The scenic gateway to an impressive network of lakes, rivers and mountains, the trading post of Fort St. James is located on the shores of Stuart Lake. Fort St. James was originally established by the explorer Simon Fraser for the North West Company in 1806.
Goods from eastern Canada and Europe were brought to Fort St. James for distribution through the fort to outposts in the surrounding area. The fort was the social and economic heart of the fur-trade district, known as New Caledonia, and was the main contact point between fur traders and the Carrier Indians, with furs gathered here being shipped to the European market.
Fort St. James has been restored as a National Historic Site, with town buildings dating back to the 1880s. Fort St. James displays the largest group of original wooden buildings representing the fur trade in Canada. Site visitors have the same spectacular view of Stuart Lake that the Carrier Indians and the fur traders knew so well. Not that they all saw this view the same way: while this was ‘home’ to the Carrier people, to the fur traders it was ‘wilderness’. Hardships, adventures, challenges and changes are all part of the story of this place.
Today, mining, forestry, and a growing tourism industry all play an active role in the economy of the local Fort St James community. Year-round outdoor and indoor recreational opportunities include camping, hiking and biking trails, ballparks, golf, fishing, waterskiing, canoeing, swimming, sailing and boating, alpine and nordic skiing, skating, hockey, curling, snowmobiling, and dog sledding.
The region is rich in wildlife, one of the last great wilderness and resource industry frontiers in the world. This spectacular part of Canada is sparsely populated yet accessible; rural and wild, yet well serviced and close to big city amenities. The weather is characterized by snowy winters and warm summers.
Our Lady of Good Hope Catholic Church, built in 1873, is one of the oldest remaining churches in British Columbia, located on Lakeshore Drive overlooking Stuart Lake. Situated behind the church is the cabin in which Father Morice printed the Carrier Prayer Books and newspapers.
Aviation history buffs can head to the Russ Baker Memorial, a monument erected in memory of legendary bush pilot Frank “Russ” Baker, one of the first bush pilots in the area, and founder of Canada’s two major airlines. Also worth a visit is the one-third model of the German Junkers W34 Float Plane at Cottonwood Park. This plane was very popular in the Second World War, and was also used by bush pilots in Fort St. James.
The ancient burial site of Chief Kwah, one of the greatest chiefs known to Carrier Indians, is located near the Stuart River. The grave site was selected by the Carrier Chief prior to his death. To get there, take the first right after the Necoslie River bridge, the first bridge when leaving town.
Pictographs: Twenty one sites of First Nation Pictographs are located on the north shore of Stuart Lake, between Fort St. James and Pinchi Bay, by Honeymoon Island. These Native rock paintings on the cliffs of Stuart Lake date back to the nineteenth century, and depict animals, fish, birds and symbols showing guardian spirits and images received in dreams. Guides and boat rentals can be arranged.
The history of the fur trade lives on at the Fort St. James National Historic Site on Kwah Road, where interpretive and interactive exhibits are on display, and original log buildings have been restored and furnished in the style of the late 1890s. Park staff in period costumes spin stories of old and carry on life much as it was in the late nineteenth century. Listen closely for the phantom whispers of days gone by, and relive the colourful past of trappers, traders and Native people. Come with us on a History Tour of Fort St. James, and Share the Wonder.
Tom Creek Steam Shovel has been preserved as a tribute to the pioneer families who contributed to the growth and development of the region during the first half of the twentieth century. The shovel was brought to the area in the mid 1930s by Thomas A. Kelley. It traveled under its own steam to Fort St. James, then “Grandpa” David Hoy barged it to Takla Landing for it’s final 19 miles to Tom Creek.
Limestone T-Caves are located about 8 kilometres up the eastern side of Stuart Lake, reached by following the shoreline by canoe or boat from Cottonwood Park. About 800 metres from the last house you can hike the steep trail to the interesting T-shaped caves and enjoy the beautiful view. Expect about a 1 to 1-1/2 hour easy paddle on a calm day, and a 15 to 25-minute hike to the caves.
Watch the kokanee running at the Tsilcoh River from mid to late August, and take in the excellent view at Tsilcoh Falls. Located thirty kilometres from town on Pinchi Road, these natural falls are something to see. The road is accessible by car, and there is a campsite for day and overnight use. Closer to town are the smaller Pinchi Falls.
Stuart Lake is a paradise for boaters, and there are several marinas and boat launches to help you enjoy it. Cottonwood Marina, Pitka Bay Resort, Paarens Beach Provincial Park and Sowchea Bay Provincial Park (park links below) all provide access to this fabulous lake. Stuart Lake is 66 km long, 10 km wide, and relatively shallow, with an average depth of 26 metres. In winter, frozen Stuart Lake offers snowmobiling, ice fishing, ice sailing, and dog sledding.
The Stuart River was the exploration route of Simon Fraser and the travel route of the New Caledonia fur trade canoe brigades. Paddlewheelers plied the rivers (circa 1900) to supply Fort St James and other fur trading outposts. Today, riverboats guide visitors along the river from Fort St James or from the Sturgeon Point Road.
