By G.D. Maxwell
Bowron Lakes Provincial Park is a perfect canoe experience for anyone who likes to eat their wilderness with a heaping side of safety, convenience and camaraderie. In a province full of mountains and lakes, the two have teamed up to create a nearly geometric parallelogram of 12 lakes linked by a handful of meandering rivers. Covering 115 km from start to finish, the route has a mercifully short 9 km of portages. Unmercifully, fully 2.5 of them are schlepped before you ever wet a paddle.
Tucked into a geological curiosity in the Cariboo mountains, 115 km east of Quesnel; 800 km north of Vancouver; nine hours drivin time from Whistler; 30 km from Wells, a town worth mentioning since its the first place outside the park to pick up any selection of cold beer, Bowron is a destination canoeing experience. Its known around the world as evidenced by the scope of languages you hear on the circuit. Every other canoe is coupled by people from Germany, Sweden, Austria or Switzerland. Conversations around oft-shared campfires sound like plenary sessions of the UN for cripesakes.
About those portages. The good news is the portage trails are, for the most part, highway smooth and largely traversed by people pushing and pulling their canoes on carts. Carts can be rented at either Beckers Lodge or Bowron Lake Lodge just outside the park entrance. If they still have old carts and "better" carts, spring for a good one or be sure you have bailing wire and duct tape and a tire patch kit handy.
Ive used a cart and not used a cart. Use a cart. If you need convincing, consider this. Cart = 1 trip on each portage trail. No cart = 3 trips. You can roll up to 35 pounds of gear inside your canoe according to park rules. Thats 35 pounds you dont have to carry on your back. In Max Terms, thats a cooler full of steak and lobster on dry ice, a couple of lexan bottles of cab sav and two full-size lawn chairs. Ah, Wilderness.
Prior to humping that first portage, you have to check in and attend an "orientation" session at either 9 a.m. or noon. Its a basic dont feed the bears and how to signal for help pep talk but theyre sticklers and wont let you set out until youve been oriented.
Paddlers doing the full circuit travel clockwise, putting their boats in on Kibbee Lake for a short paddle to, ironically, the second longest portage on the circuit. At the end of Kibbee and the beginning of the next lake, Indianpoint, there are campsites. Camping in Bowron is a very controlled affair. You have to use established sites and youd better be meticulous. Each site is equipped with a metal-grated fire ring, a steel-doored food cache and a pit toilet somewhere nearby. A sprinkling of a dozen or so cabins and shelters provide wet and cold paddlers a place to warm up and dry out and encourage a few brave souls to do the route on cross-country skis each year, but unless you like sleeping with mice, dont sleep in the cabins.