In a quiet valley, surrounded by beautiful green mountains and lush forests, is the picturesque community of Quesnel. Located at the confluence of the Fraser and Quesnel Rivers, Quesnel is the commercial centre of the North Cariboo. Once the last stop on the Fraser River for the Gold Rush trail, Quesnel became a boomtown in the late 1800s, with the discovery of gold in the area, and was the service centre for gold prospectors stocking up with supplies before heading east for gold towns such as William’s Creek and Barkerville, the centre of the Great Cariboo Gold Rush.
Like many towns along the Fraser River, Quesnel was a stopping point for Simon Fraser on his river trip of 1808; in fact, it was named for one of his lieutenants on the voyage.
Visitors arriving here today find a perfect place from which to launch outdoor adventures such as camping, hiking, mountain climbing, trail riding, rockhounding or fishing. Others may prefer to soak up the rich history of the Gold Rush era, and of course, everyone wants to try their hand at a little gold panning.
Location: Quesnel is located at the junction of Cariboo Highway 97 and Bakerville Highway 26 in the Cariboo region of the BC Interior, between Prince George to the north (74 miles / 118 km) and Williams Lake to the south (75 miles / 120 km). Quesnel is situated 417 miles (667 km) north of Vancouver and 60 miles (96 km) west of the historic village of Barkerville.
Discover why the Quesnel Museum is proclaimed BC’s best community museum. The Quesnel Museum and Archives portrays the history of the area through superb indoor and outdoor exhibits – 19,000 artifacts and archival items. Popular attractions include a rare collection of Chinese artifacts, a 1911 automobile in showroom condition, and the Cariboo Home exhibit, complete with boudoir, parlour, laundry and kitchen. Located in delightful LeBourdais Park, beside the Visitor Centre.
A number of historic sites are located in the town, including St Andrew’s Church, the Old Pioneer Cemetery, and the original 1867 Hudson’s Bay Company Trading Post in Riverfront Park.
Quesnel is home to the World’s Largest Gold Pan, 5.5 metres across and weighing nearly 1,400 kilos.
Help with the farm chores or sample fresh farm produce and baking at the historic Cottonwood House. This original 1860s Cariboo Road House provides a great introduction to the Gold Rush era of the Cariboo.
Aerial Tour: Take to the air, on an aerial tour of the spectacular Bowron Lake Chain and the hanging glaciers, ice fields, knife-edged mountain peaks and waterfalls of the Cariboo and Rocky Mountains.
Quesnel’s Riverfront Trail is a real jewel! Run, walk, jog or bike on the scenic and peaceful trail that runs along the shore of the Quesnel and Fraser Rivers. It is 5 km in length and takes a leisurely one hour to complete. There are interesting plaques telling of the old days of Quesnel, commemorative trees along the walkway honouring pioneers, and a restored 1906 mining steam shovel. The second phase of the trail system encompasses scenic Baker Creek and the Fraser River, a 4.3 km walk through the treed parks and quiet streets of residential West Quesnel.
Ten Mile Lake Provincial Park was originally a milepost for the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. Abandoned railway grade can still be seen in the park, which is popular now for its recreational offerings. Among these are good cross-country skiing trails, a fine sandy beach, and a great lake for swimming, waterskiing and boating. The park has vehicle/tent sites, and a boat launch so that campers can get out and explore the lake (and get away from the bugs).
Pinnacles Provincial Park, just 8 km west of the city limits of Quesnel, is best known for its intriguing twelve-million-year-old geological rock formations, known as hoodoos. The hoodoos are formed from the effects of natural erosion and weathering around volcanic lava, which often produces vivid bands of colour. The park is a popular day-use picnic area with a pleasant 1-km hike along a well-maintained trail to the hoodoos viewpoint, and a picturesque view of Quesnel and Baker Creek.
