than Van Helen, so we figured we were safe and ventured down to see if luck was on our side.

When we came down the hill we were met with pylons and a sign stating that the campground and day use facilities were full, and that there was no access for turnaround. We sat in our van staring at the signs, wondering what to do next. I guess we sat there long enough that the campground manager came lumbering out from his site to see if he could help us with something. We asked if he happened to have any sites available that could accommodate Van Helen. And guess what, luck was on our side, he had two spots. A shady one in the forest next to him, or a sunnier spot around the corner. We chose the sunnier spot as it backed directly onto the river that flowed a few hundred meters downstream into Harrison Lake . (The photo in the opening was taken from the edge of our site.)

One thing about traveling around British Columbia is that I tend to overuse the words beautiful and paradise when describing the various destinations. And here I go again. Bear Creek really is a little paradise.

Read our blog 'Beauty Found at Bear Creek Campground' for insight into what we liked about this site.

(Visit our Campgrounds page for more information about the site.)


Tent camping back in the day with three kids, and two or three dogs was not an easy undertaking. Looking back, I seriously wonder how I did it. Prior to purchasing Van Helen we had never owned a tent trailer or RV. We did have a pick-up truck for a short time, but it never had a camper. We used to strategically load all the bins, coolers, tents, and other gear into the back of the truck, leaving a space just big enough by the back cab window for our dog to stand there and stick his head inside the cab. It was a real feat of puzzle fitting!

It was also A LOT of work! Prepping would take two days; one day of planning and shopping, and a second day for prepping food, packing and loading the truck. It would take another entire day to drive to the campsite and set-up camp. And then two to three more days to tear-down, drive home, unload, unpack, clean everything up and put it away. Seriously a tonne of work for 4 to 5 days of camping. I truly enjoyed camping, but it was particularly exhausting for me. I thought having the camper van would make things easier...

Van Helen did make some things easier, but it still took more or less a whole day to prepare and pack the van, and another whole day to unpack, clean everything, and put things away again when we arrived home. However, I have to admit that one reason it takes me a little longer is because we like to eat well when we camp, this takes extra prep time at home. (Visit our Foodstuff page for our meal menu on this vanventure.)

The biggest time savings in having the van were in setting up the campsite. Everything did not have to be unloaded from the van, we did not have to pitch tents, nor did I have to build a makeshift kitchen for myself. This meant we could pull up and start relaxing more or less immediately. Thanks Van Helen.


There is no water, electricity, sewage, or cell phone service at Bear Creek. It is a groomed campground and there is an outhouse, but it is off-grid camping. This trip was also meant to be a test of our equipment, and a lesson on how to ration things like water, 12 V electricity, propane and the generator fuel. The biggest challenge we faced was with our refrigerator. It operates by propane, 120 V electricity, or 12 V battery. When off grid the 120 V is not an option, and we discovered that the 12 V doesn't generate enough power to get the fridge very cold. In this situation propane is the way to go, unfortunately we are having problems with the starter button on the fridge. We had to drive into the town of Harrison Hot Springs on Monday, and we were unable to get the propane on the fridge going again when we returned to the site. Fortunately I had frozen our milk and and all of our meat, so they kept as well as helped cool other things in the fridge. But we were camping on very hot days, so we ran low on cold drinks.

We also recognize that we will have to be very careful with our on-board fresh water supply if off-grid. We don't actually know how large our holding tank is, that is something we hope Travco can tell us. We have an appointment next week with them to have our propane system looked at. We can get the stove working, and we were able to get the fridge working twice, but not since. We have not however been able to get the hot water heater to operate, nor the furnace. We are hoping it is simply a pilot light issue.


Another thing we are learning how to manage is our dogs. At home they are pretty well trained. We walk them off leash and they stay with us and come when called. We can also let them hang out in our front yard and they generally stick close to home. However, our oldest dog, Pepper, is almost 14. She is pretty deaf now and very much has a mind of her own. Our dog Jack is pretty good and usually sticks close to Jim, but if we stop paying attention she does occasionally wonder off which is stressful. And our pup Bowie is only 5-months-old, so he is in the training phase.

Fortunately none of them are yappy dogs and were willing to be tied to long leads, but to be honest they were a bit of a pain. Their lines got tangled, we couldn't just leave them on the site (a 5-month-old pug puppy is a heat score!); it was too hot to leave them locked in the van; and they had to remain on-leash everywhere, including the beach. Our dogs are used to being able to run free by the river, this scenario was difficult for all of us. One more thing we will have to continue to work to perfect.


For first outing, all in all I would say it was a success. We had a lot to learn and still do, but we lucked out and found a great spot, we didn't have any major crisis, and we managed, at the last minute, to get out of the city on a couple of the hottest days of the summer. We'll chalk this one up as a win!

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