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  Category   Pemberton, Pemberton Valley, BC
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Pemberton

Pemberton, British Columbia
Tucked beyond the Coast Mountains north of Whistler lies Pemberton Valley, a green pocket of agricultural land widely known for its seed potatoes, and affectionately dubbed "Spud Valley" by locals. Cattle can be seen grazing off the highway close to the village, and visitors remark upon the quiet country atmosphere and the beauty of this stretch of peaceful farmland, sheltered all around by the majestic snow-capped Coastal Mountains.

For over a century, Pemberton existed in something less than splendid isolation from the rest of the Lower Mainland. Travel in and out of the valley was regulated by the railway. When a highway was finally punched through from Whistler in 1975, the long period of separation ended. At first, there was only a trickle of traffic along this stretch of Highway 99, mostly logging trucks southbound for Squamish, and the occasional carload of climbers headed north to Joffre Glacier.

In the past decade, the pace of tourism has accelerated. The 1986 World Exposition in Vancouver kick-started bus tours to Whistler and beyond; in subsequent years, the paving of the Duffey Lake Road made the corridor between Pemberton and Lillooet a breeze to explore. Until then, the standing joke was that this former logging road was always under two feet of mud and four feet of snow.

The rustic village of Pemberton was named for Joseph Despard Pemberton, a surveyor-general for the Hudson's Bay Company in the 1850s. Joseph Pemberton had laid out Victoria's town site, and supervised the building of British Columbia's first legislative building. The original Port Pemberton was located at the head of Lillooet Lake, serving as a stopover for people heading north in pursuit of gold. Prospectors and pioneers passed through this area, and had begun to settle by the turn of the nineteenth century. The first settler was John Curry, who raised hogs and cattle and sold them to travellers. He also drove them up the 60 miles of rugged trail to Lillooet. The railway line arrived in 1924, when the first passenger train rolled through, bringing with it more families to settle in the Pemberton Valley. The gold may have panned out, but there were riches to be had in the valley's fertile soil, and Pemberton grew as a result.

Salish First Nations people were the first to call this area their home when they settled at the foot of majestic Mount Currie and the head of Lillooet Lake. This is the traditional territory of the Lil'wat Nation, who today are headquartered in Mount Currie and D'Arcy, with smaller communities sprinkled along Lillooet Lake. From the time of their first contact with Europeans, the Lil'wat have always been characterized by their friendliness towards visitors.

Pemberton sits in a wide valley surrounded by mountains, which makes it consistently warmer than Whistler. One the most prominent features in the Pemberton area is the 8,000-foot Mount Currie. Its looming presence is perhaps the most notable feature in a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Farming has been the traditional industry of the Pemberton Valley, and continues to be a significant contributor to the local economy.

Today, the storefronts of the tiny downtown - just a couple of square blocks - have an old west look, like the set of a John Wayne movie. Pemberton is experiencing a growth in both visitors and new arrivals that are taking up residence in this agriculturally and recreationally rich valley. The population of Pemberton is estimated at between 500 and 4,000, depending on who you consult Pemberton also has an airport, with a runway long enough to handle commuter-sized planes and private jets.

Be sure to take the time to enjoy the stunning alpine lakes and waterfalls, camping, fishing, and wildlife in the Pemberton Valley. Quick access to hiking, climbing, mountain biking, and backcountry ski-touring routes is one of the main reasons for the surge in popularity. Very little of this activity is centred in the town itself, and many adventure tour companies based in Whistler actually operate out of Pemberton.

Population: 2,563

Location: Pemberton is located on Highway 99, (the Sea to Sky Highway), southwest of Lillooet and 27 miles (35 km) north of Whistler, a 30-minute scenic drive through a mountain wilderness.


