A trip to BC’s Cariboo region started off with huge excitement for 9-year old Myla Butler from North Vancouver. She and her parents, Darren and Kelli, had just arrived to Chemo RV in 150 Mile House to embark on a week-long trip.
Their goal was to explore the Cariboo region, taking in guest ranches, art and history tours, wildlife viewing and exploring heritage sites while RV camping along the way. In a quest for non-crowded spaces and natural beauty this seemed to be the perfect plan to stay local in accordance with the Provincial health officers’ recommendation of ‘fewer faces and bigger spaces’. The RV was the optimal way to travel as a family, and the ability to rent within the region meant they could maximize their time and kms to see more of what they came for.
Mahood Falls in the South Cariboo would be stop number one for the family of three. The 2-hr drive from 150 Mile House to the trailhead on Mahood Lake Road passed through ranch-lands, farms and dense forested areas…easy to keep kids off electronics with never ending fields of horses, cows, goats and wildlife to capture their attention.
The trailhead is clearly marked with easy access to parking and well-maintained bathrooms before the short 1-ish km walk to the falls. Myla bounced along the flat forested hike, noticing a garter snake along the way before approaching a huge opening of land with the Canim River flowing in the distance below. Further up the trail they carefully walked on logs and rocks to get a better view of the rainbow mist and layers of volcanic rock and caves that formed the dramatic backdrop against Mahood falls.
The next morning started with a drive into Williams Lake to meet up with local legend and tourism ambassador, Mary Forbes, whose moniker is ‘Trash Talks and Nature Walks’. She speaks in schools as the ‘Waste Wise’ specialist for the Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society – the kids call her the ‘No-Garbage Lady’. Mary’s art, culture and history tour of town started off with breakfast at the popular Gecko Tree Café.
Mary arrived in costume and piqued Myla’s interest instantly by pulling out an antique camera, relative to the history of the town, setting the stage for the flavour of the tour. Their interpretative walk took them first to the Potato House Sustainable Community Society, one of the last standing heritage houses in Williams Lake that encourages and demonstrates urban sustainability practices.
From there, and only blocks away, was the historic Woodland Jeweller, founded in 1933, and still operating as a family business and creating unique jewelry using old world craftsmanship.
Each stop on the tour was walkable from one location to the next, with one of the most impressive being a visit to the Williams Lake First Nation office, a new building in town with a majestic metal horse life-size sculpture out front, and an archeological lab inside housing literally thousands of First Nations’ artifacts that had been found in the area. The lab technician offered a hands-on experience that allowed for the holding and touching of arrowheads and tools from the original indigenous occupants of this area, the Secwepemc Nation.
The second to last stop of the tour was to The Realm of Toys – an independent toy store in the downtown core with eclectic gifts, games and crafts for kids (and adults) of all ages. Myla left the store with a new stuffy and a broader view of Williams Lake that would have been missed without Mary’s in-depth knowledge, guidance and humour – she made it incredibly fun and captivating. Town tours like this one can be booked through lovewilliamslake.com.
North of Williams Lake on day three was the 120 km journey to the town of Quesnel, where BC’s longest river, the Fraser, intersects with one its major tributaries, the Quesnel River, located in the centre of town.
After grabbing a quick snack at Quesnel’s popular downtown coffee shop, Granville’s, they headed to the departure launch at the river to meet up with James at Quesnel Jetboat Adventures. The adventure was ideal for the family as they loved the idea of boating through tight canyons, channels and rapids. During the 4-hour boat ride they docked on sandy spits to check out fresh animal tracks from resident wolves, bear, deer, moose and elk…their prints preserved perfectly in the sand. Massive sandstone pillars and hoodoos stood tall along the river’s edge with eagles and herons soaring above. James’ local knowledge of the area was invaluable to the experience. He grew up here and had literally combed every square inch of the river throughout his lifetime.
They camped at 10 Mile Lake Provincial Park – a short 10-minute drive from town. Between 10 Mile, Pinnacles Provincial Park and Dragon Lake, there are literally weeks of adventure activities to enjoy in the area.
The final conclusion of Quesnel was that it’s a best kept secret. Ample wide-open natural spaces, no crowds, and fantastic local hang outs in town like the Barkerville Brewing Company, and Bliss. Before leaving they stocked up at Long Table Grocery, a local food supplier who supports over 50 local farms and food entrepreneurs.
Onward and upward they went to the small town of Wells, which sits along the final section of the Gold Rush Trail, a route that runs all the way from the mouth of the Fraser River in New Westminster to the very end of the road in historic Barkerville. This road follows the traditional Indigenous peoples’ trading routes utilized during the fur trade, and it expanded during the gold rushes of 1858 – 1862.
Founded in 1933, Wells is rich in history, art and culture and offers ‘much more than gold alone’, as their town tagline states. The brightly coloured buildings and eclectic community is known for its outdoor activities and art scene. Keeping a balance between outdoor adventure and inside exploration the Butlers took in an art and screen-printing class with Claire Kujundzic and Bill Horne of Amazing Space Studio. An entire book could be written on Claire and Bill’s artistic talent and global advocacy. It was an honour to be connected with these humble artists directly, and to learn about the history of what brought them to Wells 25 years ago. Claire led a hands-on introduction to art theory in the morning while Bill taught a screen-printing class in the afternoon. They left Wells with screen-printed shirts they made themselves along with some art pieces from their gallery.
Barkerville is an extraordinary place. If you’re a BC resident and haven’t experienced it, you must – especially with kids. It’s a legendary town that will draw you in and take you back to the original Gold Rush era that shaped the province of BC. A National Historic site in Canada, Barkerville is the largest living-history museum in western North America.
Myla loved the horse and carriage ride through the downtown core where over 120 historic buildings stand. Professional actors filled the streets and played out life of the period doing blacksmith work, newspaper printing, indigenous history with an elder, and Myla’s favourite – an old-time candy store from the era. Above Barkerville are hiking trails and lookouts to take in the views of town and its still-standing antiquated wooden flume.
100 Mile House
Ending the packed trip of 7 days they finished up with a drive back south to Spring Lake Ranch. This beautiful property sits on the shores of Spring Lake just 15-minutes north of 100 Mile House. The ranch offers horseback, sleigh and wagon rides, log cabins and family chalets in a serene, idyllic setting. The docks on Spring Lake are a great launching pad for canoeing, swimming or fishing, and the resort is open year-round. Local trail guide, Amber, led the family on a 3-hr horseback ride around the circumference of Spring Lake. Her enthusiasm and passion for riding equaled Myla’s, and the laid-back vibe of the ride was the perfect ending to their holiday.
CARIBOO REGIONAL DISTRICT
The Cariboo Regional District is a local treasure of new and ancient history with easy access to a range of family adventures. The diversity of this area is astonishing, and its’ proximity is close to every other region in the Province. Friendly locals, uncrowded spaces, modern food, excellent coffee and neighbourhood breweries with plentiful indoor and outdoor activities for every age. In our current world of staying close to home and enjoying backyard family adventures – put the Cariboo at the top of your list!