Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Calling Train Lovers - We slept in an authentic train caboose this summer

To be clear, we slept in a "converted" CN caboose this summer but it was as authentic as I've ever imagined a train caboose would look like inside.

Straight from Wikipedia:
"A caboose is a manned North American railroad car coupled at the end of a freight train. Cabooses provide shelter for crew at the end of a train, who were long required for switching and shunting, and to keep a lookout for load shifting, damage to equipment and cargo, and overheating axles."

Caboose sleeping dorms at the HI Shuswap Lake Hostel

I included the definition above because I feel we got a very authentic experience sleeping in a train caboose at the HI Shuswap Lake Hostel. The caboose that we called home for two nights came complete with six original bunk beds, a very small kitchen and table, a desk area where I imagine the conductor would have sat down to do some work, and a very small bathroom (think the size of an airplane or trailer bathroom.) We got to crawl up into the lookout area at the top of the caboose (where there were still chairs that the workers would have sat in to watch the train,) and we played around on the outside of the caboose (still attached to a section of train track.)

Sleeping quarters and a playground

While the caboose was a far cry from luxury accommodations, you get what you pay for - an authentic CN caboose! And that's what you are likely staying at the Shuswap Lake Hostel for if you have children.You will  be sleeping in bunk beds (because the train workers would have slept this way,) you'll have to squeeze into the tiny bathroom (because what else would you expect to find in a caboose) and you'll have to make do with simple cooking facilities. I hardly imagine that the CN workers after all would have been making gourmet cuisine while on their shifts. This is an authentic stay in a real caboose and you get to enjoy a taste of living like a real train conductor or crew member.

Kitchen and sitting area in our caboose

General Information about the HI Shuswap Lake Hostel

The HI Shuswap Lake Hostel is ideally situated 6 hours from Calgary and 5 hours from Vancouver. For us, it was also a great detour on our way home to Calgary from the Okanagan.

The hostel is located in the historic Squilax General Store where you can still enjoy afternoon high tea on Saturdays and Sundays. The store also provides you the opportunity to shop "local" and try some sweet corn from the area with local salmon or a fresh bison steak. There is a communal barbecue on site for grilling up your meat, and then the small kitchen in each caboose is more than sufficient for boiling up a pot of water. The hostel also has an outdoor communal kitchen beside the barbecue that has dishes and sitting for 18 people.

Caboose car with the main hostel building in the background

The hostel has three converted cabooses that each sleep six people. Each caboose has its own kitchen, sitting area, and toilet. Showers are located in the building next door and each caboose also includes  an iPod/mp3/cd speakers and USB chargers (super convenient when you are traveling.) The hostel also has a common lounge where you can hang out with other guests and even watch something on the shared TV together.

Hanging out in our train car at HI Shuswap Lake

Because the caboose cars are shared, I recommend booking an entire caboose for your family. While I love meeting new people, I'm nervous about sharing a small sleeping area with strangers when I have young children along who may need to go to bed earlier, who may wake up much earlier, or who just might make more noise than would be agreeable to your new bunk mates (usually younger and without kids.)

If a caboose isn't required for your family and you'd rather have a private room, the hostel has small rooms in the main hostel that sleep three people with a double bed and a single bunk above.

All bedding is provided with your stay along with basic kitchen supplies and towels.

Simple but sufficient sleeping in the caboose for 6 people

Activities and Amenities at the HI Shuswap Lake Hostel 

The biggest appeal for staying at this hostel is its lakeside location on the edge of Shuswap Lake, where the river flows out of the lake into Little Shuswap Lake. There's a dock for those who want to enjoy swimming in the water and you can borrow a canoe from the hostel for a leisurely paddle up the short section of river to Shuswap Lake. It's a very easy float back to the hostel when you get tired of paddling.

I brought my own paddleboard to enjoy at the hostel

There is also a fire pit  on site for evening campfires and while I didn't get a photo, the hostel has a couple of friendly llamas who help with yard maintenance. There is also a friendly dog and cat on site who will definitely approach you to say hi.

