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Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit: Complete 2024 Paddling Guide

A perfect parallelogram of lakes, rivers and portages surrounded by temperate rainforest and imposing mountains, the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit is a geographical wonder.

A natural wonderland for canoeists and kayakers alike, the Bowron Lake Circuit enables an epic 116km journey through what is essentially a remote wildlife refuge with incredible topographic diversity.

Back view of Gemma paddling canoe on Isaac Lake on the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit
Paddling towards rain on Isaac Lake

The eastern side of the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit is part of the world’s only inland temperate rainforest while the west features the rounded hilltops of the Quesnel Highlands.

Lakes on the western side may not be lined with dramatic peaks, but they experience much drier weather and have remarkable views looking back towards the Cariboo Mountains.

Intrigued? Read on to discover our first hand account exploring the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit as experienced paddlers, followed by a comprehensive guide, which features everything you need to know about this one of a kind canoe adventure.

Here’s an overview:

Bowron Lake Provincial Park is located on the traditional territories of the Secwépemc, Lheidli T’enneh, Dakeł Keyoh (ᑕᗸᒡ ᗲᘏᑋ) and Dënéndeh.

Black and white map of the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit
BC Parks map of Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit (the beginning/end is located in the top left corner)

Backcountry necessities

Last updated November 2022. This post includes some affiliate links. This means I may receive a small percentage if you make a purchase through these links at no extra cost to you. 

View from shore of pale aquarmine lake bordered by mountains on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit, with rock structures on beach in foreground
Lanezi Lake, Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit

The Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit: Our experience

Cruising along the silty Cariboo River on the Bowron Lake Canoe circuit, we watched as a beaver swam to the shore against the current.

Each corner of the winding waterway offered yet another vantage point of the serrated peaks and glaciers of the Cariboo Mountains range.

Beyond it all was spectacular Lanezi Lake, which we reached in wonderful evening sunshine.

Not too impressed with the first campsite we came across on the lake (it resembled a swamp), we pushed on to the next.

Swirling clouds started to push over the peaks on the opposite side of the lake about halfway into our 3km paddle along the lakeshore. The sky started to get darker.

No more than two minutes after our arrival on the beach of site no. 34, the heavens opened, thunder boomed and lightning lit up the lake. Sun to storm in less than twenty minutes…that’s the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit for you. 

Calm lake on the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit with birds swimming past camera and rolling mountains beyond
Sandy Lake on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit

The adventure so far

Before our stormy arrival at Lanezi Lake’s campsite 34, it had been a beautiful afternoon.

We’d seen the most impressive scenery of the trip so far and also experienced the best weather since starting the circuit four days before.

These factors were probably related but after so many days in the rain, I tried to believe that there wasn’t much we missed during the first half of the circuit under those heavy grey clouds.

We had still seen endlessly tall waterfalls rushing into the lakes, caught glimpses of ancient glaciers and got a chance to run moving water in the infamous ‘Chute’ and ‘Rollercoaster’ rapid sections.

Though unlucky in our search for mountain goats and bears (as well as fish to eat), we did spot otters and all sorts of birds and eagles.

White canoe with two paddlers on calm lake with mountain background
Mcleary Lake on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit

Embracing the rain

August is known to be the busiest month on the circuit, but it is also typically the driest and warmest.

This year was unusually wet (and cold, it was an average of 12c during the day), as we learned from the Park Facility Operators as well as other veteran Bowron paddlers.

We fished in the rain, sang in the rain (at least I did), created mostly successful tarp structures in the rain, persevered with fires in the rain (wet wood and all) and rejoiced when it stopped.

I do find that paddling in downpours has a certain serene charm to it (as long as you have the clothing to stay dry that is), especially with the eerie sound of loons calling to each other in the background.

Fast moving water with rapids on river corner on Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit
The Chute – the biggest challenge for many paddlers on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit (paddlers enter on the right)

Portage mud and ruts

As much as I try to see the best in bad weather, it did cause two big issues. Finding campsites in the rain was not fun and the weather seemed to exacerbate the issue.

The rain seemed to clump everyone together, particularly around the ten shelters and cabins based around the circuit.

Most days we had to paddle an hour or two longer than preferred to find a place to camp at the designed sites….though admittedly I do realise I am pickier than most when choosing. 

Rain clouds over hills and mountains bordering Isaac Lake
Rain, rain, rain – a familiar sight on our August Bowron Lake canoe trip

And then there was the portages! These are the hiking sections between the lakes that do not connect with rivers and creeks.

