Bridge River Valley
The Bridge River Valley is a sparsely populated area of lakes, valleys, abandoned towns and near-ghost towns in the South Chilcotin mountains between Pemberton and Lillooet. It offers many hiking, camping, fishing, hunting and mountaineering opportunities.
The valley is mostly wilderness with a couple of settlements and a number of lodges clustered near the upper end of Carpenter Lake. The main settlements — Gold Bridge, at the western end of Carpenter Lake, and Bralorne, about 15 km south of Gold Bridge — are very small with 50-100 people each. They are the service centers for the valley with a limited selection of accommodation and restaurants.
Although there aren't many people in the Bridge River Valley these days, it wasn't always that way. The Bridge River area was once British Columbia's main gold mining region, producing over $100 million of ore. During it's heyday, in the 1930s - 50s, over 10,000 people lived in the region. The productivity of the mines declined and by the early seventies they were all shut down, leaving the abandoned mineshafts and townsites behind.
As the mines declined in importance, hydroelectric development grew in prominence. The Bridge River is dammed in three places, creating the two resevoirs that dominate the valley: Carpenter Lake and Downton Lake. The dams are estimated to provide up to 8% of British Columbia's power.
The main draw of the region today is its recreational activities. There are many trails in the area for hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking providing the quintessential B.C. panorama of snow-capped mountains, forest-clad slopes, glacier-fed lakes and alpine meadows. In the winter, it's popular with snowmobilers.
The Bridge River Valley's climate is generally warm and sunny in the summer and cool and wet in the winter. Daytime highs typically reach the mid to high 20s (Celsius) in summer with below zero temperatures December to February. Snow is common from November through March. Compared to Vancouver, it is warmer in summer, cooler in winter and a bit drier throughout the year.
There are two ways to access the Bridge River Valley by car, but neither is for the faint of heart. The easiest is from Lillooet, via the Carpenter Lake Road (also known as the Lillooet Pioneer Highway and Route 40). The scenery is outstanding with deep rocky canyons and the turquoise waters of Carpenter Lake, but the road may not be for everyone. It hugs every bend in the landscape, is frequently narrow with no guardrails and there are intermittent gravel sections. The distance from Lillooet to Gold Bridge is 100 km, taking about 1.5-2 hours. If driving from Vancouver, it will take approximately 5-6 hours.
A faster but rougher alternate route into the valley from Vancouver during summer is the Hurley -- or more formerly, the Hurley River Forest Service Road -- from Pemberton. Designed for logging, the road is gravel with ruts and rocks and is best traversed with a high clearance vehicle (normal 2WD cars can handle the trip if the driver is comfortable with those road conditions). The Hurley isn't plowed in winter, so it's generally only open June to October. The distance between Pemberton and Gold Bridge is about 80 km and the drive from Vancouver is about 3.5-5 hours.
Tyax Air  operates a floatplane service between Tyax Resort and Whistler or Vancouver. It's very scenic in good weather but an expensive way to get in and only useful if staying at the Tyax Resort. $1000 (Whistler) / $2000 (Vancouver) one way.
A car is needed to get around the Bridge River Valley. The distances are large and there is no public transit.
The main thoroughfare is Carpenter Lake Rd. There are many gravel roads and forest service roads that lead to hikes, lakes, lodges and various other points in the valley.
There is a general store in Gold Bridge with a small selection of supplies.
Coffee is available at the Lone Goat. Drinks of the alcoholic variety are served at the Gold Bridge Hotel and the Mineshaft Pub. Alcohol can also be purchased from the Gold Bridge General Store.
There are a number of campgrounds with limited facilities in the area.
Motels are fairly scarce and don't expect luxury. The Gold Bridge Hotel (see Eat section above) also offers rooms during the summer for $70-100 per night.
There is no cellphone reception in the Bridge River Valley.
The Mineshaft Pub has two computers with free Internet access. Printing is available for 10 cents per page.
More hiking and biking trails are available at the South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park. The park is accessed by hiking or biking in from trailheads along the Slim Creek Forest Service Rd at Gun Lake. Alternatively, the Tyax Lodge will fly visitors into the park for a fee.