Cheam Lake Wetlands–Birding hotspot where the North Cascades meet the Fraser River

 

Quick Facts:

Location: Popkum, Fraser Valley Regional District, BC

Land Agency: Fraser Valley Regional Parks

Round Trip: 2.5 miles (4.0 km) roundtrip

Elevation Gain: minimal

Contact: Fraser Valley Regional Parks

Notes: Dogs prohibited

Access: From Vancouver, BC follow Trans-Canada Highway 1 east to Exit 138 (12 miles /20 kilometers east of Chilliwack). Turn left and then turn left again onto Yale Road E and follow it east for 0.6 mile (1 kilometer). Then turn right onto Popkum Road N and drive 0.4 mile (600 meters). Then turn left onto Elgey Road and drive 0.6 mile (1 kilometer) to park and trailhead.

From Bellingham, WA follow SR 539 north to Lynden. Then take SR 546 to SR and follow to border crossing at Sumas. Continue north on BC 11 to Trans-Canada Highway 1 then follow east to trailhead as described above.

Good to Know: kid-friendly, historic, snow free winter hikes, exceptional bird watching; floating walkway, practice Leave No Trace principles,

 

Once logged and later drained for a mining operation, Cheam Lake has since been restored and is again thriving with wildlife. Walk through groves of attractive conifers, across wetlands and along the lakeshore and see, hear, and feel the pulse of the rebirth of an ecosystem. The forest surrounding this large lake wedged between the Fraser River and towering 6,903-foot (2,104 m) Mount Cheam reflects beautifully upon the lake’s placid waters.

From the parking area find an inviting picnic ground along with a kiosk and small interpretive display on the area’s mining history. The lake was mined for its marl limestone; a calcium carbonate mud containing silts and clay and valuable as a fertilizer. Marl is formed underwater. Soil deposits (in this case, old landslides from Mount Cheam) are bonded by an algae—chara to form marl. The lake was drained in 1949 to expedite the mining, formerly done by slurry suckers. By 1961, more than 34 tons of marl was being mined annually. By 1988, the marl was depleted. In 1990 the lake became a regional park, and efforts began (and continue today) to restore this area to a natural state.

There are three trails that take off from the parking and picnic area. All three are easy and they will especially be enjoyed by young explorers. And each of these trails highlights a different aspect of this 250-acre park. The shortest heads to a floating platform on the lake to a small island with an observation deck. You can pretty much see the entire lake from this vantage making it ideal for birdwatching. During the winter months a handful of tundra and trumpeter swans take refuge at the lake. Views of neighboring Mount Cheam are pretty impressive, too. During the winter months Bridal Veil Falls is quite pronounced forming a silver streak on the deep emerald lower slopes of the peak.

The Loop Trail heads south to skirt the lake’s eastern shoreline and pass by a quiet wetland pool. It then reaches a junction on a forested mound. Here the actual loop begins and it makes no difference which direction you choose to follow it. If you go left you’ll immediately come to a long bridge crossing over a beaver dam. Linger on the bridge for a while and you may see one of the industrious rodents. The trail then meanders through groves of cedars and cottonwoods.

The park’s other trail, the Creek Trail leaves from the Floating Walkway Trail. This trail follows along the lake’s outlet creek. You immediately drop into what feels like a trench. Back in the 1940s the marl mining operation greatly deepened the creek bed through the use of explosives to hasten draining the lake. Today the restored lake provides a healthy flow to the creek.

Follow the trenched creek to a bridged crossing. Then reach a junction. The trail now loops. You can stay right in the trench and return on the paralleling path above the trench. And while these two paths are just meters apart, the ambience is quite different. Along the creek you feel like you’re deep in the woods, while above the creek you can see out to adjacent farms and neighboring peaks.

While each season at the Cheam Wetlands presents its own joys and surprises—evenings any time of the year are always magical. Wildlife is usually most active and the placid waters of the lake nicely reflect blood red skies and the sun setting through a veil of low horizon clouds.

This hike originally appeared in my Get Outside Column in Cascadia Magazine. Read my column for other great hiking suggestions.

For more details on nearby easy hikes just over the border, pick up a copy of my Urban Trails Bellingham (Mountaineers Books).

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