Bowron Provincial Park, B.C., is enticing. It’s a semi-wilderness loop around a unique arrangement of lakes that are roughly in the shape of a rectangle. You can do the whole loop, going around clockwise from the park headquarters, or you can do the west side only. The number of people launching each, and consequently the number of canoes/kayaks, is limited, so you need to call for reservations early.
Although we heard that windy days can stir up appreciable waves, the weather was calm for our four days and the paddling was on smooth water. It turned out to be a good first touring paddle, as the challenge was in taking the right stuff and in packing and unpacking the boats and water proof sacks. We thought it would be colder–we took too much stuff and too much survival gear, which was a good lesson in itself.
The park is about 480 miles from Seattle. Canadian highways are terrific–the two lane highways have well-planned passing lanes every few miles. I didn’t know what to expect in the way of gas and shopping, but it looks a lot like the lower 48 when it comes to finding things you need. I would advise, however, to get gas in Quesnel, especially diesel.
Bowron Park has a fascinating geology–for the interior mountains to be truncated in a way that allows for lakes all around is pretty special. When we were there a forest fire had temporarily closed the SW corner, which backed up paddlers who were doing the entire circuit. This caused some unexpected crowding in the campsites, but I have to say that everyone was pleasant about it. We met only th e nicest campers–all were Canadian except for ourselves and one other kayaking couple.
The parking area and headquarters is at waypoint #1. Parking is free while you paddle. The Bowron river is at waypoint #2 and it turned out to be an unexpectedly long meander. The first campsites are at the south end of the river. As it turned out, we missed a number of the campsites, as they were not as obvious while paddling as the map suggested.
There are narrow passages between the lakes at waypoints #3 and #4. The water was low enough that a paddler would have to disembark and walk the kayak through the grass for a few yards. Just north of #3 the water can be shallow enough on the west side of the island to make passage difficult on low water days (late summer), but we had no problem taking the kayaks on that route. Canoes all favored going on the east side. There was no avoiding walking the kayaks at #4 and even the rangers needed help getting their power boat through there. Only rangers have power boats outside of Bowron lake proper.
I think we utilized way too many waterproof bags for a first time touring paddle, something like 23 packages between two boats. Note the portage carts. We never used ours, except to get down to the dock, due to the forest fire. However, we did walk on the portage at the south end of Spectacle Lake–very nice, like a two-abreast path in Central Park.
We were advised that due to low water we ought to consider launching from an alternate site about a mile from the main campground. We should have listened. There was no beach at the dock and swinging a fully loaded kayak out from the dock was ungainly, to say the least.
Paddling south on Bowron Lake, the view is quite nice. One would expect to see more and more of the mountains as you got closer to them, but a low ridge, right next to and parallel to the lakes obscures the view to the east. What you wind up seeing is a lot of forest on both sides and no mountains. I understand the views on the full circuit are much better.
Navigation from the kayaks was sometimes iffy–it was not obvious from the low sitting position where the lakes/river joined. The shoreline often looked uniformly green. Not a big deal, of course, since the lakes were slender–there wasn’t a long shoreline at the ends to search across.
The Bowron river was a pleasant paddle, with a few ducks feeding and a number of openings in the banks onto broad flooded areas. The river “Y’s” at the south end and, once there, either leg gets you quickly to the next lake.
The beaches at all the sites were gently sloping sand, so take-outs were easy. The camps have pit toilets, rudimentary tables and logs for sitting, fire pits, and tent spots outlined with small logs. However, with the fire situation all fires were prohibited and cooking was only permitted on camp stoves.
Although the park is famed for moose and grizzly bears, we didn’t see either one. The campers coming around the SW corner did have to contend with a female moose that was making it her perogative to occupy the small channel coming up from Unna lake. It was reported that lately she blocks the path for several hours, most days. We did have a grizzly approach one of our camps over night, but it stopped about 200 meters away and turned from the shoreline into a marsh on the other side (west side) of the creek between the two Spectacle Lakes. We were camped on the east side with our bear spray always ready.
No one we met on the west side caught any fish, but mid-August is about as bad as the fishing gets at the park. Several campers coming around from the east side did have some luck and said that historically the fishing was always better on Isaac Lake.
We met several families who were doing the whole circuit in canoes, some of them in canoes for the first time in their lives. One interesting couple, besides us, also had a pair of Pygmy kayaks. The population of paddlers seemed about 2/3 kayakers and 1/3 canoeists. This family was a real plus to have around (not my usual sentiment about other peoples’ children). The canoe in the distance has a teenager and grandpa in it. I don’t think I know a nicer, more enjoyable family.
What’s the bottom line? Well, it’s beautiful, peaceful, fairly safe paddling. On the other hand, there are many places in the lower 48 which are just as nice and not 480 miles up the highway. We’re very glad we went but the two days up and two days back drive could have been used more productively. If you live nearby, I highly recommend it but would say that doing the whole circuit is the way to go, if you’ve come from any distance.