The first portage was perfectly maintained, dry and fairly flat; an easy start to provide confidence. Portages two through five were a different story.

Unbelievably slippery with mud and severely rutted with canoe cart tracks, it was a portaging challenge like we’ve never experienced (and we’re not new to canoe circuits).

The trip down to Mcleary Lake was a particularly scary one with several steep drops and huge rocks. Trying to control a 140lb+ canoe from barreling down on top of me while descending a muddy path was quite a test I can tell you.

Our friends too had an even bigger challenge of their own; portaging without a cart (not their original intention).

Close up of carved wooden mini canoe paddles hanging outside a wooden shelter on the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit
Carved canoe paddles outside one of Bowron Lake’ shelters

The best day on the Circuit

After the storm on Lanezi Lake, the weather calmed down somewhat. The next day, was the best day. A short morning downstream took us to Sandy Lake.

Incredibly shallow, this lake was lined with wonderful sandy beaches (who would have thought?) and picture-perfect camping spots.

Collapsed on the beach for the rest of the afternoon, our group was truly overjoyed at the appearance of sunshine, blue sky and the chance to really relax.

Orange, red and yellow hammock hanging between two trees next to calm lake
The best day on our Bowron Lake canoe trip! Relaxing in our a hammock next to Sandy Lake

We were now on the ‘dry side’ of the circuit which meant the only way was up, for both portages and paddling!

That evening, a moose and her calf made an appearance that evening on the other side of the lake.

Paddling a little closer for a better look, it was an amazing experience to see such a huge animal in its natural habitat. Before this, I had only ever seen moose on the highway (and very few times at that).

White canoe upside down on shore next to Sandy Lake on the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit in British Columbia
Sunset on Sandy Lake

Cariboo Falls and Unna Lake

Sandy Lake was good to us. We woke to more dry weather and those lovely views. Our plan for the day was to visit the 24m high Cariboo Falls, a slight detour from the main circuit route.

After an amicable split with our friends who had decided to skip the falls, we headed towards picturesque Unna Lake.

At the southern end of the lake is the short trail to the falls; a path lined by hundreds upon thousands of wild blueberry plants.

Hiking trail lined with blueberry trails on the way to Cariboo Falls
Wild blueberries on the trail to Cariboo Falls

Amazed at the sight, we stopped to pick a few handfuls of berries to add to our lunch all the while keeping an eye out for hungry bears.

When we finally got there we discovered that the Cariboo Falls are spectacular; broad, multi-layered and immensely powerful.

And to think we had just been paddling on the river that led to them! We had to canoe back up river to return to the circuit which was not as difficult as it may sound.

Looking through the trees to Cariboo Falls, a raging torrent of water
Raging Cariboo Falls on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit

Life on the ‘West Side’

After Unna Lake, the crowds seemed to drop off and we encountered very few paddlers.

The first portage seemed almost somewhat surreal, being completely dry and with only one hill. It was over in what seemed like no time.

The lakes on the ‘West Side’ are quite small and surrounded by flatter terrain, but have incredible views looking back towards the Cariboo Mountains.

Gemma pulling white canoe on wheels along trail on the west side of Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit
The portages on the west side of the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit were SO much easier than the others!

We scored a great campsite on Spectacle Lake for our last night, on a sandy peninsula with 360 degree views. A quick swim in the lake was had before the wind (and a spot of rain) built up to frenzied levels again.

Never mind, we ate freshly baked blueberry cake and kept an eye on our tarp that threatened to blow away any second.

JR sat wearing yellow PFD in canoe on calm river with mountainous backdrop
Taking a rest on the widest part of the Bowron River

Finishing the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit

Deciding to finish while we were in good spirits (and there were ominous clouds everywhere), our trip ended on day seven, two days sooner than we had originally planned.

The paddle back included a long section on Bowron River, a perfect place to fish and spot wildlife with the very slow current.

Our final journey across Bowron Lake was not the smoothest as wind had built up over the afternoon.

JR smiling and holding canoe wheels next to white canoe on wooden deck on lake at the end of the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit
The end of the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit!

Nevertheless, we made it to the BC Parks landing dock before long. Our week long adventure on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit was over.

I have no regrets with our decision to end the trip early but I do have a longing to go back one day and just do the ‘West Side’ of the Circuit again, which is everything from Bowron Lake to Lanezi Lake.

