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August 2021

4-Day Canoe Trip in Bowron Lake Provincial Park

Guest Authors: The Mordaks

If you love wilderness canoe camping or are into trying it out, Bowron Lake Provincial Park offers a dreamy experience. It can be done as a full loop: a full 115km of lake, waterways and portage connections (taking between 6-10 days) or the West Side of the loop can be done in a sort of build-your-own-adventure, out and back. Now this is one of those trips that requires booking well in advance, as it's popular (I mean, who wouldn't love paddling in and around and between jaw dropping mountains, with moose sightings seemingly every day?). It also requires adequate planning: ie. arriving early (a big must as there is a mandatory and valuable information session and canoe weigh in that all starting parties do together), and packing appropriately (enough food, warm clothing, rain gear, and so so much more).

If I can offer any tid bits of advice for this one:

  • Plan for rain, even if the forecast predicted bluebird days
  • Indulge: canoe camping vs. backpacking vs. bike-packing means you have space to carry more goods—three things we wish we had were a pan, more fresh food, and more wine
  • Start early or finish early to claim the snazzy campsites
  • Find time for the entire loop

3 Pieces of gear we are going to rave about on this trip:

On to what our trip looked like: We chose to do a portion of the West Side over 4 days, roughly 80km total. We had assumed that 4 days with a toddler in a canoe was plenty but looking back we should have just booked and planned for the entire loop. Next time.

Day 1:

Our start time was at 12:00. A great start time if you’re not a morning person and have a chunk of driving to do in order to get to the trailhead. We had a pretty massive drive from home ~8.5hrs. So we decided to do half of the drive the day before and stay over in Williams Lake.

The info session shared interesting facts about the park and important information about preserving it, current status of water/rapids/wildlife, and offered maps with whereabouts of campsites, emergency phones, shelters, and chopped wood lots. So all of it is a definite must. Then we simply set off and into Bowron Lake on a clear blue day, heading through calm waters, toward and alongside incredible snow capped mountains. Kismet fell asleep almost instantly. Little did we know that the canoe is really a self-rocking sleep machine to a toddler.

Likely our favourite part of this day was travelling through Bowron River. Though we were against the current, the current was easy to combat and the slightly slower pace meant we had all the more time to slowly wind through the tall marsh and catch our first cow moose and calf sighting. I felt like a little kid. More kid-like than the toddler sitting in the canoe. My sense of amazement for these majestic creatures skyrocketed. I had never seen any in person before. For me, there was definitely a “Is this real-life?” moment.

Anyhow, we paddled into Swan Lake until we were starting to think about dinner. We found ourselves at site 49 for our first night. It was a peaceful site with two tent pads and a small private beach with mountain views. The one downfall was that it was nestled in a nook and quite forested which seemed to welcome the mosquitoes more so than the two other sites that we stayed at.

Day 1 Sunset

Now here is the kicker, our good friends, brilliant friends, brought along a pan and a ton of fresh food. Their packing game was strong and we were incredibly jealous. We are so used to packing slim. Mostly necessities only. When you’re packing for 3 and one of your packs is a Child Carrier you only have a certain amount of space. However, the nice thing about good friends is that they share. We also discovered that a cast iron pan fits nicely on our stove. This really opened the door for some great meals.

If you haven’t yet checked out the MSR WhisperLite International Stove, we are big fans and recommend that you do. It is compact, powerful, burns white gas (and more), sturdy on various terrain, and has a wide pot/pan base. Last summer, though we didn’t need a new stove, we were ready to move onto a stove that allowed us to use a refillable fuel bottle because the isopro canister waste trip after trip did not sit well with us. Our dear friends and frequent adventure companions knew this and actually bought it for us as a wedding gift. You know your friends are true when…

Day 2:

We woke on our own time, ate, packed up and hit the lake. We moved through the rest of Swan Lake, Spectacle lakes and Skoi Lake. It was roughly another 10km before we made the choice to settle our camp around lunch time at site 44. We all needed to be back to our cars very early on our 4th day because we had long drives (8-9 hours) ahead of us and all worked the following day so it was important that we didn’t travel too far south just knowing we’d have to travel all the way back. It was also perfect to settle here because we had moose neighbors just across the lake, we settled our camp and tarps before the rain showers started, it was an open point in the lake which meant wind and fewer mosquitoes, and we were able to have relaxation and play time for the rest of the day.

