Chilliwack Lake Paddle

  • Launching: Chilliwack Lake Boat Ramp
  • Parking: day use parking lots
  • Launching type: pebble beach and concrete boat launch
  • Difficulty – easy in the morning, but cold water, wind, and boats pose a hazard
  • Boat traffic – motor boats and water skiing is allowed here
  • View – majestic views of snowy mountain peaks, making this one of the most scenic lakes accessible by 2 wheel drive passenger cars in the Lower Mainland
  • Facilities – parking lot, pit toilet, pebble beach
  • Overall score – 8/10

One of our primary targets of camping at Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park is paddling the beautiful Chilliwack Lake. I booked campsite P26 in the busy Paleface Loop precisely so that I can get to the lake as easily as possible.

On the first morning of our trip, I got up bright and early at 5am.

I like super early morning paddles when we are camping near paddling destinations because it’s usually the most peaceful time on the water both in terms of people and wind, and the boys are happily sleeping for another 2-3 hours. For this to work, I try to book a site within walking distance to the water. I like leaving the car at camp in case Tina needed to grab something from it. Besides, if I drove away to paddle and left Tina and the kids at camp, psychologically it feels a lot further away than if I just went for a morning stroll and just happened to find myself on the water for a couple hours.

The morning was a chilly 5 degrees and the water was probably around 3-5 degrees (it’s glacial-fed, after all). I prepared my kit which included my dry suit, PFD, dry bag, water proof walkie-talkies, neoprene boots, gloves, dry bag for my cellphone, glasses leash, and a dry bag with extra clothes.

Walking from our campsite was a very easy downhill walk for probably less than 200m. When I reached the lake, I had to take a few seconds to enjoy the tranquility. I had the whole lake to myself.

Chilliwack Lake, looking south from boat ramp with Northern Cascade Mountains in the background
Same view, zoomed out.
High water levels at the lake means not much beach area

I launched at 5:45am and did a small clockwise loop.

Chilliwack Lake is an elongated oval about 9km in length, oriented in the north-south direction, and just over 1km in width. The boat launch is right in the middle of the northern shore. The outlet of the lake is near the north western edge, fairly close to the boat ramp, where water flows strongly into Chilliwack River. It’s been described that careless boaters getting too close to the outflow have been known to be pulled into the river which is obviously dangerous.

I admired some private residences near the northern shore of the lake thought imagined how challenging and yet idyllic it would be to live here.

I paddled out for a little bit, and the late night and early morning rise caught up to me. I felt a bit sleepy, so I simply lied down on my paddleboard, with the dry bag being my pillow, and let the gentle waves rock me to a quick snooze. I figured that I was close enough to the shore to be safe from boats.

After a few minutes, I got up, re-oriented myself on the lake, and continued the small loop. All told, I paddled about 6km, which is about 30% of the total circumnavigation distance (about 20km). With the shape of the lake being such a smooth oval, I think I’ve seen most of the lake’s views from my short paddle.

Chilliwack Lake looking north, at Williams Peak

Just after 7am, motor boats start arriving on the lake. No crazy stunts, just early-bird fishermen quietly going to their favorite spots.

We came back in the afternoon with the kids, and it’s a totally different scene: the crowds have arrived. With the lake water level being high due to fast spring melt this season, the beach area was shrunken down to little pieces of broken peddle beaches. That didn’t deter the water lovers though, as there were many paddleboards and inflatables on the water.

I took the kids for a spin, including Baby Bro. I found that frequent short exposures is better than one long paddle session for getting them comfortable on the board.

I didn’t run into much wind this afternoon, but I’ve read reports that northerly winds in the afternoon can pose a significant challenge to get back to the launch site. If one stays close to the northern shore near the launch site, the foliage and mountains probably provide enough of a shelter so that the winds aren’t too big of a deal. But if you are stuck in the middle of the elongated lake, for example attempting a full 20km circumnavigation which can take 4-5 hours, be prepared to content with strong head winds with little shelter.

Overall, the paddle was quite magnificent. There’s something about big, snowy mountains that elevate the views of the entire area. However, the 140km drive from Vancouver is quite daunting for a day trip. If you are able to tag this paddle onto a camping trip though, this makes for a very wonderful weekend.

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