There is enough in this section for a great standalone trip, without the hassle of the tougher portages and a higher risk of getting so wet!

I would, however, miss the anticipation and excitement of the Chute, Rollercoaster and Cariboo River as well as the beauty of wonderful Mcleary Lake, which were some of my favourite parts of the entire Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit experience.

Gemma and JR standing with canoe paddles next to canoe on calm lake
All smiles on day 6 of our Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit experience

Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit Trip Planning Guide

Inspired to visit the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit yourself? This planning guide will help you prepare for your Bowron Lake adventure. It includes an overview of the route, example itineraries, reservation details and essential gear recommendations.

I’d also suggest having a good read of the BC Parks’ Pre Trip Information Booklet.

What is the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit?

The Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit attracts thousands of paddlers from all over the world every year.

The parallelogram is made up of twelve lakes, several rivers and eight portages. The full circuit is 116.4km long, with 10.8km total portage distance. The longest portage is 2.4km.

There is the option to explore the ‘West Side’ of the circuit only. This involves starting a trip at the Bowron Lake dock and then finishing at the same location.

Technically, you could explore as far as the Cariboo River output on Lanezi Lake while on the ‘West Side.’

Personally, I think the West Side is a great option for novice paddlers or groups with limited time. The Bowron Lakes experience isn’t limited to the full circuit!

Satellite view of Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit from above
Bowron Lake from above

Where is the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit?

The Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit, part of Bowron Lake Provincial Park, is located in the Cariboo Mountains of Central British Columbia, Canada.

The nearest community is Wells (pop 200). The road access to Bowron Lake is via Highway 26, which detours off Highway 97 just north of the small city of Quesnel (pop. 23,000).

The road from Wells to Bowron Lake (30km long) is a very well maintained dirt road. Note that cell phone signal is very sparse after leaving the city of Quesnel. We had no signal at all in Wells or in the Bowron Lake park area.

If you’ve ever spent time in Wells Gray Provincial Park, Bowron Lake is geographically just a little further northwest. Keep in mind, though, that there’s no easy or quick way to travel between the two parks!

What to expect on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit

The Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit experience starts with a mandatory orientation at the Registration Centre. It’s pretty quick and includes a gear weighing (more details on this later in the guide).

This is the time to ask any last minute questions you may have and double check you have everything you need.

Kibbee Lake to Isaac Lake

The first real challenge of the circuit is a 2.4km portage to Kibbee Lake. The route is well maintained but features a gradual climb.

Kibbee Lake is a small but pretty body of water. Most paddlers continue onto Indianpoint Lake the same day.

There’s a good choice of campsites on this larger lake. If the weather is good, you’ll get a good view of mountains on the southern shore.

The 2km portage from Kibbee to Indianpoint is narrower and hillier than the previous portage. It featured many muddy ruts and roots on our visit.

The end of Indianpoint Lake becomes marshy but there is a marked route heading to the portage. The 1.6km portage is flatter and easier than the last.

Isaac Lake to Isaac River

With three portages down, you’re now on the longest paddling section of the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit. Isaac Lake is almost 40km long, occupying a corner of the circuit route.

The long and narrow lake offers views of beautiful mountains and waterfalls. The main arm is 31.2km in length and can feel endless.

All but one of the campsites are situated on the eastern shore of Isaac Lake. The end of the lake marks the start of the circuit’s river section.

Isaac River to Mcleary Lake

This river section is usually the most anticipated (fear, excitement or otherwise) on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit.

The experience starts with the ‘Chute,’ a small rapid where Isaac Lake falls into Isaac River. The Chute is quickly followed by the ‘Rollercoaster,’ a longer set of bumpy rapids.

It is a good idea to land at the campsite at the end of the lake to check out the Chute before running it. If in any doubt, you can portage around.

After only 400m or so, it’s time to get off the river to the left and portage to avoid the unnavigable cascades. Relatively short and uneventful, there’s one last Isaac River section to go.

This part of the river doesn’t have rapids but it is still fast moving and attention is required to avoid obstructions.

The final portage of this section avoids 11m high Isaac River Falls. At just over 1km, it’s the shortest portage so far but we also found it to be the more difficult. Steep and rocky, the trail can be muddy in wet weather.

Mcleary Lake to Lanezi Lake

Mcleary Lake is an lovely little lake with a stunning mountainous backdrop.

