Sporting lovely lakes, beaches and forests, Crooked River is a great stop-over spot for those traveling BC-97, but it's also a destination in its own right.
At Crooked River's heart is Bear Lake, a clear blue gem with two sandy beaches. Swimmers, sunbathers, paddlers and even windsurfers can enjoy the lake, which abuts both the campground and the well-maintained day-use area. A series of mellow hiking trails criss-crosses the park's lodgepole pine stands and winds across some sections of wetland. Via these trails, visitors can head to Hart Lake, Square Lake, or the banks of the Crooked River itself; each offers excellent fishing opportunities (rainbow trout, Dolly Varden and Rocky Mountain whitefish are all found in abundance), and the meandering Crooked River is popular among canoeists and kayakers.
Naturalists can keep a lookout for some of the park's abundant wildlife, which includes bears, coyotes, lynx, river otters, beavers, ospreys, bald eagles and many species of songbirds and waterfowl. Square and Hart Lakes, being away from the park's busier core, are particularly good places for birding and animal spotting.
Crooked River's campground is well-maintained and features 65 sites, many of which are suitable for even large RVs and trailers. 29 lakeside campsites are reservable, while the remaining sites, pushed a bit further back from the shore, are first-come first-served. Typically, the campground is open from mid-May through mid-September. The park, however, is open year-round, and day-use visitors can partake in snowshoeing, cross-country skiing or ice-fishing during the winter.
Though somewhat far-flung, Crooked River is easily accessible. The park is about 46 miles (74 km) north of Prince George, and it sits right on BC-97, a major provincial highway. The scenic portion of road on which Crooked River sits is called the John Hart Highway; it passes through a heavily forested but relatively flat country full of lakes, ponds and rivers.
Since the John Hart is a major highway, there are no serious sharp turns or steep sections to be concerned about. Even a large rig should have no trouble reaching Crooked River. Of course, inclement weather can occur at any time of the year in northern BC, so be cautious and aware of the weather forecast.
The access road to the park is gravel but well-maintained. Turning to the west, you'll first come to the day-use and excess parking area, which is located on Bear Lake's northern side. Swinging around the lake, you'll find another parking area near Skeleton Lake, and then you'll come to the park's campsite on the lake's south side.
Most spots are back-in, but there's ample room, so maneuvering shouldn't pose much of a challenge.
The park's campground could more aptly be called "Bear Lake Campground", as it is this body of water, not Crooked River, that it sits upon. In total, the campground sports 65 sites, all of which are suitable for RVs or trailers (no length limits are listed, but several sites can accommodate rigs over 32 feet in length - if you have any concerns about your vehicle fitting in a certain site, you can call the park ahead of time). Sites, which are large and well-separated, are set in a lovely forested area on Bear Lake's southern shore. Each site has a fire ring and picnic table.
Despite Crooked River's remote location, the park boasts some solid amenities. There are flush toilets and hot showers available, and there are picnic shelters and changing areas at the southern beach. No hookups are available. However, there is a sani-dump station (which can be used for small fee) and there are several potable water spigots spread throughout the campground and day use area.
Of the 65 total sites, 29 are reservable. Reservable spots are closest to the lake and have the best views. They can reserved up to four months in advance. The remaining 36 sites are first-come first-served.
Though the park's campground and facilities are closed down during the off-season, the park itself remains open to visitation. If conditions permit, travelers can park just outside of the boundary and trek in by foot... or by snowshoe. During the long, northern winter, Crooked River is transformed into a snowy wonderland. Gone are the crowds of summer, they are replaced by a deep quietude, disturbed only by the rustling of a rabbit or the distant tramping of a moose. Blankets of powder coat the limbs of every lodgepole pine.
All the park's trails are open to snow-shoeing. If you do happen to be traveling by during the off-season, Crooked River is certainly worth a day-trip pit stop.
Whether your paddling, hiking, or just relaxing in a hammock at the campground, you're likely to spot some of Crooked River's diverse wildlife. Tanagers, warblers, vireos and other colorful songbirds arrive during late spring and summer, when the park is flush with food. Circling the skies, or perched on prominent pines, you may spot bald eagles or osprey, which scoop their meals from the park's lakes. Mammalian residents include black bears, beavers, muskrats, river otters, red foxes and coyotes. If you're very lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the graceful yet elusive lynx.
Crooked River sports about 5.5 miles (9 km) of gentle, well-maintained trails. Each one makes for a great casual trip and allows visitors to delve into the park's forests and wetlands while escaping the lake-side crowds. Skirt the willow-lined margins of the Crooked river, trek through deep, dark green stands of lodgepole pine, or head over to the placid waters of Square Lake, which offers the chance for excellent angling in a marvelously tranquil setting.
Fine, sandy beaches line over a quarter mile of Bear Lake's shore. The lake's cool, clear waters are quite inviting during summer, when even the northerly sun can bring serious heat. Though sometimes busy, the lake never gets too rowdy, as no motorized boats are allowed. Go for a dip then relax on the sand and enjoy some rays - what could be better?
Round out the day with a game of horseshoes (there are two pits) and a dinner cooked over the fire.
While Bear Lake, at the park's center, is geared more towards swimmers and beachgoers, Hart Lake, Square Lake and the Crooked River all offer excellent angling opportunities. Each is just a short hike from the campground, and each provides a quiet, scenic setting for you to cast your line. Prime game fish include Dolly Varden, Rocky Mountain whitefish and rainbow trout - and all of them can grow to considerable sizes here. Of course, before you head out, make sure you have a valid British Columbia fishing license.
Motorized boats are not allowed on any of the park's lakes, so paddlers have free reign. Square, Bear and Hart Lakes are all great spots for cruising across clear waters and along tree-lined shores. You'll have a good chance at seeing some of the diverse waterfowl which flock to the area, and you might even catch sight of deer or moose as it goes for a drink. The Crooked River itself offers the opportunity for longer trips - the river meanders southward, driving parallel to BC-97, for many miles.
Windsurfing is another popular activity at the park; strong summer breezes often Bear Lake, and though there are no boat launches, the mellow, sandy shores allow for easy access.