Rediscover gold country in British Columbia’s legendary and historic gold rush town of Barkerville, located east of Quesnel on the Cariboo Wagon Road.
In 1862, Englishman Billy Barker found gold on Williams Creek, a discovery that started a rush of fortune seekers from all over the world. Between 1862 and 1870, over 10,000 people travelled the Cariboo Wagon Road, named the eighth wonder of the world, converging on the goldfields, and the boomtown called Barkerville. In its heyday, Barkerville was the largest city west of Chicago and north of San Fransisco.
During the height of the Gold Rush it was thought that Barkerville would become one of the biggest cities on the West Coast, but when the gold played out, Barkerville died. It stood abandoned for more than 70 years. In 1957, the provincial government took over Barkerville and started the long process of restoring and reconstructing it into an historic site.
Today, Barkerville remains a town of discovery, as it did in the days of old, a unique streetscape with over 125 faithfully restored heritage buildings, including a blacksmith, bakery and restaurants, and the remains of one of North America’s oldest Chinatowns.
A gateway into the past, Barkerville offers visitors a glimpse of the days when haggard prospectors paid for their whisky with gold dust, and can-can dancers could scoop up a tip without missing a beat.
Guided tours throughout the town bring the lore of the Gold Rush to life, with period actors roaming the streets dressed in the costumes of historical characters, and greeting visitors as if they had just arrived on the Barnard Express stagecoach. And for those who contract gold fever (and there are always a few), there’s plenty of gold panning to be had. Good luck!
A history as rich as the gold itself awaits you at Barkerville. The historic town is open year round, although the full interpretive program is only in effect from mid-May through to the end of September. For the remainder of the year, visitors are welcome to explore the streets of Barkerville, and for two weekends in December, Barkerville offers old-fashioned Christmas celebrations with full interpretive services.
Along the road to Barkerville you’ll see historical sights such as Cottonwood River, Cottonwood House, Mexican Hill, Robber’s Roost, Blessing’s Grave, Devil’s Canyon and Stanley Cemetery.
Location: Barkerville is located on Highway 26, 55 miles (89 km) east of Quesnel in the Cariboo region of British Columbia. Just follow the ‘Gold Rush Trail’ along the Cariboo Highway 97 to Quesnel, then take Highway 26 to Barkerville.
Experience history in Barkerville, and have your photograph taken in period costume. A tour of town in style on the Barnard Express Stagecoach is especially fine in a rented period costume.
Don’t miss the live theatre show at the Theatre Royal, and consider a pleasant walk to nearby Richfield, and the oldest courthouse in British Columbia.
Most people, when they think of Barkerville, think of the gold rush centre that was once the largest city west of Chicago and north of San Fransisco. Barkerville Provincial Park is adjacent to the restored town, a very popular destination for tourists, and camping at the park’s vehicle/tent sites may be a good alternative to seeking private accommodation. If this campsite is full, you can try the nearby parks between Wells and Barkerville: Forest Grove, Lowhee and Government Hill.
The large, backcountry Bowron Lake Provincial Park offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities: camping, canoeing, boating, kayaking, hiking, swimming, fishing and winter recreation. Particularly notable is its canoe circuit, which offers miles of spectacular scenery and great opportunities for viewing wildlife. Bowron lies across the boundary of the Quesnel Highlands and the Cariboo Mountains, with the Bowron and Spectacle Lakes waterway marking the boundary between these two regional landscapes. The entire park is a wildlife sanctuary, including prime habitat for grizzly bears, so be on your best backcountry camping behaviour. The Bowron Lakes are also a major stopover on the bird migration route, so bring your binoculars. Within walking distance of the town, the park has vehicle/tent campsites plus wilderness sites.
Recreation: Summer or winter, there’s an abundance of terrific recreational pursuits to be found in and around Barkerville. Hiking, cycling, canoeing, downhill and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, all in beautiful surroundings – truly what holiday memories are made of. Even in the hearts of our cities, you’re never far from the wilderness.
