For canoe enthusiasts desiring a challenge, Bowron Lake Provincial Park certainly delivers. Its extended 72-mile (116-km) rectangular canoe and kayak route through a chain of 6 major lakes, rivers, and creeks linked by portages is legendary, drawing visitors from around the globe. The Bowron Lakes Chain offers one of British Columbia’s most popular and interesting canoe routes, the Bowron Lakes Canoe Route. Plan on taking seven to ten days to complete the route, although it can be done in less time.
You must prepare well for the Bowron circuit, and paddlers should have some wilderness canoeing experience, unless accompanied or led by an experienced guide. That means three things: planning, physical fitness, and proper equipment (including food). Canoeists must be aware that as a wilderness area, no supplies are available once on the circuit. You may have to share your campsites with other parties, so it’s a good idea to limit the number in your group. If your number exceeds six, you must obtain prior permission from the District Manager to make the trip; reservations (for any size of party) are required in summer. We recommend canoeing here in September – there will be fewer people, fewer insects, and more beautiful colours than at other times. The canoe circuit is closed for the season from September 30 to May 15.
All groups are required to register at park headquarters and to pay a circuit fee before commencing. Reservations are required for all people wishing to canoe this circuit. Open from May to October, the course is very busy, so group starting times are staggered to prevent overcrowding of the course. I recommend canoeing here in September – there will be fewer people, fewer insects, and more beautiful colours than at other times.
This wilderness canoe trip takes from 6 to 10 days to complete, depending on your time frame and skill level. Even if you’re planning to do a seven-day trip, it’s a good idea to bring enough food for ten days. You may become stormbound for a day or two. There can be high winds on the lake in the afternoons, and the nights can be chilly. For those looking for a shorter trip, the west side of the circuit can be paddled in 2 to 4 days. There are several trappers’ cabins along the canoe circuit, dating from the 1920s.
Guides to the Bowron Lakes canoe route include The Bowron Lakes; British Columbia’s Wilderness Canoe Circuit by Chris Harris and Jenny Wright, The Indispensable Guide To Canoeing The Bowron Lakes by Chris Harris, and Canoeing Bowron Lakes Provincial Park by Richard Wright.
The park has tremendous diversity in topography and vegetation. The rounded hilltops of the Quesnel Highlands on the west side of the circuit have a unique character quite different from the imposing Cariboo Mountains on the eastern and southern sections of the circuit. The park is a place of many moods, from bright sunshine and placid blue lakes to angry gray waters and torrential rains.
The entire park is a wildlife sanctuary, including prime habitat for moose and grizzly bears, so be on your best backcountry camping behaviour, and take extra caution because of bears. A wide variety of wildlife lives in the park, including moose, deer, mountain goat caribou, black bear, grizzly bear, waterfowl, beaver, and otter. Rainbow trout, lake trout, bull trout, Rocky Mountain whitefish and Kokanee salmon inhabit the waters of the park. The Bowron Lakes are also a major stopover on the bird migration route, so bring your binoculars and telephoto lens. In the winter, trumpeter swans depend on the open waters of the Bowron Marsh and Cariboo River. Firearms and crossbows are prohibited in Bowron Lake Provincial Park. Pepper spray is permitted only if it is clearly labelled by the manufacturer “for bear use only”. Use the bear caches near the wilderness campsites.
There are 25 vehicle/tent sites in a drive-in campground, and numerous wilderness sites in the park. The campground is located near the Registration Centre a short distance from Bowron Lake itself. Reservations for the vehicle-access campground are not available. All drive-in campsites are on a first-come, first-served basis. There are also a few short walking trails nearby. To reduce the impact on the park’s natural resources, park rules and regulations are in effect, and are strictly enforced.
Call 1-800-435 5622 for reservations and general information. The Registration Centre is open from 7 am to 8 pm seven days per week, from May 15 to September 30. The canoe circuit is closed for the season after September 30. Supplies, including canoe rentals, are available at several lodges and resorts nearby, and experienced, licenced guiding companies are located in Wells.
Bowron Lake Provincial Park is located due east of Quesnel, Wells and Barkerville in the Cariboo region of British Columbia. Drive the Cariboo Highway 97 to Quesnel, and take Highway 26 east of Quesnel for 68 miles (110 km). At the end of Highway 26, continue along the gravel access road for about 11 miles (18 km).