Premier Listings: Canoeing & Kayaking: Northern BC

Fraser Plateau

There are dozens of fine canoe routes here. You can take a few hours to run a river, or a few weeks to run a chain of lakes. Many of the routes have been well documented by the phenomenal Northwest Brigade Canoe Club, one of the most active canoe groups in the province. If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in this area, or even to make just one extensive trip, it would be a good idea to contact them at Box 327, Prince George, BC V2L 4S2, or pick up a copy of Canoe and Kayak Trip Guide for the Central Interior of British Columbia, put out by the canoe club. At the very least, get in touch with them for any new information on regional routes. Another helpful guidebook is Canoe Routes British Columbia by Jack Wainwright.

The Stuart River has rapids of up to Class IV, depending on water levels, but if you can handle that (or, in a pinch, portage), you can canoe the Stuart River and Nechako River from Fort St. James to Prince George. Alexander Mackenzie did this route, albeit going the other way, back in 1806 when he established Fort St. James. A lot of this route is flatwater, scarcely Class I, but watch out for occasional rapids and the usual litany of wild-water hazards: fallen trees, logs, etc. The entire trip runs for 119 miles (195 km), with rapids to Class III as well as one Class IV. Plan on taking three to six days to complete the journey one way.

The Nechako River is also paddleable well above its confluence with the Stuart River. From the Cheslatta River Forest Service Site (about 68 miles/110 km south of Vanderhoof and Hwy 16 via the Holy-Cross Forest Rd) to the mouth of the Stuart is about 87 miles (140 km), the first mile (1.6 km) of which is on foot to the base of Cheslatta Falls. Most of the river is Class II, with some rapids. Expect to take five days to reach the Stuart River, and another day to reach Prince George, 30 miles (50 km) beyond. Don’t have a time for a weeklong trip? You don’t have to do the entire route, you know.

Another option is the Stellako River. From the east end of Francois Lake to Fraser Lake is just 4 miles (7 km), the perfect way to spend an afternoon. The river is maximum Class II, with the exception of a Class IV waterfall. A short portage – less than 100 feet (30 m) – leads around the falls. Of course, if you don’t want to deal with the rapids, you can always spend a lazy day paddling about Fraser Lake, and spend the night at Beaumont Provincial Park.

In 1952, Alcan Aluminum built the Kenney Dam on the Nechako River, creating the Nechako Reservoir, a series of interconnected lakes that runs nearly 125 miles (200 km) east/west in two broad arms that connect near the dam at the easternmost end of the reservoir. The northern arm consists of Ootsa Lake and Whitesail Lake, while the southern arm, which bisects Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park, consists of Eutsuk Lake and Tetachuck Lake. With a short portage between Whitesail and Eutsuk (a tramway has been built to haul bigger boats across), the lakes can be boated as a 170-mile (275-km) circuit that runs through the rugged peaks of the Coast Mountains in the west and rolling Interior Plateau hills in the east.

Canoeing or kayaking the Nechako Reservoir is not recommended, as the area was not logged out before it was flooded. Still, people do it, and no wonder. This is one of the longest circuit routes in the province, with only two portages (or one, if you travel counterclockwise and are comfortable shooting Class III). Prominent are the ghostly stands of trees, rising silent from the water, a legacy of the 165-foot (50-m) climb in water levels when the dam was built. Redfern Rapids (which can be navigated safely by powerboat) is one of the highlights of the trip, as are the glaciers at Eutsuk’s western shoreline. With the deep green of the surrounding foliage, the white snow, and the blue sky, the reservoir is a photographer’s dream.

The landscape surrounding the eastern section of the reservoir, particularly the stretch between the settlement of Ootsa Lake and Redfern Rapids, consists of the rolling, heavily forested slopes of the Fraser Plateau, but the western half features vast glacial expanses of Coast Mountains, for which Tweedsmuir Provincial Park is renowned. Once in the region, consult private operators for current information on navigation. The best time of the year to visit the Nechako Reservoir is in late summer, once water levels and insects have declined. Early autumn is a particularly beautiful season, when leaves turn the Fraser Plateau pure gold.

