The Bowron Lake circuit is probably the most popular canoeing destination in BC. It felt like one of those things that you just have to do if you live in BC and are at least remotely into canoeing. Most people probably wouldn't think to paddle 116km with 11km of portaging with three young kids though, but for us it seemed like the perfect first-ish multi-day adventure as a family of five. In the canoe you can carry a lot of stuff, our oldest daughters are old enough to sit nicely in the canoe at most times, and baby W is still too young to attempt to jump over board. As an added bonus a few other families would be joining us on the lakes.
Back on October 1st last year, before baby W was even born and before the pandemic started, I had booked us a group start on the circuit. Unfortunately Discover camping cancelled our booking by mistake when we tried to add an extra person. One month, hours on the phone, and several emails did not manage to restore our reservation, so we decided to just show up hoping for a walk-on spot. In the meantime two of the families in our group manage to secure individual bookings. Luckily no one else showed up on our start day, and our last two families managed to get the walk-up spots for the day. In the end we enjoyed the freedom of travelling as individual parties. We almost always canoed separately as we were different speeds and our kids all had different needs. Some evenings we ended up at different camps and some nights we managed to all meet up.
On our first couple of days on the lakes there were a lot of bugs. Baby W was getting devoured by No-See-Ums despite our best efforts. On the other hand we had calm weather and sunny skis. When we entered Isaac lake on our second day the lake was glass calm and we got to our campsite (#17) in record time. Again lots of time was spend playing by the water and in the morning the kids discovered the ample amounts of blueberries the camp had to offer... but the following day we got a taste of the strong winds that the long lake had to offer. A stiff head wind made our progress very slow, especially whenever I was prevented from paddling by the kids. We pulled over at a camspite (#20) to assess the situation and eventually decided to stay there for the night. The wind luckily also kept the bugs away and after this we only ever saw tolerable amounts of mosquitos and No-See-Ums.
On our fourth day we decided to get up early to try and beat the potential winds. Christian and I tried our best to get everything ready before waking up the kids. Making them pancakes turned out to be key as it eliminated the kids' dishes, which often is our limiting step. The water had been glass calm that morning, but a short burst of wind had pushed us to speed up our packing. We still didn't quite manage to be as fast as the baby teams (our old friend's Ben and Mer and their almost 1 year old and their friends with their almost 1 year old), but the water was still calm when we left. We managed to paddle the first half of the morning on the nice calm water, but we knew it could change anytime, so we never pulled over to take a break. I had also managed to put baby W to sleep in the front of the canoe for the first time, and when the wind and rain started picking up she was still asleep, so despite the stiff headwind we were still making good progress with two paddlers. After an epic nap the baby woke up and the canoeing turned more challenging. We paddled as fast as we could from point to point. Taking little breaks and dealing with crying kids in the wind-shadow of every little point. We never pulled over in fear that the wind would only increase. After 5.5 hours on the water we reached the end of the lake and happily set up camp (#28). The kids liked checking out all the carved paddles on the shelter here and eating the abundant amount of blueberries along the portage trail. The afternoon brought a torrential downpour and strong gusts of wind pulling down our tarp. The evening was beautiful though, and with this being the first night all four families were together, we spend the evening around the fire catching up and discussing the river portion coming up the following day.
Chris and Krystil were the first to paddle the Chute the next day. They had elected to leave their children with us. We all gathered around to watch them run the first part of the river. They managed in style, and soon the two baby canoes followed them without problems. We still decided to portage around. At this point, Christian had gotten the hang of portaging the canoe by himself, so I just had to manage the kids along the trail (in retrospect it was obvious - push, don't pull - so the weight of the canoe helps you get traction on the uphills). The blueberries made progress more challenging, but at least spirits were high. We were the first in the water on the next section of the Isaac river, but seeing some turbulence in the river ahead we let one of the other families show us how it is done. After another portage and a short paddle through MaLeary lake we joined the Cariboo river. The river was great. We enjoyed the great views and being carried forward with minimal effort. We had originally agreed to pass the campsite next to the groupsite on Lanezi lake to avoid spending another night close to the 14 person big group. We did pull over a few hundred meters passed the groupsite for a break. The beach was filled with great skipping rocks and both kids and adults had a great time. We received an update about the sites on the lake from the other families and decided to go back a few hundred meters to camp #34. It turned out to be on the other side of the river from the group site, had a great new shelter, an amazing beach and nice views from the fire pit. It was our favourite camp by far. We dried out all our wet gear in the shelter, N spend hours playing on the beach, we cooked snobroed on the fire and enjoyed the great views.