Paddling: For adventurous canoe enthusiasts desiring a challenge, the Bowron Lakes Canoe Route delivers. Its extended 116-km canoe and kayak route through a chain of lakes, rivers and creeks linked by portages is legendary, drawing visitors from around the globe to the mountain wilderness paradise of southern British Columbia. Plan on taking seven to ten days to complete the route, although it can be done in less time. Canoeing here in September is recommended – there will be fewer people, fewer insects, and more beautiful colours than at any other times. You must prepare for Bowron. That means three things: planning, physical fitness and proper equipment and food. Also, extra caution must be taken because of bears, but it’s a great trip. Barkerville is the closest rest stop or departure point for Bowron Lakes Provincial Park, 30km to the east.
For the hardy souls with four-wheel-drive vehicles, a jaunt over the top of Yank’s Peak is well worth the time and trouble. Breathtaking scenery, old mines, wildlife and rolling alpine are encountered on the route to Likely. Yank’s Peak was named after Bill Luce, a well-known American miner. Enjoy the winter wonderland snowmobiling Yank’s Peak between November and May.
Hiking: The Wells/Barkerville area is home to several exhilarating trails, including a hike up the famous Yank’s Peak. Three hikes are suitable for an afternoon ramble. The trail to Mount Agnes goes from Barkerville to Richfield, following the route of the original Cariboo Wagon Trail to Summit Rock.
Winter: In winter, rent a snowmobile, downhill ski at a nearby resort, or enjoy the silence on cross-country skis. Six metres of annual snowfall produces superb conditions for winter recreation – like dogsledding.
Cross-country skiing: The pistes de resistance in Barkerville run through a beautiful, steep-sided valley where moose graze year-round in the open meadows and the tracks of ptarmigans and ravens, coyotes and rabbits, beaver and muskrat can all be seen as clearly as ski tracks in the snow. Most skiers can easily cover the 8-km route between Wells and Barkerville, or other trails that loop around the area. More advanced cross-country skiers head from Barkerville Historic Park past the ghost town of Richfield and up Mount Agnes, where 23 km of trails lead through the heavily forested countryside around Groundhog Lake.
Troll Mountain Ski Resort, midway between Quesnel and Wells on Highway 26, offers excellent downhill skiing, with 14 runs from beginner to advanced. Five hundred vertical metres of skiing are provided, serviced by T-bars. Skiing & Winter Activities in the Cariboo.
Snowmobiling: Snowmobilers looking for the most challenging hill climb in the province should plan to be in the Wells/Barkerville area around the third weekend in March. The Great Canadian Hill Climb attracts over 1,000 snowmobilers to its annual event, which is held on Mount Agnes at Groundhog Lake. Spectators can view the entire race from start to finish, and all access to the site is by snowmobile only.
Celebrate Canada’s birthday the way they did in 1870…don’t miss Dominion Day Celebrations on July 1st.
Help with the farm chores or sample fresh farm produce and baking at the historic Cottonwood House east of Quesnel on Highway 26. This original 1860s Cariboo Road House provides a great introduction to the Gold Rush era of the Cariboo.
If art is your fancy, stop in the quaint town of Wells, on the way to Barkerville, and browse through the many arts and craft shops. One thing that a village like Wells has, is an abundance of character, and it retains the ongoing gold-fever vitality that once invigorated Barkerville.
West of Barkerville on the Cariboo Highway is the picturesque community of Quesnel, the commercial centre of the North Cariboo, located in a quiet valley at the confluence of the Fraser and Quesnel Rivers, surrounded by beautiful green mountains and lush forests.
The Cariboo Highway 97 (Hwy 97) runs north from Cache Creek to Prince George across the lake-studded Fraser Plateau. This is a classic 275-mile (445-km) ramble through the heart of the Cariboo region, with branch roads that lead west into one of British Columbia’s most thinly populated outbacks, Chilcotin country. The highway runs through Cariboo Country, a region of rolling hills and prairies, thick forests, granite-walled canyons and impressive river valleys, where ranching, logging and mining are the mainstays of the local economy.