Take a break here before continuing onto the Cariboo River. If you have the time, consider spending a night at the campsite on the eastern shore.

Silty and fast moving, paddlers need to be careful to avoid deadheads and sweepers on the Cariboo River, particularly around the corners. Be sure to watch for wildlife also.

The Cariboo River empties out onto Lanezi Lake, a long and beautiful body of water bordered by imposing mountains on the south shore.

Lanezi Lake to Unna Lake

The next section of the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit is characterised by small lakes and low lying hills. The ‘West Side’ of the Circuit generally receives drier weather as well.

Sandy Lake is an unusually (for Bowron) rounded lake with a number of beautiful beaches.

The Cariboo River beyond Sandy Lake is wide and slow. It curves to the left and continues to the entrance of Unna Lake, or you can just skip and head to the next portage.

The southern shore of Unna Lake has a short 1.2km hiking trail leading to 24m Cariboo Falls. Personally, I think it is definitely worth the time to go and see!

Unna Lake to Bowron River

Backtracking to the Cariboo River from Unna Lake, look for the Babcock Creek entrance. This short, winding section is pretty and leads to an easy (and flat!) 1.2km portage to Babcock Lake.

Babock Lake is the first of a series of small lakes, all of which are surrounded by forested hills. Skoi Lake follows Babcock and is the most compact lake on the circuit. The portages either side of Skoi are short too, being only 400m.

Spectacle Lake is next and has a sandbar to watch out for about a third of the way along the lake. Spectacle merges into Swan Lake, the last place to camp on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit.

Bowron River to the end of the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit

The end of Swan Lake becomes marshy as it gives way to Bowron River. I really enjoyed this section as the river meandered its way to Bowron Lake.

Keep an eye out for wildlife here – moose, beaver and martens are common in this area. Salmon also spawn in the river.

Bowron Lake is the final lake on the canoe circuit. Larger than the other recent lakes in this section, Bowron is more susceptible to strong afternoon winds and waves.

A wooden dock at the northeastern edge of the lake marks the end of the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit. From here, it is a quick walk back to the parking lot and your waiting vehicle.

The perfect length of a Bowron Lake canoe trip

The minimum amount of time needed to explore the full Bowron Lakes Circuit is around five days, with six or seven being ideal.

Four days would mean continuous paddling/portaging for most of the day, with very little time for relaxation. A four day route has a heavy reliance on good weather conditions as well.

Our seven day trip provided the opportunity for basically one ‘free’ day, which enabled us the flexibility to enjoy the one good weather day.

If you have never portaged a canoe before (with cart or without), be aware that it is very easy to underestimate how long it takes to complete the portages.

Personally, I would recommend novice paddlers to plan for a seven day trip.

Example Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit itineraries

With 12 lakes and more than 50 designated camping areas, there are so many ways to enjoy the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit!

Better still, you can explore at your own pace since all campsites operate on a first come, first serve basis. 14 nights is the maximum length of stay.

For some inspiration, here are some of the most common paddling itineraries for small groups (less than 6 people) completing the full circuit.

Eight day trip itinerary

  • Day 1: Registration Centre to Kibbee Lake
  • Day 2: Kibbee Lake to Isaac Lake (Wolverine Bay area)
  • Day 3: Isaac Lake
  • Day 4: Isaac Lake to Mcleary Lake
  • Day 5: Mcleary Lake to Unna Lake
  • Day 6: Unna Lake
  • Day 7: Unna Lake to Swan Lake
  • Day 8: Swan Lake to landing dock on Bowron Lake

This slow but steady itinerary offers the chance to stay at some of the quieter lakes, such as Kibbee Lake and Mcleary Lake.

Seven day trip itinerary

  • Day 1: Registration Centre to Indianpoint Lake
  • Day 2: Indianpoint Lake to Isaac Lake (Wolverine Bay area)
  • Day 3: Isaac Lake
  • Day 4: Isaac Lake to Lanezi Lake
  • Day 5: Lanezi Lake to Unna Lake
  • Day 6: Unna Lake to Swan Lake
  • Day 7: Swan Lake to landing dock on Bowron Lake

This is the most standard Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit itinerary, with most paddlers following a similar route. It includes a night at Unna Lake, where you can hike to nearby Cariboo Falls.

