With travel slowly getting back to normal this year, many tourists like to visit the hot spots of a destination. But I suggest to also check out small towns that are off the beaten path, to recharge from all the hustle and bustle. My favourite Canadian small town is Blue River, BC!
Blue River is inside the North Thompson Valley in Interior British Columbia, surrounded by the Monashee and Cariboo Mountains. Its nickname is “The Jewel of the Yellowhead”. 230 year-round residents call this town home, and the main industries contributing to the economy are logging and tourism. Moreover, this area is traditional territory of the Simpcw First Nations.
What to See and Do
Blue River’s main attraction is Eleanor Lake, right in the heart of town, so it’s impossible to miss! Here you can chill at the beach for a bit (and chat with a friendly local), go for a swim, canoe or kayak, or standup paddle board (SUP), or go for a walk on Eleanor Lake Trail around the lake. There are tons of nice walking and mountain biking trails in and around Blue River, such as cross-country ski trails, only minutes away from the beach.
Eleanor Lake beach, and having a blast canoeing on the lake!
But wait, there’s much more to do in this area! The Blue River Community Park is right next to Eleanor Lake beach, and it has a volleyball field, sitting areas with a fire pit (great for a small get together or BBQ!), and a playground is only a few steps away, too.
From the top left to bottom right: Blue River Community Park sign, volleyball field, sitting area, and playground.
If it’s your lucky day, you might meet one (or more!) black bear(s), that live in this area. They sometimes hang out near the train tracks across the street from Eleanor Lake, as one of their favourite things to do is getting high on grains falling off from trains passing through! Even though they look cute and fluffy, please keep your distance, to not startle these majestic creatures, and bring bear spray if you plan to spend time in the bush. Please check out this link, to learn more about being safe in British Columbia’s bear country. There’s other wildlife living in this area as well, such as moose, deer, eagles, cougars, and wolverines.
Another popular spot in the Blue River area is Mud Lake. But don’t be fooled by its name, as the water is of a spectacular jade colour! Same as Eleanor Lake, it’s perfect for many water activities, but with less people around you. There’s even a camp site, and if you have an ATV, it’s great fun driving up the trails close to this lake (we like Red Sands Mountain), and admire a beautiful view of Blue River and its surroundings!
On our way up Red Sands Mountain trail and beautiful Parberry Falls 💚
People like to go hiking and mountain biking on Blue River’s many trails in the summer. A great one is Green Mile, which grows to an elevation of 220 meters (721 feet), and it’s within a lush inland rainforest, with tons of cedar and spruce trees around you! Moreover, blueberries and huckleberries grow here each year, so feel free to pick some as a snack 🙂 You can find more details about these activities in Blue River here.
Murtle Lake is popular with both locals and visitors, especially because it’s North America’s largest paddle only lake! It’s a 24 km (17 miles) drive from Blue River on a graveling backcountry road, which starts behind the Blue River Campground. After you reached the parking lot, it’s another 2.5 km (1.55 miles) walk on a wheelchair accessible trail to the lake. Murtle Lake is inside Wells Gray Provincial Park, and with more than 100 km (62 miles) of shoreline, it’s the largest lake in the area. Some people like to spend the night at one of the 70 wilderness campsites around the (mostly sandy) shoreline, and enjoy the starry nights (you may even see the Northern Lights!). Unfortunately, no dogs are allowed at Murtle Lake.
Mystery Lake Recreation Site is also a great spot for adventure and tranquility seekers! Just get on to Highway #5 next to Blue River, turn left onto Blueberry Road, and drive for 10 kilometers. Make sure that your car is suitable for this (mostly) graveling road though! Not many people know about this gorgeous spot. If you’d like to spend the night and have experience with wilderness camping, there’s a free campsite for two tents, two picnic tables, fire pit, and an outhouse toilet, all only a few feet away from the lake. There’s a boat launch as well.
For any of these outdoor activities, I highly recommend to bring bug spray, as lots of mosquitoes live in this area!
Where to Stay
Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing. If you’re looking for a special getaway experience, I recommend staying at one of the cozy chalets (cabins) inside this famous heli ski resort! Room rates start at C$ 239 per night. The chalets range from two to six bedrooms, and all have en-suite bathrooms, a common area and kitchen, which is perfect for couples, families, or friend groups. Although the resort’s other amenities (e.g. the Main Lodge with the Powder Max Dining Room and Silver Buckle Lounge) are only open during the winter season, guests enjoy walking in and around the resort, and looking at the beautiful flowers! This resort is right next to Eleanor Lake, and the Blue River Motel and Saddle Mountain Lodge are a part of the Mike Wiegele operation, too.
Entrance to Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing, beautiful flowers inside the resort, and one of the chalet rooms.
