During snow-less months, endless traffic caterpillars the skinny and winding Trans-Canada (Highway 1) which snakes through the Rocky Mountains from Banff, Alberta to British Columbia. Besides the Highway Thru Hell, (Coquihalla – Hwy 5), which is the shortest land connection between Vancouver, B.C. and Edmonton, Alberta, it is one of the most dangerous stretches of national roadway in British Columbia.
A non-divided, two-lane arterial road referred to by the locals as a ‘goat-trail’, like most mountain roads in B.C., it can no longer keep up to the congestion of the speedy Albertan racing to B.C. to ‘kick-back’ for the summer or, commercial traffic transporting goods from once province to another.
The highway between Revelstoke and Salmon Arm B.C. especially, is an uptight, hair-pulling, nail-biting road I would caution you to avoid during the summer months of high tourist season. It isn’t an enjoyable route where you can relax and marvel at the spectacular scenery due to the incessant blaring of horns, road-rage, and semi-trucks riding your bumper so close you can see the drivers tired face-wrinkles in your rear-view mirror and spittle dripping from his chin as he angrily barks unheard obscenities at you.
Due to the sheer speed and the need to dodge the ‘red-plates’ (the color of the Albertan license-plate) attempting to over-take you in an impatient race for the three times more congested, lack of public access beaches of the Shuswap, you can’t even consider pulling over to get out of his way.
And if you do happen to use your knowledge of non-verbal, brake-light flashing to indicate you want to pull over and get out of his way, you would never get back on the highway, so there’s no point.
Don’t begrudge the drivers though, they all have a common goal on a skinny two-lane road, if you want to scream at someone let it be the Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure.
If one could hear the words spoken on held breath in every vehicle on this hum, drone and honking highway, it would be words of prayer – in hopes of arriving in the Salmon Arm/Sicamous area unscathed, in a personal vehicle and not an ambulance.
It must be worth the risk though, because every summer more and more tourists make this area their destination. They voluntarily, or perhaps even unknowingly, merge with the segments of the Highway 1 caterpillar and become a member of the road-rage culture to eke out and stake claim to a ‘simple piece’ of Shuswap sunshine and some over-shared grains of sand.
Bless your soul you’ve arrived safely!
Flop that towel down! Sit on it quickly and mark your spot by squiggling around until your bum makes an impression in the sand and never move because if you do you’ll need to relocate; a squatter is most assuredly ‘hawk-eyeing’ your spot and will pilfer it. I recommend you bring your own towel by the way, unless you want to pay $56.00 for one in Salmon Arm.
Ah … tourist season in the Shuswap!
A time for very deep pockets and much-needed patience as the road-rage carries over into everyday life, even after your car is parked. Whether it is the biting heat, greed to accumulate as many red-plate dollars as possible or seasonal over-population, you may soon discover you’ll be ignored in a restaurant if you are a solo traveller, swept under the table for the group behind you.
The Shuswap isn’t very dog friendly either; in fact most places don’t even allow pets or smoking on the beach – isn’t there a high-water mark law? – And there is nowhere to tent, park your travel trailer or motor-home for cheap or free, unless it’s in the mall parking lot. As a matter of fact, a simple tent site is over $50.00 plus tax per night and you will be so close to another you will hear your neighbor’s belly growl.
Do make note, a lot of ‘Good Samaritans’ in Salmon Arm, Enderby and Sicamous are on ‘community watch’. Be sure to obey all road signs as they will stop you in your vehicle, with their vehicle or by standing in front of you to reprimand you – no matter you are a tourist completely lost because the communities don’t seem to follow any specific type of city planning rules when it comes to naming streets or laying them out.
During this high season, no matter how you try you can’t seem to get away from people to find your own secluded piece of ‘beach-heaven’ unless you own a boat or rent one. You are in the house-boat capital of Canada and the beaches are many by water, but how to find them from land?
Lord help you if you are land-locked. They are inaccessible, unmarked and kept secret or, you have to pay to sit on one for the day.
When is the best time to visit and how can you find your ‘own’ private beach you ask?
When crickets cease to serenade and Mother Nature gently places an atmospheric duvet over the Shuswap, encouraging it to rest for the season with a layering of silky sheets of morning fog and the blankets of feather-like clouds she has scattered across the clear blue skies of summers end.
When frost begins to lick the deciduous trees turning their leaves yellow and red, when the lake water recedes and takes on a deep blue hue and the sun casts different colored shadows and the wildlife are on the move, it’s time.
When you begin to see more B.C. blue license plates than red, and the multitudes have rolled up their towels, shoe-swapped their flip-flops for cow-boy boots and set off on a new journey to endure hour-long highway line-ups as they head East toward their homes across the Alberta border, it’s time.
This is when the Shuswap beaches are the most enjoyable, accessible, peaceful and beautiful.
And even though it’s too cold for swimming or perhaps water-skiing (which you can enjoy at many other, less congested lakes in the area – or province – during the summer) it still begs to be explored.
During the autumn the lake recedes so much you are able to walk for miles and miles, hour upon endless hour to places the summer folk can never set foot. So I urge you to bring your tent, eke out an entire beach and enjoy a peaceful solitude you are hard pressed to find in this area from April to the end of September.
*The Shuswap has some of the finest beaches in British Columbia. They range from silky white sand comparable to that of the Caribbean, to pea-gravel and rugged-rocky you will liken to the West Coast of B.C. and, they are easy to find if you have the right map.
At my request, my daughter has created a map of Shuswap beaches that aren’t on private land, what medium they are composed of, active and in-active trails and accessibility; an invaluable resource for those adventurous spirits who like to explore, ‘off the beaten path’.
I will include a small version of it below but if you would like to buy a printable pdf which you can refer to and plan your trip, please email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).