Swimpacking Widgeon Creek

Although I’ve been a swimmer my entire life, swimpacking was a brand-new concept to me, and I was stoked to give it a go! Along with Martin Kuerbis, I sought out the expertise of swimpacker extraordinaire, Ilya Capralov, and we decided on a swimpacking objective: Widgeon Creek Campground. Widgeon Creek starts in Pinecone Burke Provincial Park and flows into the Pitt River, and the campground is about 5 km up the creek. It is traditionally accessed by kayak, canoe, or paddle board, but we decided to swim there instead!

Swimpacking route to Widgeon Creek Campground

Ilya, Martin, and I headed out on Saturday morning of the September long weekend to Grant Narrows Park on the east bank of the Pitt River. Upon arrival, we found ourselves surrounded by many paddlers who were also heading across the river and up Widgeon Creek. This gave us some comfort because we knew that crossing the Pitt River would be the most challenging part of the swim; the river has a strong current and motorboat traffic. We had a lot of drybag faff, such as ensuring that our bags would not leak and that all our extraneous gear was properly secured via carabiners (e.g., sandals and water bottles), we headed down to the dock.

Preparing our drybags

Getting ready to swim

Getting ready to swim

After zipping up our 3/4mm wetsuits, donning our bright swim caps, and strapping our swimpacks to our waists, we hopped into the Pitt River.

Ilya crossing the Pitt River

Martin swimming across the Pitt

Making my way into Widgeon Creek

The river was colder than expected and we aimed to swim north of the creek since the current was carrying us southward. As we swam across, groups of kayakers were paddling across too, so we felt safe from the motorboat traffic. Once we made it across the Pitt, a 500m crossing, the waters were calm and glassy in Widgeon Creek. Shoreline signs indicated that motorized boats were not allowed in the creek, which was relieving to see. As we swam up the creek, the water became warmer and very shallow to the point where we had to walk instead of swim!

Too shallow to swim!

The edges of the creek teemed with submerged aquatic vegetation.

Beautiful pondweeds (maybe in the genus Potamogeton)

As we swam, we witnessed trout darting out of our path and I even saw a sculpin! After a combination of swimming, crawling, and walking up the creek, we made it to the very busy campground. It took us about 2 hours and 45 minutes to reach the campground and we estimated that we swam about 2.5 km of the 5 km distance in the creek.

Happy swimpackers :)

Watercraft at Widgeon Creek Campground

After a much-needed lunch, it was only around 1pm. After some discussion, we decided to see if we could make the 9 km hike to Widgeon Lake and spend the night there instead. But first, we had to figure out how to walk with our drybags. Ilya’s clever swimpacking setup consists of two 20L drybags, which he strapped together widthwise and attached backpack straps to both bags, making a comfortable backpack. I had a 35L dry backpack, so it was easy for me to haul my gear. Martin, however, had a 20L drybag without straps, and we used our swimming waistbelts to fashion makeshift shoulder straps so he would not have to cradle his bag the whole way. Not comfortable, but effective!

Ilya’s pro swimpack and Martin’s makeshift pack

My dry backpack worked well

After ditching our wetsuits and floats at the creek campground, we headed up the busy trail in our sandals. The trail was a decommissioned logging road, so the path was relatively flat with a gradual incline for most of the way. First, we headed to Widgeon Falls, and the trail was very crowded.

Widgeon Falls

After a short break at the falls, we continued up the trail and left the crowds behind at the falls. We passed by other beautiful waterfalls and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere of the forest. Surprisingly, we only encountered one other backpacking group on the way up.

Waterfall on the way to Widgeon Lake

Another waterfall

About 1 km from Widgeon Lake, the trail turned from logging road to classic BC steep roots, which made it slow going in our sandals.

Last km of the trail to Widgeon Lake

We were also fatigued from our swim and were looking forward to setting up camp. After a few steep sections on the trail, the trees opened, revealing a stunning view of Widgeon Lake. The trail was overgrown with blueberry bushes, brimming with fruit, and we feasted on them as we made our way down to the lake.

Many blueberries by Widgeon Lake!

Serene Widgeon Lake

There were already quite a few groups tenting along the shore and not many ideal spots to camp due to mud and thick bushes. After some scouting, we found a flat boulder that was the perfect size for Ilya’s 3-person tent.

Tenting on a boulder

We enjoyed our pre-made dinners on a small island and took in the evening views of the glassy lake. Low clouds drifted by, partially obscuring the surrounding peaks, and pikas called to each other in a nearby boulder field. Soon we retired to bed after our long day.

So glassy

The next morning, we woke up to the sound of rain. It sprinkled on and off but knowing we would soon be in our wetsuits made it easier to pack up our camp. We ate a quick breakfast and headed down the trail. The wet roots made it trickier to descend, but we made it back to the logging road in good time. And we saw a super cute toad!

Hiking back to Widgeon Creek


It was pouring when we reached Widgeon Creek campground and there were only a few people there; The rain probably deterred folks from paddling up the creek. We pulled on our wetsuits and headed back down the creek.

Ready to swim back

The rain, low clouds, and lack of crowds made for a very peaceful and beautiful swim/walk back to the Pitt River.

Walking in Widgeon

Scenic Widgeon Creek

Ilya swimming in the rain

Nearing Pitt River

Once we hit the edge of the river, Ilya assessed the state of the current. It was difficult to tell if the current was as strong as yesterday, so we decided to just make a beeline for the docks on the other side.

Discussing how we should cross the Pitt River

About two-thirds of the way across, the current started to flow swiftly northward, the opposite direction from the day before! We swam like mad against the current and luckily ended up just slightly north of the docks instead of in Pitt Lake :-P This was an excellent beginner trip for swimpacking, especially because there were so many opportunities to take breaks. I look forward to another swimpacking adventure and would 11/10 recommend it to anyone!

We did it!


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11 Responses to Swimpacking Widgeon Creek

  1. Adam Steele says:

    This is absolutely nuts. Love it!

  2. Kasia Adolphs says:

    Woah! Way to go!! Really cool.

  3. Vincent Hanlon says:

    Woah this sounds very nice! As a Vancouver Islander I would be scared of leeches. But maybe that makes zero sense.

  4. Alberto Contreras Sanz says:

    Great to see the revival of the swim-hike-packing arm of the VOC!

  5. Alex Wharton says:

    Wow!! I’m so happy swim packing is becoming a trend in Vancouver!!

  6. Lukas Schreiber says:

    What a sweet adventure! And y’all saw so many cute animals too! It was also interesting to read about that surface current going upriver at the end.

  7. Christian Veenstra says:

    Nice! Swimpacking seems so simple, and yet so not simple, at the same time. Thanks for the TR.

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