It was also a day like this that reinforced letting go of the grind mentality that so often comes with adventure. Getting out into the backcountry is not always about making it as far as you possibly can, or going as fast as you can. Especially when you have a toddler with you. We have recently discovered that the best sort of exploring simply happens with welcoming it and witnessing it. So that is what we did. We played in the rain in the water and, once again, ate good food. The clouds broke for long enough to witness an incredible sunset and gathered back together for night showers. This trip really, truly, delivered the most miraculous sunsets every night that we stayed.

Day 3:

The rain did not let up. Not a single one of us complained though. The pummeling of rain on the tent overnight is one of my favourite sounds and we came prepared. We ate, packed up, put our rain gear on and set off with the goal of making it back to Bowron River that day. Our longest paddle on our rainiest day. Now, how useful was our rain gear? Mediocre. When it rains as much as it did on this day, moisture finds its way in and we were wet under our gear.

It is wet trips like this that make me really appreciate good, quick drying and warm when wet baselayers. We are pretty merino wool obsessed. Perhaps what was even more amazing than the base layers we were wearing, yet likely due to the grace of good baselayers, is that somehow our toddler slept soundly in the canoe, in the rain. Rain sprinkled on her sleeping cheeks and collected in a puddle at her feet but she made it look so incredibly peaceful. Oh the things toddlers can sleep through. I really think the saying after a good sleep should not be “I slept like a baby”, but rather “I slept like a toddler”.

We agreed to a break around the ~6km at site 48 for some lunch and shelter. We were so pleasantly surprised to find that the shelter had a woodstove already burning. We stripped off our wet rain gear and hung them to dry as we ate. It was perfect. We hopped back in our canoes with happy bellies and at least slightly more dry than when we left them. The rain seemed to be coming down more and more gently as we paddled the last ~8-10km to site 54, until eventually the sun began to peak through.

We set up our tent in front of a rainbow that was in front of a lake that was in front of not one but two mountain ranges. It may have been my favourite site ever. This spot too had a shelter with a wood stove. Michael and one of our friends set off on a mission back a couple of kilometers to a woodlot so that ourselves and our neighbors could build a fire to dry off our plethora of wet clothes. These shelters and wood stoves were our saving grace on this day.

Now, I’ve been trying to think about how and when to work in the topic of our new water filter. I’m going to work it in here because I think it’s the only day that I actually took a picture of this beautiful beast, The Katadyn Gravity Befree 10.0L Microfilter. The friends we were with on this trip were actually the first people to introduce us to a gravity filter. Clearly, they really have this special way of making us jealous on trips.

Anyway, we bought this filter after having experienced the ease of a gravity filter that they had. Get this… after this trip they kept their filter in their bag and we solely used this jumbo filter. Why we love it: it packs just as small and light as the pump we had before this, it holds so much water, it is far less effort, and is really simple to clean/maintain. It has been a dream to have and we actually really like showing it off because any gear that makes life out there simpler is worth sharing with others.

Anyway, there was not much more to that night. We were hydrated, fed and tired from a long day. We were all snoozing before the skies were dark. An early bedtime was essential for we all had hopes of having our paddles hit the lake by 6am.

Day 4:

Our friends made it our before we did, but we weren’t too far behind them. I’d blame it on being parents but truly, it's likely more that I’m not a morning person. I think we hit the lake around 7am. We paddled back through the winding river, thick fog and back to the North end of Bowron Lake. Kismet had maybe the earliest nap of all time, likely because she did not sleep well that night.

This brings me to the last item I wanted to talk about, something in particular that any canoeist should consider, but definitely those who have a little one with them: The Nemo Chipper, i.e. lightweight reclaimed foam seat. Our Canoe, like many, has only two seats and this Chipper was a great addition to have as a middle seat for our little which really became the nap cushion on this trip. What we like about the Nemo Chipper: it folds down small, it’s lightweight, it's made of recycled foam, it grips well in the canoe and it is actually comfortable.

If ever, at any moment, she wasn’t using it, I was quick to scoop it up and use it under my butt or knees, depending on how or where in the boat I was paddling from. We’ve also really enjoyed placing it in our Thule Chariot when we bike, and bringing it backpacking for a kushy wilderness seat.

A short intro to us: We are the Mordaks - a small family living in B.C., Canada. Michael works in Digital Marketing and I, Katia, am currently finishing up my Bachelors in Midwifery - supporting and serving pregnant, birthing and postpartum families. We have one wild toddler, named Kismet, and one silly pup, named Maisel. We entertain these beings and ourselves with outdoor activity as much as we can. We take to the mountains/trails/ocean/lakes no matter the weather or time of year. We are particularly keen on backpacking, bikepacking and canoe camping as a family. Keep up with our explorations by following us on Instagram @mor.wild.