Six day trip itinerary

  • Day 1: Registration Centre to Isaac Lake (Wolverine Bay)
  • Day 2: Isaac Lake
  • Day 3: Isaac Lake (above the Chute)
  • Day 4: Isaac Lake to Sandy Lake
  • Day 5: Sandy Lake to Spectacle Lake via Unna Lake
  • Day 6: Swan Lake to landing dock on Bowron Lake

Don’t have the time for the standard seven day route? This slightly shorter itinerary involves more daily paddling and skips the night at Unna Lake.

Five day trip itinerary

  • Day 1: Registration Centre to Isaac Lake (Wolverine Bay)
  • Day 2: Isaac Lake (above the Chute)
  • Day 3: Isaac Lake to Sandy Lake
  • Day 4: Sandy Lake to Spectacle Lake
  • Day 5: Spectacle Lake to landing dock on Bowron Lake

Short but sweet, this five day Bowron Lakes itinerary is used by paddlers on a time crunch. Be prepared for long paddling days, especially when crossing Isaac Lake.

JR in  canoe on Bowron River with fishing rod and holding small caught fish
JR tried to fish throughout the Bowron Lakes but was only lucky on the Bowron River (and even then, only small ones!)

Bowron Lake fees

  • The full Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit costs $60 per person
  • The fee for the ‘West Side’ only is $30 per person

If you are planning a Bowron Lakes trip in July or August, a reservation is absolutely essential (more details below).

Reservation fees are $18 per vessel in addition to the circuit fees as noted above. There is a limit of three people per vessel. Changes and cancellations cost $6 per booking. All prices quoted are plus tax.

There are no other fees to pay to paddle the Bowron Lakes, only the per person fee and reservation fee as mentioned above. BC Parks does not charge a daily admission fee like Parks Canada.

Bowron Lake reservations

Entry to the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit is strictly controlled. Only a limited number of paddlers (27 canoes or 54 people) are allowed to start on the circuit each day.

All available spots are reservable in advance. The summer months are the most popular, with availability disappearing within minutes after the launch of reservations. June and September are the least popular months, but some dates will still sell out quickly.

Without a reservation, you would have to wait until there is a cancellation or no show. Unless you have the flexibility to wait an unknown amount of days, I would not recommend this.

2024 reservations for Bowron Lakes will open 7am PDT on Tuesday October 24.

At this time, it will be possible to reserve any starting date during the summer paddling season (15th May to 28th September).

Reservations can be made through the BC Parks Reservation System, online (click the ‘canoe circuit’ tab) or by phone (1-800-689-9025 from Canada/US).

On launch day, you’ll need to know:

  • How many people are in your group
  • Whether you want to paddle the full circuit or just the ‘West Side’
  • Preferred dates
  • Preferred time of orientation (9am or 12pm)

Be sure to create a BC Parks account in advance and get familiar with the online reservation system before the launch date. Have a credit card handy on the day.

If you can, organise other members of your group to also attempt to secure reservations. It really is a case of strength in numbers, with your odds increasing with assistance.

Group restrictions

To reduce the impact on park facilities and ensure a wilderness experience for all, only one ‘group party’ may start the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit each day.

A ‘group party’ is defined to include seven to fourteen people. Individual parties have up to six people.

Groups must stay at group camping sites only, and follow a set itinerary provided by the Bowron Lake Registration Centre. 7 nights is the maximum stay for groups paddling the full Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit.

It is possible to register a group of more than six people in two separate bookings, thereby avoiding the restrictions.

I would not recommend doing this as it negatively impacts on the Bowron Lake experience for other paddlers (which is why this rule is in place).

Campgrounds and camping facilities

Paddlers on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit must use designated campsites.

There are 54 designated camp areas around the circuit, with 10 of these being for reserved for groups as noted above.

All 44 regular camping areas work on a first come, first serve system.

Each camping area has 1-13 tent pads. All have bear caches (see photo below), an outhouse and are generally pretty clean. Some camping areas have cooking shelters or cabins.

Green metal bear cache for food storage in the forest at campsite 45
Every campsite on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit has a bear cache for storing food and and other aromatic items such as toiletries

Woodlots are marked on the map of the circuit given at orientation. There never seemed to be much wood in these lots (and it was almost always wet), so my advice would be to keep your expectations low!

The waterproof map available at orientation, by the way, is a great investment.

We stayed at campsites no. 6, 16, 24, 34, 39, 45. I would avoid 32 (the aforementioned swamp site) during damp summer seasons.

