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The Bowron Lakes

On Saturday, August 6, 2011, after Jeremy came home from work, we headed for Quesnel, BC for an 8-day canoe trip (my first ever). The drive was beautiful, and quiet… I forgot to bring along any music/media CDs for the car ride as northern BC has no radio reception.

Sunday morning we woke up early, had a wonderful continental breakfast at the Travelodge Quesnel, and headed off towards Bowron Lake Provincial Park, “a magnificent wilderness of 149,207 hectares. The park is famous for its unique six to ten day Canoe Circuit encompassing ten lakes, numerous waterways and connecting portages,” which we completed in six days!

After the orientation, around 12:30pm, we started off the circuit with the first (2.4km) of six portages. Then we had a quick lunch, trying to evade the mosquitos and then set off on the waters of Kibbee Lake (2.4km). The first few strokes weren’t going so well as I have never canoed before and kept trying to steer when Jeremy was in the stern and not I, but I finally got a hang of it and we were on our way. Not too long after, we arrived at the second portage of 2.0km. This one was quite nasty! And by nasty, I mean muddy, bumpy, mosquito-‘y’, and just awful. But we made it through and continued onto Indianpoint Lake (6.4km) which ends by going through a series of beautiful reeds only to end up at a knee-deep mud pit (which we bypassed by going up the ranger boat dock instead). Here, along this 3rd 1.6km portage to Isaac Lake, is where we discovered what truly horrible mosquitos are like. So, we hurried along, picked up some wood from the woodlot and got out of there as quickly as possible (even though we had originally thought about setting up camp at the end of the portage – the not-so-lovely mosquitos changed those plans) and pushed on to site #11 on Isaac Lake. We arrived at 6pm. Site #11 is where we met Adrian and Glen from Victoria, two fellow canoers, who made for some pleasant company.

Monday morning we were up at 7:30am – and were on the water by 9:30am. As we made our way down the lake we were constantly on the lookout for wildlife. In the process, we noted that next time we’d like to stay at site #18 which looked quite nice, near a little creek entering the lake… and clearly a great spot for spotting bears. Not too far from this site, Jeremy sited our first bear – it was a little black bear that poked its head up from the bushes and then soon ran off, as they are not interested at all in humans. I unfortunately only saw its bum. A bit later we stopped for lunch (site #19), took a quick dip in the lake and then continued our way down the lake. Around 4:30pm we finally decided to call it a day and set up camp at site #23 (we tried #22, but it had lots of mosquitos). Here we had the whole place to ourselves, and therefore decided to take another dip in the lake to clean-up skinny-dip style! This site may have had fewer mosquitos, but by nightfall, the mice came… which we thought were cute at first, but soon discovered were annoying. So we finally decided to go to bed so we wouldn’t have to keep chasing them away, only to find that they would just climb onto our tent. Thank God for tents that close up well!

Tuesday morning started off great. We got up, had breakfast and as we started to pack up, the wind picked up and the rain-filled clouds rolled in. We quickly got the tent down before the rain started to fall and put everything into the bear caches to keep dry where we also kept dry until the rain passed. By 9:30am again, we were finally on the water heading for the chutes. We thought about going through the chutes, but as no one else was, we decided to pass as 1) we couldn’t watch anyone else do it first and 2) there’d be no one there to help us if we flipped – so portaging we went (2.8km).

As we finished the portage and set off into McLeary Lake, which starts off from the curvy, slightly rough current river, we managed to take on some water from the river which we had to bail and sponge out. Then we set off down the silt-laden waters of the Cariboo River. Here we had to pay much attention and remain alert as there are sweepers and deadheads to avoid. Then around 4:30pm we landed at site #34 which had a wonderful cooking shelter, a river for fresh water, and a stove to keep us warm and dry things off. Here we met John and John from Kamloops, one of which decided to “dry-out” his fleece by wrapping it around the stove chimney… needless to say, it didn’t exactly dry-out; it melted!

Wednesday morning we woke up around the same time and made ourselves some blueberry pancakes (we had found and picked blueberries just at the chutes before we started the portage). We were again out on the water by 9:30am, but this time in quite a hurry as there was a large group of six canoes that left 10-minutes before us whom we wanted to pass so that we were alone with the wilderness.

