4th Annual Canoe Trip – Bowron Lakes Circuit

I’ve wanted to do the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit since I saw pictures of a trip there last year. So this year instead of paddling an Albertan river for our annual trip, we switched things up and headed to B.C. My parents canoed the circuit back in 1979, and kept us company on the latest tour (and yes, things have changed in the past 30 years).

The circuit is located in Bowron Lakes Provincial Park, just outside of Quesnel, B.C. and is really a circle (as you can see below). You start in the northwest, and then work your way through lakes, portages and rivers in a clockwise direction until you’re back again.

The route showing our 5 camp sites along the way.
The route showing our 5 camp sites along the way.

We took 6 days (5 nights), and although the weather could have been much better, we still enjoyed our paddle. This was my first lake trip and I found it a nice change from our lazy river paddles. The circuit was busier than we’d thought, but we did get a few hours of paddling the lakes without seeing anyone most days, and even had a few of the camping sites to ourselves (a nice treat). When it was raining the bugs weren’t too bad, and seeing moose and bald eagles instead of cattle was exciting.

We started on Sunday afternoon with a 2.4 km portage from the info center to the first lake (Kibbee) which is only a short paddle before another 2 km portage. We’d chosen to carry the canoe/gear for all our portages but after walking the nearly 10 km required to move every thing, I can see why you’d use a canoe cart. Jonny is now part of the 1% of people who carry their canoe while portaging. Way to be special! We paddled another 6 km to the end of the second lake before setting up camp and I got to see my first moose in the water! Around midnight we were treated to some spectacular lightening, the kind that wakes you up and blinds you in your tent. Those late night storms are great, unless they carry on into the next morning…

The start of it all, Kibbee Lake.
The start of it all, Kibbee Lake.
Moose feeding, Indian Point Lake
Moose feeding, Indian Point Lake

We woke up on Day 2 to cloudy skies and another 1.6 km of portage before we could start paddling Isaac Lake. It was as still as glass in the morning and the reflections of the mountains in the water were beautiful. By the afternoon, the calm had turned to waves and rain and we were happy to stop and camp for the night as soon as we could find some empty camp sites. We were pretty thankful that we’d brought our backpacking tarp on this little adventure as cooking and eating in the rain has even less appeal than paddling. Luckily, you can have fires at all the campsites, and we dried everything out each night

Isaac Lake, first thing in the morning before it got stormy (Day 2)
Isaac Lake, first thing in the morning before it got stormy (Day 2)

The next morning wasn’t clear, but at least the lake was calm again and there wasn’t any rain! We had a couple hours of paddling on the lake without seeing another canoe before we got to the next set of portages, lakes and rivers. The end of Isaac finishes with either a portage, or a brief run down the Isaac River and then some portaging. After checking out the river, we decided it didn’t look too difficult and hopped in to paddle the short set of standing waves to the mandatory portage. A few more portages and brief river runs later, we paddled into the Cariboo River. This is the eastern corner of the circuit, and the river turns south and west into Lanezi Lake and the western arm of the circuit. Lakes always seem to be windy, and with our luck with the weather, it was more paddling in waves and rain for us before making camp. 

Isaac Lake, after the wind and rain had passed.
Isaac Lake, another cloudy morning (Day 3)
Mountain stream reflection, Isaac Lake.
Mountain stream reflection, Isaac Lake.

Day 4 started less than promising, but we’d decided to only paddle a short way up to Sandy Lake and take a day to relax. The campsites are beautiful there, and amazingly, the sun came out in the late afternoon so we could enjoy the beaches and fishing.  I paddled Jon around the lake so he could fish and I could work on my J-stroke. I even took a quick swim, the sun was that nice. For the first time on the trip, we watched the sun set, and enjoyed dinner not huddled under our tarp.

Wait, is that yet another shot of cloudy moutains and a lake? Lanezi Lake in the rain, Day 4.
Wait, is that yet another shot of cloudy mountains and a lake? Lanezi Lake in the rain, Day 4.
The beach at Sandy Lake
The beach at Sandy Lake, and sunshine!
Jon fishing on Sandy Lake, Day 5
Jon fishing on Sandy Lake, Day 4

We woke up to sunshine on Day 5 (yay!) but this was short lived and by noon we were paddling in driving rain. The last couple of portages are on this section of the circuit, so we got to carry our heavy wet packs through the forest as well as getting soaked on the lake. While fishing near the start of the last portage (something we did quite often while we waited for other people to clear out) Jon caught a beautiful pair of cheap sunglasses, the biggest catch so far on the trip.

Somewhere along the Spectacle Lakes, the sun broke through the clouds and we finished our day in cold, but clear weather. A bald eagle dropped out of the sky and scooped up a fish right beside our canoe, an exciting wildlife spotting! The sun held for the rest of the evening, and we again watched the sun set and sat in the glow drinking hot chocolate. This was my favorite campsite of the trip, and although I didn’t see (or hear it) a moose came rumbling through just after we’d gone to bed.

The sun sets on Spectecal Lake, Day 5.
The sun sets on Swan Lake, Day 5.

Our final day was a quick paddle out to Bowron Lake, and then onto civilization. It was an exciting few hours though, as Jon caught the only (edible) fish of the trip, and the wind picked up across the lake making it a bumpy ride to the end. We spent the night in McBride just to enjoy clean hotel sheets and TV before heading home and back to the usual grind for a few more weeks.

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