By Kilee LeBlanc
Thirty minutes north of Whistler is the small town of Pemberton, British Columbia, a delightful mix of agricultural and an outdoor recreationalist’s dream. This tight-knit community may seem like a far cry from the bustling Whistler Village, but with so many outdoor opportunities and wilderness to explore you will appreciate the peace and quiet. Come explore Pemberton’s hidden gems during your next British Columbia road trip – the road definitely doesn’t end in Whistler!
Where to Stay in Pemberton, British Columbia
Pemberton, British Columbia is the gateway to destinations along the Duffey Lake Road, up to the Chilcotins, and the area past Pemberton Meadows. There is a host of great options for car camping, and even more for backcountry camping. Some campsites can be reserved ahead of time and others are first come, first served.
Nairn Falls Provincial Park
Five minutes from Pemberton’s town center is Nairn Falls Provincial Park – an excellent location as a basecamp for exploring Pemberton. The campground is open from May to September and has ninety-two reservable vehicle-accessible campsites. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring, with drinking water and pit toilets available within the campground. These sites fill up very quickly due to its proximity to the highway and Whistler, so reserve ahead of time to avoid disappointment.
From the campsite, hiking and biking trails to Nairn Falls and One Mile Lake make for great day trips along with walks along the Green River that begins near site 17.
Owl Creek Recreation Site
Past Pemberton and Mount Currie is a small recreation site on an old homestead called Owl Creek – just off Pemberton Portage Road. The small campground is open year-round and is very rustic – with three outhouses, fire rings, and tables. A site operator comes around in the evening to collect fees ($13/night) and has firewood for sale. The sites are large and open but there are no hook-ups.
The campground is nestled in between the Birkenhead River and Owl Creek and is popular for fishing, or is a nice spot to set up the camp chair with a beer to enjoy the sights and sounds of nature.
Another beautiful, rustic, and very popular campground is past Pemberton and Mount Currie along the shores of the vast Lillooet Lake. The road is gravel and while it is graded, it can get extremely bumpy through the summer months. The closest campground to the highway is Strawberry Point, a rustic lakeside campground that has both walk-in spots and vehicle-accessible spots. While the lake is extremely cold, it is perfect for canoeing and kayaking and is a bright jade color.
The next campgrounds along Lillooet Lake are Twin One, Lizzie Bay, and Driftwood Bay. All sites along Lillooet Lake are first come, first served and have outhouses and garbage facilities. They are extremely popular on weekends with parties going until the early hours.
Duffey Lake Road
The one-hundred kilometer stretch of road between Pemberton and Lillooet is known as “The Duffey” and is the jump off spot to many great hikes, backcountry skiing, camping, and fishing in the area. Four great recreation sites just off the highway provide a rustic camping experience and make for a good overnight stop. Rogers Creek, Gott Creek, Cottonwood, and Cinnamon offer forested sites with fire pits, picnic tables, and access to an outhouse. Nightly fees are $15 and is open year-round.
Birkenhead Lake Provincial Park
This large provincial park is an hour’s drive from Pemberton, with the last fifteen kilometers along a gravel road that can get extremely bumpy if a grader has not been through recently. Luckily, at the end of that gravel road is a massive campground set on a lake surrounded by mountains. It is open from mid-May to the end of September and over 50% of the sites are reservable at this very popular campground. The sites are large and forested and have fire pits and picnic tables at each. Communal outhouses are available, along with drinking water.
Canoeing and kayaking are very popular on the lake, and swimming if you’re brave enough to muster the cold water. There are three hiking trails accessible from the campground, and fishing is also very popular for Kokanee and Rainbow Trout.
What to Do in Pemberton, British Columbia
Affectionately known as “Pemby”, Pemberton has a host of outdoor activities and adventures to partake in that draw in even Squamish and Whistler locals. Vast, untamed wilderness with stunning views awaits – spend some time in Pemby and you’ll see!
Pemberton’s mountain biking scene is thriving, with five dedicated areas to get gnarly on your bike. The largest area is Mackenzie, has fifty-three trails covering eighty-three kilometers and is best for advanced to expert mountain bikers. The next largest area is Mosquito Lake, with sixty trails covering fifty-two kilometers. The more popular trails include Cream Puff, Mission Impossible, and Meat Grinder. The trails at One Mile Lake are more beginner-friendly trails, but also offer advanced trails like Lumpy’s Epic.
