Crooked River Provincial Park is the biggest and most popular provincial park in the region. The 873-hectare park encompasses gently rolling hills covered by forests of lodgepole pine, alder, spruce, aspen and birch, a number of lakes with sand beaches, including Bear, Skeleton, Hart and Square Lakes. The peaceful scenery and pristine lakes make Crooked River a very popular destination for camping – especially the kind that involves nothing but sitting back and relaxing.
The Crooked River once served as a very important transportation link for hundreds, maybe even thousands of years. Before the era of railroads and automobiles, European explorers, fur traders, and the people of the Carrier First Nation navigated the calm waters of Crooked River. The river provided a link between the Fraser and Peace River systems and required minimal portaging. Some of the river’s most notable travellers include Simon Fraser and Alexander Mackenzie.
The park was established in 1965 to protect the landscape and its wildlife. The Crooked River area is home to many animals including ospreys, bald eagles, lynx, red foxes, coyotes and black bears. In the winter, the elegant and endangered trumpeter swan migrates to this area from its northern breeding grounds in Alaska. The trumpeter swan is the largest waterfowl in North America, weighing up to 13kg and having a wingspan of 2m. Although most trumpeter swans migrate farther south to the fiords on the mainland coast and Vancouver Island, a small group of trumpeter swans take refuge here. Underground hot springs in the park prevent sections of Crooked Creek from freezing over, creating an unexpected oasis in B.C.’s frozen central interior. These open waters provide the trumpeter swans with enough food to sustain them until they migrate back north in March. In contrast to the elegant trumpeter swans, the park is also home to mosquitoes – lots of mosquitoes! During June and July, these little pests number in the millions and can be quite frustrating for those with little patience for insects. If you cannot tolerate mosquitoes, it is recommended you visit this park during the more “mosquito-free” times throughout the year.
The main area of the park, Bear Lake, which boasts 460m of the best sandy beaches is perfect for swimming, fishing, hiking and picnicking. The beach also provides volleyball nets, a playground for the children and horseshoe pits. Along Hwy 97, the lakes on and surrounding Crooked River provide good fishing. You’ll find squawfish, char, and rainbow trout in Summit Lake and lakes along the Crooked River chain, while surrounding lakes also have brook trout, Rock Mountain whitefish, and arctic grayling – in particular, try Bear, Square, Skeleton and Hart Lakes. Watercraft are permitted on the four lakes, however there is no boat launch and powerboats are prohibited. The park also has several hiking trails, including a scenic 9km trail that circles around Bear and Square Lakes. The Crooked River Trail follows the same route that early explorers Alexander Mackenzie and Simon Fraser blazed in the 19th century. In the winter, favourite past-times include cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing.
Class II is as stiff as it gets along the Crooked River, the link running through a chain of lakes from Summit Lake, north of Prince George on Hwy 97, all the way to Williston Lake. Most people only go as far as Kerry Lake (five hours) or McLeod Lake (two easy days). The river is best run in early summer, unless you think you might enjoy walking your canoe for the first 10 km; the river can get fairly low later in the year. Watch for the Crooked River Canyon Forest Service Recreation Site on your way downstream, which can be reached only by canoe.
The park has 90 superb campsites. Each campsite is private, as the sites are scattered throughout stands of lodgepole pine with a few sites ideally situated on the shores of Bear Lake – basic facilities are provided. Fees are collected from May to September 30th and the day use area remains open all year.
There is a day-use/picnic area along the north shore of the lake. It has flush toilets, running water, a sandy beach, a paved and gravel parking lot for 530 vehicles, picnic tables, garbage cans, picnic shelter, horseshoe pits and an adventure playground. Alcohol and pets are not allowed in the day-use areas.
In winter, all hiking trails and the campground loops are available for snowshoeing and skating.
Crooked River Provincial Park is located on Highway 97 in Northern British Columbia, approximately 70 km (43 miles) north of Prince George.
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