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Following the Gold Rush Trail through British Columbia’s Cariboo & Beyond

Follow the trail of the first prospectors who flocked to British Columbia in the mid-1800s in search of gold and riches. Travel through rugged mountains, steep canyons and past raging rivers of the Fraser Canyon and into the dry plateaus and rolling hills of the Thompson Okanagan and Cariboo regions. Continue north to Prince George, called the Northern Capital of BC, then east and south towards the stunning BC Rockies returning to Hope in Fraser Country.

Horses are a Frequent Sight in Lillooet | Trish C.

A Sampling of Things To See and Do Along the Way

The Fraser Canyon offers up plenty to see. Yale Historic Site was an original Gold Rush boomtown where the steamers stopped as the waters of the Fraser River were too rough beyond this point for boats to navigate. It is known as the official start of the Gold Rush Trail although mile zero is actually in Lillooet.

Hell’s Gate Airtram offers a ride over the thundering waters where 200 million gallons of water cascade through the narrow passage of the gorge every minute.

Historic Hat Creek Ranch near Cache Creek | Destination BC/Blake Jorgenson

Entering the drier climate of the Cariboo you will find Historic Hat Creek Ranch. Dating back to 1861 you can relive the history through interpreters dressed in period clothing, take a stagecoach ride and pan for gold.

Continuing on to Clinton, check out this Wild West town! Antique shops, many with original storefronts, are full of treasures and an 1892 museum are reasons to take a break here. Then on to Williams Lake home to cowboys and the popular annual Williams Lake Stampede (July 1st). Do some gold panning in Quesnel, home to the world’s largest gold pan and check out Mandy the haunted doll at the Quesnel & District Museum.

Bowron Actors, Barkerville

A side trip to Barkerville is well worth the one-hour drive each way. This thriving historic town is a tribute to the gold rush era that made BC’s gold industry famous. 125 plus heritage buildings, displays, a theatre, events, activities and more showcase the life of Barkerville’s colourful past. Designated a Historic Site of Canada and a Provincial Heritage Property it is the largest living-history museum in western North America.

Known as the capital of Northern BC, the city of Prince George is a bustling community where arts and culture, events and outdoor adventure awaits. Visit the Exploration Place Museum & Science Centre with dinosaurs, fossils, hands-on experiences for kids and adults alike. The Central British Columbia Railway and Forestry Museum features original buildings and rolling stock and is home to one of the largest vintage rail collections in BC.

Hiking in Mount Robson Provincial Park. Photo: Destination BC/Megan McLellan
Hiking in Mount Robson Provincial Park | Photo: Destination BC/Megan McLellan

Situated at the foot of Canoe Mountain in the Robson Valley is the village of Valemount and the closest community to Mount Robson Provincial Park and Jasper National Park. Explore some of the many hiking trails for stunning views of snow-capped mountains, spectacular waterfalls and create lasting memories.

Along the way stop at Blue River and experience a boat ride down the river through Grizzly Mountain Valley and the world’s only inland temperate rainforest where you may be lucky enough to see bears, moose, osprey, eagles and other BC wildlife.

Outdoor adventurers will want to stop at Wells Gray Provincial Park to see and experience some of nature at its very best. A wide array of paths offer trails for different hiking levels plus stunning waterfalls provide many viewing opportunities, including Helmcken Falls, the fourth highest falls in Canada. Bring your kayaks and bikes and get ready to experience this amazing park.

Mountain Biking in Kenna Cartwright Park
Mountain Biking in Kenna Cartwright Park, Kamloops | Destination BC/Andrew Strain

Kamloops is one of the major cities in the Okanagan with great restaurants, shopping, entertainment, arts and culture, sports and outdoor activities. Stop in at a winery or a local brewery. Visit BC Wildlife Park and experience wildlife up close.

Amazing white and yellow cliff formations are located in Castle Rock Hoodoos Provincial Park in Deadman Valley. Hiking is not permitted as the landscape is very fragile but stunning scenery provides an opportunity to take home some great photographic memories.

Spences Bridge lies at the confluence of the Thompson and Nicola Rivers and is a prime location for excellent fishing. River rafting, swimming, canoeing, kayaking or fishing are all close by.

This circle route has much to offer. Spend a few days, a week or more, exploring some or all of the communities and attractions along this route.

For a ‘guided’ tour read our suggested trip along the Gold Rush Trail.

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For places to camp in British Columbia go to the Camping Map.

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Chasm Provincial Park – A Hidden Gem in British Columbia’s Cariboo Region

In British Columbia we are fortunate to have a wealth of spectacular destinations. Sometimes, however, on our way to somewhere else we stumble onto a gem hidden in plain sight. Chasm Provincial Park, located just north of Clinton in the Cariboo region, is one of those destinations.

Chasm Provincial Park, near Clinton | K. Walker

While en route to Green Lake Provincial Park, we noticed a roadside sign for Chasm Provincial Park. Knowing nothing about it, but seeing that it was only a four-kilometre detour from Highway 97, we decided to investigate. The road accessing the park is paved and easily accessible while towing our tent trailer. When we arrived at the parking area we found that we had it basically all to ourselves which made it easy to park and turn around.

