Churn Creek Protected Area
Guide

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Introduction

Beautiful but unforgiving, expansive but almost completely undeveloped, Churn Creek is a destination for only the most intrepid RVers. Those who do make the trek are rewarded with a rugged landscape of canyons, rivers, forests and grasslands. The last of these - grasslands - is an exceedingly rare habitat type in British Columbia, and as such there are numerous protective laws in place at the park. A complex but delicate community of sedges, rushes, forbs, cacti and lichen offer habitat to prairie-adapted wildlife such as gopher snakes, Brewer's sparrows and sage thrashers. Along the ridges and canyon walls at Churn Creek, visitors can look for California Bighorn sheep and even mountain lions.

Using the pre-established network of vehicle and cattle roads, backpackers, bikers and trail riders may explore the far corners of this marvelous park, taking in sites few other visitors to British Columbia get to see. Photographers can set their lenses on unique landscapes, while hunters, in the season, can set their sites on mule deer, black bears and more.

Churn Creek does not have any designated campgrounds, per-se. A large parking area along one of the park's main roads has one pit toilet and allows for overnight stays. Most campers, especially those with RVs or trailers, stay there. No reservations are required at this remote, low-use park.

RV Rentals in Churn Creek Protected Area

Transportation in Churn Creek Protected Area

Driving

The roads to Churn Creek are rural and, in some places, rough. Drivers should expect a few steep bits, many sharp turns and, possibly, very slippery road conditions. The main access road through the park is the Empire Valley Road. This road passes the calving barn camping area and terminates at the Empire Valley Ranch - it also offers access to several other spur roads that are used by hikers, bikers and trail riders.

If you're coming from the north, near Williams Lake, you'll take Dog Creek Road for about 100 km before hooking into Empire Valley Road. If you're coming from the east, near 70 Mile House or Clinton, you can take Meadow Lake Road to reach Empire Valley.

Again, travelers taking these roads should be confident in their driving skills - these are not paved highways!

Parking

Campers should make sure they are parking only at designated areas (e.g. near the calving barn). No specific or numbered sites are delineated, but the park's low usage means you probably won't have any trouble finding a good spot. Make sure you stay on the road/parking area, as driving onto the grassland can damage rare plants and lichens (plus, you might get a cactus needle through your tire!).

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Churn Creek Protected Area

Campsites in Churn Creek Protected Area

Reservations camping

First-come first-served

Camping along Empire Valley Road

There is no "organized" campground at Churn Creek; however, there are several spots where ample parking is available and camping allowed. The most popular spot is near the Empire Valley Ranch's calving barn, which is along Empire Valley Road, just over a mile north of Brown Lake. You can take in sweeping views of the park's grasslands and the gentle walls of the Empire Valley.

The area has one pit toilet, but no other amenities (no hookups, fire rings, picnic tables, water spigots, etc.) There are no designated spots either - just park wherever you like, so long as you don't block the road or roll over fragile vegetation.

There are also a few other designated camping areas along Black Dome Road and Iron Gate Road, but both routes are quite rough and those with RVs and trailers will probably want to stay away.

This camping area (and indeed, the whole park) is quite remote, and you'll want to make sure you've got plenty of supplies. The nearest supply store is in Dog Creek, while the nearest town is Williams Lake, which is about 62 miles (100 km) away.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Churn Creek Protected Area

In-Season

Wilderness Exploration

Though there are no designated hiking trails (only cattle and vehicle roads), intrepid backpackers nevertheless venture to Churn Creek's beautiful wilderness, where they can take views few others get to enjoy. Back-country camping is permitted throughout most of the park, so hikers are limited only by their grit and their orienteering skills. Canyons, creeks, forests and vast grasslands all await exploration - and you're likely to come across some spectacular wildlife as well.

If you do head for the back-country, make sure you're well-prepared; the land here is remote and often unforgiving.

Mountain Biking

Biking at Big Churn offers big sky and solitude. The park's remote location means it sees fewer visitors than other, similarly sized parks, but the awe-inspiring vistas - the sheer size and openness of the landscape - are a reward to those who do make the trek. Bikers can across ride the undulating hills and through wide, dramatic canyons.

As is the case with all other traffic, bikers are expected to stick to vehicle and cattle trails that are already in use. This helps protect grasses, flowers and lichen from being torn up by bike tires (and it protects bike tires from being popped by cactus needles!)

Trail Riding

A vast expanse of grasslands, criss-crossed by wild streams and steep canyons, Churn Creek is a rugged, western, trail-riding wonderland. There are thousands of acres ripe for exploration, and the park prohibition on ATVs and OHVs means a four-legged vehicle can be the best way to take everything in.

Horse trailers can be brought to the barn area, where there's plenty of parking space available (this is where most overnight campers stay as well).

Because of the highly fragile nature of the high grassland ecosystem, riders are asked to use only processed, pelleted feed for their horses (they can also purchase feed directly from Empire Valley Ranch, within the park). Visitors are also asked to ride only on existing vehicle and cattle trails.

Off-Season

Wildlife Viewing

Grasslands are a highly diminished habitat in British Columbia, but those rare fragments that do remain, such as at Churn Creek, support an abundance of wildlife. Patches of forest, narrow canyons, and riparian zones along rushing streams add further habitat diversity to the mix. Larger native species include California Bighorn sheep, black bear, mountain lions and mule deer, while smaller critters that visitors may come across include lynx, bobcat, gopher snakes and rubber boas (the most northerly boa species in the world).

Birders can look out for rare species such as sage thrashers, Brewer's sparrows, flammulated owls and Lewis' woodpeckers.

Photography

Dramatic canyons, rushing rivers and vast fields of blooming flowers mean photographers at Churn Creek can shoot until their hearts are content. Come in early fall and you'll see the willows and aspens in their ephemeral golden colors.

Visiting Churn Creek, you can be guaranteed to capture some truly unique shots; though wild and wonderful, this park sees far fewer visitors than do many other provincial and national parks.

There are also many opportunities to capture shots of rare and threatened animal species (see 'Wildlife Viewing').

Hunting

Hunting is yet another popular activity at Churn Creek, with hunters being drawn to the possibilities presented by the park's wide open spaces and diverse terrain features. Deer and sheep are the most commonly sought game species, though bear, cougar, lynx and bobcat are also hunted (the last three of these are usually pursued in winter, with the help of snowmobiles). Several seasons open in August and September. Make sure you're familiar with all the relevant regulations before heading out, and make sure you have the proper license, too!

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