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Gearhead Adventures: Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit, BC

Hailey Terry’s Canoe Journey Through Canadian Wilderness

Gearheads get outside—a lot. From ripping local mountain bike trails to skiing in Norway, they’re the friends whose adventures you wish you could tag along on. Gearhead Adventures are their stories of curiosity, exploration, and the experiences that come with launching into the unknown. These are the stories that make our Gearheads outdoor experts.

Backcountry Gearhead Hailey Terry is an expert in backpacking and climbing, but her first and only time canoeing was at summer camp when she was 15 years old. So naturally, when her mom proposed the idea of paddling the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit, she was in. Hailey, along with her husband and parents, parked their motorhome at the end of the route, packed two canoes full of gear, and hit the water.

The Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit

For the uninitiated, the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit is a 72-mile paddle that connects lakes, waterways, and portages through the Canadian wilderness of Bowron Lake Provincial Park in British Columbia. It circumnavigates spectacular mountains, with great views of the rounded Quesnel Highlands on the western side and jagged Cariboo Mountains to the east. The lake meanders through lush forests and treats paddlers to close encounters with local wildlife. 

6 Major Lakes, 4 Days

Most people—experienced paddlers included—give themselves six to 10 days to paddle the Bowron Lake Canoe Circuit. Since it was Hailey’s first time in British Columbia, she wanted to allow time to explore other areas. She and her family set a goal time of four days to complete the circuit. Even with the shortened timeline, they were able to fully immerse themselves in the experience and the routine of being on the water.

Isaac Lake, the longest lake in the circuit, took up most of the first half of the trip. It also can be the most difficult lake to paddle because it’s subject to high winds and rough water. Hailey and her family lucked out with weather during this stretch, and the perfect, sunny day and cooperative current made Lake Isaac Hailey’s favorite of the trip.  

With designated campsites along the whole circuit, Hailey and her family planned to paddle as much as they could, then head to shore and set up camp for the night. One of Hailey’s favorite parts of the trip was meeting people at camp from all over the world who had come to canoe the Bowron. They’d sit around the fire for hours, chatting and sharing adventure stories.

Challenges & Rewards

If you look at the Bowron Lake Circuit on a map, it appears continuous. But there are some parts where land separates you from the next stretch of water, and you have to portage. Bowron Lake Provincial Park allows canoe carts that allow you to pull your boat across land instead of carrying it. Many of the portage trails are rocky and uneven, which caused Hailey and her husband to tip their canoe more than once, spilling all of its contents. “Don’t overpack,” Hailey cautions. “We definitely did, which made the portages really challenging.” 

The Bowron Lake Circuit often experiences unpredictable, torrential rainstorms, so rain gear and quick-dry clothing are key. Hailey and her family got lucky with cool, sunny weather almost every day, with just a few light rainstorms. “I wore my Salomon X Ultra GTX boots, and they kept my feet dry, even when it was raining,” says Hailey. “And I can’t stress how far a good midlayer goes! It’s awesome to have something breathable when you’re paddling hard but warm when you’re taking it easy.”

Good weather doesn’t last forever, though. On the fourth and final day, the crew set up camp on Bowron Lake—the final lake in the circuit—and it started to downpour harder than Hailey had ever experienced.

Since she and her family were only one lake away from their parked motorhome, they packed up camp in the rain and began to paddle to the finish. They managed to get ahead of the storm as the sun was setting and enjoyed a peaceful, breathtaking end to four days in the wilderness that Hailey will never forget.