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Camper van life on the Princeton-Summerland Road

An ascend to the end greets the last few kilometres of the Princeton-Summerland Road.

Summer is rare and long weekends in the summer even more so.

I decided to take my Mazda 5 minivan which has a a simple bed frame with these simple goals:

GOAL: EAT WELL

Chicken breast and steak cubes on a barbecue in Princeton.
Bread, avocado and steak fillets at a rest stop near Penticton.
Steak, peppers and rice on the Princeton-Summerland Road.

GOAL: SLEEP WELL

Between Penticton and Keremeos, a moonless, starry sky.
The view from inside the camper van. Good night.

The overarching goal was to explore the places that most Vancouver residents wouldn’t go. A 48-hour weekend escape from Vancouver. A camper van road trip with lots of adventure.

This time, I set out to explore the Princeton-Summerland Road. A road that takes you more directly to Summerland, rather than the roundabout way via the Crowsnest Highway and up Highway 97 (127 kilometres), The Princeton-Summerland Road is a 94km drive with about 37km being gravel. In total, I spent 48 hours out on the road, exploring, relaxing.

At the Cascade Lookout in Manning Park. Extremely picturesque and absolutely worth the eight-kilometre ascent.

Eating well was one of the goals of this trip. I find that when travelling, oftentimes, I was too much in a rush to eat, so I end up eating fast food or bread. This time, I brought a propane stove, charcoal barbecue and a cooler for preserving meat.

Barbecuing in Princeton. Surprisingly very little to clean up if you use disposable skewers.

I slept overnight in Princeton and it was surprisingly quiet. I expected passing trains to injure the peace of night, but there were none. Waking up at 9 a.m. the next day, I headed to Summerland.

Welcome to the start of the 94km journey.
Beautiful scenery dots the first few kilometres of the highway.
About 30km in, before the gravel starts, you’ll see three Recreation Sites — Chain Lake, Link Lake and Osprey Lake Recreation Sites — all of them cost $12 for a spot and are completely packed on the July long weekend.
Link Lake is a bit deeper into the woods with a single-lane gravel path taking you there.
Lunch time!

Soon after the Osprey Lake Recreation Site, the last of the three, you’ll hit a sign telling you that the gravel is starting. The quality of the gravel roadway was excellent when I passed through it on Canada Day 2018. There were few washboard sections and few potholes.  You’d be driving between 40-60km/h as roadway quality varies.

The start of the adventure. Will a city car with a low ground clearance, alloy rims and street tires make it?
Fantastic road quality. I’ve seen worse gravel roads — namely the Silver Skagit Road near Hope, B.C. in September.
An ascent with no shoulder. It was also one of the most enjoyable parts of the drive.
Along the way, livestock such as deer and cattle will litter the highway.

There is also one campsite just off the highway, about 26.5km from the start of the gravel section. It has a nice picnic bench and a fire pit. I stopped there and had a nap — a great pleasure of travelling in a van. In fact, I bought the Mazda 5 because it was the smallest minivan on the market, was the only minivan with a manual transmission and had a rear section that I could lie flat in. It’s a fantastic minivan.

Flashing myself in public.
A river besides the campsite gives you access to water and white noise.

The end of the gravel section comes suddenly. Suddenly, instead of brown, you’ll see grey. The drive also becomes a lot less exciting. You won’t have to dodge potholes, avoid washboard segments or deal with clouds of sand. About 10 kilometres are left in the drive, where you’ll reach an intersection where a sign will say the exact thing that you saw in Princeton, with a different font and colour.

According to my odometer, after 37.7km, the gravel ends and the asphalt starts.
In Summerland, this sign will tell you that your journey has come to an end.