Follow Sowchea Road for 11 km to Paarens Beach Provincial Park, which offers vehicle/tent campsites, picnic tables, firepits and a great view of Stuart Lake. Most parks in this region don’t officially open until late May, once the snow has melted and the ice is gone from the lakes.
Sowchea Bay Provincial Park, 5 km west of Paarens Beach, provides vehicle/tent camping spots, picnic tables and firepits on Stuart Lake. The park is the trailhead for the 5-km Antimony Mine Trail, which leads to an old antimony mine where old buildings and mining sites can be explored. Be cautious, as the structures are old and could collapse.
Hiking: Hikers will have a tough time choosing which hiking trails to do first … and next. Closest to town is the 2-km Dickinson Hiking Trail, with other trails including the Antimony Mine Trail from Sowchea Bay Park, the 5-km Mount Pope Hiking Trail to the magnificent views from the old forestry lookout, and a recommended fishing and camping hike along the Tulle and Marie Lake Trail.
Mountain Biking: Fort St. James has discovered that mountain biking is a big part of outdoor recreation. Don’t expect to find ripping sidetrack just yet, but for the fat-tire tourist, there are a number of pleasing day rides, like the 6 to 7-hour Tezzeron Lake Return, and a couple of extended trips, including The Great Northern Circuit, a 6 to 7-day journey along northern logging roads. Other multiday trips include the Fraser Lake Circuit and the Great Beaver Lake Circumnavigation. A ride that should have any true bikepacker drooling is the Spatsizi Overlander Adventure Ride, an amazingly lengthy ride from Fort. St. James to southeast Alaska. This informal trail is the ride to end all rides, and there is no estimate of the time it will take you. Drop a postcard in the mail in Fort St. James, addressed to yourself in Telegraph Creek (at the northern tip of Edziza Park), and try to beat it there.
Paddling: Paddlers can challenge the 4 lakes and rivers that comprise the Nation Lake Chain. After a three-hour drive up the Leo Creek Road, the adventure starts with a launch at Tsayta Lake. Forestry campsites are dotted along Indata Lake, Tchentlo Lake, and Chuchi Lake at the end of the canoe trip, a 90-minute drive back to Fort St. James. Arrange a pick-up and drop-off, or take a guided 7 to 10 day trip out of Fort St. James. Other paddling trips ranging from 1 day to 10 days offer great times in wonderfully scenic surroundings along the Omineca and Stuart Rivers, on Takla and Tezzeron Lakes, and on various other area lakes and rivers.
Canoeing & Kayaking in Nechako and Tweedsmuir Park, Northwest BC.
Murray Ridge Ski Hill, north of Fort St. James, offers downhill skiing and snowboarding. Located 5 kilometres up Tachie Road, the ski area contains 20 miles of runs, accessible by a T-bar lift, and well-groomed cross-country ski trails.
Skiing & Winter Activities in the North West.
Fishing: Stuart Lake contains some of the finest rainbow trout fishing available, with rainbow in the 8 to 15-pound range quite common. Other species include char or lake trout, and burbot for the ambitious.
Golf: The public 9-hole golf facility at Stuart Lake Golf Course offers spectacular views of Stuart Lake. Open seasonally from April to September. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Rockhounds can find various deposits of Gold Placer, Jade, Rhodonite, Jasper and Agate in the area, or try gold panning in Rainbow, Manson, Sowchea, Dog, or Silver Creeks.
The Cottonwood Music Festival held every July in Cottonwood Park on Stuart Lake features bluegrass, old-time country, classic rock, Celtic, Metis, and folk music. On-site camping is available on the lake shore.
Together with Vanderhoof, 60 km to the south of Fort St. James, and Fraser Lake, another 60 km to the west of Vanderhoof, Fort St. James is part of what is known locally as the Tri-cities of the Stuart Nechako.
Fort St. James is located off the Yellowhead Highway 16. The Yellowhead Highway Corridor stretches 3,500 km across Western Canada, along the Trans Canada Yellowhead Highway 16 from Winnipeg, Manitoba (Eastern Mile 0) west to Masset on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Western Mile 0) and south on Yellowhead Highway 5 to Hope, British Columbia.
Circle Tours: See the best of Northern BC on one of the Circle Tours that capture the wonders of the north. The Circle Tour of Northern British Columbia incorporates the Alaska Highway through the Rocky Mountain foothills to Watson Lake in the Yukon, linking with the Stewart/Cassiar Highway and Yellowhead Highway 16 in the south. The Inside Passage Circle Tour and the Native Heritage Circle Tour follow the same route, from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island north by ferry to Prince Rupert. Catch another ferry to the Queen Charlotte Islands, or venture east on the Yellowhead Highway to Prince George, and south through the peaceful Cariboo to Vancouver along the historic Cariboo Wagon Road.
Circle Tours in British Columbia.