Bowron Lake Provincial Park

Bowron Lake Provincial Park is  one of those hidden gems in our province that the majority of yoga-pant-wearing tribal-band-tattooed weekend warriors have yet to discover. Somehow  it still draws thousands of people every year from all across the world. The park is east of Quesnel, is closest to the small town of Wells, and is roughly 500km from Vancouver. The main attraction is the 116km long canoe circuit that’s comprised of 13 lakes. It typically is completed in 6 to 10 days. The roughly 150,000 hectares are filled with spectacular scenery and majestic wildlife. I would strongly suggest anyone who enjoys paddling visits once in their lifetime.

Four photos stitched together looking south down the main arm of Isaac, taken from in the canoe where the two arms intersect. The most predominant rocky peaky on the right side of the lake is Mount Faulkner, low in the centre are the Caribou Mountains, the far left rocky peak is Mount Amos Bowman, and to the right of Mount Amos Bowman is Vixen Peak. EXIF 1/400 f/4.0 ISO200 70mm

Kibbee and Indianpoint are the first two lakes of the circuit and they aren’t anything too amazing. Both are within the edges of the Quesnel highlands and are rather shallow lakes surrounded by low rolling hills.

Moving between lakes means portaging: leaving only 60lbs of gear in the canoe, sticking it on two small wheels and pushing/pulling it while carrying the remaining gear on your back. It’s not the easiest or most fun thing to do. The second portage of the trip between Kibbee and Indianpoint is along a neverending uphill trail dotted with huge roots, rocks, and craters. In total, the portages of the circuit account for about 11km.

As the sun crawls above the horizon, Mount Peever is slowly painted with a great orange hue. The perfectly clear water of Isaac revealed the millions of smooth pebbles that line the shore. The warm lake water mixing with the cool morning air created an eerie mist that creeps across the surface. EXIF 0.4sec f/9.0 ISO50 21mm

The third beast of a lake is Isaac measuring 38km in length, and is considerably deeper than any other lake in the circuit. It’s Isaac that rendered me hypothermic at a younger age during a previous trip around the chain. Tall mountains on either side can funnel strong winds and make paddling hard work and a very cold experience when combined with heavy rain.

After a short but painful portage from Isaac comes McLeary, which I consider paradise. After the nearly 40km of Isaac, 1.2km long McLeary is a sight for tired eyes. Situated along the north edge of McLeary is Becker’s Cabin, an old trapper’s cabin, that if necessary can provide refuge from the elements. The entire north shore of the lake is covered by marshes that are often frequented by moose. During our evening spent on McLeary a moose decided to eat its dinner two hundred metres from our tent. At the east end, where McLeary empties into the Caribou river, the crystal clear water suddenly becomes murky and grey.

McLeary is fed by the Isaac River and then empties in the Caribou River. This means the water surface is never completely still. In order to create a smooth water surface for the moon’s reflection, this photo needed a full six second exposure. The light in the tent is provided by a Canon 580ex at quarter power triggered via Pocket Wizard FlexTT5s. The mountains in the background are as follows from right to left: Ishpa Mountain Insignia Peak, Insignia S5, Insignia, E4, Symbol Peak, and Levi Peak. EXIF 6sec f/5.0 ISO100 16mm

The Caribou River can prove challenging and dangerous. The fast moving silted water hides sandbars just below the surface, and deadheads that bob up and down momentarily hiding themselves under water only to jump up at the last second. Along the 5km of river, there were two wrecked canoes from this summer: one impaled and wrapped around a deadhead, the second appeared to be split in half high above the water’s edge. The river banks were littered with gear, likely from others who dumped and were unable to retrieve everything.

The Caribou River empties into a rather unique lake, Lanezi, that is filled with green silted water and flanked on both sides by steep mountains covered with avalanche gullies carving their way to the water’s edge. The reflections of the towering mountains on either side are stunning, provided there’s no wind – just imagine standing on your head and not knowing which way was up.

The silted water of the Caribou River empties into Lanezi, turning the water a greyish green – perfect for reflections. The mountains on either side of Lanezi are scarred by numerous avalanche gullies and huge swaths of burnt trees. Using a circular polarizer for this photo gave the sky a strong blue colour and helps cut down on the harsh reflections of the sun. EXIF 1/160sec f/8.0 ISO200 16mm

From here onward most of the lakes have a similar appearance; relatively shallow, coarse sandy beaches, with the occasional marsh, and of course they all differ in size. In order, they are: Sandy, Unna, Babcock, Skoi, Spectacle, Swan, and finally Bowron. The last few lakes may have all appeared the same as they were masked by torrential rains. On the fourth day, lunch was spent in a shelter on the edge of Spectacle, where the horrendous rains drove ten other boats to the same shelter.

