We chose Horne Lake as our final camping destination this summer, attracted by its appealing website and hoping for warmer weather in this inland location.
"It's a two hour drive from Victoria," the young woman told me cheerfully when I made the reservation the day before. It sounded a little optimistic, and in fact it was more like three hours. The campground is at the far (western) end of a semi-asphalted road (this is logging country).
A more serious surprise came during check-in. "Yes, we have your reservation... you're in site #55, which is a double site, along with another family," a rather indifferent young woman at reception told me. I thought she was joking, but no. When I pointed out that nothing had been mentioned during reservation of the site being a "double", or of us sharing it with anyone, she apologised, but clearly wasn't very bothered. It was Saturday afternoon, we were at least an hour's drive from any other campground, the night was prepaid and we would forfeit it if we didn't use it. I could take it or leave it. A discount was also out of the question. The best she could offer us was to check out the site that the other family had just chosen to leave in favour of ours, and the one we had booked, and decide which one to take. So we did, starting with the one we had booked, which was at the southern campground – a rough unpaved 2km drive away through unattractive clearcut terrain. It turned out to be a standard campsite with only one table – "They're bringing another one," the other family told us, confirming that the site is, in fact, not intended for "double" use. So we drove back to the northern campground, and chose the site they left, which was actually nicer, though slightly further from the water's edge.
There were other departures from "truth in advertising" in store – some minor, some more disappointing. Firewood, which the website says costs $6 a bundle, actually costs $8 a bundle. The advertised evening entertainment and the daycamp for kids were both cancelled, "for lack of staff". Although the website makes no mention of it that I could see, the noticeboard at the reception centre advises that the lake is host to the infamous "summer itch": larvae that burrow under your skin and cause itching which is relieved only by antihistamines. (It goes on to offer the helpful advice that the danger may be minimised by a vigorous towelling after swimming, followed by a shower – except there aren't any showers at this campground).
As for the lake itself, though deep and picturesque, it is uncomfortably choppy in the afternoon, and let down by the surrounding landscape, which after decades of clearcut logging, has the patchy look of the hair of a radiation sickness victim.
It wasn't all bad. The northern campground also offers accommodation in teepees – a funky, though more expensive option to tenting or RV'ing. The woods in the campgrounds themselves have a healthy undergrowth and one feels closer to nature than at typical provincial campgrounds. One can rent canoes and kayaks at the reception centre.
But the disappointments ultimately won over. We left around noon the next day, and spent the afternoon swimming at the nearby Spider Lake instead, a BC park nearer to Highway 19. With its broad beach, shallow, clean water, it was a pleasant surprise and a welcome respite. We made a mental note to revisit Spider Lake in future whenever in the area. As for Horne Lake, if we do visit again, it will only be for the caves.
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