British Columbia: Chilko-Chilcotin-Fraser River Expedition
This multi-day river expedition runs through North America’s longest continuous stretch of commercially-navigable Class IV whitewater.
Experience one of the most diverse river trips in North America with this remarkable Canadian paddling expedition.
Outside Magazine deemed the Chilko trip as the BEST River Trip on the planet in 2014 because the Chilko-Chilcotin-Fraser River is unrivaled in its astonishing diversity and seemingly endless routes of Class IV white-water.
This superlative river adventure bounds through verdant alpine forests, slender canyons, high desert plateaus and soaring hoodoos, then ends 3,000 vertical feet below and a week later on the Fraser River, the heartbeat of Canada’s largest river network. The route runs through Lava, Big John and Farwell canyons and includes the longest stretch of commercially navigable white-water in North America.
The trip starts in Vancouver with a jaw-dropping flight over the Coast Mountains to Chilko Lake, where you’ll spend two splendid nights at the cozy, picturesque Bear Camp, before embarking down this storied waterway. We think Pam Houston, a favorite author of ours, sums it up best:
“What I love most about the river isn’t the challenge of the rapids, isn’t the drop-dead gorgeous scenery, isn’t even getting intimate with a place you can’t get to in a car (though I love all those things too). What I love best about being on the river is the way you move through space at a speed humans were meant to move, and the whole day becomes about making your miles, making your meals, making a comfortable, if temporary, home.”
Hard to encapsulate into words, the Chilko-Chilcotin-Fraser Expedition is an epic adventure that every paddling enthusiast should experience.
Recommended for experienced paddlers, this trip is a moderate-challenging level of activity.
- Meet in Vancouver where we board a flight to Chilko Lake. Flying over Whistler and the Coast Range offers a scenically spectacular start to our adventure
- Spend two glorious nights in the luxury safari-style platform tents at Bear Camp on the banks of the Chilko River
- Bike, paddle, fish or simply relax in the Chilcotin wilderness; enjoy fabulous chef-prepared meals
- Start your river adventure with 20 miles of swift current and mellow rapids watching for bears and eagles
- Descend through Lava Canyon and challenge the longest, continuous stretch of whitewater on the continent – heart stopping hydraulics and towering, standing waves cascade for more than 18 miles through deep and narrow lava gorges
- Run the “Gap”—a 20-foot wide chute that carries us into the Chilcotin Plateau
- Visit an ancient First Nation’s fishing spot deep in the 1500-foot canyon
- Soak up the scenery or hike at Big Creek
- Negotiate S-Bend and Big Creek rapid. Enjoy fun splashy rapids and the accelerating current as we whirl past towering hoodoos and dramatic canyons
- Challenge Farewell, The Gates of Mordor and Big John Canyon, a stretch of the Chilcotin featuring countless massive wave trains
- Shuttle to the airstrip for the spectacular flight back to Vancouver
- Air travel from Vancouver to Chilko Lake and from Williams Lake back to Vancouver is included in your trip costs
- Experienced professional guides
- Accommodations at Bear Camp
- All activities described in the itinerary
- Park fees and necessary permits
We pride ourselves in running a relaxed and flexible schedule. Every trip is different depending upon the group, other trips in the area, and sometimes the weather. Our daily distances can fluctuate depending on weather, activities, and National Park notices. The following is a sample of what your trip might be like.
Meet in Vancouver for flights. (Please review our various flight options but in any event make sure your gear is packed in soft luggage as this will allow for easy storage and transfer into the aircraft). As soon as everyone’s gear is stowed, we will board our plane for the incredible flight over the mountains and glaciers. Once at Bear Camp, on the banks of the Chilko River, we’ll settle in to our luxury safari-style platform tents before exploring the stunning surroundings before returning to a gourmet welcoming dinner.
After a delicious and hearty breakfast, you can choose to mountain bike, inflatable kayak on the friendly waters of the upper Chilko River, cast a line for trout, sea kayak, SUP or simply hang out in our scenic riverside camp. Yet another gourmet meal signals the end of an epic day and following some pre-trip instructions, we’ll head off for another peaceful night as our minds dance with thoughts of tomorrow’s rafting adventure.
Today we’ll rise early and pack up your gear into waterproof bags to be stowed on our expedition rafts. You will be assigned your personal wet suit, pdf and helmet and after a thorough safety briefing, we begin our rafting adventure with a 20-mile scenic float from Bear Camp to our first camp at Bear’s Den. We will keep an eye out for bald eagles, and the occasional bear along the shore as we fall into the relaxed flow of river travel. Those looking for some splashy fun can try out an inflatable kayak. Arriving at camp in the afternoon, we’ll transfer our gear to our preset tents and then meet in the dining tent for cocktails and dinner.
After a hearty breakfast, we’ll break camp, stow our gear and don our wetsuits, pdfs and helmets before pushing off into the river. As the current quickens, so do our heartbeats knowing what’s in store. We descend through Lava Canyon and challenge the longest, continuous rapids of the trip. Heart-stopping hydraulics and towering, standing waves cascade for more than 18 miles through deep and narrow lava gorges, making for some non-stop excitement. It is no surprise Lava Canyon has become world-famous among white-water enthusiasts. We will stop at Bumper Camp, a secluded riverside camp just below where the river doubles in size as the turquoise Taseko River joins the Chilko. At camp, a delightful evening under the stars and celebration is in order after a fun-filled day of adventure.