One of the more interesting moments of the trip was encountering an eagle sitting on a log overhanging the water. The eagle appeared very wet, but at the same time was very relaxed and allowed us to come very close. This provided a great opportunity to photograph this soaking wet eagle. However, in the rush to grab the camera I made two very amateur mistakes. The first mistake was not removing the circular polarizer from the lens. These filters eat four stops of light, and as a result it was a struggle to get shutter speeds fast enough to properly freeze the eagle’s movements. Mistake two was not engaging the image stabilization of the lens. This would have made hand holding the lens with slow shutter speeds much easier. As the sign at work says, “Make new mistakes tomorrow”.

As impressive looking as this immature bald eagle is, somehow equally impressive is how this photo captures the torrential rain that lasted for almost the entire day. This photo was taken in the Bowron River as it leaves Swam Lake. EXIF 1/250 f/3.2 ISO400 200mm

So, the wet eagle could be considered one of the more interesting moments of the trip. However, the funniest moment came during the 1000km road trip while ordering at a Tim Hortons and proceed as follows:

Papa Fish – “We’d also like a dozen donut holes please”
Cashier Girl – “donut holes?”
Me – “Donut holes are Timbits”
Papa Fish – “Okay then, we’d like a dozen Timbits”
Cashier Girl – “Timbits come in packs of 10, 20, or 60”
Papa Fish – “We’ll taken a dozen”
Me –
Cashier Girl – “10, 20, or 60”
Papa Fish – “$10.20… okay here’s $20”
Me -” Timbits aren’t sold by the dozen. We want 10″
Papa Fish – “Got it, we’ll have ten Timbits”

All parties involved spoke perfect English, yet the generation gap between Papa Fish and the young woman at the till made communication harder than admitting you used to watch MTV’s The Hills.

Overall this trip was outstanding. Papa Fish and I were able to enjoy three days of gorgeous sunshine and little wind. Although the fourth and final day was filled with insanely heavy rains that required the canoe be bailed out on a few instances, it still wasn’t enough to ruin the experience. As not every encounter was photographed and highlighted here, we saw countless common mergansers, a few sandhill cranes, a playful family of river otters, many musically enchanting great northern loons, ospreys on almost every lake, eagles – one very closely – and a few munching moose.

Combine the abundant wildlife with the breathtaking scenery and you’ll have more than enough to keep your mind off of the 116km of paddling. If you enjoy the outdoors, have access to a canoe, and don’t mind roughing it for a few days, I would totally recommend completing this circuit of lakes.

Similar to the previous post, the following are a handful of photos taken during this 4 day trip that are accompanied by a few blurbs.

Comprised of seven vertically oriented photos, this image was taken from the Becker’s Cabin campsite on McLeary Lake and looks east towards the Caribou Mountains. Each of the seven stitched photos used the same capture settings. EXIF 1/320sec f/4.0 ISO400 70mm


At the east end of Indianpoint is a substantial marshy area. Throughout the marsh you can find beaver lodges and dams, moose tracks in mud, as well as birds and ducks everywhere. This photos is looking east towards the painful portage between Indianpoint and Isaac. EXIF 1/100sec f/8.0 ISO200 16mm


Found this guy along the marshy shore of McLeary, literally twenty feet from our tent – it’s a red-legged frog. EXIF 1/800sec f/8.0 ISO400 200mm


The first night was spent on the east shore of Isaac and the sunrise over Mount Peeve was amazing to say the least. There wasn’t even the slightest whisper of wind and the reflections of the lake were perfect. EXIF 1.3sec f/5.0 ISO50 16mm


Common mergansers were the most numerous waterfowl encountered. These two were part of a line numbering 13 long that were slowly swimming up the Caribou River between Sandy and Unna. EXIF 1/1000 f/2.8 ISO400 200mm


This soaking wet immature bald eagle sat very relaxed on its perch for quite some time. This photo was taken using a focal length of 200mm and isn’t cropped, which should give some understanding of how relaxed this bird was. EXIF 1/320 f/2.8 ISO800 200mm


A canoe makes its way from Rum Lake into Unna as the setting sun bathes the land in a golden light. In the background Kaza Mountain is seen on the right and Mount Hughes on the Left. EXIF 1/100sec f/8.0 ISO200 35mm


Looking northeast from Unna towards Kaza Mountain the tree line in the foreground is somewhat marred by the pine beetle kill. EXIF 1/320sec f/5.0 ISO200 200mm

2 thoughts on “Bowron Lake Provincial Park”

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