Land Without Limits
warning

This is a test of the emergency broadcast system. If this were a real emergency...

How to do the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit

Bowron Lake Provincial Park | Chris Harris

Looking to unplug from the world and head out on a wilderness canoe trip? There really is no better way to spend a summer day than escaping the desk to paddle across a lake with the sun warming your skin. The Bowron Lake Provincial Park canoe and kayak loop in British Columbia allows you to do just this. Being one of many uncrowded Provincial Parks in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region, Bowron Lake makes for the perfect destination to disconnect from the outside world and challenge yourself. Located in the Cariboo Mountains near Wells and Barkerville, home to the historic destination of Barkerville Historic Town & Park, the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit makes for the perfect adventure-filled getaway.

Moose in Bowron Lake

Moose, Bowron Lake Provincial Park | Robin O’Neil

The Loop

This 116km (72mi) circuit is made up of 10 lakes, those being Babcock, Kibbee, Indianpoint, Isaac, McLeary, Lanezi, Sandy, Spectacle, Swan and Bowron Lakes. Altogether, it takes anywhere between 7 to 10 days to complete depending on weather, your time management, and skill level. There is also a shorter loop available from Bowron Lake to Unna Lake, named the West Side Trip, which can be completed in 3 to 4 days. There are 54 campsites, 4 cooking shelters, group sites, woodlots and emergency phones situated at various checkpoints around the loop. Keep in mind that the complete circuit is not a trip for the faint of heart, as required portaging and rapidly changing weather conditions are to be expected. Due to this, having previous wilderness canoeing experience is recommended. To get a better understanding of your skill requirements and expectations, head to BC Parks’ Bowron Lake frequently asked questions.

The Landscape

Bowron Lake Provincial Park has exceptional diversity in both its topography and nature. On the west side of the loop, you’ll find the rolling Quesnel Highland Hills. To the south and east will be the striking Cariboo Mountains. As the park is a major wildlife sanctuary, it is not uncommon to glimpse a few iconic Canadian animals. You’ll have the chance to see grizzly bears, moose, eagles and beavers. That said, it is important to maintain a safe, respectful distance from all wildlife to preserve both their home and your experience. The dense, surrounding forest exhibits some other Canadian favourites, with the treescape comprised mostly of western hemlock and western red cedar.

The Logistics

If you do not have all the gear needed, there are a few ways to make sure you can still enjoy this quintessential Canadian canoe experience. You can rent canoes, kayaks and stock up on minor last-minute supplies directly from multiple outfitters in the area. To be self-sufficient, it is important to plan all of your necessary equipment and not to overpack. MEC has a helpful Bowron checklist that can assist you.

Depending on snowfall, the loop is open to canoers between May and October, with the July and August being the busiest. As a result of the loop’s popularity, a reservation system is in place. Consider booking your trip for mid-May, early June or September to beat the crowds and have more space in the campgrounds. BC Parks recommends booking three months in advance to guarantee your desired dates. Furthermore, aim to do your trip mid-week when the number of canoes departing is lowest. This will not only make your experience more intimate, it also will help to give the local fauna the space they deserve.

Woman holding Canoe above her head

Canoeing, Highway 26| Andrew Strain

Only 50 people/25 canoes are allowed on the circuit daily to help with preservation, so booking ahead of time is crucial. Once booked, you will be allocated a mandatory orientation session time of either 9:00 a.m. or 12:00 noon to attend before launching. This is to help spread out guests, prevent bottlenecks and ensure that you have the intimate wilderness experience you’re after. Please be respectful of the rules and regulations of the circuit so that this provincial treasure can be enjoyed for generations to come.

To get to the park, drive to Quesnel and then take Highway 26 to approximately 1km before Barkerville before turning left onto Bowron Lake Road. Follow the dirt road for another 27km, and you’ll reach the park entrance. Once in the park, there are plenty of camping options available, some of which can also be booked ahead of time. Accommodation options at the beginning of the circuit include lakefront and riverside tent spots, RV sites, and cabins to suit every camper type. They even offer day rentals for canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and outfitting gear. Before launching and beginning your expedition clockwise around the lakes, please make sure to check-in at the Registration Office for a designated orientation session.

Those that have canoed before know the sensation of weightlessness that comes after dipping a paddle into untouched water, taking a few strong strokes and then releasing to glide effortlessly along a crystal clear lake. It is a special feeling and one that we highly recommend seeking to improve both your physical and mental health. If you are interested in checking out the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit this summer, please remember to be water-wise, follow proper safety procedures, be cautious when approaching wild animals, and practice leave-no-trace principles found on our responsible travel page. And for more information on the 55 provincial parks located in the Cariboo Chilcotin Region, visit our provincial parks page.