The Bridge River Valley is a sparsely populated area of lakes, valleys, abandoned towns and near-ghost towns in the mountainous region between Pemberton and Lillooet. Rich in history and often dazzling scenery, it offers many hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and mountaineering opportunities.
The valley is mostly wilderness with a couple of settlements and a number of lodges clustered near the upper end of Carpenter Lake. The main settlements — Gold Bridge, at the western end of Carpenter Lake, and Bralorne, about 15 km south of Gold Bridge — are very small with 50-100 people each. They are the service centers for the valley with a limited selection of accommodation and restaurants.
Although there aren't many people in the Bridge River Valley these days, it wasn't always that way. The Bridge River area was once British Columbia's main gold mining region, producing over $370 million of ore. During its heyday, from the 1930s to the 1950s, over 10,000 people lived in the region. The productivity of the mines declined, and by the early 1970s, they were all shut down, leaving the abandoned mineshafts and townsites behind.
As the mines declined in importance, hydroelectric development grew in prominence. The Bridge River is dammed in three places, creating the two reservoirs that dominate the valley: Carpenter Lake and Downtown Lake. The dams are estimated to provide up to 8% of British Columbia's power. One of these dams, Lajoie Dam, is about 3 km upriver from Gold Bridge; the other 64 km east forms Carpenter Lake, which did not exist beforehand.
The main draw of the region today is its recreational activities. There are many trails in the area for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking providing the quintessential B.C. panorama of snow-capped mountains, forest-clad slopes, glacier-fed lakes and alpine meadows. In the winter, it's popular with snowmobilers.
The Bridge River Valley's climate is generally warm and sunny in the summer and cool and wet in the winter, though much drier than areas toward the Coast. Daytime highs typically reach the mid to high 20s (Celsius) in summer with below zero temperatures December to February. Snow is common from November through March. Compared to Vancouver, it is warmer in summer, cooler in winter and much drier throughout the year. Alpine areas receive crisp powder snow and lakes freeze in winter.
- 1 Bridge River Valley Economic Development Society, 104 Halymore Ave, Gold Bridge, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Has a selection of tourist brochures and maps of the region.
There are two ways to access the Bridge River Valley by car, but neither is for the faint of heart. The easiest is from Lillooet, via the Carpenter Lake Road (also known as the Lillooet Pioneer Highway and Route 40). The scenery is outstanding with deep rocky canyons and the turquoise waters of Carpenter Lake, but the road may not be for everyone. It hugs every bend in the landscape, is frequently narrow with no guardrails and there are intermittent gravel sections. The distance from Lillooet to Gold Bridge is 100 km, taking 1½–2 hours. If driving from Vancouver, it will take 5–6 hours. At Terzaghi Dam, which forms Carpenter Lake, the Mission Mountain Road leads to Shalalth and Seton Portage via a mile-high pass with extreme descent and switchbacks on the south side; from there a former powerline road leads to D'arcy and back to Highway 99 at Pemberton via the Gates Valley.
A faster but rougher alternate route into the valley from Vancouver during summer is the Hurley — or more formerly, the Hurley River Forest Service Road — from Pemberton via a cleft in the mountain range known as Railroad Pass (once surveyed as a possible route for the CPR). Designed for logging, the road is gravel with ruts and rocks in some areas and is best traversed with a high clearance vehicle (normal 2WD cars can handle the trip if the driver is comfortable with those road conditions). The Hurley isn't plowed in winter, so it's generally only open June to October. The distance between Pemberton and Gold Bridge is about 80 km and the drive from Vancouver is 3½–5 hours.
Tyax Air operates a floatplane service between Tyax Resort and Whistler or Vancouver. It's very scenic in good weather but an expensive way to get in and only useful if staying at the Tyax Resort. $1000 from Whistler, and $2000 from Vancouver one way.
A car is needed to get around the Bridge River Valley. The distances are large and there is no public transit.
The main thoroughfare is Carpenter Lake Rd. There are many gravel roads and forest service roads that lead to hikes, lakes, lodges and various other points in the valley. Some roads reach the high alpine or roadheads giving access to the high meadows which typify many of the ranges flanking the basin.
When hiking or mountain biking or ATV'ing, be aware that wildlife in the area can be dangerous. Both grizzly and black bear are common.
- Bralorne is an interesting place to walk or drive around, a curious fusion of old-time mining town and modern updating. Many of the buildings have a temporary Western boom town kind of feel to them, but without the grand facade seen in Western movies. Rundown houses with tin roofs are interspersed with freshly painted houses sporting bold colours. The old Pioneer Mines headquarters captures this spirit well, with its gleaming white exterior and fresh artwork inside that blends with but doesn't hide its faded past.
