As travelers head further north in the province of British Columbia, they will find large changes both in climate and topography. One of the most unexpected may be found in the dry interior belt grasslands. These are wonderful and rare ecosystems that provide a striking contrast to the thick forests and rugged mountains many expect when visiting British Columbia.
Churn Creek Protected Area abuts the west bank of the Fraser River in the interior plateau and supports low, middle and high elevation bunchgrass grasslands. These grasses are characterized by clumps of perennial grasses separated by an unusual soil-like complex of lichens, fungi, and other organisms known as cryptogamic soil, dotted with Spiky prickly pear cacti. The landscape is also blessed by other habitats including shrub-steppes, wetlands, kettle lakes, and dry open forests of Spruce, Pine and interior Douglas Fir. Not surprisingly, the land attracts and supports a variety of wildlife, and the open nature of the country makes for good viewing possibilities.
Activities in the area are governed by its mandate to protect its natural history. Nature appreciation is the area’s main calling. Hiking, cycling, and horse-back riding are the best ways to travel, and in winter, cross-country and snowshoeing are possible. Everyone must respect the fragility of soil and stay on trails. Any sort of motorized transportation is prohibited. Hunting is permitted at Churn Creek during the allotted season. Please consult and obey the British Columbia Hunting Regulations.
This diversity of plant types and topography mean that the Protected Area supports an abundance of animals. In winter, it features some of the best habitat in BC for California Bighorn sheep and mule deer, while in the summer it is an important migration route for these animals to the Southern Chilcotin Mountains. You will also find cougar, black bear, lynx, and bobcat; several species of snakes, peregrine falcon, and flammulated owl; as well as birds, reptiles and amphibians associated with the wetlands.
The area was used by First Nations for centuries before finding a place in ranching, mining, and recreation. It was established as a protected area in 1995 following recommendations in the Cariboo-Chilcotin Land Use Plan. In 1998, the Provincial Government purchased the historic Empire Valley Ranch and joined its lands with the Protected area.
Year-round vehicle accessible camping is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed, but no facilities are provided. The area around the Empire Valley Ranch Calving Barn has a pit toilet and corrals, as well as a nearby creek with water, and is especially suitable for groups with horses.
Location and access
Churn Creek is a remote area with difficult access, involving several hours driving on rough clay and gravel roads, made worse in wet weather. It is approximately 60 km southeast of Williams Lake on the western bank of the Fraser River.
The easiest route from the Williams Lake area is to drive up Highway 20 approximately 3 km and turn left onto Dog Creek Road. Continue on this road until you reach Dog Creek Valley, then follow signs for Gang Ranch, which will take you across the Fraser River Bridge. At the next intersection, take the left turn onto Empire Valley Road.
From the south, drive north on Highway 97 from Clinton; follow signs to Big Bar Lake Park. Turn right at the next T-intersection after the park. This leads you through Canoe Creek village and on to the Fraser River Bridge where you take the Empire Valley Road to your left.