This expedition report is an account of my recent trip to canoe the Bowron Lakes in lightweight style with my wife and kids.
The greatest adventures stick with you, long after the trip itself has ended. A recent Bowron Lakes Canoe Trek in British Columbia was such a trip for me. Sitting in my office answering email, my mind wanders and I’m back on Isaac Lake, my paddle entering and exiting the water, in perfect time with my wife, Amy. The canoe glides almost silently across the glassy water. Five-year-old Lily dangles a plastic My Little Pony over the side of the boat, the toy secured to the canoe with a thin string. Henry, age eight, watches the tiny wave created by his long branch, the wake only interrupted by the strokes of my bent shaft paddle. The children are surrounded by dry bags of various sizes and colors, containing the gear and food needed for our ten-day adventure. On either side, the mountains rise with pine and fir forests below and exposed rocky ridges above. Occasional avalanche chutes can be seen from the water; the twisted and broken trees and still-melting snow piled up at the lake a clear indication of the different world that exists here in the winter when the lakes freeze solid and the snow piles deep.
The Bowron Lakes are a marvel of nature; eight lakes connect with short portages to create a 72-mile parallelogram where a canoeist or kayaker can end a trip exactly where they started. The full circuit typically takes 6-10 days to a maximum trip of 14 days (and the record set at an astonishing 11 hours). The Bowron Lakes are close to Wells, BC, about a 10-hour drive from Seattle, WA. Quesnel is the nearest major town (2 hours), but the cute Wells and historic Barkerville are about 45 minutes away. We brought our canoe and gear, but local rentals are available as well.
The trip began with an orientation at the Bowron Lake Registration Centre. After a short video and safety check with the ranger, it’s time to weigh the canoe and gear. Unlike some other locales, wheeled canoe carts are allowed on the portage trails of Bowron Lakes, making these seven portages much easier, especially with a family. However, only 60 pounds are allowed inside the canoe while wheeling it down the trail, helping to keep ruts and trail damage to a minimum; the rest must be carried in packs. In our case, this meant a massive 90 pound, 115-liter drybag backpack for dad - the result of taking a leisurely 10 days for the trip, feeding four mouths, and allowing Amy to keep Henry and Lily hiking and happy during the hikes. Luckily, the longest portage is less than two miles and the total portage distance for the trip is about 8 miles.
After weighing our gear and attaching our permit to the boat, we began our adventure moving gear down the trail, the kids running ahead with excitement. Pushing a loaded canoe on wheels while wearing a 90-pound pack was not easy, but the first lake came into view in just 1 ½ miles. Kibbee Lake is first, and it’s quite small, with a short portage to Indianpoint Lake, where we spent our first night at an amazing site that, like most on this trip, is only accessible by boat.
The rest of the article includes a detailed narrative of our trip with a photo essay, lessons learned, and equipment notes (3300+ words).