“It’s like we’re living in a design magazine,” my partner says. And he’s not wrong: we’re staying in one of Sandpiper Resort’s new Woodland Cabins, and it truly feels like something out of Architectural Digest.
Located in Harrison Mills in the Fraser Valley, Sandpiper Resort is a hard-to-beat accommodation for anyone looking to escape the monotony of Vancouver for a weekend in the wilderness.
People often (understandably) think of the picturesque Gulf Islands when it comes to weekend getaways from Vancouver, but there is so much to explore inland, too. (Plus, there’s the added bonus of not needing to deal with the BC Ferries system.)
Only about two hours from Vancouver, the vast Fraser Valley is known for its farms and its natural beauty. Whether it be Agassiz, Harrison Hot Springs, or Harrison Mills, this area has plenty of delicious food, creature comforts, and genuinely friendly people.
Where to stay
You’ll be hard-pressed to find more luxurious and comfortable accommodations than the previously-fawned-over Woodland Cabins at the Sandpiper in Harrison Mills. Equipped with modern decor and amenities—including a standalone bathtub and electric fireplace—it’s a beautiful and peaceful place to cozy up. The star of this show, though, is the private outdoor soaker tub, which is made with natural cedar and fills with chlorine-free water. Pure bliss.
A short drive down the highway in Agassiz is the Fraser River Lodge, which is a popular place for a wedding (as evidenced by the party raging as we pulled up on an early Thursday evening). The Bison Hot Tub Suites have stunning showers that could legitimately house a family of four, and come equipped with a private outdoor hot tub that boasts amazing views of the craggy mountains—along with, of course, bison that live on the property. These giant creatures are truly awe-inspiring to see up close, especially while soaking in a hot tub with a non-alcoholic beer. Tip: make sure to book a reservation in The Lodge for breakfast, where the onsite chef will cook up a Fraser Valley feast.
There’s also The Lodge on Harrison Lake, which has private cabins complete with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the water. Waking up with this view sure is spectacular, though it’s worth a warning that the heating system takes a decent amount of time to kick in. Pack layers (or head to the onsite sauna to warm up).
Where to eat
On your way to or from the Harrison area, stop in Chilliwack’s District 1881 for a delicious meal at Bow & Stern. The tuna poke bowl is packed with edamame, avocado, radish, and pineapple, or there’s the halibut fish and chips for something a little more indulgent. The cured salmon gravlax with grilled sourdough and dill creme fraiche is creamy, light, and unforgettable. Make time to wander the adorable alleyways of District 1881 after, too—they look like a movie set, but they’re filled with real-life shops and breweries. Alternatively, stop at Abbotsford’s Loudmouth Brewing Co. for a flight alongside drool-worthy barbecue (go for the burnt brisket ends with all the fancy dips, and a side of waffle fries for good measure).
Whether or not you’re staying on property, River’s Edge restaurant at the Sandpiper Resort is worth a visit. With a cozy lounge and enclosed patio overlooking the onsite golf course, River’s Edge serves up elevated comfort pub fare, including delicious burgers, yam fries, and chicken wings—plus a shockingly fabulous dirty martini. Breakfast here is great, too, whether it be the homemade granola with Greek yogurt or the traditional breakfast with maple sausage and salty potatoes.
For something less adorned, there’s Kilby Cafe just down the street. Located at the Kilby Historic Site (a former 1900s homestead), it’s a modest eatery where everything’s made onsite—from the hearty sandwiches to the mouthwatering pies. The eavesdropping is great here, too. “I think she knows he’s an asshole,” someone behind me said. “Most women know when their husbands are assholes.”
In Harrison Hot Springs, satisfy any sweet craving with a stop at Rocky Mountain Chocolate. While this is a chain, each location is owned independently—and unlike many other outposts, this one makes almost all of its chocolate treats in-house. The dark chocolate almond clusters are nothing to shake a finger at, but the real winner here is the dark chocolate peanut butter cup. To wash it down with, head to the Green Star Cafe for what I’d consider to be the area’s best Americano (I tried many—you can trust me). And nearby, in the unassuming Secret Garden Cafe & Bar, you can find a show-stopping shakshuka: warming tomato sauce brimming with spices, sliced peppers, onions, baked eggs, and a side of chewy Persian flatbread to dip. You will not leave hungry.
Moving down the road to Agassiz, Sossy’s Saloon is a must for anyone who likes cowboy memorabilia, cheap drinks, and a healthy dose of kitsch. Happy hour starts at open (that’s 4:30pm), so if you need somewhere to hang until then, pop into the Agassiz legion. Here we encountered some of the friendliest folks—not to mention the cheapest beer at just $5.25 for a pint. We didn’t get a chance to try any of the food, but the two-piece fish and chips for a shockingly cheap $12 seems like it would be the move. “Take your time leaving and hurry back,” the bartender sing-songed as we left.
What to do
If you don’t count eating, drinking, and soaking in tubs or sweating in saunas to be the day’s major activities (respect), you can fill your time by taking a self-guided drive through the Circle Farm Tour, which has a lot of great suggestions for farms, artisans, and makers to check out. You’d be remiss not to stop at The Farm House Natural Cheeses, which makes all of its delicious products using milk from its own goats and cows. The goat gouda (plain, peppercorn, or rosemary) is a slam dunk.
For any bird-lovers out there, the fall is a great time to visit Harrison thanks to the sheer volume of bald eagles (the biggest gathering in the world, apparently). Whether you just head out for a walk (Sandpiper Resort has a complimentary viewing deck just a short stroll through the forest) or you take a guided boat tour along the nearly-60-kilometre Harrison Lake (Harrison Eco Tours has a nice offering), you’re sure to see an army’s worth of these beautiful beasts, who flock here every year for the feeding frenzy of the salmon run. There’s even an annual bald eagle festival if you want to really nerd out.
To get the heart pumping, there’s the Whippoorwill Point Trail, which is accessed right from the path around Harrison Lake. While not overly difficult, it does involve climbing up the side of a mountain with lots of slippery leaves and exposed tree trunks underfoot. I recommend not embarking on this hike with a fresh coffee in hand (do as I say, not as I do). In less than 30 minutes you’ll pop out at a beautiful secluded beach called Sandy Cove, lake water lapping at the shore.
More than just a pretty hike, the trail also holds significance as a historical walking route of the Sts’ailes people. Before colonialism, they lived on this land in a village called Qwó:íls and would take the Whippoorwill path by foot to access areas of Harrison Lake, the Harrison River, and the Fraser River that their canoes could not go. Harrison is also known to be sasquatch country, and while we think of the mythical creature as a giant, furry man-beast, the Indigenous people here believed the sasquatch could inhabit multiple forms. Either way, the lore gives the whole area a slight air of whimsy, which is something we could all use a little more of.