As darkness invaded the forest, the haunting cry of a loon shot across Indianpoint Lake and then ricocheted off the mountains. Hairs prickled on the back of my neck.
It was my first night in British Columbia’s Bowron Lake Provincial Park. Over the next week, I’d hear the call of the loon frequently. Each time, my skin would tingle with eerie excitement. A loon, I learned, cannot be ignored.
Designed by Nature The natural forces that shaped the Bowron area created a perfect canoe route. A chain of 10 lakes linked by rivers and surrounded by forests forms a 72-mile water trail shaped like a slumped rectangle. The jagged peaks of the Cariboo Mountains to the east and the rolling hills of the Quesnel Highlands to the west flank the lakes. Forming almost the entire east side of the park is Isaac Lake, third in the chain and longest at 24 miles. Isaac fills a glacier-carved valley in the heart of the Cariboos. Moist Pacific air creeps up the tall peaks and falls back down as rain or snow, making this part of the circuit the wettest-and the greenest. Cedar and hemlock trees dominate the forest, and stringy yellow witch’s hair lichen hangs from the branches. Shoulder-high, prickly stalks of devil’s club are topped with broad leaves and clumps of crimson berries. Pipe-cleaner moss and sword ferns carpet the ground, and waterfalls tumble from the mountains.
Canoeing allows you to naturally explore the wonders of British Columbia. It’s also an ecologically friendly way to get around. You’ll slip silently by mountains, waterfalls and pine forests, leaving just ripples on the water’s surface.
As we neared the end of Isaac, the clouds parted to reveal the Cariboo Glacier. Water dripped from the paddle resting on my thigh as I gaped at the ancient hunk of ice. A kingfisher perched atop a cedar tree broke the trance with its chattery call. Along the shoreline, a moose and her cinnamon-colored calf munched in a thicket of willows.
Glory of the Forest Isaac Lake feeds Isaac River, which gushes through narrow canyons, plummets over steep drops, and slams downed trees into boulders, snapping them like toothpicks. Portages take paddlers past these treacherous spots. As we rolled our boats through the dripping foliage, plump blueberries screamed to be picked. We parked our canoes and hiked to the Isaac River Falls, a 36-foot wall of deafening water. Moisture-loving cedar trees, showered by the constant spray, stood like silent giants along the riverbank. Spongy moss carpeted the ground, ran up tree trunks, and hung from branches like fuzzy Christmas tree ornaments.
The next part of the circuit would be the most challenging, and we secured our gear with tarps and rope in anticipation. The Cariboo River forces paddlers to make an abrupt turn at the southeast corner of the park’s circuit. In addition to currents, sweepers jut out over the water and deadheads lurk just below the surface. This narrow, winding stretch of the circuit makes for a pinball-like obstacle course. “Sweeper on the right,” I barked to Chris as I dug my paddle into the river. “Wow!”
The biggest obstacle was the scenery. Shafts of sunlight pierced the mist, and layer upon layer of mountain extended as far as I could see. It was no easy feat to read the water and gaze at the views. All too soon the river opened into Lanezi Lake, clouded the color of pale green milk by glacial runoff.