The town of Princeton is beautifully situated in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, where the Tulameen and Similkameen rivers meet, serving as the southern gateway to the British Columbia Interior. The mountains and valleys make it a natural setting for fabulous, year-round outdoor activities, and an outstanding vacation destination.
In the early 1800s the town was called Vermillion Forks by the fur traders travelling the Hudson Bay’s Brigade Trail from the west coast to the interior of BC. In 1860 the name was changed to Princetown by Governor James Douglas, in honour of the Prince of Wales who was visiting that year.
Long before the arrival of the first white settler to the area, the land at the confluence of the Similkameen and Tulameen Rivers was inhabited by the Indian nations of the area. Several miles up the Tulameen are the Vermillion Bluffs, the source of the highly prized red ochre used for trading and face painting by many different Indian nations.
The first white settler to the area was John Fall Allison who came seeking information for Governor Douglas. Not long after arriving, Allison built a cattle ranch where the town is now located. The years 1909 and 1916 brought the Great Northern Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway to Princeton, another link to the Coast and Interior. Princeton was incorporated as a village in 1951, and as a town in 1978.
The downtown is small, but there are some interesting shops and cafés to be found. Princeton’s western heritage is as rich and deep as the gold and copper mines that honeycomb their way beneath the timbered landscape. It was natural, therefore, that the city decided in 1999 to adopt a western theme for Princeton, which project has already started and will take many years to complete.
Today, agriculture, tourism and cattle ranching are mainstays of the local economy.
The Princeton Museum has a number of fascinating artifacts, photographs, historical displays and one of the best collections of fossils in British Columbia. It includes the first fossilized evidence of a citrus fruit, the first apple, and the first salmon.
Fishing: Bring your rod to Princeton, as there are more than forty good trout fishing lakes in the area, as well as the Similkameen and Tulameen rivers.
Hidden Treasure: One of the legendary characters from Princeton’s past was the greatly admired and respected Mr. George Edwards. Turns out Mr. Edwards robbed trains for a living, counting the Canadian Pacific Railway, Wells Fargo, and other American railways amongst his victims. The notorious Bill Miner was the first train and coach robber in North America before settling into his hideout in the hillside near Princeton Castle. Rumours have it that his unfound treasure still resides there!
Historical sites in the area include Granite Creek, founded by Johnny Chance when he stopped here for a drink of water and discovered gold nuggets lying at the bottom of the creek, Blakeburn, the home of an underground coal mine in the early 1900s, Coalmont, named after the coal deposits mined after the gold at Granite Creek ran out, Tulameen, originally known as Otter Flats, and Hedley, site of famous Nickel Plate Mountain. You can also meander along the Historic Walk around downtown Princetown, a centre for mining in the old days, and discover a bit about the town’s history and heritage, with a short story about each site.
Gold Panning: Keep the gold you find on three proven Placer claims on great Gold Panning Tours out of Princeton.
Otter Lake Provincial Park is a local favourite for picnics, fishing, swimming, boating, and water skiing, and Allison Lake Provincial Park is great for picnics, fishing, boating and swimming.
Manning Provincial Park: Hiking trails are the chief draw of the Manning Provincial Park, boasting more than 66,000 hectares of rugged wilderness in the heart of the Cascade Mountains. The park features tremendously diverse landscapes and plentiful flora and fauna, and is perhaps best known for its magnificent midsummer displays of subalpine flowers. Hikers challenge the Blackwell Peak and Three Brothers Mountain, one of Canada’s finest areas of subalpine meadows accessible by vehicle. Manning contains sections of the National Trail, which enters the park from Cathedral Provincial Park, and is the start of the Pacific Crest Trail, which runs for 4,000 km all the way to Mexico. Wilderness camping is permitted in designated areas, and four campgrounds are available; Hampton, Mule Deer, Coldspring and Lightning Lake Campground, which is especially popular. Horseback riding has been traditional on the park’s historic trails, and half a dozen mountain bike trails are open to mountain bikers. Lightning Lake offers good swimming, canoeing and fly fishing for rainbow trout. Manning Park straddles Highway 3 between Hope and Princeton.
Another local attraction is Castle Park, which houses the ruins of the Portland Cement Plant, built between 1904 and 1908. The planned Great Cement City cost over a million dollars, claimed a number of lives, and took thousands of man-hours to construct. The colossal architectural achievement, now called Princeton Castle, was in operation for only nine short months before the dream fell into silence when the plant was closed down due to a shortage of coal and limestone.
Manning Park Resort in the Cascade Mountains offers downhill skiing and snowboarding, and more than 100 km of ungroomed trails that accommodate all levels of cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Located between Hope and Princeton, Manning Park Resort is considered the premier cross-country and snowshoeing destination in southwestern British Columbia. The Gibson Pass Ski Area is located in Manning provincial Park. Skiing & Winter Activities in the south Okanagan and Similkameen Country.
For a refreshing dip in the Similkameen River on a hot summer day, stop at Stemwinder Provincial Park, although only very good swimmers should brave the fast waters here. Watch out for poison ivy along the riverbank. Stemwinder is popular as a picnic spot for travellers along Highway 3 toward Hedley, offering vehicle/tent campsites.
Twenty kilometres east of Hedley is Bromley Rock Provincial Park, a popular swimming hole on the Similkameen River, with a large picnic/day-use area and vehicle/tent campsites in a pleasantly forested setting. Hiking in the area just outside the park affords good views of the Similkameen Valley. Canoeing is also popular here, providing a downstream route to Stemwinder Provincial Park.
Golf: The Princeton Golf Club is a gorgeous 18-hole, par 72, public golf course located about three minutes east of Princeton. The course presents a challenge for almost every level of player, with intimidating Ponderosa Pines lining the long, rolling fairways. The beautiful scenery that surrounds the course only adds to the truly unique experience of playing the Princeton Golf Course. Facilities include a driving range, putting and chipping green, and RV hook-up service outside the club house for travelling guests. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
The Kettle Valley Rail bed and the secondary logging roads provide excellent mountain biking trails for cycling enthusiasts. The Penticton section of the Kettle Valley Railway has some unique features to it. When you leave the Brodie Wye and head north east, you start to climb up to the town of Brookmere, which is of interest because of the water tower and the railway station that was there (now moved to private property). The Kettle Valley Railway ran on one side of the tower and the Grand Northern Railway ran on the other.
Canoeing & Kayaking: Rated beginner to expert, the Tulameen River and Similkameen River offer more than 75 km of excellent paddling on 2 to 6-hour runs. Or try tubing the rivers on a hot summer day, there’s nothing like it!
Winter Activities: Cross-country skiers of all levels should head for China Ridge Trails, covering open forests and fields, broad ridges and logging roads on maintained and marked trails. The Princeton area also offers lots of rolling hills for tobogganing fun. Dogsledding and Skijoring are great activities for winter enthusiasts and dog lovers.
North of Princeton is Merritt, located at the junction of Coquihalla Highway 5 and Hwy 5A. Merritt is the service centre for the ranch country of the Nicola Valley, and provides an excellent base for exploring the many outdoor recreational opportunities in the area.
East of Princeton is the charming little village of Hedley, tucked into a shadowy draw through which the waters of Hedley Creek rush to join the Similkameen River.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on Okanagan and Kootenay Rockies Circle Tour. Travel the sunny interior of British Columbia, north through the Okanagan to Sicamous, following Highway 1 into the mountains of the BC Rockies. From Golden, head south through the Columbia Valley to Creston, and west through the Southern Okanagan, starting and ending your sun-drenched voyage in Osoyoos, the place where two lakes come together. Circle Tours in British Columbia.