If possible, try and stay at 31 on McLeary – beautiful views and only one camp area on this lake.

Tent and tarp at campsite 45 on the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit
Our campsite on Spectacle Lakes (campsite 45)

Orientation and weighing of gear

Paddlers on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit must attend a short orientation (approx 30 minutes) and have their gear weighed before setting out. If you do not attend the orientation, your permit will be cancelled.

Orientations are held at 9am and 12pm every day. You can choose your orientation time when making a reservation.

The main part of the orientation features a video about the park. After the video, there is an opportunity to ask relevant questions. And then it’s weighing time!

Weighing of gear is mandatory if using a canoe cart. Paddlers can only place 60lbs worth of gear in each canoe as to not overload and damage the portage trails. All gear over and above this 60lbs must be carried.

The on-duty Facility Operator (BC Parks contractors) will note down all items allowed in the canoe, within the 60lb limit, on a registration card that you must carry around the circuit.

It’s a good idea to have all of your gear organised before heading to the orientation.

Items that do not contribute to the weight limit are:

  • PFDs (life jackets)
  • Paddles
  • Canoe rope
  • Bailer/pump
  • Canoe cart
  • First Aid supplies
  • Tarps
  • Tarp rope
  • Axe
  • Drinking water for portage
  • The canoe itself!

Please note that this list could change at any time.


The good news is that navigation on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit is easy.

  • The portages are well trodden and clearly marked
  • With use of a map and bright campsite markers, it is straightforward to locate the various campgrounds
  • Hazardous areas (such as the unnavigable cascades on the Isaac River) are noted on the official map and also on the river with bright signage

It is, of course, important to remain aware of your surroundings at all times and anticipate the hazards that may be ahead.

General trip advice

In this section, I’ll share some general tips and advice for paddling the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit.

First time paddlers

While I do think that beginner paddlers can go on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit, it wouldn’t be my first choice for an introductory multi-day trip. I’d suggest trying a long overnight trip before choosing Bowron.

Here are a few reasons why –

  • Paddling for five or more hours a day (especially if brand new to it) can be really tiring, especially when combined with a portage or two as well as potentially difficult weather and lake conditions
  • Once you start the full circuit, it’s difficult to turn back. This means that you have to commit and see the trip through. 6-8 days is a long time to spend doing something you don’t like!
  • The circuit includes some very large, long lakes in a mountainous area (Bowron Lake, for example, is located at 900m elevation). Weather and lake conditions can change very quickly

If you are a novice paddler embarking on this trip, my advice would be:

  • Plan for a 7 or 8 day trip. This will lessen the need to rush and also offer flexibility to finish earlier if desired
  • Become confident with basic paddle strokes before you go. Some great resources – and
  • Pack as lightly as possible. You may not be carrying all your gear all the time, but less weight makes portaging, packing and paddling easier
  • Allow plenty of time for portaging. Even when using a canoe cart, portaging is a physically tiring and time intensive process
  • Paddle near the edge of the lake, not in the middle. This will enable you to get to shore quickly (capsize, changing weather conditions etc.).
  • If you can, train or condition before the trip. The more physically fit you are, the more likely you are to enjoy the adventure!
  • Have fun! My intention is not to scare you off (I promise!) but to prepare you for potential challenges

Difficult sections

The faster-moving water sections (the Chute and Rollercoaster) can be portaged around if needed but all paddlers must complete the Cariboo River section which may require some quick directional strokes depending on the conditions.

The very short mandatory river section following the Chute and Rollercoaster also can provide moving water hazards (we hit a submerged rock in shallow water).

As a side note, the river sections were some of my favourite parts of the whole circuit. The scenery tended to be more interesting, more wildlife around and the fishing was better too. Slow down and enjoy!


As noted above, the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit is located in a remote, mountainous area. The average temperatures, even in summer, are quite cool.

The average daytime temperature for our August trip was 12c. With a bit of wind from the mountains, it felt more like 8c.

Be sure to bring plenty of layers, even if the weather forecast calls for warm temperatures. Weather conditions can change quickly and often.

Even in the middle of summer, I’d highly recommend bringing waterproof jackets and pants on your Bowron Lakes adventure.

If you don’t use these items, great! If you do need them, you’ll be very thankful.

I mention this specifically as we used to manage an outdoor store and I had many conversations with paddlers who were not planning to bring rain gear on their trip. If we had not done so on our August adventure, we would have been dangerously cold.


