Canoeing & Kayaking

Canoeing & Kayaking – Pemberton and Lillooet

There are four lovely lakes in the Pemberton region that paddlers will find attractive – Birkenhead, Anderson, Lillooet, and Joffre. Joffre is the junior member, while 3.5-mile-long (6-km) Birkenhead is somewhat larger. The other two are much bigger, and much breezier. All of them are sequestered among the peaks that range through this heavily mountainous area. Of the four, Birkenhead Lake is the most welcoming for a quiet sojourn around its shoreline. Launch from the dock at Birkenhead Lake Provincial Park and paddle south. A surprise awaits you, as it does on many mountain lakes: Tenquille Ridge's white-walled flank, hidden from view at the dock, begins to reveal itself to the west, while the mountains that hem Anderson Lake begin to appear in the north. Late spring, when the surrounding snow-topped peaks reflect on the lake's surface, is one of the best times to visit here.

Nearby Anderson Lake lies at the north end of the D'Arcy-Anderson Lake Road. There's a boat ramp here next to Heritage Park, where those with boats on trailers can put in. Steel-grey Anderson is a large, rather forbidding lake to paddle, with few places to land, particularly along its west shore, where the BC Rail line runs. Lillooet Lake is equally large, but has a friendlier appearance. It must be the colour that makes a difference: milky green when seen in full sunlight, a deep jade colour towards dusk. There's a boat launch at the Twin One Creek Forest Service Recreation Site about 6 miles (10 km) south of Hwy 99. An alternative approach is to launch a hand-carried boat from a rough site beside the Birkenhead River Bridge on Hwy 99. The river flows into the north end of Lillooet Lake, where a delta of soft silt is steadily deposited by the nearby Lillooet River. An attractive destination to head for is the sandy beach at Strawberry Point Forest Service Recreation Site. Allow an hour to make the 2.5-mile (4-km) paddle journey one way.

High above Lillooet Lake are the three small Joffre Lakes. Two of them require a challenging hike to reach, but Lower Joffre Lake is just minutes from Hwy 99 at the Joffre Lakes Provincial Recreation Area trailhead. Not many visitors make the effort to carry a small boat through the forest to the lake, but those who do are treated to the finest landscape surrounding any lake in the region. Not only is the lake fantastically coloured – shades of turquoise and aquamarine – but it is also surmounted by the massive Joffre Glacier Group. On a clear day, time seems suspended as you paddle here in absolute stillness.

The Lillooet and Birkenhead Rivers have been providing sport for whitewater kayakers since the invention of fibreglass. The Lillooet can be treacherous, owing to the numbers of submerged sweepers brought down into the river as a result of logging and slope instability, particularly in the Meagre Creek drainage. The Birkenhead is much more predictable and also more pleasantly landscaped.

The Lillooet River system runs for almost 120 miles (200 km) with Class II-III water throughout. Runs include a 3-mile (5-km) stretch on the Upper Lillooet River between the put-in at riverside on the Upper Lillooet Forest Road north of Pebble Creek and the take-out beside the Meagre Creek Forestry Rd bridge. A lengthier stretch of paddling runs for 9 miles (15 km) between the bridge and takeouts at the km 23 or km 25 markers on the Upper Lillooet Road.

The Birkenhead River provides more challenging Class III-IV kayaking in tighter confines as the river runs for about 3 miles (5 km) between the narrow bridge over the Birkenhead north of Owl Creek on the D'Arcy-Anderson Lake Road and another bridge near Mount Currie on the road that leads to the Pemberton Sportsmen's Wildlife Association fish hatchery. To find the takeout, turn east onto a gravel road on the south side of the train tracks as the D'Arcy-Anderson Lake Road leaves Mount Currie.

There are many terrific rivers for whitewater paddlers to play in around Lillooet, and one of the very best is the Bridge River. Featuring Class III+, IV, and V water, with easy portages around the headiest sections, the Bridge demands that those who paddle here be advanced kayakers. The put-in is at the confluence of the Yalakom and Bridge Rivers north of Lillooet, from where it's a 16-mile (26-km) ride to the Fraser River. The Bridge offers everything an expert paddler can hope to find: fast water, raging rapids, hair-raising drop-offs, and challenging technical stretches.