Williams Lake, British Columbia, Canada

Lake Locations:

Canada - British Columbia -

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

  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Golf
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Waterfall
  • Provincial Park
  • Museum
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Williams Lake BC

  • Bull Trout
  • Char
  • Dolly Varden Trout
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Lake Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Sockeye Salmon
  • Trout
  • Whitefish

Williams Lake BC Photo Gallery

    Williams Lake BC Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

    Surface Area: 1,787 acres

    Shoreline Length: 12 miles

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,873 feet

    Average Depth: 40 feet

    Maximum Depth: 79 feet

    Water Residence Time: 2 years

    Lake Area-Population: 11,150

    Trophic State: Eutrophic

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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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