Bowron Lake Provincial Park is home to a huge range of wildlife including black bear, grizzly bear, beaver, otter, mountain goats, caribou and deer.

Wildlife sightings are fairly common but you should be careful to keep your distance and always give animals an escape route.

When hiking to Caribou Falls, be sure to make plenty of noise to warn wildlife of your presence.

Always maintain a clean camp to avoid accidently feeding (or attracting) wildlife. This means:

  • Cleaning up thoroughly and quickly after cooking, picking up all garbage, food scraps and crumbs
  • Never cooking or eating where you sleep
  • Securing food, cooking equipment and scented items properly when not in use (use the campground bear caches)
  • Never burning garbage or food in a campfire – the smell can linger
  • Being extra careful not to drop food

It’s a good idea to have at least one can of bear spray in your paddling group. This aerosol deterrent a ‘last resort’ tool, used only when other methods have failed. Read our bear safety guide for more info.

Rental equipment

Don’t own a canoe? No problem. There is a choice of equipment outfitters in Bowron Lake Provincial Park, offering rentals of canoes, canoe carts, camping equipment and more.

Canoe rentals usually include two paddles and a spare plus two life jackets, bailer and sponge. The following outfitters have 8 day ‘Circuit rates.’

Reservations are recommended but be aware that Bowron Lake is quite remote and it may take time for the outfitters to respond and confirm a booking.

Recommended items for the Bowron Lake Circuit

Here are a couple of items that we found to be very useful for our trip on the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit in addition to all of our regular outdoor gear (canoe, PFDs, tent etc.)

  • Siltarp – These ultralight tarps are invaluable for shelter while paddling the Bowron Lakes circuit. Compared to a regular tarp, they help save extra weight and bulk on portages
  • Merino Wool socks – The best socks available to buy in my opinion. Merino wool keeps your feet warm even when wet, dry reasonably quickly and don’t stink. Ideal for the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit!
  • Hammock – It was SO nice to be able to put a hammock up and relax off of the ground! Our ENO double hammock is both lightweight and fairly small to pack
  • Pelican camera case – Pretty sure our DSLR camera would have drowned or been damaged on one of those rocky portages without this hard waterproof case
  • Firestarters – Trust me, you’ll be wanting a fire when paddling the Bowron Lakes! Whether you’re using it to warm, cook on or just to enjoy, being able to light a fire quickly is always good and fire starters definitely help
  • Stove – Campfires are permitted in designated fire rings, as long as there is no fire ban. Bring a lightweight cooking stove as a backup

More outdoor gear recommendations can be found on our Shop page.

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Gemma standing with arms on head in front of fast flowing Isaac River Falls
Isaac River Falls

Banned items

To continue on from the last section, there are some items that you should definitely not bring with you to the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit.

The following items are prohibited:

  • Commercial beverage containers such as beer, soda, liquor, juice etc. Boxed wine is allowed as long as the cardboard box is removed
  • Firearms and crossbows
  • Bear bangers
  • External speakers or stereos
  • Drones (only allowed with a BC Parks’ permit)
  • Chainsaws
  • Smoking and vaping products
  • Electric motors

Dogs and other pets are not allowed.

Canned food is OK to bring but should always be cleaned and packed out.

Paddlers must pack out everything that they pack in with them, including garbage. Do not burn packaging.

Local area information

The Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit is located in a reasonably remote area of British Columbia, Canada.

There is a small cluster of housing and visitor accommodation (RV camping, cabins) around Bowron Lake, including some canoe outfitters where you can rent gear and boats and also purchase some last minute supplies.

Be sure to check out the interesting Bowron Lake Museum before or after your trip.

Bowron Lake Provincial Park is approximately 30km away from the small village of Wells. There is a library, post office, a general store plus a handful of restaurants, cafes, shops and accommodation options here.

If you can, I’d highly recommend extending your Bowron Lakes trip by one day and visiting Barkerville.

This historical mining village is an award winning living museum with interactive exhibits, live shows and themed restaurants. It’s just a few kilometres outside of Wells and is open all day (we arrived at 9am and left at 8pm!)

