What do you know about Lillooet, home of ‘Canada’s greatest hidden rail trip’?
Why this tiny town up the Fraser is the perfect place for a summer getaway
August 9, 2016
At just two hours north of Whistler, you may not have visited Lillooet before, but you probably guessed that it’s gorgeous. Set against towering mountains and aquamarine glacier lakes, it’s a wonder this slice of unspoiled backcountry along the Fraser River has been kept on the down low for so long—but word is getting out. The BBC recently named Lillooet’s rustic two-car Kaoham Shuttle “Canada’s greatest hidden rail trip.” (And they wouldn’t be wrong, either.)
The shuttle is a relic of the days of passenger rail service, when the Pacific Great Eastern Railway took people from North Vancouver to Prince George and stopped at any number of smaller communities along the way. Today, the 32-passenger train ride is a partnership between CN Rail and the Seton Lake Indian Band, and the two-hour ride follows a precariously curving track along sparkling Seton Lake and craggy mountains up to the even tinier town of Seton Portage.
It’s best to ride the Kaoham Shuttle on a Friday, when more frequent departures mean you can do the return trip in one afternoon. Reservations are recommended: call 250-259-8300 and leave a message with personal details, the dates you would like to travel, and the number of people ($10 each) you’re bringing.
Start the day with a dose of caffeine and freshly baked pastries (like the gooey cinnamon buns) at The Rugged Bean Café (854 Main St.). The Kitchen at the Fort Berens Estate Winery (1881 Hwy. 99 North), which is open for lunch every day and for dinner on Friday and Saturday, is the highlight of the local dining scene, with a menu celebrating farm-fresh B.C. ingredients along with gourmet burgers. There’s also Dina’s Place (690 Main St.), a local favourite for hearty Greek fare like spanakopita, souvlaki, and roast lamb, along with pizzas that are the best in town.
In the heart of town, The Reynolds Hotel (1237 Main St.) has hosted Lillooet’s travellers for more than 75 years, with recently renovated rooms that will transport you back to the Gold Rush era ($89–$179). The Sturgeon Bay Bed & Breakfast (130 Haylmore Pl.) offers cozy accommodations, warm hospitality, and a spectacular location along the Fraser River for fishing or nature walks. The self-contained suites are ideal for families and have their own living room and kitchen ($90–$160).
The natural wonders of Lillooet make it the perfect destination for outdoor enthusiasts, with a range of potential activities that includes alpine hiking, backcountry camping, mountain biking, boating, and fishing for sturgeon and salmon in the Fraser River. The Lillooet Museum and Visitor Centre (790 Main St.) is an excellent source for local information and trail maps. And for those who just can’t go more than a few days without a round of golf, there’s the Lillooet Sheep Pasture Golf Course (5000 Texas Creek Rd.), a small-but-challenging nine-hole green where hazards include the local wildlife.
Stay (for free)
Ask any camper what makes a perfect camping trip and you’re sure to hear a common refrain: ”No rain.” Lillooet’s semi-arid climate is a major reason why it ranks as a top B.C. camping destination, although the complete absence of mosquitoes and the rate (it’s free) also come into play. Visitors can pitch a tent or park a camper at any of the 45 sites at the Seton Dam BC Hydro campground, and while the facilities are definitely rustic—think picnic tables, fire rings, drinking water, and pit toilets—you can’t (or, at least, shouldn’t) complain at this price.