Chasm Provincial Park protects a spectacular canyon carved by glacial melt water. Today, the steep canyon walls display the layers of the multi-coloured lava flows that form the Fraser Plateau. The canyon is over eight kilometres long, six hundred metres wide, and three hundred meters deep. It is basically a baby Grand Canyon right here in British Columbia!

Chasm Provincial Park is a photographer’s dream. With easy access and spectacular views, you could easily stay right in the parking lot and spend a significant amount of time observing and photographing the rock formations and layering on the canyon walls across from you.

Chasm Provincial Park, Cariboo | K. Walker

For those who want to venture a bit further afield, there is a network of informal and unsigned hiking trails. The BC Parks website notes a trail following an old road that winds from the parking area around the top of the canyon and then down the southern edge of the chasm and offers spectacular views and a nice walk through the protected ponderosa pine forest. While the viewpoint area is fenced, once you venture beyond the main parking area the fencing ends and the trail skirts the canyon edge. Caution is necessary especially when visiting with children or pets.

Chasm Provincial Park, Cariboo | K. Walker

During our trip, we stuck to the north side of the canyon, following the trail from the parking area and outhouses alongside the canyon rim. This short and informal trail provide plenty of amazing viewpoints and given the unplanned nature of our visit to Chasm Provincial Park we felt that this gave us a good taste of the area without needing to break out our hiking shoes and backpacks. The next time I travel through the Clinton area I will certainly plan for a longer trip in Chasm Provincial Park in order to explore the south rim trails and maybe even try to make it down to the lower elevation lakes and marshes that dominate the southern end of the park.

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Whether you have fifteen minutes or several hours to explore, Chasm Provincial Park makes an excellent detour when travelling along Highway 97 near Clinton. I found the geology of the area unexpected given the much more dominant terrain of rolling grasslands, which for me made the discovery of Chasm Provincial Park all the more dramatic and a true a hidden gem in the British Columbia interior. There are no campsites here.

For those looking for nearby camping opportunities check out the camping map.

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Big Bar Lake Provincial Park in the Cariboo, British Columbia

If you don’t mind a little jaunt off the beaten (and paved) path, Big Bar Lake Provincial Park, 42 kilometres northwest of Clinton, makes an excellent weekend escape in the South Cariboo.

Dusk was setting as we arrived at our campsite and a quick reconnaissance showed that we had a path directly from our site down to the water’s edge. In addition to these site-to-lake trails, the park also has numerous locations to access the water including a boat launch and day use area with picnic tables and an adventure playground.

Campsite at Big Bar Lake Provincial Park | Kimberly Walker

Big Bar Lake is a gorgeous canoe destination. The water sparkles and there are numerous places where the shallow, sandy bottom gives an almost tropical appearance. The lake is well known as a fishing destination, but despite our best efforts we came up empty handed on this trip. Other fishermen we talked to said the fishing had been hot a few days before, but things had slowed considerably, which made us feel slightly better about the situation!

Plenty of Places to Paddle Your Canoe | Kimberly Walker

After tucking our rods away, we decided to paddle to the end of the lake and look at all the cabins on the opposite side of the lake from the campground. The cabins range from gorgeous and modern to derelict and abandoned looking. Some rustic structures right near the end of the lake left me wondering the history of the property and wishing I knew more about the history of the region as a whole.

Otter Marsh at Big Bar Lake Provincial Park | Kimberly Walker

Before long, unsettled weather struck and we could see black clouds building at the campground end of the lake. Bad weather can come up quickly on the water, and we had barely made the decision to turn around and head home when we were stuck with gale force winds, driving rain and hail, and extremely rough water. Boating safety is paramount, and it is essential that anyone headed out on the water, no matter how calm it appears, be prepared. At an absolute minimum, this means always wearing a life jacket. Because we were canoeing with a dog, we decided to take extra precautions and pull up on shore and wait for the squall to pass. As we were hunkered down, we saw several paddle boarders wearing only bathing suits and carrying no safety equipment whatsoever struggling to make it to shore. Thankfully, the storm passed quickly and everyone was safe, but this was a sobering reminder of how quickly things can turn bad on the water.

Walk Along Otter Marsh | Kimberly Walker

Next, we decided to trade water for land and hike the 3.5 kilometre Otter Marsh Interpretive Trail that leaves from the day use area of the park. Make sure you wear mosquito protection as the mosquitos were ferocious and most of our hike actually took place at a light jog. But the views were spectacular and the interpretive signage along the trail did a great job of educating us about the area and pointing out specific features to look for including tree species, glacial activity, volcanic activity, and the diversity of grassland and forest habitats.

View of Big Bar Lake | Kimberly Walker

Since we travelled early in the camping season, we were happy to have a waterfront site in the Lakeside Campground from which we could view the lake while sipping tea and reading books. If we travelled to Big Bar Lake during the height of summer, the Upper Campground, which was completely empty while we were there, might be more appealing as it provides more shade and larger campsites, including double sites, than the higher density, waterfront area where we stayed.

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Whether you are seeking land or water adventures, it’s always a great day to #campinbc and Big Bar Lake Provincial Park is an excellent destination to explore.

For other camping options in this area and elsewhere in British Columbia go to our Camping Map.

Share your BC travel and camping photos using hashtag #campinbc #explorebc #bcnice.

Published: March 18th, 2021

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