The Hidden Gem of the Sea to Sky Corridor
If you have siblings, you may understand the feeling of someone close to you hogging all the attention. On the Sea to Sky Corridor Whistler is undoubtedly the center of attention, Squamish turns heads for its new-school flow and the North Shore is renowned for its old-school tech. Pemberton, although well known to many BC locals, remains somewhat under-looked despite its overwhelming opportunities for adventure. All the glamour and glitz of Whistler seemingly distracts us from the epicness found only 20 minutes north. Pemberton is just like a kid hanging out in the shadows of an older brother, once you get to know the place; you realize it’s equally spectacular in its own way.
First off, the views are staggering. You are in a valley surrounded on all sides by gargantuan beast of mountains with Mount Currie towering above the rest. All stress evaporates into the clouds as you start to comprehend how teeny-tiny we humans are in comparison to the vast nature that abounds. If giants roamed the land, they would feel small.
As Trailforks will tell you, there are 3 major areas to ride in Pemberton with countless trails. Actually, there are 5 areas listed online with a total of 132 trails to be precise. The nitty-gritty aside – there are A LOT of trails. Although I cannot attest to all 132 trails, I can honestly say the ones I have ridden are fabulous. The Mackenzie network seamlessly connects with the Mosquito lake area to provide an epic days ride. The climbs are long but manageable. They seem to get easier as you naturally perfect your cornering on the abundance of switchbacks on the Happy and Nimby climbs.
No Err, Overnight Sensation and Cream Puff are some of the most fun and iconic trails in Pemberton to name a few. Cream Puff’s legacy comes from its copious amounts of rock slabs. The trail is basically just one delicious rock slab after the next, after the next, after the next. Overnight Sensation also has tasty lengthy rock sections with a good mix of flow and technical steeps, and No Err is friendly and flowy.
Trails are generally well maintained by PVTA, the Pemberton Valley Trail Association and by PORCA, the Pemberton Off Road Cycling Assoication. However, in the summer, no amount of maintenance can counteract dry and dusty conditions that ensue from the unabating intense heat. In the hotter months temperatures become more difficult to ride in as they can rise up to 35 – 40 degrees Celsius. Having said that, the nearby Mosquito Lake offers a welcoming swimming hole to riders wishing to cool down.
The Water – Pemberton Lakes
After a long day in the saddle there is nothing more luxurious and revitalizing than a dip in a lake! You can ride to Mosquito Lake and jump in or stop at One Mile Lake on your way south out of Pemberton.
The Lillooet River runs right through the town. Although it might not be the best option to swim in, in the quieter section, you can throw in a canoe and gander at the majestic Mount Currie while you paddle.
Birkenhead Lake is an impressive lake that lies just north of Pemberton. Joffre Lakes Provincial Park with its aqua-marine, crystal-clear water rests to the east. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, Keyhole Hot Springs are less than 2 hours.
I’m all about bush camping but in Pemberton it really isn’t necessary. The sites are rustic and beautiful enough without having to trek off into the abyss – you are already immersed in the woods. Nairn Falls Provincial Park hosts a large campground on the southern boundary of Pemberton. Owl Creek, a little further north is much smaller with fewer facilities. Birkenhead Lake, just past Pemberton is a fantastic option if you have a boat or wish to rent a canoe or kayak.
There is only one bike shop in Pemberton, but it has everything you need – including extremely helpful staff. From brake pads to quality pedals and jerseys - the small shop is stocked to the brim with goodies. More importantly, the sales staff and technicians are eager to accommodate. While I was in town for the weekend, my brakes failed and they were able to get my bike sorted in a timely manner so I could get back riding.
Attached to the bike shop is The Pony, a quaint restaurant that perfectly encapsulates Pemberton’s natural, agrestic feel. You can taste the subtle hints of the local flavours unique to the surrounding farms.
For a small mountain town, Pemberton has a lot going on throughout the year. The most notable events being: the Nimby Fifty marathon race, the Pemberton Valley Music Festival and the Slow Food Cycle - where you meander from farm to farm tasting local treats.
Pemberton is simply delightful. I never tire of the trails, views, or culture. Although it is the last stop on the Sea to Sky Highway, it should not be the last on your list. Give Whistler’s not so little brother a chance - I promise Pemberton will bedazzle you.