Paddling up the river to Shuswap Lake from the HI Shuswap Lake Hostel

Other Activities we Enjoyed in the Shuswap Area 

Our main goal for the area was to drive to Shuswap Lake Provincial Park to paddle out to Copper Island. From the island, you can do a short 3 km loop hike to the top of the island (the only island in Shuswap Lake.)

Hiking to the top of Copper Island
The Copper Island hiking trail was beautiful!

The hike was beautiful and we got an early start before many motor boats got their start on the lake.

Paddling on Shuswap Lake, Copper Island in the background
Kayaking across Shuswap Lake at the Provincial Park

Noah also had his own request for what he wanted to do after we drove through Salmon Arm en route to the Hostel. WATER SLIDES! And how can you say no to that when it's the classic summer vacation activity. So after paddling to Copper Island, we drove back to Salmon Arm for a couple of hours at the water slide park.

Waterslides in Salmon Arm

I can't say enough good things about the Salmon Arm Water Slide Park. There were only four big slides and they all funneled out into the same pool so it made for easy supervision if you just wanted to hang out and watch the kids.  I chose to slide with my son and was happy to discover that the slides do not move very fast. This is the best intro water park I've ever been to. You practically have to push yourself along to get up any speed. (a good thing when it's your child's first time at a real water park, or if you have small children.)

The park also has several smaller slides and a kiddie pool for younger tots.

Starting off on the kiddie slides and pools

Adults can pay a discounted rate if they just choose to supervise and there were plenty of tables on site to sit at while watching the kids. The park also had food available to purchase so you could have stayed all day.

It was a great afternoon at the Salmon Arm Waterslide Park!

Extra Details For Families who Want to Stay at the HI Shuswap Lake Hostel

As mentioned above, I recommend reserving a full caboose for your family. The website lists the following rates:

"member rates from $19.00/night and non-member rates from $23/night. Private rooms (non-caboose) also available from $46.00/night."

This means that it would cost you roughly $114.00 for a full caboose for a night for your family were you to pay for all six beds. And while this may seem like a lot for a hostel, you'd be hard pressed to find a hotel room in the Shuswap for much cheaper. Now find a hotel room that sleeps 6 people, is lakeside, and has a kitchen for that price. If you find one, let me know. :)

 Connecting Caboose Cars at the HI Shuswap Lake Hostel

Finally, below are a few thoughts that could help you to be more comfortable here:

  • Choose the breakfast that is included for a small additional fee. It's served in the communal lounge area and comes with coffee and home made fruit pancakes with real maple syrup.

    The small kitchen area in the caboose cars
  • Choose to use the communal barbecue rather than trying to cook in the small kitchen.
  • Plan to eat in the communal eating area rather than trying to fit into the small kitchen area of your caboose. The caboose has one small table with two chairs. Other than that, there's a sofa/recliner chair and the office table with chair - but you won't be sitting around a table eating together.
  • Give the hostel staff a head's up in advance if you have a child who is afraid of dogs. The hostel dog is generally allowed to "roam" around the area but can be "put away" out of your family's way if this is a problem.
  • I'm also not sure if this hostel would be a good place for kids with allergies, asthma or who are sensitive to confined spaces and unique smells. Our caboose had a unique "odor" - likely that of an authentic train caboose, and the sleeping area feels "closed in." While there are windows, we still found it to be a bit hard to breathe at times while sleeping, and my son had a hard time falling asleep.
  • Explore the nearby Town of Chase. It had a great playground down by the water, a long wharf that kids were jumping off of into the lake, and had evening concerts once a week in the park. If traveling with young children, this is probably a better spot to go swimming too since the hostel is actually situated on the river connected to Shuswap Lake (and has a current.)

Being goofy at the HI Shuswap Lake Hostel

For more information on staying at the HI Shuswap Lake Hostel, please visit the hostel website.

To read more about our summer vacation this summer, check out my recent story: The Importance of Summer Vacations (and the BEST of the Okanagan.)

Exploring Shuswap Lake, BC

Disclaimer: Our stay at the hostel was graciously taken care of for us in exchange for an honest review on our experience. All opinions in this story are my own and I was not paid to write a favorable review.

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