Named after Chief William, a Secwepemc (shi-HUEP-muh-k) chief from the area, the city is located at the junction of Highways 97 and 20, and has been one of the Cariboo Chilcotin’s major crossroads since the turn of the 20th century. Even prior to the arrival of the first white settlers, the area was a meeting place for the Secwepemc First Nation. This ‘Hub City of the Cariboo’ is the largest in the region (11,200 residents within city limits) and a market-area population close to 30,000. Its distinctive western-frontier personality shines brightly when it hosts the Williams Lake Stampede during the Canada Day long weekend (July 1). Professional rodeo stars from around the globe compete for big-purse money in traditional rodeo and unique home-grown events.
But, cowboys and rodeos are not the city’s only attraction. It’s a mountain biking mecca, with three dedicated areas: Westsyde Ridge, Desous Mountain and Fox Mountain being major attractions. With all three featuring tracks ranging from double-track beginner to epic cross-country and steep, gnarly down-hills, many riders are spreading the word that the area offers the best wilderness biking in British Columbia.
Williams Lake also boasts excellent wildlife-viewing opportunities. Birders make a beeline for Scout Island, a nature sanctuary at the west end of the lake. In addition to a beach area, nature house, picnic ground, and boat launch, this nature sanctuary for birds and small wildlife is laced with trails. Enjoy a walk downtown among quaint shops, retail stores and art galleries, some featuring local art and First Nations gifts. A variety of restaurants are found on nearly every side street. The city boasts three golf courses, a magnificent log Tourism Centre, the B.C. Cowboy Hall of Fame, and the very popular River Valley Trail, spanning 12km/7.5mi from downtown to the Fraser River.