Bowron Lakes - Trip Description
Total Trip distance: 116.4 km
Paddling distance (total): 105.6 km
Portages distance (total): 10.8 km
Coordinates (WGS 84):
N53 15.607 W121 23.641 - Registration Centre (beginning of Bowron - Kibbee Lake portage)
Canadian Topographic Maps:
The Bowron Lakes Circuit has often been rated as one of the top ten canoe trips in the world and with good reason -- where else can you paddle 116km along a chain of lakes without backtracking, and end up at the same spot that you started? Couple this with incredibly beautiful scenery and and you've got a combination that is certainly worthy of such a prestigious distinction.
While it is possible to paddle the circuit in a couple of days (the speed record to complete the circuit is only 11 hours!) most people take at least five days. You are permitted to stay on the circuit for a maximum of 14 days. We spent 10 days to complete the circuit and would have taken longer if our schedule permitted it.
This is not a trip to take if you've never camped from a canoe or kayak. You will require camping and paddling skills, as well as a reasonable level of physical fitness to complete the circuit. There are several portages where you will either have to transport your kayak or canoe by carrying it or by pulling it along trails on a wheeled cart. You'll need to be comfortable in moving water -- some of it running quite quickly.
The fastest moving water is at a location at the very exit of Isaac Lake called The Chute. The Chute is a short flume where water rushes through creating standing waves, strong currents and large eddies. You can either run the Chute or you can portage around it. While we were at the Chute, most people paddled through it, but a few decided to play it safe and portage around it -- a wise decision for anyone not comfortable with fast, moving water.
The Chute is also a fun place to hang out and swim at on a nice summer day. We spent an afternoon (wearing our PFD's) floating in the current, allowing it to push us through the Chute itself then slowly around in the back eddy only to be pushed right back into the powerful current of the Chute for another fast pass -- a whole lot of fun!
The Bowron Lakes are in an area where weather conditions can and do change drastically in extremely short periods of time. You'll need to have enough good quality equipment to comfortably get you through the entire trip -- a waterproof tent, a tarp, and a warm sleeping bag are required. Good rain gear is essential.
Bear and other wildlife encounters can happen anywhere along the circuit. It's very important to be aware of the dangers and to manage your food, garbage, and personal hygiene in an appropriate and safe manner. While we didn't have any problems or sightings of bears on our trip, there were two instances where people just ahead of us did -- fortunately in both instances, the bear turned around and quickly walked away without incident.
Information is available on the BC Parks/Bowron Lakes website about bear safety -- it would be wise to read through this information so that you can be properly prepared to avoid bear encounters and to know what to do should you have an encounter with a bear.
Having wanted to paddle the circuit for many years, I finally decided to take my son and eldest daughter on this spectacular journey as they were now at an age where they could physically do the trip themselves. It became not only a trip of exploration of geography and environment, but also of one that would create a strong bond between myself and my children. Whatever your reason for paddling the Bowron Lakes, just go -- you'll be rewarded with some of the most spectacular scenery on our planet.
And if you have the time, we highly recommend spending at least a full day in the nearby historic town of Barkerville -- it'll be a day that you won't soon forget.
Pine Beetle: At the time of our trip there was a lot of visible damage from Pine Beetle infestation. In some areas, entire mountainsides were infested and instead of lush green forests, we saw red forests. The west side of the circuit is definitely damaged more by the Pine Beetles. While the infestation is natural, it certainly was very noticeable but in no way detracted from the beauty of the Bowron Lake circuit.
Weather: The entire circuit is bound by mountains and valleys. As a result, weather can and does change very quickly -- sometimes in extremes. We were very fortunate and had incredibly good weather conditions for our entire trip. From all that we've read and heard, ten days of sunshine with only a few light showers in this region is very rare. Even in the summer, nights can be colder than anticipated. Take warm clothing and rain gear no matter what time of year you visit the Bowron's, chances are, you're going to need it.
BC Parks -- Bowron Lakes
Bowron Lake Weather Report (from The Weather Network)
Bowron Lake Lodge and Resorts
From Quesnel, follow Highway 26 for approximately 80 kilometers (Highway 26 is a two lane paved highway). Turn left at the well marked turnoff to the Bowron Lakes and drive approximately 30 kilometers (20 miles) on the gravel road until you arrive at Bowron Lake. One you are at the lake, turn north and follow the road for 2 kilometers to the Registration Centre and Park office.
Trip date: August 14 - 23, 2006
Weather: 1st and last day we had rain showers, with 8 days of sunshine in between
Submitted by: Dan Millsip
Images copyright: Dan Millsip unless otherwise specified