This morning the river valley opens as we emerge on the Chilcotin Plateau. Birdlife abounds and our casual float is a welcome reprieve after yesterday’s excitement. This will be a great day for trying the oars or paddling an inflatable kayaks and everyone will be encouraged to give it a try. Arriving relatively early into camp, there will be time for swimming or reading around the campfire. Try your hand at some fishing or sit and watch the sunset on the metamorphic rocks across the valley.
An early departure will set the stage for an action-packed day. In the morning, we will enjoy some friendly Class II and III rapids before arriving at our lunch site at an ancient First Nation fishing spot deep in the 1500 ft. canyons. This stop offers outstanding hiking, swimming and for the more adventurous, cliff jumping into the refreshing waters of the Chilcotin. After lunch we can ride the Goose Neck Rapids while golden eagles soar high above us. Tonight, we’ll camp at the confluence of Big Creek.
After a leisurely day yesterday, we will break camp and immediately enter the Big Creek rapids. Lots of fun splashy rapids and accelerating current keep the pace up as we whirl past towering hoodoos and dramatic canyons. Today’s adventures include a wild ride through Farwell Canyon as we eventually enter California bighorn sheep country. After lunch, we float through a California Big Horn sheep reserve and hopefully we spot a herd or two from the rivers’ edge. In short time we’ll enter the Gates of Mordor and challenge Big John Canyon. This stretch of the Chilcotin features countless massive wave trains that roller coaster for miles in a rushing chorus down deep desert canyons only to dissipate into the mighty volume of the Fraser River. In this country, there will be plenty of photo opportunities for the camera buff. The rolling grasslands and the massive canyons provide a dramatic backdrop to the white-water experience. Tonight we will camp on one of the many massive beaches of the Fraser River.
After a peaceful float down the mighty Fraser we’ll arrive at our take-out point by the historic Gang Ranch. Here we’ll board our vehicles for the shuttle to Williams Lake to meet our plane for the spectacular ride back over the Coast Mountains and eventually reach the Pacific. Weather permitting, we plan to arrive back at the Vancouver airport by 3:00 PM.
Bear Camp is a safari-style tent camp with ‘a Canadian twist’
Sheltered by the Pacific Coast Mountain Ranges, deep in the unspoiled raw wilderness of British Columbia, and protected by the vast terrain of the Tsilhqot’in (Chilcotin) First Nation People, lies Bear Camp. Forged out of Douglas Fir timbers and perched at the juncture of Chilko Lake and the Chilko River, it was originally built 1954 as a hunting & fishing camp, but has since been re-created into a funky, world-class adventure and wildlife-viewing destination. The main log structure is the focal point for meals, cocktails and most socializing. The surrounding tent cabins are a mixture of king or two bed rooms carefully positioned for privacy and view. There are river rock showers, flush toilets and plenty of staff to keep you dearly spoiled while keeping the adventures flowing!
Our trip begins at the north end of Ts’yl-os Provincial Park. Established in 1994, Ts’yl-os (pronounced sigh loss) is 233,240 hectares in the Chilcotin Ranges of the Coast Mountains. Although Chilko Lake is the centre piece of the park, it is just one of many incredible natural features. Though there is much to explore in the region, it is rugged and unserviced leaving its visitors up to their own devices. This is where we fit in.
The Chilcotin River flows near Nazko Lakes Provincial Park and Stump Lake Provincial Park. Both were recently expanded to protect wildlife habitat and BC’s only colony of nesting white pelicans, respectively. Upstream from the confluence of the Chilcotin and Big Creek, lies the new 660 hectares of rolling grassy plateau protected in Big Creek Provincial Park.
To aboriginal people of the Nemaiah Valley, Ts’yl-os is much more than a provincial park. Ts’yl-os was a man, or at least he used to be long ago, and like any man he had his moods. Given his towering height of 3,061 meters (Mount Tatlow on a map), it is wise to respect him and especially not to point at him. His presence can be so dominating that when occasional bad weather hits the valley, the 250 native residents wonder if it is a message from their spiritual protector.
For the isolated Nemaiah First Nation, their agreement on the park represents an important, but tentative first step toward reconciliation with the outside world. It is this world that led to the so-called Chilcotin Indian War of 1864 and the subsequent deaths of many. Today, that historic uprising against the white intrusion on Chilcotin Lands continues to colour the native psyche and the park’s future.
The silty confluence of the Chilcotin and Fraser was also a major territorial boundary. The Ts’ilhqot’in people of the Athapaskan language group held a territory on the northwest side of the confluence where the Junction Sheep Range is located. Small bands of natives traveled the Chilcotin watershed, hunting and gathering food. During salmon runs, these bands would come together at the mouth of the Chilcotin.
Chilko Lake, Cariboo J, BC, Canada