We had a hard time leaving the following morning as the kids were right back to playing on the beach. Once we were in the canoe, Christian's canoeing muscles were put to the test. Baby W was not a happy canoeist. She denied to go to sleep, denied to sit by herself and was only sometimes accepted being held without a nipple in her mouth. Christian ended up paddling 80% of time by himself, so once we got to Sandy Lake he needed a good break. The warm weather and sandy beach made a swim seem like a must. Ben, Mer and Baby F joined us on the beach for some relaxing. As we headed down the last section of the Cariboo river, I tried hard to convince the kids to be quiet, so we might see a moose, but they were not convinced. On Unna lake we lost sight of a few of the other canoes behind us, and we wondered why they were taking so long. We later learn that they had been observing a moose with a calf at the turn of to the portage trail.
Unna lake was another beautiful location with a great beach and a nice a spacious campground, where we could easily spread out. In seemed that we had sun, rain, calm and wind everyday, and this day was no different. After a sunny and warm day the rain came in the evening and stayed for the night.
The next morning just as we were about to put the kids in the canoe we saw the 14 person big group canoeing across Unna lake. We did not want to leap frog them across the three portages of the day, so we opted to head over to the Cariboo fall. The 1.5km hike was through an old burn and had an abundance of blueberry and black huckleberry bushes along the whole way. It definitely slowed down our progress. As we neared the end of the trail we heard the roar of the waterfall. We held on tight to the kids as we approached the falls on the trail that now had a steep drop off to the river. The amount of water billowing over the falls was very impressive, and all the mist made it hard to see what was actually going on. You definitely would not want to go over that by mistake. Back at Unna lake we quickly returned to the canoe, and despite the kids being very quiet we again did not see the moose that everyone else had spotted that morning. I was disappointed. I had really been hoping for a moose sighting on this trip and it seemed like the opportunity of slipping away.
We made slow progress across the three portages. We were both starting to feel tired. I guess three kids are more work, or maybe we are just getting old. Baby W was slightly more agreeable than the previous day, but still pretty high maintenance. Eventually she fell asleep on my lap, which made it possible for me to paddle, but the positioning is tiring. On spectacle lake Christian spotted something on the shore, we approached slowly and quickly realized that it was the moose I had been waiting for. We slowly drifted closer as the moose stood at the etch of the water, eating. It kept an eye on us, but didn't seem to mind that we were observing it. Eventually it headed back into the forest and we saw its calf follow behind. As we were headed into camp (#48) later in the afternoon we saw another moose running along the beach. I was so happy to have had my moose wishes granted.
This evening also had it all, a torrential downpour and sunny skis. The kids again enjoyed the sandy beach, and we all celebrated baby F's first birthday. She was pretty stoked to be the centre of attention as we sang and all the other kids woohoo'ed. There was even a birthday cake cooked on the fire. The last morning we woke up to another moose sighting, it was swimming across the lake. Everyone was out of camp early except us, we wished everyone goodbye and save travels home, as we knew we would not be catching up. The baby took a big nap and the big kids didn't make many requests, so made good progress to the Bowron river. On the river, we enjoyed the classic canoe experience paddling through the marshy landscape with the tall mountains now further back. I really enjoyed the varied landscape along the circuit as it was something I had not expected. The trip had been harder than expected, but we quickly agreed than we would definitely do it again - especially when the kids are a little older.
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