Williams Lake, British Columbia, Canada
Also known as: Columneetza
Williams Lake is located in the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Region of Canada’s British Columbia, a magnificent land stretching across British Columbia’s interior from the Pacific to the Cariboo Mountains. Home to the popular Williams Lake Stampede, the community of Williams Lake sits at the west end of the lake. Surrounded by ranch land, forest and numerous fishing lakes, Williams Lake is approximately 342 miles (550 kilometers) northeast of Vancouver and 149 miles (240 kilometers) south of Prince George.
Williams Lake is named for Chief William of the Shuswap (Secwepemc) Nation. His people were the first to live near the shores of Williams Lake calling the area “Columnetza” or meeting place. The discovery of gold in 1859 brought a surge in settlers and business where pack-trails crossed just west of Williams Lake. The growth was short-lived when in 1862 the new Cariboo Wagon Road was built north of Williams Lake. It wasn’t until 1919 that the railroad brought life back to Columnetza, creating the regional service center that you find in Williams Lake today.
Williams Lake is a 1,787-acre natural lake fed by the San Jose River. The river draining Williams Lake is Williams Lake River, a short tributary leading to the mighty Fraser River, ranked as the fifth largest river system in Canada. While management practices continue to improve, a history of traditional farming practices along the San Jose River led to years of poor water quality in Williams Lake. The lake is open to boating, swimming and fishing with nearby recreational lakes adding to the selection of lakeside attractions. Substantial development lines the 12-mile shoreline of Williams Lake, with tree-covered rolling hills surrounding the water.
The natural beauty of Williams Lake is on display at the Scout Island Nature Centre located off the northwest shore. Owned by the Nature Trust of British Columbia, the site has been leased to the city of Williams Lake with the Nature Centre operated by Williams Lake Field Naturalists. Set among the lake’s marshes, this sanctuary sits on two islands linked to the shore by a short causeway. Scout Island is an ideal place for families to spend the day. In addition to educational programs and exhibits found in the Nature Centre, Scout Island’s 24 acres (10 hectares) includes nature trails, a beach area, picnic grounds and boat launch.
With a population exceeding 11,000, the community of Williams Lake provides services for much of the surrounding area. Shopping, restaurants, museums and a variety of entertainment make Williams Lake the perfect place to call home while you explore the Cariboo countryside. Whether you purchase real estate along the shoreline of Williams Lake or select from vacation rentals including cabins, cottages, and bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) you will come home to your own vacation spot every day.
Williams Lake is to be enjoyed for its scenery and natural habitat. With some of the Canada’s best fishing destinations nearby, fishing is not the main attraction at Williams Lake. Anglers who cast their lines into the 79-foot maximum depth or 40-foot average depth may catch the lake’s rainbow trout or lake whitefish. The necessary fishing license may be purchased at locations in Williams Lake.
When you are ready to test your fly-fishing, angling or trolling skills you will find a large selection of rivers and lakes within easy driving distance. Drive approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) northeast of Williams Lake and you will arrive at Quesnel Lake. Covering 67,173 acres (27,196 hectares), the lake is claimed to be the deepest and longest fjord lake in North America and third largest in the world. In addition to trophy-sized rainbow trout, lake char, Dolly Varden trout, and Kokanee salmon, Quesnel Lake supports about one-fourth of British Columbia’s sockeye salmon. For those who prefer water sports, Quesnel Lake provides excellent beach access and boating opportunities. For a change of scenery from the rolling hills of Williams Lake, adventurers will enjoy hiking into the Cariboo Mountains lying at Quesnel Lake’s north and east “arms.” Here you can enjoy sweeping vistas, waterfalls and mountain peaks reaching 7,000 feet (2,134 meters).
A short scenic hike south of Quesnel Lake will take you to Horsefly Lake. Located 44 miles (70 kilometers) northeast of Williams Lake, Horsefly Lake holds a large population of Dolly Varden trout, Kokanee salmon and wild stock rainbow trout and lake trout. Fly fishermen will enjoy testing their skills in Horsefly River and nearby mountain streams. Touted as the second largest sockeye salmon spawning river in British Columbia and one of the three most spectacular salmon runs in the world, Horsefly River is not to be missed. This pristine mountain river also flows through the town of Horsefly, site of the first gold to be discovered in the Cariboo Gold Rush of 1859.
Within about 40 miles (64 kilometers), Lac La Hache lies to the south and McLeese Lake lies to the north of Williams Lake. Both offer beautiful scenery, excellent fishing, boating and water sports. Lac La Hache Provincial Park lies north of the community of Lac La Hache and offers canoeing, cycling, hiking and water skiing. The remoteness of McLeese Lake is an attraction itself, but if you are an angler you will appreciate the lake’s sizeable rainbow trout and Kokanee.
Known for its sport fishing, the Fraser River lies west of McLeese Lake and runs south toward Williams Lake. Northeast of Williams Lake you will find two more havens for fishing enthusiasts. The Quesnel River is a tributary of the Fraser, and the Cariboo River is a tributary of the Quesnel River. These long rivers offer mile after mile of ideal conditions for fly-fishing enthusiasts to chase bull trout, trophy-sized rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. The rivers are also open to jet boat tours or paddling trips for rafters, canoeists and kayakers at all skill levels. Before heading out alone, consider hiring an area outfitter ready to take visitors on their next outdoor adventure.
More entertainment will be waiting when you return to Williams Lake. At the west end of the lake visitors can pick up the seven-mile (12-kilometer) River Valley Trail. As the trail crosses the valley floor, hikers will find conveniently placed interpretive signs, picnic tables and pit toilets. Multi-use trails also lead into the surrounding Douglas firs, offering a scenic ride for mountain bikers and horseback riders in the summer and cross-country skiers and snowmobilers in the winter. Golfing, local theatre productions, galleries and museums provide intriguing mid-day and evening pursuits. Plan your visit during the July Canada Day weekend, and you will be treated to the Williams Lake Stampede, the second largest professional rodeo in Canada. While the event is once a year, when you come to Williams Lake the excitement and scenery of the “old west” remains year round. Come home to Williams Lake, a family-friendly destination where beauty and history meet.
Things to do at Williams Lake BC
- Water Skiing
- Cabin Rentals
- Cross-Country Skiing
- Horseback Riding
- Provincial Park
Fish species found at Williams Lake BC
- Bull Trout
- Dolly Varden Trout
- Kokanee Salmon
- Lake Trout
- Rainbow Trout
- Sockeye Salmon
Williams Lake BC Photo Gallery
Williams Lake BC Statistics & Helpful Links
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