Plan on seven to ten days to paddle the 56-mile (90-km) Nation Lakes, north of Fort St. James, from one end to the other by canoe. The route begins at Tsayta Lake, and passes through Indata Lake, Tchentlo Lake, and Chuchi Lake. There are 12 Forest Service recreation sites along the lakeshores. Make sure you stop by the Tchentlo Lake Warm Springs on your way through. They’re within sight of the Tchentlo Lake Lodge on the opposite shore. The springs have a maximum temperature of 75 Deg F/24 Deg C. On a warm summer’s evening, you won’t want it much hotter. If you don’t want to do the entire route, you can launch a canoe from the Tchentlo Lake Lodge, an 83-mile (133-km) drive from Fort St. James. Follow the signs from the Leo Creek Forest Service Rd in Fort St. James. Canoes can be rented from the lodge.

Depending on where you begin on Takla Lake, it will take you two to four days to canoe the Takla Lake/Stuart Lake system. The most common starting point is Takla Landing. It’s 118 miles (190 km) from there to Stuart River Campground, just south of Fort St. James. The route travels south down Takla Lake, along the Middle River to Trembleur Lake, then takes the Tachie River to Stuart Lake.

It will probably take you over a week to canoe Babine Lake, British Columbia’s longest (but not largest) lake at 110 miles (177 km) from tip to tip. You can also put in and take out at many places along the lake, including Fort Babine, Smithers Landing, Granisle, Topley Landing, or Pendleton Bay. Hug the shore of this huge lake; weather can change rapidly.

Located well off the beaten path is the Nanika-Kidprice Portage Trails, located southwest of Houston, and situated in the Morice Provincial Forest. The wilderness canoe route consists of a number of trails that links through four lakes on the edge of the Coast Mountains. There are a number of primitive camping spots located along this route with some toilet facilities, but most of them are not formally developed. Round trip to Nanika Falls on Kidprice Lake is about 30 miles (50 km) – allow at least three days.

The route commences at the north shore of Lamprey Lake. There is parking and room for camping (no facilities) at the trailhead. Please fill out a site registration form located at the trailhead. Lamprey Lake is a small lake with reasonably good fishing. The portage trail between Lamprey and Anzac Lakes is about 1.5 km long. From Lamprey Lake, the trail follows the west boundary of an old clearcut to the ridgetop, then proceeds steeply downhill through the timber to Anzac Lake. Anzac Lake has the best fishing on the canoe route. The shoreline is not well suited to camping.

The trail between Anzac and Stepp Lakes commences near the outlet of Anzac Lake. The portage is short, flat, and there may be some marshy areas. Stepp Lake is subject to heavy winds and canoeists should not stay too far out from shore. There are several good camping spots along the lake, the best being located along the narrow channel at the south end of the lake. There are also several nice pebble beaches along the lake. The portage between Stepp and Kidprice Lake is about 2 km long. The trail is relatively flat with some short steep sections. The trail terminates at Kidprice Lake with a boardwalk over the last 100 to 200 metres which is wet and marshy. Canoes can be ferried down the creek to Kidprice Lake.

Kidprice Lake has some pebble beaches and has good views of subalpine and alpine slopes. There are several camping spots on the eastern end of Kidprice Lake but campers are encouraged to use less used sites. The lake is subject to heavy winds. Canoeists should not enter the narrows leading out of Kidprice Lake as there are strong currents which may sweep a canoe over the falls. Nanika Falls is the visual highlight of the canoe route. There are trails on both sides of Nanika River from which the falls can be viewed. Access from Kidprice Lake to Morice Lake is extremely difficult and involves a strenuous portage around Nanika Falls. The Nanika River is a wild river with large rapids, rocks and log debris which require precise maneuvering. It is recommended that paddlers do not attempt this river unless they are expert paddlers and have been properly briefed on the hazards. Access from Kidprice Lake to Nanika Lake is very difficult and seldom done. There are no established trails or facilities to Nanika Lake and it is approximately 6.5 kms from Kidprice Lake.

Access to the canoe route from Highway 16 at Houston is via the Morice River Forest Service Road for 65 km, then south along the Lamprey Forest Service Road for 8 km to Lamprey Lake.

Bulkley Valley and Skeena River Valley

In this water-coursed area, one can get more places by boat than by car. Whether you’re boating for transportation or for relaxation (or both), there’s plenty of room to play. If you’re going by paddle power, try Ross Lake Provincial Park near Hwy 16, 38 miles (62 km) west of Smithers (no powerboats), as well as Seeley Lake, Diana Lake, and Lakelse Lake Provincial Parks.