The Blue River Campground & RV Park. This is quite a budget-friendly option, with basic tent sites starting at C$ 28 per night, and full service sites at C$ 43 per night. The campground is open from May to October, and has 52 tent and RV campsites, and cabins (starting at C$ 68 per night). You can also book one of their Canoe Trip Packages to Eleanor Lake, Mud Lake, or Murtle Lake (plus transportation, if needed). Outdoor equipment rentals, like canoes, stand-up paddle boards (with a cart or transportation), camping and fishing gear, and mountain bikes and cruiser bikes are available as well. There’s also a small store, laundry facilities, showers and flush toilets, sand area for small children, badminton area, free WiFi, and a log cook shelter with a BBQ and fridge for 20 people or more to use. You can also get trail maps from the campground staff.
The Glacier Mountain Lodge. This lovely hotel is right next to the Petro Can gas station, and is ideal if you’re looking for comfort, but don’t want to spend a fortune. They offer 35 standard rooms, with one Queen (with a couch), or two Queen beds, that range from C$ 92.00 to C$ 229.00 per night. Continental breakfast, an indoor hot tub, WiFi, free laundry service, and BBQ are available for guests as well.
The Sandman Inn. Same as the other places, this hotel is right next to Highway #5 (Yellowhead Highway), that goes through Blue River. It has one or two Queen bed rooms, and your furry friends are welcome, too! Moreover, seniors get a special rate at this hotel. Room rates start at C$ 129.00 per night, and free parking and WiFi are of course included.
The Glacier Mountain Lodge (left) and the Sandman Inn (right).
Where to Eat & Drink
If your stomach is screaming for food when you arrive in Blue River, head to the Grizzly Food Shack, which is right next to the Glacier Mountain Lodge. This tiny house style place has an outside sitting area, perfect on a sunny day (if it’s raining, just get takeout 😉)! You can choose between many types of burgers, wraps, fries, hot dogs, poutine, salads, and even breakfast! My favourite is the Portabella Veggie Burger on a pretzel bun, with greens, avocado, tomato, cucumber, cheese, and pickles. Lastly, the pesto spread and onion ring at the bottom are the bomb as well! They are open Monday to Friday from 8 am to 8 pm, and 11 am to 8 pm on Saturdays.
The Grizzly Food Shack from the outside and one half of the Portabella Veggie Burger 😄
Or you if you’re hanging out by Eleanor Lake, grab some food from the Don Forsyth Beach House. Their menu consists of burgers, hot dogs, wraps, fries, pop, ice-cream, and more! They also have a Veggie Burger, and it’s a great way to support the local economy, plus the food is prepared by lovely volunteers of the Blue River Community Association! They plan to open for the summer on June 25, 2022, and the Beach House will be open on weekends until the rest of the summer.
The Don Forsyth Beach House, Veggie Burger and Beach Burger, and onion rings. So yummy 😋
The Grill (or CJ’s Grill), a Greek restaurant and local favourite, is right next to the Sandman Inn. It’s open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the portions are quite large! Some of the breakfast items are pancakes, omelettes, french toast, eggs benny’s, and skillets. For lunch and dinner, you can choose between Greek dishes (like Souvlaki, Spanakopita, Greek salad, and Fratzolaki), but they also have pizza, sandwiches, chicken wings, ribs, steaks, fish & chips, stir fries, and much more! Take out is possible as well, but note that they don’t offer delivery. My favourites are their Cheese and Tomato Sauce Pizza with mushrooms and pineapple, and Spanakopita!
Unfortunately, the Saddle Mountain Restaurant is closed for this summer, but hopefully, they’ll reopen next summer!
For a drink after dinner, check out the Royal Canadian Legion, the only bar in town. Although a bit outdated, it’s a fun place to hang out, and they have some games as well (pool and darts on the wall). It’s currently open on Fridays and Saturdays only, from 6 to 9 pm (or later, depending on business). In the past, they had karaoke nights and dance parties (like for St. Paddy’s Day) in the upstairs part of the building, so hopefully, these can happen again sometime in the future!
Or if you prefer to cook your own meals, Blue River has a small liquor and convenience store called the Tilted Bear Liquor. They have a limited supply of groceries (e.g. fresh produce, dairy, meat, canned food, spices, and sometimes even vegan cheese)! There’s the Buy Low Foods grocery store in Clearwater, and a smaller IGA store in Valemount (both an hour away from Blue River) as well.
How to get to Blue River
Blue River is halfway between Kamloops, BC, and Jasper, Alberta (2.5 hours each way), and is reached via Highway #5 North (Yellowhead Highway).
Unfortunately, public transportation to this tiny remote town is very limited. The Thompson Valley Charters bus from Edmonton to Kamloops (and vice versa) stops here twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays from Kamloops and Tuesdays and Fridays from Edmonton). The bus always stops next to the Petro Can gas station.
Moreover, The Canadian operated by Via Rail stops here on Wednesdays and Saturdays (to Vancouver) and Tuesdays and Saturdays (to Toronto). But please keep in mind that this train is often delayed (sometimes even several hours!).
I hope this post has inspired you to visit Blue River sometime! In my opinion, it’s a welcoming and tranquil place to relax and recharge from city life!