Highway 20 to Bella Coola
Hwy 97. Williams Lake, with a population of 12,000, is the only city between Hope and Quesnel and the fastest growing community in the Cariboo. Unlike many other communities in the area was Williams Lake bypassed by the Cariboo Gold Rush.
In 1862 Tom Mainfee, a local roadhouse land owner, refused a short-term loan to the builders of Cariboo Wagon Road leading them to reroute the road and bypass Tom's roadhouse. But in 1920 the Pacific Great Eastern Railway arrived and Williams Lake became the area's commercial centre. Forestry, mining, agriculture, and the province's most active stockyard all contribute to Williams Lake's economy.
The highlight of the year is the Williams Lake Stampede held for four days on the July 1st weekend. Originally held in 1919 the stampede attracts upwards of 5,000 people. Events such as chuck wagon and barrel racing, steer wrestling, and a barn dance keep everyone entertained.
To learn the history of the stampede as well as the rich history of the area visit the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin. In the historic BC Rail Station you can visit the Stationhouse Gallery with local arts and crafts.
From 150 Mile House, 15km (9 miles) east of Williams Lake, you can retrace the route of early prospectors to Horsefly, Likely, and Quesnel Lake. Stop at 153 Mile Store that operated until 1964 and is now a museum containing many artifacts that are in mint condition. 51km east of the store is Horsefly site of the first gold discovered in the Cariboo. The area is still staked by prospectors and on occasion you will see them washing creek gravel. The Jack Lynn Memorial Museum commemorating Horsefly's mining, logging, and trapping days is another spot to visit. Horsefly is also famous for what else but fly fishing. The Horsefly River is home to the second largest sockeye salmon run in BC and Horsefly Lake is one of BC's largest.
On a gravel road 25km (15.5 miles) east of Horsefly you'll find Likely. Set at the mouth of the Quesnel River on 100km (60 mile) long Quesnel Lake the fishing is excellent. Some of the richest gold fields were found here and one mine gave up 20kg as recently as 1922. Prospecting is still the main activity and the area has many abandoned mines and ghost towns with names like Spanish Village and Keithley Creek. On such abandoned town is Quesnel Forks, which had 5,000 inhabitants and the largest Chinese population in North America.
From Williams Lake you may take Hwy 20 to Bella Coola and catch a BC Ferry to Vancouver Island or continue north on Hwy 97 to Quesnel. Besides history, prospecting, and fishing, sports such as canoeing, kayaking, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are very popular. This area is well worth a visit and has accommodations of all types. Don't forget the parks and lakes are too numerous to mention them all here so you'll not run out of things to do.
BC Ferry Information - Bella Coola to Vancouver Island
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