Where to stay

Here are some options for overnight accommodation before and after paddling the Bowron Lakes:

  • Bowron Lake Provincial Park has a lovely forested vehicle accessible campground, located within walking distance of the Registration Centre. Most of the 25 sites are available on a first come, first service basis. The fee is $18/night. There are no showers in the campground
  • There are three private RV and tent campgrounds on the shores of Bowron Lake at Bowron Lake Lodge, Becker’s Lodge and Bear River Mercantile
  • Becker’s Lodge also has a number of cabins and chalets to rent and Bear River Mercantile has cabins, glamping units and a bunkhouse
  • For something a little different, consider a stay in the historic Gold Rush town of Barkerville. There’s a period hotel and B&B as well as modern cottages
  • The village of Wells has a hotel, motel, RV park, an apartment rental and Airbnb guesthouses
  • In Quesnel, you’ll find plenty of chain and family owned hotels and motels. The Quality Inn is highly rated and within walking distance to downtown

Other canoe circuit recommendations

For a quieter canoe circuit experience, try the Powell Forest Canoe Route on the Sunshine Coast. While it’s technically not quite a canoe circuit, this route offers a similar experience, with multiple lakes and portages.

Those short on time or paddling experience, should consider the Sayward Canoe Circuit. It offers an excellent three to four-day alternative to Bowron. It’s not quite as remote but still has a wilderness feel.

We really enjoyed both and found that they provided a much more relaxing experience due to so few other people paddling the circuits. While they do lack in the wilderness aspect in parts, they are also both completely free!

Besides these canoe circuits, British Columbia has many other excellent canoe trips on offer.

An example is Murtle Lake in Wells Gray Provincial Park, which is the largest canoe only lake in North America.

Slocan Lake, near Nelson, has beautiful beaches, waterfalls, hiking trails and many free campsites.

If you found this post helpful, save or PIN one of the below images for future reference

A perfect parallelogram of lakes, rivers and portages surrounded by temperate rainforest and imposing mountains - click to read our Bowron Lakes experience plus all the tips and advice you need to do this magnificent canoe circuit yourself!
British Columbia's Bowron Lakes canoe circuit is a natural wonder - a perfect parallelogram of lakes, rivers and portages surrounded by temperate rainforest and imposing mountains. It's a dream canoe trip for paddlers around the world. Here's everything you need to know to paddle this route yourself!
The Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit is a wonderland for canoeists and kayakers alike, enabling an epic 116km journey through what is essentially a remote wildlife refuge with incredible topographic diversity. It's a paddling experience like no other. Click here for a complete guide to paddling this impressive Canadian canoe route.

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Wednesday 1st of February 2023

Hi there,

I wondered if you offered a guide to the Bowron Lakes Canoe Circuit? If you do I might like to purchase it. Best, Seth Shteir


Wednesday 1st of February 2023

Hi Seth,

This post is our electronic guide to Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit :) We do not have a paper version if that is what you were looking for?

Jeffrey Pulver

Wednesday 17th of August 2022

Age 15, boy scout troop 25 every year during spring we would get permits to cut snagwood trees 25 cords of sold off Douglas fir paid for our trips. That year we drove from Vancouver, Washington directly to Quesnel, British Columbia.. long trip but the next 8 days will be something I could never forget. Bowron lakes was one of my best summers ever!


Tuesday 30th of August 2022

Great to hear you have wonderful memories of Bowron Lakes!

Johannes Setiapoetra

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

Thank you for your great info and details. I will use it for reference of our soon Bowron Lake canoeing trip. Will write you again after we come back!


Thursday 30th of June 2022

I'm so glad you've found this guide helpful Johannes! I'd love to hear about your experience on your return. Have a great time!

Thomas Winter

Saturday 3rd of August 2019

great, looking forward to join bowron lakes, planning vacations at Canada. Will come with plane, so I think about to go there without own car. Does anyone know of public transportation or hitchhikes? Thanks


Sunday 4th of August 2019

Thanks for your comment! There is a bus service to Quesnel from several nearby cities by Adventure Charters I am not aware of any public transport that currently runs from Quesnel to Bowron Lakes. Hitchhiking is not technically illegal in BC but being on the road and trying to solicit a ride is against the law. There are also safety issues. You could try one of the ride sharing apps or websites to see if anyone else is heading there at a similar time?

Debbie Manchen

Saturday 11th of August 2018

What was the water flow like, if any? I know the one lake was very little water flow. First time going to the Bowron Lakes and so looking forward to it.


Saturday 11th of August 2018

Hi Debbie,

I'm not sure I understand, what water flow are you referring to? The water levels during our visit were pretty normal I think.