We made our way to Sandy Lake where there is a hike to yet another lake. It was a nice uphill trek to Hunter Lake where we found some stumps to sit on by the lakeside and have lunch. We were chatting about the trip so far and how we hadn’t had a bear encounter yet… and minutes after said comment, we hear some big crashing in the bushes just behind us. Jeremy whipped out the bear spray, I grabbed our stuff, and we hurriedly walked away making as much noise as possible. Let me tell you, our hearts were pounding and we decided to head back to our canoe. Along the trail back, we decided to pick some wild blueberries – there were tons! It was blueberry heaven.

After our Hunter Lake bear scare adventure, we made our way to Unna Lake where we made camp at site #40. On the way, we encountered some crazy headwind which made it hard paddle and… our first moose as we neared the mouth of Unna Lake. It was a cow grazing the river bed plant life. So we grabbed the camera and starting snapping pictures when it started to run away. I decided to start filming and that’s when we saw why it was running, her calf wandered out of the bushes. Thank God we decided to paddle to the left of her and not the right; otherwise we would have been in between her and her calf which would have been ugly!

Once we made it to camp, we washed up, watched the rangers dig a new hole for the port-a-potty, and made dinner. John and John were in the site next to us again and after dinner, offered us their Apple Brown Betty dehydrated dessert. Quite tasty for dehydrated!

Thursday morning we were up a bit earlier, 7am, and decided to go straight into the canoe and go look for wildlife. We didn’t find any L but we took some nice pictures. So we went back to camp to make breakfast, oatmeal with the fresh wild blueberries we collected the day before. Then we were back in the canoe to the other side of Unna Lake where there is a hike to Cariboo Falls. I attempted to steer the canoe for the first time, but didn’t make out so well. In fact, Jeremy said that he’d definitely be steering for the rest of the trip! Once we got to the other side, some dark clouds rolled in and it poured for about an hour, and unfortunately, we left our tent fly open… but our stuff didn’t get too wet other than having a wet tent to deal with. The Cariboo Falls are quite an impressive sight; the amount of water that goes through that waterfall is amazing. After seeing the falls we made it back to camp and encountered some crazy mosquitos. We had originally thought of staying at Unna Lake another night, but after being attacked by mosquitos, we packed up everything as quickly as possible and continued on.

After Unna Lake, we portaged to Babcock Lake, crossed, portaged to Skoi Lake; where we saw another moose grazing water plants, crossed, and portaged one last time to Spectacle Lakes. The first part of this lake was rough. The wind had picked up and was not in our favour. We quickly stopped at a little sandbar campsite for lunch, as our canoe took on a bit of water from the crazy waves hitting against it.

We made it to site # 48 fairly early and set up camp. There were lots of other parties staying here (9 sites total, one of which was the axe man’s friends) who we met and had some good company. One of the parties, a father-son duo (Rick and Graham), offered us some wine which was a nice treat! That evening a few of us sat around the campfire, sharing stories and watching a lightning storm in the distance, which caused the birds and other animals to stir. It was a great evening and an excellent way to spend our last night on the Bowron Lakes.

Friday morning we were up at 6:30am and on the water by 8:30am. We paddled the rest of Spectacle/Swan Lakes and into the winding reeds to Bowron Lake. This is where we finally saw a bull moose! It was amazing! We were so close, maybe 20 feet, and it just stood there, eating the aquatic plant life, minding its own business. Then we continued on our way and made it back to the start by 1pm (3.5 hours). We emptied and cleaned the canoe, made a quick lunch and set off for Barkerville.


Barkerville, for those that don’t know what it is, is a historic Gold Rush town. We wandered the old streets and watch the waterwheel show. It’s a neat town that everyone should see at least once.

That night we camped near Barkerville at Forest Rose Campground and had our first warm shower in 6 days! It was wonderful!

Overall, the canoe trip was excellent. The weather was wonderful; we only had rain about two times and only for an hour or so each time. We met some neat people, saw wildlife and beautiful scenery. We will definitely do the Bowron Lake Circuit again!