  • Pemberton Heritage Museum, Pemberton
    Pemberton Heritage Museum on aptly named Prospect Street showcases a collection of buildings and artifacts that date back to the 1860s. Displays include gold rush exhibits, blacksmith tools used during the gold rush years in old Port Pemberton, relocated settlers' homes, two homes originally belonging to aboriginal people, and even a genuine dugout canoe from Lillooet Lake. The Soo Building houses the history of logging in the Pemberton area. Open from June to September.
  • The original Pemberton Hotel, established in 1914 and located appropriately on Frontier Street, still operates today, The 34-room hotel adds to the heritage and rustic charm of the Pemberton area.
  • Seed Potatoes: The unique isolation offered by the mountain ranges surrounding Pemberton Valley allows for the control of fungi, bacteria and viruses that cause potato diseases, and the insects that spread them. In 1967 Pemberton was the first commercial seed potato area in the world to grow virus-free seed potatoes. With careful monitoring, inspection and testing, Pemberton seed potato industry continues to enjoy renowned success.
  • Meager Creek Hot Springs are the largest non-commercial hot springs in southern BC, located 65 km northwest of Pemberton. The hot springs waters are clear, odourless and tasteless, and are located at the mouth of Meager Creek in the Meager Creek Hot Springs Recreation Site. Meager Creek Hot Springs are CLOSED INDEFINITELY due to a major landslide in 2010.
  • Golf: Pemberton is a golfer's dream town, home to two challenging world-class golf courses snuggled up against the base of majestic Mount Currie; Big Sky Golf & Country Club is a classic links design built on gentle rolling terrain that integrates seven lakes connected by a serpentine creek. Big Sky is the longest of four championship courses that comprise the Whistler Village golf community, with four sets of tees ranging from 7,001 to 5,208 yards (18 holes, Par 72). Pemberton Valley Golf & Country Club is friendly to casual golfers yet challenging to more serious golfers. The 18-hole championship course (par 72, 6,407 yards) is nestled under majestic Mt. Currie, offering a spectacular setting for golf. Golf Packages in Whistler.
  • Camping: There are two provincial parks in the Pemberton region with well organized campgrounds. Nairn Falls Provincial Park (see below) offers a large number of campsites along the Green River, a cold fast-running river with steep and unstable banks. Birkenhead Lake Provincial Park is somewhat more remote, an hour's drive north of Mount Currie near D'Arcy.

    There's camping at a variety of Forest Service recreation sites sprinkled throughout the Pemberton Valley and along Lillooet Lake. The Owl Creek sites are located 4 miles (7 km) north of Mount Currie on the D'Arcy-Anderson Lake Road. There are two separate sites on opposite sides of Owl Creek, where it meets the Birkenhead River. Farther north towards D'Arcy you'll find four campsites beside noisy Spetch Creek, in a pleasantly forested location off the D'Arcy-Anderson Lake Road. Recreation sites on Lillooet Lake are located along gravel-surfaced Lillooet Lake Road at Strawberry Point, Twin Creeks, Lizzie Bay, Driftwood Bay, and at Lizzie Lake on a logging road 7.5 miles (12 km) east of Lizzie Bay. Residents of the Pemberton Valley have been camping at Tenquille Lake since the 1920s. An old cabin that was constructed there in 1940 is now best left to the pack rats, but it still provides shelter if needed.

    Due to the extremely rocky terrain, wilderness campsites at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park are difficult to find. For those who plan to overnight in this park, follow the hiking trail on the southwest side of Upper Joffre Lake to where the alpine forest provides some slight shelter. This is perhaps the toughest but most rewarding hike in the region. There are no facilities here other than an outhouse and a few rough camping spots that have been cleared over the years. The three lakes in this subalpine chain are strung like a turquoise necklace on the mountainside below the massive Joffre Glacier Group.

    There is less likelihood of being rained out when camping in the Lillooet region than there is farther west in the Coast Mountains. As Hwy 99 leads from Duffey Lake to Lillooet, a provincial park campground and several small Forest Service recreation sites suitable for camping appear beside the lake and along Cayoosh Creek. At the forested east end of Duffey Lake, a provincial campground with 6 rough vehicle/tent sites is the best-organized site and also one of the most scenic, with views across the dark lake to Mount Chief Pascall and the Joffre Glacier Group. More information on Camping in the Pemberton and Sea to Sky area.

  • Mountain Biking: North of Pemberton the Sea to Sky Trail has received some of the most concentrated attention, as trail builders fine-tune the route between Mount Currie and D'Arcy. At present, a 31-mile (50-km) loop runs between D'Arcy (the trail's northern terminus) and the whistle stop of Gramsons on the BC Rail line south of Birkenhead Lake. Quite a variety of mountain biking terrain is up for grabs along the way. Decide which section best suits your skill level. A challenging section lies between Birkenhead Lake and D'Arcy, particularly the steep descent on Smell the Fear, a short but technically demanding piece of singletrack. For those who wish a gentler approach, a power-line road is an alternative. Aside from the Sea to Sky Trail, the heart of mountain biking in the Pemberton region is centred around Mosquito and Ivey Lakes. The two lakes are tucked in behind a knoll on the north side of the valley between Pemberton and Mount Currie. More information on Mountain Biking in the Pemberton and Sea to Sky area.

