The true Cariboo runs South to North and is best explored via Highway 97 known as the Gold Rush Trail with side trips along the way that includes Highway 24, "The Fishing Highway", Highway 20, "Chilcotin Freedom Highway" and Highway 26 to Wells/Barkerville.
Highway 97 follows the gold-rush trail through the towns of 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House, 108 Mile House, and 150 Mile House. The towns were named after the mile-marking roadhouses patronized by prospectors and settlers headed north to the goldfields.
The Cariboo truly begins in the south with the town of Clinton, which was originally Mile 47, and the junction of the Cariboo Waggon Road and the original Gold Rush Trail. Clinton is a delightful blend of history and horses. Ranches are dotted around the area including Jesmond, Big Bar and Hat Creek Ranch. The Hat Creek Ranch was a roadhouse and stopping place for the BX Stage and is now a BC Heritage Site dating back to 1861. The Ranch is at the junction of Highway 97 and 99.
Heading North along Highway 97 from Clinton 70 Mile House is the next community of note. Construction of the Cariboo Waggon Road in the 1860s resulted in a number of new towns springing up throughout the southern Cariboo. One of many towns established along this historic route, and one of the first stopping places along the Cariboo Wagon Road, the town of 70 Mile House began as a mere roadhouse. Eventually, some of the travelers passing through this junction decided to stay and put down roots. 70 Mile House marks the turnoff to Green Lake Provincial Park , once a by-way for the fur trade.
Before reaching 100 Mile House the traveler can detour East along Highway 24 "The Fishing Highway". The actual turning is at 93 Mile House and the 97 km connector route to Highway 5 is a very scenic drive. Highway 24 follows the historic bridge trail, originally used by the Shuswap people as a trade route and was later developed by the Hudson's Bay Company in the early 1800s' to bring furs from northern BC out to Fort Kamloops and the Columbia River.
The area locally known as the Interlakes community has well over 100 fishing lakes before you reach Little Fort and the junction of Highway 5. Whether you fly fish or troll, the fishing for rainbow, brook, lake trout, burbot and kokanee is excellent. Some lakes of note are Fawn Lake, providing trout up to 12 lbs; Sheridan Lake known for its trophy fishing, produces many rainbows 3 - 5lbs; Bridge Lake produces lake trout up to 20lbs and kokanee to 4lbs.
Highway 24 also provides access to many good secondary roads, which extend north to Mahood Lake and Wells Gray Park and south to the Green-Bonaparte Lakes area.
100 Mile House was a stopping place 100 miles from Lillooet on the Cariboo Waggon Road. In the 100 Mile area in the winter, you'll enjoy snow shoeing, dog sledding, downhill skiing, and some of the most outstanding cross country ski trails in the world. Winter events to plan for are the Cariboo Classic/Jack Hawthorn Memorial Dog Sled race, held the third weekend in January, and the Cariboo Marathon, a cross-country skiing event held the first weekend in February.
If you enjoy canoeing or kayaking try a 12-lake, two-day circuit in the Moose Valley Provincial Park, just west of 100 Mile House. This rustic, wilderness park is a wonderful place to bird watch. You can find owls, hawks, grouse, woodpeckers, loons, grebes, sandhill cranes, and a wide variety of songbirds, among others. As this park conserves wildlife habitat, you'll enjoy nature at its best.
The small, friendly community of Lac la Hache 15 miles North of 100 Mile House describes itself as the Longest Town in the Cariboo. Highway 97 skirts the entire 19-kilometre shoreline of this beautiful lake in its rolling Fraser Plateau setting, which has many fishing lodges, guest ranches and vacation homes sprinkled along its perimeter. The town is said to be named after a luckless French Canadian fur trader who lost his axe here while ice fishing. One of the prettiest lakes in the Cariboo, Lac La Hache Lake is especially famous for its kokanee and trophy sized lake trout fishing. Ice fishing is popular in winter.
50 miles north of 100 Mile House is 150 Mile House and the turnoff east for communities of Likely and Horsefly. In 1859, local Indians showed gold seekers the location of gold deposits in now historic Horsefly, sparking the great Cariboo Gold Rush. Located 60 kilometres east of 150 Mile House, on the south branch of the Old Gold Rush Trail, Horsefly today is a forestry centre and the gateway to fabulous camping, hiking and fishing in the surrounding area. Horsefly Lake is 50 kilometres long and 650 feet deep, with crystal-clear, clean water. You can fish for the large rainbow or lake trout that Horsefly Lake is renowned for.
Located in a picturesque setting on the mouth of the Quesnel River, at the west end of Quesnel Lake, the town of Likely is one of the few remaining old gold rush settlements. Originally known as Quesnel Dam, the town was renamed in honour of John A. Likely, who was connected with the bullion mine. Relive the ghost town of Quesnelle Forks, 5 km northwest of Likely or marvel at one of the Twin Giants, huge steam shovels purchased in 1906 to dig a canal from Spanish Lake to the Bullion Mines.
The largest city in the Central Cariboo is British Columbia's Stampede Capital - Williams Lake. This is a city that blends history and frontier flair with new millennium events, businesses, and culture. It is also the gateway to the Cariboo Chilcotin coast town of Bella Coola. Williams Lake is best known for its Stampede that captures all the rodeo spirit of the Cariboo Chilcotin. For a week in early July, the city displays its wild and colourful western hospitality. Bull riding, steer-wrestling and bareback events draw cowboys and crowds from across North America. The fairgrounds and midway are always a hootin' hollerin' good time.
From Williams, Lake Highway 97 follows the Fraser River up to Quesnel, a bustling, flower-filled city on the fork of the Quesnel and Fraser Rivers. Visitors shouldn't miss the Quesnel and District Museum and Archives, with Mandy, the famous haunted doll. The Arts and Recreation Centre has a pool, art gallery, and gym. A new attraction, the Antique Machinery Park, houses interesting old machinery. There is a fun ski hill Troll Ski Resort between Quesnel and Wells.
The Barkerville Historic Site is a world-renowned historic park and a place to relive the dreams of those who moved here from all over the globe in the 1860s. Today, the town is restored and vibrant. During your stay in Barkerville, you can pan for gold, enjoy a show in the Theatre Royal, take a town tour, or listen to a specialized talk. You can also make your way to the Richfield Courthouse to hear Judge Begbie's stories of goldfield justice. Costumed historic interpreters will make your visit amusing, authentic and interesting.
Nearby Wells is an inviting out-of-the-way retreat for artists, vacationers, and sportspeople. Your trip to these jewels will take you away from it all, to countless treasures. Majestic mountains, lakes and streams surround these communities, so you'll enjoy the beauty however you make your way here. Expand your mind and artistic side at the Island Mountain Arts school; take a class in music, writing, or visual arts. You can choose an indoor program or combine the great outdoors with photography or painting.
Join adventurers from around the world as you paddle the unique Bowron Lakes, one of the world's top 10 outstanding canoe trips. Bowron Lake Provincial Park offers a unique paddling opportunity that may be quiet and peaceful, but no less an adventure. The Bowron Lake circuit takes 7-10 days, traverses 116 km of lakes and rivers, returning back to the starting point. Surrounded by wildlife, mountains and crystal clear water, this is a wilderness experience the likes of which are hard to find anywhere else in Canada. BC Parks rents canoes, but travellers are responsible for their own food, whether they pack it or fish along the way.
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Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia