An Insider's Guide to Snowmobiling in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast
by Geoff Moore
It’s Monday, and I am dreaming of escaping the beginning of the week doldrums on my sled. I can almost feel the brisk air on my face and the exhilarating freedom that comes as I glide atop the mountains and leave my worries behind. I started getting out years ago as a way to access pristine beauty and capture it forever through my camera lens. As a former ski and motocross racer having sustained a few injuries, the snowmobile offers that access to places I can’t easily get to, and the adrenaline rush I crave. Out on the sled, you can’t help but feel alive, like you are experiencing something bigger than yourself.
The Land Without Limits…
Drive 45 minutes in any direction from Williams Lake to experience a completely different geography. From the almost desert-like plateaus of the Chilcotin to the Great Bear Rainforest, to mountainous ridges, there is so much variety waiting to be explored in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast. The winter brings its own charms and, as I look back at all my adventures over the years, I am filled with a sense of empowering adventure that is difficult to fully capture or describe.
Chilcotin – The Rainbow Range
One of the most beautiful areas I have experienced in the Chilcotin is the Rainbow Range, formerly called the Rainbow Mountains and what the Indigenous call Tsitsutl. If you are looking for that big mountain experience, this region is for you.
Drive west on Highway 20 and rent a log cabin at Nimpo lake as your sledding adventure base camp and get out on the trail. Awe-striking beauty awaits as do parts of Alexander Mackenzie’s original historic trail in the eight-million-year-old extinct volcano creating the Rainbow Range. Some say riding in this area is like snowmobiling in heaven and the Indigenous presence provides a strong connection to the land.
I am always amazed by the wildlife I encounter on my explorations. I once chanced upon a lynx in pursuit of a snowshoe hare. Such a treat for the eyes and I took great joy in the scene until I inferred the probable end of the story as they disappeared into the bush. But such is the harsh reality of nature sometimes.
Countless times, most often while breaking for lunch, I have also encountered what locals call “camp robbers,” or gray jays aka whiskey jacks, as they take great interest in my meal; as well as the winter weasel, and every once and a while, an elusive moose makes an appearance. These sightings are usually at lower elevations at the beginning of my journey. Up in the mountains, the trails of the caribou are protected and this is respected by snowmobilers like myself, as it should be.
The Gold Rush Snowmobile Trail – 70 Mile House to Horsefly
The most well-known snowmobiling locale in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast is the Gold Rush Snowmobile Trail, boasting 216 kilometers of continuous trails connecting 70 Mile and 100 Mile House in the south to Horsefly in the north. If you ride the Gold Rush Snowmobile Trail from 70 Mile to Horsefly, expect a long enjoyable day, but many keep it light by doing segments of the trail. Some even stop to partake of other winter activities such as ice-fishing, snowshoeing or backcountry skiing, or stay in a bed and breakfast, hotel or lodge to extend the adventure.
The Gold Rush Snowmobile Trail – Yanks Peak to Barkerville and Wells
My personal favourite – the original Gold Rush footpath from Keithley Creek on Cariboo Lake up over the Mountains to Barkerville, and nowadays in the winter operates as a groomed trail, perfect for all skill levels. The area is beloved by families and it has been wonderful over the years to see the kiddos learning to snowmobile or roast their marshmallows at one of the warm-up cabins along the way. The trail network connects two systems – one from Keithley Creek near Likely in the south to the trail network around Wells and Barkerville. There is an exciting snowmobiling culture and community and I look forward to joining it each year, although this year it will be at a distance. Staying at a local lodge is sure to provide encounters with a few kindred souls and delight in the sharing of stories.
For more information on specific trails, along with maps, visit local snowmobile clubs in the area:
- 100 Mile House Snowmobile Club
- Green Lake Snowmobile Club
- Williams Lake Powder Kings Snowmobile Club
The Land of Hidden Waters
I have sledded many places in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, but one area I have yet to make tracks within is the Interlakes/Hwy 24 area of the Land of Hidden Waters and the trail system north of Mahood Lake called Mica Mountain. Both are definitely on my sledding bucket list.
I have had the opportunity to do some amazing free riding in the Crooked Lake area in the northern part of the Land of Hidden Waters, bordering Wells Gray Provincial Park and accessed from Crooked Lake, and give both the area and the Crooked Lake Resort a definite thumbs up for exhilarating adventure and a cool place to rest your head at the end of a day.
The members of the Interlakes Snowmobile Club know the ins and outs of the Land of Hidden Waters and this area might indeed be my next stop in my adventures, as the white gold beckons.
Sledding Safely in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast
With the plentiful snowmobiling opportunities in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast, so comes an emphasis on sledding responsibly and safely. It is essential to “know before you go” and it is of particular importance in areas with potentially challenging terrain, rural connectivity, etc. Checking weather conditions beforehand and never embarking alone are vital. Below are some additional tips for snowmobilers wanting to explore safely this winter:
- Tip 1 – Speed: Ride at a realistic speed to prevent injury and reduce the risk of accidents.
- Tip 2 – Tethers: Invest in a tether to shut the motor off if you are separated from your machine. Wear the tether at all times when sledding.
- Tip 3 – Ice: No matter the season, be cautious around frozen water. Be aware of the ice depth and strength, and stagger snowmobiles while crossing. Grey and slushy ice should be avoided!
- Tip 4 – The Buddy System: No matter your skill level, ride with at least one other person and stay together.
- Tip 5 – Don’t Exceed Skill Set: Make sure everyone in the group is comfortable with the trip plan and that it matches their abilities.
For more detailed information visit the British Columbia Snowmobile Federation or the Gold Rush Snowmobile Trail and reference Avalanche Canada before you leave to familiarize yourself with any avalanche activity in the area. Also note that trail passes are required on some of the trail systems. Check the local snowmobile club for specifics.
So as I sit here pondering my own next venture, I invite you to explore all that the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast has to offer, a special kind of place to inspire and awaken your senses. But don’t just take my word for it. Download the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Visitor’s Guide and start planning to ride that fresh powder and truly experience our land without limits.