  • Snowcapped Coast Mountains near Pemberton
    Cycling: Pemberton has four great options for the road cyclist. Pemberton Meadows Road is a straight, flat 27-km ride through the potatoe farming community. On the return trip, the beautiful view of Mt. Currie will lead you home. Heading north on Highway 99 toward Lillooet, the road winds along the valley bottom for 10 km, followed by a daunting 15-km switchback climb!

    A glorious ride along the Birkenhead River towards Birken and D'Arcy passes scenic Gates Lake, with picturesque views of rocky bluffs and snowcapped peaks. The last option is to ride south to Whistler, a 35-km test of endurance and climbing skills - a great out-and-back ride. More information on Cycling in the Pemberton and Sea to Sky area.

  • Hiking: One of the oldest hiking routes in the Pemberton Valley leads 7.5 miles (12 km) from the trailhead off the Hurley River Road to Tenquille Lake. During the first half of the 20th century, miners used pack-horse routes to reach the subalpine region surrounding Tenquille and Owl Lakes. More recently, some of these overgrown trails have been reopened for hiking and mountain biking. An alpine trail system that links Tenquille and Owl Creek, as well as the original horse trail from Tenquille to Barber's Valley and Ogre Lake, has been constructed. The revitalizing of the trails around Tenquille, coupled with those around nearby Birkenhead and Blackwater Lakes, makes this region one of the best destinations for experienced hikers and mountain bikers.

    Farther north, a rough trail follows the Lillooet River into the Upper Lillooet Headwaters, a sublime wilderness region that is now a provincial park. Plan on a 2.5-mile (4-km) hike from the trailhead at Salal Creek to reach broad sandbars that stand revealed in late summer on more open sections of the Lillooet River. To reach the trailhead, follow the Pemberton Valley and Lillooet River Roads 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Pemberton. Turn left immediately after the road crosses Salal Creek and drive about 0.6 mile (1 km) to the trailhead at the end of a rough but passable range road.

    The Shadow Lake Interpretive Forest offers over 6 kilometres of connecting trails in 125 hectares in the Soo Valley alongside Highway 99 between Pemberton and Whistler. The highlight of the forest is Shadow Lake, which is fed by a number of small creeks from the south and west, and a northerly outflow channel takes the lake water into the Soo River. Trails are easy and moderate, and range in length from 400 metres to 2.1 km. More information on Hiking & Backpacking in the Sea to Sky region.

  • Horseback Riding: The many stables in the beautiful Pemberton Valley offer a variety of horseback riding on trails through beautiful mountain and valley scenery for riders of all levels. For the novice rider, Pemberton's many stables offer 2-hour introductory rides along the valley floor. Pemberton's experienced wranglers share regional stories on every trail ride. No trip to the valley is complete without a guided horse ride through forests, along sandy river beaches, and through grassy meadows at the foot of 8,000 foot Mt. Currie. Stables are located up Pemberton Valley Meadows Road, Highway 99, and close to the village. More information on Horse Riding in the Whistler and Sea to Sky area.
  • Paragliding and Hanggliding: One of the best ways to take in the beauty of the Pemberton Valley is to get an eagle's eye view of the valley. Soar from the launch site just north of Pemberton and see the valley like you have never seen it before. Even if you've never flown by paraglider, it's a tantalizing possibility. Paragliding courses and tandem paragliding flights can be arranged at the Pemberton Soaring Centre. More information on Hanggliding & Paragliding in the Sea to Sky area.
  • Canoeing and Kayaking: Guided tours in 22-foot canoes provide a gentle cruise down the Lillooet or Ryan River through prime Pemberton farming country. Paddlers choose to relax or paddle as they wend their way through the area of the Pemberton Valley known as Pemberton Meadows. Kayaking experiences on the rivers of Pemberton are available for novice and expert kayakers. There are four lovely lakes in the Pemberton region that paddlers will find attractive; Birkenhead, Anderson, Lillooet, and Joffre Lake. More information on Canoeing & Kayaking in the Sea to Sky area.


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