One of the jewels in the Canadian park system is Bowron Lakes Provincial Park, in British Columbia, Canada by Len Webster, Lead Guide BC Yukon Adventures.
The Bowron Lakes Circuit is the quintessential lake canoeing experience in Canada, and has been rated as one of the top ten canoe trips in the world. The 116km route is comprised of six major lakes which are interconnected by a series of portages and rivers. Groomed canoe paths allow for portages to be completed with the use of carts, upon which canoes are wheeled between lakes.
One of the great appeals of this paddle, besides the incredible backcountry scenery of the glacial Cariboo Mountains, cascades and waterfalls, crystal clear waters and virgin forest, is that the chain can be completed without backtracking. You end up at the same spot that you started.
The area was originally peopled by the Takuli or Carrier First Nations people who sustained themselves by trapping, hunting, fishing and gathering activities. As with many First Nations peoples, the tribe was decimated by a smallpox epidemic in the 1860s. Archaeological evidence points to earlier habitation but there is no information about who these people may have been.
The connection to Takuli language is still evident in the park. Lanezi (long) Lake, Itzul (forest) Range, Tediko (girls) Range, Mount Ishpa (my father), and Kaza (arrow) Mountain bear testament to this.
In the 1860s, the Cariboo Goldrush, centred in nearby Barkerville, brought many of the first non-natives to the area. Looking for gold, they explored further into the Bowron Lakes and brought attention to these areas. After the gold rush some whites remained, turning to fur trapping and guiding animal hunts. Soldiers returning from World War I and their families, were given land grants in the area. This gave rise to farming and the development of a few hunting lodges. By the 1920s local outfitters proposed that the Bowron Lakes be established as a wildlife sanctuary to ease the decline on the animal populations. This resulted in the creation of a park reserve in 1925. Over the years the size of the area was increased until finally the Bowron Lakes were designated a provincial park in 1961.
Reasonable level of physical fitness
This trip requires camping and paddling skills, as well as a reasonable level of physical fitness to complete the circuit. Sections of the Cariboo River that connect some lakes are fast moving. Deadheads, sweepers, and sharp bends can prove to be problematic, especially with low water levels. As the lakes are situated in a mountainous area, weather conditions can and do, change abruptly in extremely short periods of time. With some of the larger lakes such as Isaac, Bowron, and Lanezi, winds that are channeled between the high mountains can create dangerous waves. You will need good quality equipment to comfortably get you through the entire trip – a waterproof tent, a tarp and a warm sleeping bag are essential. Even in the summer, nights can be colder than anticipated. Take warm clothing and rain gear no matter what time of year you visit.
Wildlife is abundant on the Bowron Lakes. Paddlers are often treated to moose feeding by the waterways, beaver, and otter. The area around the Bowron River is a birdwatcher’s paradise. But, it is bear country, populated with both black and grizzly bears. Bear encounters can happen anywhere along the circuit. It’s very important to be aware of the dangers, and to manage your food, garbage, and personal hygiene in an appropriate and safe manner. You should also know what to do should you encounter a bear.
The park is patrolled by wardens who check for park permits and see to any problems that may arise. There are a number of campsites with roofed shelters and radio contacting equipment should an emergency occasion the need for some help. A required orientation session with park personnel before you start your trip will highlight this, plus any other information that will make your paddle safe and memorable.
Mosquito populations vary according to season, temperature, rainfall, and wind. Be prepared with mosquito repellent and a head net if you have no tolerance for these suckers, especially in June and July.
Give yourself as much time as possible to fish, swim, and take photos. And, do allow time to visit the historically restored gold rush town of Barkerville.
A fishing licence is required if you intend to fish. This can be purchased online by registering at
Getting to the Bowron Lakes
From Vancouver, British Columbia
Air: Daily flights with Air BC to Quesnel, British Columbia. Taxi service to Bowron Lakes.
Bus: Daily with Greyhound Bus to Quesnel. Taxi service to Bowron Lakes.
Car: 665.9 km – Trans-Canada Hwy and Cariboo Hwy/BC-97 N to Quesnel, BC. Take Barkerville turn off just north of Quesnel on Hwy 26. It is 89 km (53 miles) to Wells. Proceed through Wells toward Barkerville. Look for signs for Bowron Lakes. A 28 km gravel road will lead you to the Bowron Lakes.
Useful services and links
BC Parks/Bowron Lakes:
Canoe and equipment rentals: http://www.beckerslodge.ca/
Bowron Lakes guided trips:
From Vancouver: http://www.bcyukonadventures.com
Historic Barkerville: http://www.barkerville.ca