Nestled amoung the Nechako Plateau Hills, you have a choice of two provincial parks on the 100 km Stuart Lake; Paarens Beach Provincial Park or Sowchea Bay Provincial Recreation Area.
An endless choice of activities takes you away from the rush of modern living. Enjoy swimming, camping and canoeing. There are 800 metres of natural sandy beach with a roped-off swimming area for children. Fishing is centred around Stuart Lake, a trout angler’s paradise. Beware of high winds on this vast lake. There are many smaller lakes within an hours drive of Fort St. James holding rainbow, whitefish, char, or kokanee.
Undoubtedly the most popular hiking destination in the area is Mount Pope. From the 1472 metre summit the panoramic view of Fort St. James, Stuart Lake, and the snow-capped Omineca Mountains to the north is unbeatable. Although the first part is relatively steep (climbing 300 metres in elevation), the overall slope is roughly 13% with periodic viewpoints along the way. The entire elevation gain of the six-kilometre trail is 791 metres. Allow four to six hours for the return trip.
The original trail was first established by the Carrier Indians. The local band would keep sentries on the mountain to watch the north end of Stuart Lake for war parties coming down from Babine Lake. According to Carrier legend a tribe of little people once lived in the mountain. After killing them all off in a war, the Carrier would offer gifts of salmon to the ghosts of the little people to ensure abundant salmon runs would continue.
The mountain is named after Major Franklin L Pope. In 1865, while surveying a route for the Overland Telegraph to Siberia, Pope was separated from his Carrier guides and spent the night alone on the mountain.
Another interesting hike in the Fort St. James area is the Tulle Lake trail network featuring 15 kilometres of interconnecting trail to three lakes with good fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities. For the extremely energetic hiker with extra time to spend the historic Nautley/Sowchea Pack Trail intersects the Tulle Lake trail system. This 45 kilometre trail was used for generations as an early trade route between villages on Fraser and Stuart lakes.
The relative flat of the Nechako Plateau gives way to the rolling hills around Fort St. James. Mount Pope (1472 metres) overlooks Stuart Lake to the west and signals the beginning of the Omineca Mountains rising to the north.
Paarens Beach Provincial Park has 36 campsites. Facilities provided include pit toilets, and sani-station offered during the summer months. Most parks in this region do not officially open until late May, once the snow hs melted and the ice is gone from the lakes. Fees are collected from May to September. A large day-use/picnic area is located on a lengthy stretch of wide sandy beach. Change houses, abundant picnic tables, a playground for the kids and a log picnic shelter are all available to help you enjoy leisurely summer days swimming and sunbathing at the beach. A boat launch is also located within the park to access Stuart Lake.
Nearby attractions include the Fort St. James National Historic Park, where original log buildings have been restored and furnished in the style of the late 1890s, and interpretive and interactive exhibits are on display. 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.
Reservations are possible at Paarens Beach by calling BC Parks reservation line, 1-800-689-9025, between May 1 and September 15. For general information, call 250-847-7320.
Paarens Beach Provincial Park is located off Highway 27 in Northern British Columbia, 7 miles (11 km) from Fort St. James.
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