Puntchesakut Lake Provincial Park west of Quesnel protects gently rolling terrain and attractive aspen forests on the east side of Puntchesakut Lake. Puntchesakut Lake offers a beautiful stretch of sandy beach, a day-use picnic area, a boat launch, and good paddling, canoeing, kayaking, boating, waterskiing, swimming, and sunbathing. Angling for trout in the spring and fall is perhaps the most popular pursuit in the park.
Cottonwood River Provincial Park: For those who would like to camp in a quiet, unspoiled setting, Cottonwood River Provincial Park is perfect. Comfortably close to the main highway, but away from traffic at the same time, you’ll find 15 vehicle/tent sites here. Located 33 kilometres north of Quesnel.
Bowron Lake Provincial Park is a large, backcountry park offering 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.
Hiking: Outdoor enthusiasts with an historical bent can tackle one of Canada’s ultimate hikes, the ancient Grease Trail of the Carrier Indians, now known as the Alexander Mackenzie Trail. Hike into history, retracing all or part of the steps of the famous explorer on the trail that extends 260 miles (420 kilometres) from the mouth of the West Road (Blackwater) River, north of Quesnel, through Tweedsmuir Provincial Park to Dean Channel west of Bella Coola.
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. 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 that 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, and Quesnel is the perfect rest stop or departure point for Bowron Lakes Provincial Park.
Golf: Quesnel offers two golfing options. Quesnel Golf Course, a public 18-hole, par 71 course located just north of downtown Quesnel, is set in rolling terrain, with deep creek gullies and dense stands of cottonwood trees. The alternative is the Dragon Lake Golf Course, a semi-private 9-hole course located 7 km south of Quesnel, off Highway 97.
Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Follow the famed Cariboo Wagon Road west on Highway 26 to the historic Gold Rush town of Barkerville, settled in the winter of 1862-1863. Regarded as one of the finest heritage attractions in Canada, Barkerville boasts over 120 restored or reconstructed buildings, and a general store full of 5-cent jawbreakers. Open during the summer only – June to September.
Cross-country Skiing: Guest ranches in the Cariboo-Chilcotin are lively places in winter, when cross-country skiers come to explore the trails that many ranchers groom around their spreads. Forest Renewal BC has recently upgraded the routes around Bouchie Lake, just west of Highway 97.
Cattle Ranch: Satisfy the cowboy in you by vacationing on a working Cariboo Cattle Ranch. Work as hard, or as little, as you wish, splitting wood, mending fences, feeding and caring for livestock, and participating in the seasonal cattle drive. Leave enough energy for fishing, horseriding and eating!
Don’t miss the Billy Barker Days festival, BC’s third largest outdoor family festival. Over 150 fun-filled events fill four days of continual celebration, including raft races on the Fraser River, street music, the Crash to Pass Race, stage shows, pie-eating, watermelon seed spitting contests, and the Quesnel Rodeo, the largest amateur rodeo in BC. Held over the third weekend in July.
Looking for a spectacle you don’t get at home? Visit Quesnel during the last weekend in January, for the annual Gold Rush Trail Sled Dog Race.
Experience the history of the old west at Wells, built in the 1930’s as company town for the Cariboo Gold-Quartz Mine. Wells retains the flavour of the era. The remains of Fred Wells, developer of the Cariboo Gold-Quartz Mine are buried inside the cairn on Pooley Street.
Gold Panning: Gold pan in the heart of the Cariboo! Travel the Gold Rush Trail east of Quesnel to participate in a real gold mining adventure on historic Fontaine Creek. Camp in the quiet and serene wilderness setting of the Cariboo Mountains, near the natural canyon cut into the bedrock by Fontaine creek. Gold panning equipment is provided – you just need to bring the luck!.
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.
Circle Tours: See the best of BC when you embark upon one of the many circle tours available in the province. The Inside Passage Tour takes in the magnificent Inside Passage from Vancouver Island to Alaska, disembarking at Prince Rupert to tour remote Northern British Columbia by ferry and road. The trip passes through Quesnel and can be customized into the Native Heritage Tour along the same route.
Circle Tours in British Columbia.