Fifty miles (80 km) long and glacier-fed, Chilko Lake is the largest natural, high-elevation freshwater lake in North America. The crystal-clear Chilko Lake is surrounded by extraordinary mountain scenery, and is one of the most visually appealing wilderness lakes in British Columbia. Jagged Peaks, colourful volcanic mountains, wide alpine meadows, and vast icefields surround the glacial streams that feed the turquoise blue waters of Chilko Lake and Chilko River. The name Chilko is derived from Chilcotin, meaning ochre river in the Chilcotin Indian language.
Chilko Lake is situated in Ts’yl-os Provincial Park. Bounded by rugged peaks of the Coastal Mountains to the west, and the dry Interior Plateau to the east, Ts’yl-os Provincial Park provides visitors with a great diversity in both land and wildlife. Ts’yl-os (pronounced sigh-loss), was originally established as an area to protect endangered wildlife and to promote wilderness recreation activities.
Within the park, Chilko Lake consumes much of the area of the park. Beware the strong winds that sweep down off the glaciated peaks surrounding the park: these make for treacherous boating conditions. Only experienced boaters and kayakers should attempt Chilko Lake, due to the size of the lake, the unpredictable winds, potentially high waves, icy waters, and a shortage of safe landing areas. Shore access along the 145 miles (230 km) of shoreline is also limited. There is a natural boat launch in the mid-lake area and a concrete ramp for powerboats at the lake’s north end. Larger boats are recommended for Chilko Lake.
Location: Chilko Lake and Ts’yl-os Provincial Park are located in the Chilcotin region of British Columbia, 100 miles (160 km) southwest of Williams Lake. From Tatla Lake on Highway 20 travel south as far as Cochin Lake, then east around Choelquoit Lake and south to the Forest Service campsite on the north end of Chilko Lake. Please note that travel time varies considerably depending on weather conditions. Routes follow rough, washboard gravel roads; high clearance four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended.
Chilko Lake Resort and Ts’ylos Park Lodges are located at the north end of Chilko Lake and can be reached by road off Highway 20, which runs between Williams Lake and Bella Coola, or by air. A 3,200-foot gravel airstrip at Chilko Lake Resort accommodates private and chartered aircraft, and floatplanes can land and tie up in front of the lodge. Flights to and from Vancouver can be booked through Chilko Lake Resort.
Fishing: Chilko Lake plays host to the third-largest chinook/sockeye salmon run in BC, from August through October. The salmon eggs are a major food source for rainbow trout and dolly varden. There is true trophy fishing here, with rainbow trout as big as 22 pounds (10 kg) and dolly varden as large as 24 pounds (54 kg). Chilko Lake is also home to whitefish and bull trout. Various other streams and rivers feed the Chilko and Taseko systems, and support whitefish. In the fall, spawning salmon can be observed struggling up the Chilko River at the north end of Chilko Lake.
Angling popularity at Chilko Lake has increased sharply in recent years, placing significant pressure on the stocks of Chilko Lake’s wild, slow-growing fish. Anglers are encouraged to practice responsible catch-and-release fishing, and to also frequent the many other smaller lakes in the region.
Ts’yl-os Provincial Park comprises approximately 233,000 hectares of rugged mountains, clear blue lakes, glaciers, alpine meadows, and waterfalls. The diverse ecosystems in the park remain largely undisturbed by human activity.The park is remote, and visitors must be self-sufficient and competent in order to deal with the challenges of the outdoors.
Camping: Visitors are able to choose from two small campgrounds that tend to fill quickly in the summer months; Gwa Da Ts’ih and Nu Chugh Beniz. Facilities provided include pit toilets, picnic tables, fire pits, firewood, and water. Nu Chugh Beniz Campground is situated at Chilko Lake’s midpoint and is reached via Hanceville, 42 km west of Riske Creek on Hwy 20. The approach is recommended for high-clearance vehicles only. Gwa Da Ts’ih Campground is at the north end of the park on Chilko Lake, reached via Tatla Lake on a good gravel road. Fees are collected from May to September 30. Please note that no fee or services are provided after September 30th; campers can still access the campgrounds with self-contained units and be user maintained.
Hiking: In Ts’yl-os Provincial Park, experienced hikers can undertake a four- to six-day loop trek through the Yohetta Valley, Spectrum Pass, and Tchaikazan Valley. The easiest approach is from the Tchaikazan trailhead. To reach the trailhead, turn south at Elkin Creek about 60 miles (100 km) southwest of Hanceville on Hwy 20. An alternative approach is via Chilko Lake and the Rainbow Creek Trail, which connects with the Yohetta-Spectrum-Tchaikazan Trail, a difficult 3-hour, 4-mile (6.5-km) hike.
Also in the park at the north end of Chilko Lake, the well-marked Tullin Mountain Trail (easy; 7.5 miles/12 km return) starts at the Gwa Da Ts’ih campground. This excellent day hike has an elevation gain of 2,400 feet (730 m). Note: Since Ts’yl-os is a wilderness park with limited services, all hikers should be experienced in the backcountry and well equipped for route finding, first aid, and survival situations. The chance of encountering grizzly bears is much higher in Ts’yl-os Park than elsewhere in this region. Be bear aware. Because of the diverse landscapes of the park, visitors are also able to see a variety of wildlife including black bear, moose, mountain goat, cougar and bald eagles.
North of Chilko Lake is Bella Coola Highway 20, the main highway linking the Central Coast of BC at Bella Coola with Williams Lake and the Central Interior as it crosses the Coast Mountains and the Chilcotin Plateau, including Tweedsmuir Provincial Park and Farwell Canyon. Also known as the Bella Coola Road, the highway provides access into the remote wilderness regions of the Chilcotin.