Bowron Lake Provincial Park is a magnificent 149,000 hectare park on the western slopes of the Cariboo Mountain Range. The region has amazing diversity in topography and nature, which appeals to a wide range of hikers and campers. Some go to the park to enjoy the forested regions, while others hope to see moose, bear, caribou or mountain goats during their visit. There are visitors that are hoping to catch a few fish while in the park, but what most people visit Bowron Lake for is its world-renowned canoe circuit.
The Bowron Lake Circuit is made up of 116 kilometres of interconnected waterways that circle the park and can be paddled in five to 10 days by determined kayakers and canoeists. It boasts a combination of stunning views of mountains, lakes and rivers and plenty of opportunities for interacting with wildlife. Gliding past caribou enjoying an early-morning dip in a lake is not uncommon and other inhabitants of the park can usually be seen along the shore or foraging in a field.
The area is made up entirely of wilderness, and paddlers must be prepared for primitive sleeping conditions and wildlife interactions while camping. If you don’t have experience with wilderness camping, make sure that at least one person in your party does. Carelessly leaving food out while camping is a very bad idea when sleeping in an area frequented by both black and grizzly bears.
There is no cell-phone service anywhere in the circuit although six two-way radios are maintained around the circuit for emergencies. Be prepared for help to take up to 24 hours to reach you.
This is not a journey for someone in poor physical shape. In addition to days of paddling there are many portages requiring hauling your canoe or kayak over 11 kilometres of ground that may be muddy or difficult to traverse. There is some white water that needs to be travelled through although more challenging sections have optional portage trails. Keep in mind that in addition to your canoe, you will also be hauling all of your camping gear and food for the entire journey.
The most difficult part of the trip is at the beginning with 2.4-kilometre portage, a short paddle, another two-kilometre portage and a 6-kilometre paddle across Indianpoint Lake. Following this there is another portage and then easy paddling along the shore of Isaac Lake. There is another difficult section at the Cariboo River, but there are a few hiking trails along the way that are perfect for taking a break from battling the strong flow of the Cariboo.
Although the trip can be done in five days, taking longer gives you a chance to enjoy the scenery and swim the clear waters of the lakes you are traveling through.
Enjoying the Lakes
You can still enjoy paddling around the lakes without doing the entire circuit. There is a much shorter, two-day route that many people follow to get the flavour of the park without the big commitment, or you can camp at the main site and explore the area with smaller day trips. Powerboats are allowed on Bowron Lake only.
Many of the lakes are warm enough for swimming in the summer and have sandy beaches for access. Those on the west side are warmer as the eastern lakes are glacier-fed and tend to be a bit chilly even in the warmest weather.
Most of the waterways in the park are open for fishing (with a license) and many anglers come to the park for the trout fishing.
If you are doing the circuit, the portages can be hiked and are often the best way to get to waterfalls and around rapids. There are also two developed trails in the park: one to view Cariboo River Falls and one to view Hunter Lake.
Access to backcountry camping is accessed by watercraft only, and reservations are required. The main camping area on Bowron Lake is full-service and includes a small store. There are 25 vehicle-accessible campsites and most areas are not reservable. Water is available at the Bowron Lake site only – all other areas require campers to treat the water before drinking it.
The canoe circuit is not available in the winter and cross-country skiers can use the portage trails as ski trails. Ice fishing is allowed in the park, but the campgrounds are closed. Accessibility is ‘weather permitting’ only.