Home to vast stretches of undeveloped wilderness, the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast and Northern BC regions offer some of the best canoeing and kayaking opportunities in the country. From the raging white water of remote glacial-fed rivers to quiet tree-lined lakes, hidden coastal channels and rocky islands home to colonies of seals and seabirds, the northern parts of British Columbia are a paddler’s paradise. Whether you are looking for a casual afternoon paddle with the family or want to get away from it all on a multi-day wilderness adventure, your options are more numerous than you may even realize. We’ve compiled the list below to introduce you to a few of the better-known routes in this area, but there are many, many more to explore.
Located along a sheltered channel between Denny and Campbell Islands, this small town is one of the most remote settlements in BC with a fair-sized population. Some popular destinations in the immediate area are Seaforth Channel and the lagoons on Athlone and Hunter Islands. For the more adventurous, there are thousands of tiny Islands in Queens Sound, as well as an 8.5 km (5 mi) open water crossing to the Goose Island Group. Another difficult but rewarding 80 km (50 mi) route takes experienced paddlers on four or five days of good paddling to circumnavigate Swindle Island. Add to this the numerous channels in the area to explore, and you have an area with virtually limitless paddling opportunities, all situated amongst the breathtaking, remote Pacific coast.
Bella Bella – Cariboo Chilcotin 5th Edition
Babine Lake is British Columbia’s longest natural lake but, unlike most lakes its size, it is not prone to strong winds. This makes it ideal for paddling in a canoe or kayak. While it would probably take you a week to cover the 177 km (110 mi) from tip to tip, there are numerous take-out and put-in options along the lake so you can pick and choose the length of your paddling trip. Those wishing to make a few days out of it can find a number of beautiful water-access campsites to pitch a tent at, especially in Babine Lake Marine Provincial Park.
Babine Lake – Northern BC 5th Edition
Bowron Lakes Canoe Route
Known as one of the best wilderness canoe trips in North America, the Bowron Lakes Canoe Route features a mix of lake and river paddling leading you through the majestic Cariboo Mountains. The entire circuit stretches for 108 km (67 mi), but it is possible to do a shorter run of just the western lakes. Either way, you can expect an incredible wilderness experience with well-maintained portages and plenty of perfect camping spots. Since this route is so esteemed among paddlers, it does see its fair share of traffic and there is a limit on the amount of paddlers that can set out each day – reservations are required prior to putting in.
Camping on Bowron Lake. Image via bowronlakecanoerentals.com
The Dore River is a wild, fast-flowing river that offers challenging white water best left for expert paddlers. If you have the skill and experience, you can have a lot of fun navigating the narrow channels and rapids found throughout the river’s length, including the treacherous Sucker Punch rapids on the river’s south fork. Just be sure to keep an eye out for log jams and sweepers.
Dore River. Photo viapaddlepg.blogspot.ca
Eskers Provincial Park
If you are not up for a multi-day wilderness canoe trip through remote territory, then this might be right up your alley. A nice boat launch provides easy access to Circle Lake, which is the perfect place to get familiar with flatwater canoeing techniques. Short portages lead you to a number of other lakes, and there is the option for overnight or multi-day canoe tripping if you so desire. Whether you choose to head out for a few hours or a few days, the beauty of the Stuart River Eskers Complex will fill you with awe.
Babine Lake – Northern BC 5th Edition
Goat and Milk Rivers
Both of these glacier-fed rivers lie in a picturesque valley nestled between high mountains and provide a good challenge even for experienced paddlers. With rock gardens, small ledges, tricky corners and plenty of white water, there is lots here to keep you busy. The Goat River Forest Service Road runs parallel to both rivers, offering the chance to scout the rivers prior to paddling.
Bella Bella – Cariboo Chilcotin 5th Edition
Gwaii Haanas National Park
Known as one of the greatest sea kayaking destinations in Canada, this park covers the southern part of Haida Gwaii and is made up of thousands of kilometres of broken islands and islets, making for a ton of fascinating coast to explore. This is a challenging area to paddle, with exposed crossings and other hazards, but those who are up to it can experience some of the country’s most incredible scenery and impressive biological diversity with seals, whales, dolphins and other marine mammals found in abundance.
Gwaii Haanas National Park. Photo viaParks Canada
Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy
Well known as one of the premier paddling destinations in BC, this is also one of the hardest to reach, so you will likely have it all to yourself if you do make it here. Most paddlers take a ferry to Bella Bella, then charter a boat for a wet drop into the area. One popular trip within the conservancy is a circumnavigation of Calvert Island, which is known for its pristine beaches. You can also take a trip to the ghost town of Namu, once home to a booming cannery operation, or head to the Koeye River estuary to try your luck at spotting the grizzlies that can be found there in good numbers.
Beach on Calvert Island. Photo via Gordon Baron and Cindy Phillips
Beginning with a launch just downriver of Kinuseo Falls, most paddlers start this trip with an upstream paddle to get a view of the impressive falls. It will take you around two days to paddle downstream to Tumbler Ridge, with some boulder gardens along the way and plenty of perfect riverside camping locations. It is possible to continue beyond Tumbler Ridge for an extra couple of days, paddling to the Pine River and heading upstream again to East Pine Provincial Park. This is a fairly remote canoe trip, but the wilderness scenery will be worth it.
Murray River – Northern BC 5th Edition
Nanika-Kidprice Canoe Route
With incredible mountain scenery, excellent fishing and plenty of picturesque backcountry campsites, this is a quintessential BC lake paddling route. Most canoeists take three days to complete circuit and don’t actually paddle Nanika Lake, sticking instead to Lamphrey, Anzac, Stepp and Kidprice Lakes. One highlight of the trip is Nanika Falls, which drop for 18 metres (60 ft) from Kidprice Lake into the Nanika River. In fact, the views over the falls alone are worth the trip.
Nanike-Kidprice Canoe Route. Photo via youtube
Nation Lakes Canoe Route
This remote wilderness canoe trip stretches for 110 km (68 mi) through the heart of central British Columbia, taking most paddlers about a week to complete. As you might expect, the scenery is breathtaking and the fishing is world-class. While the big lakes can get windy, the wind usually blows in your favour, and some paddlers even rig up a sail to take advantage of the strong gusts. While paddling this route, be sure to stop at the Techentlo Hot Springs for a relaxing soak before continuing your journey.
Nation Lakes – Northern BC 5th Edition
From the put-in north of the bridge below the old Anzac Mill site, it is a 55 km (34 mi) paddle to the takeout along Highway 97. Alternatively, some paddlers choose to continue on to Williston Lake. The Parsnip makes for a great weekend trip, with rustic camping found along its length, especially later in the season when the water is low. The river is named for the large cow parsnips that grow along its banks.
Parsnip River – Northern BC 5th Edition
Stuart and Nechako Rivers
Leading you through a vast area of protected, untouched wilderness, this route is best left for experienced paddlers as there are some serious rapids along its length. The total distance of this historic route is about 135 km (84 mi), making for three to five days of steady paddling. This is the same route used by Alexander Mackenzie on his way to establish Fort St. James way back in 1806.
Nechako River. Photo via pinterest
Turner Lake Canoe Route
Second in popularity only to the Bowron Lakes, and probably only because of the 16.4 km (10.2 mi) portage required to reach the put-in, this route leads you through the pristine wilderness of Tweedsmuir Park. As you paddle you will be surrounded by old-growth forest and towering, snow-capped mountains, with sparkling white-sand beaches to stop at and an abundance of fish to catch for dinner. Trust us, it actually is as good as it sounds, and the carry in to the access point is more than worth it.
Turner Lakes Canoe Route. Photo via Dave Costello
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