- 1 Bradian, Pinecrest Lane & Pioneer Highway (follow the Pioneer Highway about 2 km south of Bralorne). Bradian is an old "suburb" of Bralorne, established as a mining town in the 1930s and abandoned when a nearby mine closed in 1971. A Chinese real estate group purchased the town for just under $1 million in 2015. Many of the abandoned houses are still there, in remarkably good condition.
- 2 Bralorne-Pioneer Museum, 400 Hawkes Ave, Bralorne. F-Tu 10AM-4PM. Learn about the Bridge River Valley with displays on the history of the valley, its mines and the towns. Outside is a collection of restored old equipment from the mines and Bralorne's past. $4.
- 3 Minto City (Minto), Carpenter Lake Rd (accessed from the Gun Creek Campsite). Minto was a mining company town on the Bridge River that was flooded and mostly abandoned after a flood in the 1950s. It had been a "self-supporting centre" during the World War II relocation and internment of Japanese Canadians. The town was fully submerged by a diversion of the Bridge River by the Terzaghi Dam into Seton Lake, via a tunnel through Mission Mountain. This diversion formed Carpenter Lake. When water levels are low in late fall and winter, the remains of Minto emerge from the lake and people can explore what is left of the town, namely its street grid as nearly all structures and foundations are gone. During the summer, it provides a good spot to launch canoe/kayak or just take in the view. A very small Burning Man-type event, the Cascadia Burn, takes place every summer at this spot.
- There are many hiking trails in the area. These include:
- Gun Lake (to Mount Penrose)
- Kingdom Lake and Noel Lake - above Bralorne, spectacular crags overhang both lakes, a trail connects to Brexton/Fish Lake. Trail continues via Fish and McDonald Lakes to Gold Bridge
- Greenmount (the foresummit of Mount Sloan, the Matterhorn-like summit west of the Gold Bridge-Bralorne Road)
- Eldorado Mountain (immediately northwest of Tyaughton Lake)
- Spruce Lake, accessible both from Tyaughton Creek and via Hummingbird Pass from Gun Creek
There is a general store in Gold Bridge with a small selection of supplies.
- 1 Gold Bridge Hotel, 6 Ferguson Ave, Gold Bridge, ☏ .
- 2 Lone Goat Coffee, Pioneer Highway, Bralorne (inside the Pioneer Mines Motel), ☏ . F-M 10AM-4PM. Serves up coffee (espresso drinks) and tea with a selection of gourmet baked goods and paninis. Also offers local and imported art, handicrafts and gifts. Cafe space is decorated with wall murals and interesting, unique decor. Wi-Fi is available and is free with purchase. $2-6.
Coffee is available at the Lone Goat. Drinks of the alcoholic variety are served at the Gold Bridge Hotel and the Mineshaft Pub. Alcohol can also be purchased from the Gold Bridge General Store.
There are a number of campgrounds with limited facilities in the area.
Motels are fairly scarce and don't expect luxury. The Gold Bridge Hotel (see Eat section above) also offers rooms during the summer for $70–100 per night.
- 6 Mines Motel, 3600 Pioneer Highway, Bralorne (corner of Dirks Place & Pioneer Hwy, check-in is at the Mineshaft Pub). $70-100.
- 7 Pioneer Mines Motel, Pioneer Highway, Bralorne. $40/night cash.
- 8 Tyax Lodge, Tyaughton Lake Rd (8 km down Tyaughton Lake Rd, follow the signs from Route 40), ☏ , toll-free: , fax: , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Log frame resort with 29 resort rooms, a lakeside chalet and lakeside campground. The front lawn provides views of Tyaughton Lake and has beach volleyball, lawn chairs and ample space for just relaxing. There is also a private dock with free canoe and paddleboat rentals. The campground has electrical hook-ups and campers can use the shower facilities in the lodge. $192-203 in high season (lakeside resort rooms), $20-30 for campground (tent/RV).
- Morrow Chalets
There is no cellphone reception in the Bridge River Valley.
The Mineshaft Pub has two computers with free Internet access. Printing is available for 10 cents per page.
More hiking and biking trails are available at the Southern Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park. The park is accessed by hiking or biking in from trailheads along the Slim Creek Forest Service Rd at Gun Lake. Alternatively, the Tyax Lodge will fly visitors into the park for a fee.