Bowron Lakes, British Columbia, Canada

Lake Locations:

Canada - British Columbia -

Also known as:  Kibbee Lake, Indianpoint Lake, Isaac Lake, McLeary Lake, Lanezi Lake, Sandy Lake, Unna Lake, Skoi Lake, Spectacle Lake, Swan Lake, Babcock Lake

Central British Columbia’s Bowron Lakes is one of North America’s finest canoe tours. Famous the world over, the Bowron Lakes attract visitors from all over Canada, the United States and Europe. About 4,500 paddlers enjoy the 72-mile circular canoe route in Bowron Lake Provincial Park each year. With limited canoes allowed on the route on any given day, paddle sport enthusiasts often reserve their launch date months in advance in order to ‘rough it’ in the Bowron wilderness area. Surrounded by the mountains in the Cariboo Range, the park is also a wildlife sanctuary, so photographic opportunities are plentiful. Most websites list ten lakes and any number of waterways as belonging to the Bowron canoe route, although twelve named lakes are listed. Although only one lake is named Bowron Lake, the popular paddle route is usually referred to as the Bowron Lakes.

In the order in which they are traversed, Bowron Lake Provincial Park literature names Kibbee Lake, Indianpoint Lake, Isaac Lake, Isaac River, McLeary Lake, Cariboo River, Lanezi Lake, Sandy Lake, Babcock Creek, Unna Lake, Babcock Lake, Skoi Lake, Spectacle Lake, Swan Lake, (these last two lakes run together and are usually counted as one lake), Bowron River and finally Bowron Lake. As the entire area lies within the protection of the Bowron Lake Provincial Park, none of the lakes except Bowron Lake holds anything but the bare minimum of primitive camping facilities. All water must be carried in or, if obtained from local surface waters, boiled for safety. Wind and rainstorms are common here, making for unexpectedly wet paddling. A number of small cabins spaced around the canoe circle are open for use only in emergencies and as a place to dry out soaked paddlers temporarily. Paddlers are expected to camp in the designated camping areas found along the route, where they cook their packed-in provisions and perhaps fish. Few hiking trails are located along the shorelines with only two marked trails, one trail leading from the southwest shore of Unna Lake to spectacular 79-feet high Cariboo Falls. Most canoe trekkers stop here long enough to take the hike to the picturesque falls which is most striking in the spring during high water. The other marked trail leads to Hunter Lake.

The canoe trail is best handled by experienced, physically-fit canoeists. There are several portages involved in getting from one waterway to another. Care must be taken to follow the marked signs and to portage where indicated, as some of the rivers become impassible due to rapids and waterfalls. Others may lead to lakes not on the route, and those getting off the signed trail can easily become lost. Wildlife are plentiful along the route with moose, deer, mountain goat, caribou, black bear, grizzly bear, waterfowl, beaver, and otter commonly seen. Eagles and ospreys fish the waters, along with the wide variety of the usual birds inhabiting the well-wooded shorelines. Binoculars are a must as are bear-proof caches for all food. Bowron Lake Provincial Park offers a bear safety page on their park website and suggests that all visitors follow safety practices to avoid conflicts with these magnificent creatures.

The park’s webpage has suggested lists of equipment that will be needed for the week-long adventure, and some equipment can be rented from local lodges. Weapons are not allowed in the park, which has not been hunted since 1926. Some of the shallower lakes become warm enough for swimming in summer, but others are cold and deep. No statistics on lake sizes and depths are available. Following the route clockwise, paddlers end up at Bowron Lake, the only lake with a boat ramp and vehicle-accessible campground. The usual route takes seven to ten days, but some trekkers take the shorter, three-day route by traveling in the reverse direction from Bowron Lake to Unna Lake and back-a shorter, flatter route with fewer portages and usually better weather.

Bowron Lake is headquarters for the Provincial Park and offers, besides the camping area, the only power boating on the entire circuit. Water skiing, wakeboarding, jet skiing and sailing can be enjoyed on Bowron Lake. The campground offers hiking, swimming, interpretive programs, wildlife viewing, cycling, scuba diving, horseback riding, climbing/repelling, caving, winter recreation such as cross-country skiing and has picnic areas, restrooms, showers, drinking water, playground and is wheelchair accessible. Several small privately-owned commercial lodges still exist along the west shore of the lake and offer resort cabins, restaurants, canoe and kayak rental and guide services. These predate the formation of the Provincial Park in 1961. It is Bowron Lake that attracts many of the fishermen who enjoy the challenge of bull trout, kokanee, rainbow trout and lake trout that are caught here. A provincial fishing license required.

Bowron Lake, originally named Bear Lake, was historically the home to tribes of First Nations. Gold was discovered in the Frazier River valley during the Cariboo Gold Rush of the 1860s. The lake was renamed after John Bowron, the first Gold Commissioner of nearby Barkerville. Here, Billy Barker discovered one of the region’s richest gold deposits in 1862. The town sprang up practically overnight; that year it was reputedly the largest city west of Chicago and north of San Francisco. As the claims played out, Barkerville’s population moved on, leaving behind a mostly-intact ghost town. After agreeing to buy out or move the homes of the few remaining residents, Barkerville was designated a historic park in the 1950s. The preserved village, complete with historic buildings, shopping and a theater is the official entrance to Bowron Lakes. The original 1869 Anglican church and 125 other buildings have been restored. From May to Labor Day, “townspeople” dress in period costumes. Visitors can pan for gold, dine in the Chinatown section, or take a stagecoach ride. The Richland courthouse stages trials from the town’s past, and the Royal Theater performs productions regularly during the summer season.

Bed-and-breakfasts in Barkerville offer quaint and authentic lodgings, and visitors often spend several days visiting all historic Barkerville has to offer. Not far away, the small town of Wells offers more modern amenities, as does Quesnel a few miles from Bowron Lakes. There are plenty of lodgings in the area ranging from the occasional private guest rental to lakeside resorts, hotels and ranch stays. There are several provincial parks in the area, such as Cariboo Mountains Provincial Park and Wells Gray Provincial Park, so campgrounds are plentiful. Real estate may be available in the area, although not directly on the Bowron Lakes canoe circuit. Bowron Lakes and the canoe circuit is definitely a ‘must do’ experience for avid oupaddlers. A couple of weeks paddling the Bowron Lakes wilderness is a vacation that will be remembered and talked about for a lifetime. So, get your reservations in now for a trek around the circuit. You’ll be the envy of your kayak club for years to come!

Things to do at Bowron Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Scuba Diving
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • Provincial Park
  • Playground
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Bowron Lakes

  • Bull Trout
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Lake Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Trout

Bowron Lakes Photo Gallery

Bowron Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 3,006 feet

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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