Inland Lake delivers wild things up close

For a change of pace, we headed off with our kayaks in July for some freshwater paddling. Our destination was the area around Powell River, two ferry rides northwest of Vancouver, where more than a dozen lakes-all with well-developed recreational facilities-are easily accessible from coastal Highway 101. In this region, in fact, paddlers can readily combine the best of fresh and saltwater worlds.

We drove through Westview first and gathered supplies, then continued north, past Cranberry Lake, on the road to Haywire Bay Regional Park on Powell Lake. Although campsites at this heavily used park are theoretically available on a first-come, first-served basis, many Powell River families lay virtual siege to the best spots in summer, arranging with friends and neighbours to claim the same site at the same time year after year. Names carved on bits of wood and nailed to trees add to the campground's proprietorial air. The place was two-thirds full in midweek and, fearing what it might be like on the weekend, we retreated to nearby Inland Lake Park, which was practically deserted and more to our taste.

Inland, formerly known as Loon Lake, is about five kilometres long and sports a path that follows its entire 13-kilometre shoreline. There's one campground at the park entrance and another about three kilometres away on tiny Anthony Island, which you must hike or bike or paddle to and is connected to the mainland by a wooden footbridge. We paddled, and soon arrived at a miniature sand beach shaded by tall western white pines. Tunnels led through thick salal to peaceful tent sites with rustic picnic tables. Paradise. Apart from the occasional curious hiker or bicyclist, we had the place to ourselves.

Well, not entirely to ourselves. A kingfisher flashed past. Pairs of trademark loons called. Osprey nested close by, and beavers patrolled the shores. The park caretaker had told us about a "friendly" great grey owl that was hanging about the entrance, taking a keen interest in visitor behaviour, but we never saw it. We did, however, see hundreds of common garter snakes, which took to the lake as readily as the land. We'd encounter them hundreds of metres from shore, swimming strongly on the surface or diving underwater in search of aquatic prey.

The most amazing wild things, to me, were the tadpoles. They were everywhere. Unfortunately, most of them were bullfrog tadpoles-huge, spooky-looking things, 10 to 15 centimetres long, many already with hind legs. Bullfrogs are a non-native species in B.C., introduced in the 1930s by entrepreneurs hoping to farm them for their meaty legs. Now they're spreading rapidly, displacing (and devouring) native frogs and eating anything they can fit into their large mouths. I hope this species tastes good to the lake's loons and herons.

One of many grand things about Inland is the hiking. You can walk right around the lake on a flat, wide trail that in the good old days, when Inland was a BC Forest Service site (and the service was more than a mere facilitator for industrial forestry), met wheelchair standards.

In fact, the whole lake was a major draw for those with disabilities, offering special camps, log cabins, and long sections of railed boardwalk. All these features still exist, along with chain-saw carvings by Terry Chapman and a gorgeous pole created by Jackie Timothy of the Sliammon First Nation, though parts of the trail seemed a little too rough to me to be wheelchair-accessible today.

A more strenuous trek, which takes about two hours each way, connects Inland, via Lost Lake, to Haywire Bay. A short half-hour side trip from Inland's northwest corner supposedly provides a canoe portage to Powell Lake, though it's rough and steep. Powell is easily the largest body of water in the region. It's really an ocean inlet, like Jervis or Sechelt, now landlocked, and even has a thick subterranean layer of saltwater as proof of its former maritime lifestyle.

The best hike, and the most difficult, leaves Inland's eastern side and meanders through a pretty forest where we spotted red columbine blossoming and large clumps of maidenhair fern. The trail then ascends steeply through some spectacular old-growth forest to Confederation Lake, high on Mount Mahony. This route, and the one to Haywire Bay, are part of the 180-kilometre Sunshine Coast Trail, which stretches from the ferry terminal at Saltery Bay to Sarah Point on the tip of the Malaspina Peninsula.

Another fine feature of Inland is the swimming, perfect after an exhausting hike. There are islets to explore at the north end of the lake and smooth rock outcrops for sunning. Our original intention for this trip was to move on after one night and explore Lois and Khartoum and some of the other lakes that form part of the Powell Forest Canoe Route. Inland was too enticing, though; we ended up passing all our time there. I suspect we'll find an excuse to return to Powell River's unsung lake district for future investigations. At the speed we travel, this area will last us for years.

Andrew Scott's latest book is Secret Coastline II: More Journeys and Discoveries Along BC's Shores (Whitecap Books). The writer can be contacted through