Whether you have an hour or a few days, Pemberton, British Columbia is an excellent place to take a hike. Joffre Lake Provincial Park is undoubtedly the most popular, with jaw-dropping views in summer or winter. Tenquille Lake is another thigh burner that leads you to a beautiful subalpine lake. Hiking in the Marriot Basin for Rohr Lake or to the Wendy Thompson Hut also make for great day or overnight trips. Bring your bear spray!
Cross Country Ski
If you own your own cross-country skis, Pemberton is a great place to get out for a couple hours for exercise in the winter. The Beer Farmers have a track set in their field, and North Arm Farm has one circling their pasture. Both are free to use, but do them a solid by buying a post-ski beer or lunch to support their community efforts.
Agri-tourism is starting to take off in Pemberton, with a whole weekend in the summer dedicated to the farms and farmers (Slow Food Cycle). At other times during the year, most farms head to farmers markets from Whistler to Vancouver to sell their fare. Laughing Crow Organics has a farm stand and an epic sunflower maze that makes for a great adventure, North Arm Farm is open year-round, and the Pemberton Distillery for spirits made with local Pemberton-grown ingredients. Take a self-guided tour to eat and drink your way through Pemberton, British Columbia!
Do as the locals do and explore the area on horseback! Copper Cayuse Outfitters in Pemberton Meadows offers horseback riding tours ranging from one and two hours, half-day, full day, and overnight adventures. Treat yourself to a half-day horseback ride with cowboy supper that takes you for a ride in the Birkenhead Valley followed by a hearty meal at Birkenhead Lake.
Where to Eat and Drink in Pemberton, British Columbia
After a fun day in the mountains, Pemberton has a host of options to refuel you with the freshest fare and local ingredients. Farming has been the mainstay of the Pemberton Valley since Europeans first settled here one hundred years ago thanks to its fertile soil in this river valley. Best known for its potatoes, Pemberton also harvests a number of other vegetables, berries, cattle, apples and more. Here is where to sample some of those tasty spuds while driving through Pemberton, British Columbia.
North Arm Farm
This working organic family farm is open to the public daily throughout the year and offers fresh fruit, vegetables, baked goods, and meats and more in their farm shop. They also have a farm kitchen that serves up delicious breakfasts and lunches using farm fresh eggs and produce. Seasonal U-Pick berries and pumpkins are all on offer, and you can walk anywhere on the farm every day to see what they grow and how they grow it.
Located in Pemberton Meadows, this fourth-generation organic family farm produces delicious craft beers served in a traditional farmhouse. Sit on the patio with your dog and overlook the farm and mountains surrounding you while drinking a locally grown lager or ale. They have a few snacks on hand, offer growler fills, and have cans of beer for off sales. It is a totally unique brewery experience – be sure to try the Farmer’s Daughter White!
Since opening its doors in 2009, Blackbird Bakery has become a staple for fresh baked goods that locally sourced and seasonal. Their coffee is roasted in the Pemberton Valley, their tea is from Squamish, and they bake bread on the daily and close for the day once everything is sold out. The bakery opens at 6:00 AM from Monday to Saturday (7:00 AM on Sunday), so get in there early to stock up on your picnic essentials before hitting the trail.
Mile One Eating House
For the most delicious burger in town, look no further than Mile One Eating House. It is the place to go after a sweaty bike ride or multi-day camping adventure for some delicious local comfort food. The burgers are legendary, mac and cheese is next level, and don’t even get me started on brunch. Wash it all down with a pint of local beer or a glass of wine, and grab some local foodie products to go from their Market Shop.
Barn Nork Thai Cuisine
Like a mirage on a scorching day, Thai food isn’t something you’d think to find at the end of a road flanked by farms. This modest restaurant is not much to look at from the outside, but inside offers authentic Thai cuisine to Pemberton and beyond. It’s not a shock that Squamish and Whistler locals will make the trek to Barn Nork for their Beef Massaman Curry or Pad Thai. The restaurant is open from Thursday to Monday for dinner only and reservations are recommended, as it is a small restaurant.
Pemberton, British Columbia seems like a low-key destination when really there is so much to do, see, and experience here. From stocking up on local produce, riding some of the best mountain biking trails, and finishing it all off with a dip in the lake or with an ice-cold local beer – Pemberton is pretty awesome! From the Escape Campervan rental site in Delta, British Columbia, Pemberton is a 2.5-hour drive away along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway. Pencil Pemberton into your travel plans, you (or your stomach) won’t regret it!