BC’s region of the Cariboo, named after the woodland caribou, is wild and inspires a sense of adventure. With sweeping plains stretching in all directions, lakes dot the landscape, rivers are wide, water is fresh, and history runs deep. Guest ranches are the accommodation of choice, with camping under the open skies a close second. Gold may have shaped these lands in the 1800s, but the real jewel here is the natural environment.
Cariboo country stretches from Cache Creek in the south, to north past Quesnel to Hixon and Stoner. It is bordered by the picturesque Cariboo Mountains in the east and the Fraser River to the west, making it home to diverse wildlife and a variety of terrain.
There’s plenty to explore here, from the more heavily forested North Cariboo, to the South Cariboo with its rolling grasslands, semi-arid desert, tranquil lakes, and granite-walled river gorges. The Central Cariboo’s geography ranges from a rare inland rainforest to lava-formed canyons.
Drop a line and go fishing, or launch a boat for some paddling; explore the area on foot, or opt to cover the terrain with speed on a mountain bike. Whatever your style and desired pace, this area of the”Land Without Limits” offers options that truly are limitless.
Horseback riding is also a popular activity here and very much part of the culture, making guest ranches and lakeside resorts a popular draw to the area. Fishing resorts, tour operators, and lodges also facilitate a variety of ways to explore a variety of terrain, with guided adventures to the Cariboo’s many lakes and trails.
Bowron Lakes Provincial Park is a well-known chain of lakes that impresses with its scale and diverse scenery, as well as opportunities for wildlife viewing (moose are commonly sighted right in the water). The whole circuit can be paddled and portaged in seven to 10 days, or you can tackle the west-side lakes in less than three days, if you’re looking for a shorter challenge.
At the junction of Highway 97 and Highway 99 near Cache Creek, you’ll find one of the few accessible sections of the original Cariboo Waggon Road at Historic Hat Creek Ranch (closed for the 2020 season). A visit to Clinton and the museum in town will give you a feel for what life might have been like in the 1800s. Further north, 108 House Ranch is a beautiful heritage site of many restored buildings, including an old church, and 100 Mile House has a bustling town centre.
Past Williams Lake, Soda Creek is home to a cultural experience at the Xatśūll Heritage Village, which offers stays in teepees and traditional kikule pit houses and offers programs where you can learn about Northern Secwepemc culture and this unique area along the Fraser River. East of Quesnel, towards Horsefly (near the river where the first gold discovery in the Cariboo was made back in 1859), near the historic town of Likely, you’ll find Quesnelle Forks, a restored ghost town on the banks of the Cariboo and Quesnel rivers.
With around 250 residents, the tiny village of Wells began life as a mining town but now exists as a charming arts community populated by heritage buildings. Nearby Barkerville Historic Town & Park was a gold rush town founded in 1862, and was for a time the largest town north of San Francisco and west of Chicago. This last stop on the Gold Rush Trail has been restored so that visitors can enjoy a taste of life in the gold rush era (make sure to reserve tickets ahead).
The central hub of the Cariboo is Williams Lake, which offers a range of accommodations, from hotels and motels, as well as campgrounds and recreational sites. This is a great place to base yourself and rent a car to explore nearby sites. Barkerville also offers unique lodging options with a historic twist for those who want to stay further north.
Guest ranch stays are a popular option and offer inclusive packages packed with activities including horseback riding lessons and guided trail tours that help guests get to know the area and life on the range without having to go too far.
There are also options for lakeside stays, too, which comes with its own benefits. Watch Lake Lodge offers 12 rustic cabins as well as camping sites, and access to a lake where travellers can also take advantage of excellent rainbow trout fishing. Crooked Lake Resort is the only accommodation on Crooked Lake, making it private place to take the family for a laid-back vacation along a long stretch of waterfront for swimming.
Highway 97 is the main route through the area. If you’re flying in (Quesnel and Williams Lake both have airports), you’ll want to rent your own vehicle to explore the area. Kamloops is also a good option for direct flights and is under an hour’s drive from Cache Creek.
Williams lake is about 6.5 hours’ drive from Bella Coola (note: visitors to the Bella Coola Valley are required to operate under very specific restrictions) and about here it’s about 6 hours by car from Vancouver. Regardless of how you get here, you’ll want to stay a while and experience Cariboo hospitality. It’s a long way…and it’s worth it.
Feature Image: Riske Creek Ranch near Williams Lake. Photo: Kent Bernadet
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