You’ll need a guide to explore Gitnadoiks River Provincial

Park, which offers superb boating or paddling in a fully protected watershed that drains into Skeena River east of Prince Rupert; check in Prince Rupert for guided boat trips into the area. If you want to get out onto the ocean proper, Prince Rupert has a plethora of boats and guides available. To smell salt in the air around Kitimat, explore the Douglas Channel.

Stewart-Cassiar Hwy 37

Swan Lake Kispiox River Provincial Park contains a chain of undeveloped lakes, rivers, and swamps that provides an outstanding opportunity for water-related adventure. The park is located about 8 miles (14 km) east off Hwy 37. Entry is from Mile 74 (Km 120). There is a small boat launch at the north end of Brown Bear Lake. From there, canoeists must paddle and portage to Swan Lake and beyond.

There is a series of five lakes in the Bonney Lakes Canoe Route, which starts 21 miles (34 km) off Hwy 37 on Brown Bear Forest Service Rd at Meziadin Junction. The route starts and ends in Bonney Lake, with portages of 100 feet (30 m) to 2,300 feet (700 m) along cleared but undeveloped portage routes. Expect to take two to four days to complete the route.

For those wishing simply to paddle around a lake for a few hours while in this neck of the woods, Meziadin Lake in Meziadin Lake Provincial Park is good to float about on.

Don’t even think about canoeing or kayaking the Stikine River into the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, a 61-mile (100-km) stretch of impassable waters that charge through canyons 1,000 feet (300 m) deep. It has only once been bested. Be content with the waters that are runable: for instance, the 160-mile (260-km) stretch between Tuaton Lake in the Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park and the Hwy 37 bridge over the Stikine. If you wish, you can pick up the trip on the other side of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, continuing downriver from Telegraph Creek all the way to Wrangell, Alaska, for a fortnight’s travel of 280 miles (459 km). This is a trip for experienced backcountry paddlers only. Tuaton Lake can be reached by floatplane.

A second canoe route starts in the Spatsizi Plateau Provincial Wilderness Park, and is accessible via a 3-mile (5-km) portage from the BC Rail grade to the Spatsizi River. There are no major rapids on the Spatsizi River, but once the Spatsizi flows into the Stikine, expect some rough water and rapids, especially at higher water levels. Plan on 7 to 10 days for canoeing either the Stikine (Tuaton to Hwy 37 bridge) or the Spatsizi/Stikine routes. Less-experienced paddlers can still experience the wonder of the Stikine. Dozens of river-rafting companies offer treks through this wilderness paradise.

The Dease River from Dease Lake to Liard River used to be one of the most important water highways in the province, and saw its last great use during the construction of the Alaska Hwy. Nowadays, the river is experiencing a bit of a renaissance, as paddlers discover this 162-mile (265-km) waterway. It’s mostly Class I and II, with some Class III rapids. Expect to take about seven days to complete the one-way paddle.

Though the usual route for rafting expeditions on the Tatshenshini River starts in the Yukon and ends in Alaska, much of the river’s path is through British Columbia’s Coast Mountains. The full 161-mile (260-km) river-rafting trek will take 14 days, though it is possible to do smaller 6 and 8 day trips on the Upper Alsek River. Altogether, there are three routes on the Y-shaped river system that lend themselves to exploration in this World Heritage site. The Tatshenshini and its heftier counterpart, the Alsek, run south through the St. Elias Mountains, home to some of the tallest peaks in Canada, many of which reach elevations of 15,000 feet (4575 m). The two rivers merge just inside the western boundary of Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, then flow as the Alsek through Alaska to meet the Pacific at Dry Bay. The Tatshenshini-Alsek watershed is often referred to as the ‘Holy Grail’ of rafting.

There are paddling adventures to be had on Atlin Lake in Atlin Provincial Park and Recreation Area. The massive lake is reached from the town of Atlin on Hwy 7, and is subject to sudden, strong gusts of wind, so be careful not to paddle more than 110 feet (30 m) offshore. Although there are no developed facilities, there are many sheltered locations to beach a canoe and pitch a tent.

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