Prince George has one of the biggest, most active paddling clubs in the province, the Northwest Brigade Canoe Club. They’ve even put out a book devoted to paddling in this neck of the woods, Canoe and Kayak Trip Guide for the Central Interior of British Columbia. Trips run from flatwater to Class V rapids, but don’t expect to find much more than Class II in this easygoing guidebook. For anyone planning on spending time in this area, it’s a good investment. At the very least, get in touch with the club for any new information on routes in the area.
A good canoeing spot near Prince George is Eskers Provincial Park . A series of tiny lakes linked by portages lets you experience a day or three of wilderness paddling in close proximity to Prince George. The only real danger here is getting lost, and with a bit of preparation even that is pretty easy to avoid. The park is located about 25 miles (40 km) northwest of Prince George on Chief Lake Road. Simon Fraser himself paddled through this area more than 100 years ago.
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 6 miles (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.
On the east side of Hwy 97 is the Parsnip River, named for the giant cow parsnips that grow along its banks. The name is amusing, but the paddling is serious. It’ll take you two days to do the 35 miles (57 km) from the old Anzac Mill site to Windy Point, where the Parsnip crosses Hwy 97 to meet Williston Lake. Tacheeda Lakes Rd is 56 miles (90 km) along Hwy 97 from the John Hart Bridge; the launch site is 17 miles (27 km) beyond on gravel road.
You can follow part of Simon Fraser’s route by paddling the 5 miles (8 km) of McLeod River that link War and Carp Lakes in Carp Lake Provincial Park . Once you hit Carp Lake, spend a day exploring, then a night at a designated campsite on one of the islands that dot the lake.
It’s recommended that you not put a canoe in Williston Lake, the largest lake in the area, and indeed, in the province. The lake is man-made, and the area wasn’t logged before it was flooded. Jams, floaters, and ice-sharpened snags can make this a dangerous lake to canoe, though that doesn’t stop many people. Consider this fair warning. If you are planning on canoeing Williston, there’s a put-in at Finlay Bay Forest Service Recreation Site at the end of Hwy 39. Instead, try canoeing down what used to be the Peace River Valley. Now that it’s been flooded, it’s called the Peace Reach. Don’t expect to do the reach in a day, though. It stretches 37 miles (60 km) east to the W.A.C. Bennett Dam.
If such warnings put you off the big lake, try the Dina Lakes Canoe Circuit, a route through a number of small lakes that should take about four hours to complete. Access to the lakes is about 12 miles (20 km) north of Mackenzie. Best time to do the Dina Lakes route is in early June, once the portages have been brushed out. The longest portage on this route is about 230 feet (70 m).
Depending on where you put in and how fast you paddle, canoeing the Murray River near Tumbler Ridge can be a few hours or a few days. You’re going to need someone to drop you off and pick you up, or leave a vehicle at the end. Follow the Forest Service road toward Monkman Provincial Park. There are two bridges over the Murray on the way to Monkman, or if you can handle the portage down (it’s a killer), you can launch from near the base of Kinuseo Falls. Watch for an old trappers cabin as you head down the river. The best place to take out is near the second bridge from Tumbler Ridge along Hwy 29 to Chetwynd. If you pass the BC Rail shops heading north, you’ve gone too far. Another popular put-in point is at East Pine Provincial Park where the East Pine River flows into the Murray, 15.5 miles (25 km) east of Chetwynd.
Since the W. A. C. Bennett Dam was built, the Peace River has lost what spunk it once had. The dam was built at the end of the roughest sections of the river, and flooded out the entire river valley for hundreds of kilometres back. The 600-foot (183-m) monstrosity is a wonder of modern engineering, a half-mile wide at its base; when the floodgates are opened in early spring, the gushing water is truly an impressive sight. Past the dam, the Peace flows gently east through the foothills of the Rockies and on into the Prairies. You could float east from Hudsons Hope to Hudson’s Bay, with not much more than the occasional weir to worry about. Shorter trips include a five-day paddle from Hudson’s Hope to Taylor Landing Provincial Park, or 10 days to Dunvegan, Alberta. Or you could just spend a day canoeing around Taylor Landing Provincial Park, along Hwy 97, 24 miles (38 km) north of Dawson Creek.