Canoeing around Lake Lovely Water in the Tantalus Range, Squamish BC

Canoeing Lake Lovely Water in BC's Tantalus Provincial Park

words by Emanuel Smedbøl

What if I said you could find a crisp alpine lake stocked with canoes and trout, views of craggy glacier-draped mountains, and a picturesque and publicly-accessible cabin... all only 60km (40 miles) from Vancouver and most likely without anyone else around?

The aptly named Lake Lovely Water is one of the best getaways in the Vancouver area. But it's also one of the best-kept secrets — hidden high up in the Tantalus Range above Squamish, it can be an adventure just getting there.

If you've ever driven between Whistler and Vancouver you're likely familiar with the Tantalus Mountains from viewpoints along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. They rise up like a wall on the western side of the Squamish Valley, rugged rocky peaks stacked with thick glowing glaciers. Squamish has a wealth of stunning mountain hikes, with Garibaldi and Whistler and the Howe Sound peaks only a short drive away, but the Tantalus Range has always been tantalizing out of reach. And ya, I'm pretty sure that's how it got its name.

The trail up to Lovely Water is steep and rugged, but the main impediment can be just getting to the trailhead across the Squamish River — without any road access you either have to boat or shimmy across on a cable with all your gear. Or, you know, just get yourself a friend like Alex Strohl who'll call around and wrangle a quick helicopter ride up. That works pretty good too.

There is free camping up at Lake Lovely Water, with tent pads near the trail and a little sandy beach on the west side of the lake. But one of the main perks of coming up to a place like this is being able to leave your tent and stove at home and stay in the cozy cabin.

Built and maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada, the Tantalus Hut costs $15/night for ACC members or $25 for the public. It has room for up to 20 people, and comes equipped with both wood and gas stoves, sleeping pads, and all manner of cooking utensils. And, most importantly, use of the canoes.

We were the first people up that year, so we brought fresh cabin supplies, cleared out all the mouse nests, unlatched the storm shutters, and hauled the boats down to the lake. The old fibreglass canoe was particularly heavy, and we struggled under its weight the short distance to the shore. We later learned that it was hauled by hand up the trail from Squamish! Incredible.

Chores done, it was time to get out and explore the lake. Tantalus is a popular spot for mountaineers, with numerous scrambles and technical climbs up into the surrounding peaks including Alpha and Omega, and even a traverse to the distant Jim Haberl Hut. But we were mostly there just to take the canoe out for a spin.

We paddled the sparkling blue waters, dipping into bays and scrambling out onto small islands, then made our way back to the beach to hike up the rocky creek to the Niobe Meadows. Still decked in early spring browns, the meadow was covered in a fine dust left by the recently receded snow... and yet we still found ourselves inexplicably drawn to taking a little dusty nap in the hot afternoon sun.

There is nothing finer than taking a canoe out on an alpine lake. We paddled the calm waters well into evening, the mountains towering over us, throwing the sunlight into sparkling rays. It's one of the quietest and prettiest little lakes anywhere, and our enjoyment only was only heightened knowing we could rest up in the cabin once night finally, reluctantly, fell.

Getting there:
Book the ACC Tantalus Hut: Ron Royston / 604.921.8164
Boat service across the river: Jay Bickwell / 604.815.9647
Or take a helicopter: Blackcomb Aviation / 604.898.1067