Welcome to Cariboo, British Columbia
Cariboo is the center of British Columbia — geographically, historically, and culturally. While the seaport cities of British Columbia have grown in size and importance, it’s Cariboo that was the first region to be settled by Europeans. Cariboo can be a reference to the entire inter-mountain region between the Cariboo Mountains and the Fraser Canyon, but it now refers to a smaller, more defined area that incorporates towns like Prince George, Quesnel, Lytton, Williams Lake, Lillooet, Likely, Ashcroft, Horsefly, Clinton, Wells, and Bridge Lake.
Cariboo was born in a Gold Rush. British Columbia was British Crown Colony before it became a Canadian province, and was mostly uninhabited until gold was discovered along the Horsefly River and Williams Creek. This led to mining boomtowns all around Cariboo. These were eventually joined by the Cariboo Wagon Road that connect them all and allowed access to the sea at Vancouver Island during the middle of the 19th century.
The gold boom is long over, but the minerals and timber in the area have kept the Cariboo population busy. The area is rugged and scenic, and tourists come every year to enjoy its wild, mountainous vistas.
British Columbia has a wildly different climate depending on whether you’re close to the Pacific Ocean or in the mountains. The Cariboo region is entirely landlocked, so it gets colder and has more snow than Vancouver Island. The mountains hem in the Cariboo plateau, so it’s much drier than Vancouver, and sunnier during its summer season. The further north you travel in Cariboo, the cooler and moister it gets.
In any season, Cariboo is beautiful. There are mountains everywhere, including the Columbia Mountains and the Rockies, and they form breathtaking backdrops to every vista.
Something for Every Season
There a lot to do in Cariboo, no matter what the season. If you’re interested in the Gold Rush history of the area, you can visit the Barkerville Historic Town. It’s a living history museum, restored to its 19th century glory and filled with re-enactors offering glimpses of life during the Gold Rush.
The Bowron Lakes Park is a magnificent place to camp and canoe while watching moose, eagles, loons, and bears range around the edges of the lake. You can stay in a lodge or sleep under the stars. If you’d rather shake your reputation as a dude, you can choose from any number of getaway ranches that offer horseback riding, trailside picnics, and a taste of ranch life.
Rodeo life is big in Cariboo. You can visit the Museum of the Cariboo in Williams Lake, to see exhibits about ranching and rodeo, and home to the British Columbia Cowboy Hall of Fame. If you want to see the contemporary version of the rodeo, you can attend the Williams Lake Stampede in June, and celebrate Canada Day in true western style. You can see bull riding, bronco busting, roping, barrel racing, and horse races. Or you can visit Quesnel in mid-July for the Billy Barker Days Festival. There’s a parade and fireworks, with a carnival midway, a stock car race, and rodeo events.
Celebrating the Rugged Canadian Outdoors
Outdoor recreation is the center of Cariboo life. There are things to do in every season of the year, so if you love the great outdoors, Cariboo never takes a day off. Camping of all kinds is a popular pastime with visitors and locals alike. There are 10 nearby provincial parks, with hundreds of forestry recreation sites for camping. Almost all the sites supply visitors with picnic tables, open fireplaces, and outhouses. If they’re near bodies of water, you’ll have no trouble finding a boat launch, and swimming and fishing is available all around the water’s edge.
Cariboo is a great place to mountain bike. There are trail networks all around Williams Lake, and the Westsyde network of trials is even bigger with 55 separate trails. These smaller riding trails link up with the 12 km trail at Williams Lake, letting you get both a steep ride along with a level, quiet place to ride and sightsee.
With all the mountains around, Cariboo is a climber’s dream. Whether you’re just looking for a day hike or you’re a serious climber, you’ll find challenging and interesting terrain. Russet Bluff on the south side of Williams Lake, Signal Point, and Scout Island all have great sightseeing trails with access to more demanding climbs if you prefer.
Boating for fishing or sightseeing is a popular pastime, but canoeing might be the best way to enjoy the Cariboo area. There’s a circuit of canoe courses that add up to an amazing 116 km on Bowron Lake alone, but you can also try out the Moose Valley Canoe Route, the Turner Lake Canoe Route, and paddle around the Nazko Lake Park.
With winter snowmelt and steep terrain, Cariboo is home to many waterfalls and cascades. Both Likely and Horsefly feature impressive cataracts, and you can see them both in one day by car. There are hundreds more that make wonderful picnic excursions.
Winter sports are well represented. Snowshoeing and sledding are a local favorite, but you can find both alpine and cross-country skiing as well. While mountains ring Cariboo, it has many miles of flat landscape that make it perfect for long cross-country trails. Bull Mountain, just north of Williams Lake, has almost 30 km of groomed trails to challenge event the fittest skier, and offering beautiful, quiet winter vistas. If you prefer more power between you and the snow, there are miles and miles of trails for snowmobiling and four-wheeling all over the area. If you want to strike out overland off the trails, there’s lots of wild scenery, but you’ll have to make sure not to trespass on private property while you ride.
You’re Always Welcome in Cariboo
Cariboo is the least populated part of British Columbia, and almost 10 percent of the population is immigrants. It’s a place of rugged natural beauty, a peaceful lifestyle with lots of opportunities for outdoor activities, and friendly people that will welcome you with open arms whether you’re a visitor or you’ve decided to live there year round. You’re always welcome in Cariboo.