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Loving the reflections on our last night out on the Bowron Lakes
Loving the reflections on our last night out on the Bowron Lakes

Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit

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A chance to paddle British Columbia’s gorgeous Bowron Lakes canoe circuit is on the wish list of almost ever canoeist or kayaker. It’s the equivalent of a Boston Marathon for a runner or the Annapurna Trek for a hiker.

The Bowron Lakes canoe circuit attract an international crowd looking for adventure and solitude. You don’t have to paddle a canoe. A kayak is great too but take a kayak cart!

Updated March 2021. This post includes some affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

You can look forward to loads of views like this on the Bowron Lakes Circuit
You can look forward to loads of views like this on the Bowron Lakes Circuit

Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit description

The 116 km (72 mile) Bowron Lake Circuit is typically paddled over 7-10 days. The journey involves six major lakes and two rivers linked by numerous portages with the Cariboo Mountains serving as a backdrop. A canoe cart is highly recommended to make the portages tolerable.

Peaceful waters on the first day of paddling the Bowron Lakes
Peaceful waters on the first day of paddling the Bowron Lakes
Kayaking the Bowron Lakes
Kayaking the Bowron Lakes
There was a shelter at our campsite on the first night
There was a shelter at our campsite on the first night
A peaceful sunset with no one around for miles
A peaceful sunset with no one around for miles
John running rapids in a kayak to avoid a portage
John running rapids in a kayak to avoid a portage

Reservations for the Bowron Lakes

The Bowron Lakes Circuit opens on May 15th and remains open until September 30th. Visit in May, June and September for solitude but make reservations for summer. Reservations will open sometime in April 2022 for summer 2022. Reservations can be made up to two months of your arrival. You may need to present identification as reservations are not transferable. 

A total of 50 people or 25 canoes per day are permitted to start daily. If you don’t show up for the mandatory orientation, you are considered a no-show and your spot is opened up to others on a first come, first served basis. Fees are $Cdn 60 per person for the full canoe circuit and $30 per person for the West Side. There is also a non-refundable $18 per vessel charge.

One of our sheltered campsites on the Bowron Lakes Circuit
One of our sheltered campsites on the Bowron Lakes Circuit
An approaching storm on the Bowron Lakes
An approaching storm on the Bowron Lakes

Be prepared for this canoe trip

The weather is notoriously unpredictable. Rain, wind and thunderstorms are common and it can snow at any time of the year. Hypothermia is a real risk.

Bowron Lakes Provincial Park publishes a downloadable pre-trip booklet with a list of essential items. Don’t leave home without them. Also bring clothing for four seasons and a few days of extra food in case of emergency. Wind can keep you shore bound for a day or two.

Read: The 10 Hiking Essentials Everyone Should Carry

Moose and bear country

The Bowron Lakes Circuit takes you into bear and moose country. We were lucky enough to see several moose on our trip, including a family with a young one, but never a bear. Fortunately every campsite and portage has metal bear proof boxes.

Moose in Bowron canoeing circuit
Moose seen on Bowron canoeing circuit
Looking down the Bowron Lakes
Looking down the Bowron Lakes

This trip has been one of my favourite adventures. Stunning mountain vistas, clear lakes, wildlife and solitude (despite what the numbers would have you believe) make this a first class experience. I have met many people who return year after year.

Campsites are well marked and easy to find
Campsites are well marked and easy to find

Getting to the Bowron Lakes

The Bowron Lakes are accessed via Quesnel. Driving time from Vancouver is about 9 hours in total. Orientation sessions are required before heading out so it’s just about impossible to leave Vancouver and start the same day.

Fortunately you can stay in Quesnel, about 90 minutes away, or camp in the park and start the following day. Canoes and carts can be rented in the park.

Waking to fog
Waking to fog
Peaceful paddling on one of the last lakes on the Bowron Circuit
Peaceful paddling on one of the last lakes on the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit
Loving the reflections on our last night out on the Bowron Lakes
Loving the reflections on our last night out on the Bowron Lakes

Some items you might want for this paddling trip

I’d suggest carrying a copy of the 1:50,000 scale waterproof map of the Bowron Lakes.

A gear barrel is always a useful piece of gear, especially for portaging.

Don’t forget the lightweight camp chair for a far more comfortable outing.

Further reading on paddling adventures in Canada 

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

The beautiful Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit in British Columbia

 

 

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