Retreating to the middle of nowhere is always a great option if you want to unplug. It's easy to do if you're planning to visit Canada. All you have to do is go a couple of hours north of the United States border, as roughly 90% of Canadians live within 100 miles (or 160 kilometers) of the U.S. Of course, some places are more remote than others.
Take Williams Lake, for instance. Situated in the middle of the British Columbia Interior in the region called the Cariboo, the town is a six-hour drive north of Vancouver and nearly a nine-hour drive from Banff. Those that come here will not only feel like tech devices can't shackle them, but they may also feel like they’ve gone back in time.
Williams Lake at a Glance
Although Williams Lake is a remote city, it doesn’t necessarily have a remote population. It has a population of nearly 11,000, making it the largest city between Kamloops to the south and Prince George to the north. While the city has only officially been around since 1929, its roots date back to 1860, a few years before Canada officially became a country.
The city’s identity is tied up to its pre-incorporation days rather fiercely. Williams Lake is British Columbia cowboy country, an aspect drove home by its status as "B.C.'s Stampede Capital." Their economy is also driven by old-school means – the primary industries here include mining, logging, and sawmilling.
This romanticized throwback culture dovetails nicely with the splendid bucolic beauty that surrounds Williams Lake. The city’s relatively small stature leaves plenty of room for the British Columbia Interior’s mélange of mountains, lakes, rivers, and trails to shine through. Both the city and the surroundings combine to provide a wealth of remarkable ways to rejuvenate, regardless of what time of year you visit.
The Williams Lake Stampede
For four days in July – specifically, over the Canada Day long weekend, Lake Williams embraces its status as B.C.’s Stampede Capital with full force. The Lake Williams Stampede is a smaller-scale version of the famed Calgary Stampede, which typically follows later in the month. However, for those that are looking to avoid huge throngs of people in addition to unplugging, a trip to this event may be precisely what is needed.
Those that attend can witness a host of classic rodeo events, including:
- Bull riding
- Barrel racing
- Tie-down roping
- Steer wrestling
- Team roping
Other festivities that can be experienced during the Williams Lake Stampede include a parade of floats and a trade show loaded with unique shopping and dining opportunities. If you miss the event but would still be interested in checking out this unique slice of Old West-inspired activity, don’t fret. The Stampede grounds holds various rodeo-type events during the summer months.
Williams Lake in Summer
The Williams Lake Stampede may be the showstopping event around here, but it’s far from the only thing to do. In fact, all you have to do is look around at the breathtaking scenery to realize you're surrounded by a seemingly endless array of outdoor activity. This is particularly the case in the summer when the sun is out, and temperatures are pleasantly mild.
For instance, this special slice of the Cariboo is home to an abundance of camping opportunities. Scattered amongst the area’s provincial parks, these campgrounds offer something for campers of all stripes, from those that want a few amenities to people that prefer to "rough it." Either way, you'll be surrounded by pristine B.C. beauty.
The campgrounds around Williams Lake typically contain fire pits, pit toilets, and picnic tables. Some of them offer features that can provide the impetus for other activities like swimming or fishing. Some even have boat launches should you feel inspired to make the trip with a seafaring vessel in tow.
Of course, you don't have to stay in the middle of a forest to enjoy Williams Lake at its natural best. The area contains a vast network of hiking trails that can delight inexperienced and veteran hikers alike. There are also several mountain bike trails available to fulfill your need to take your trail exploring to the next level.
Whether you hike or bike, you’re going to see several spectacular sights. Several of the trails specifically grant wonderful vistas of Williams Lake and its 2.78 square-mile surface. Some of the more advanced trails will give you mountaintop views of the body of water.
If you’d prefer to be on a lake as opposed to merely seeing it from afar, you’re in luck. Williams Lake also offers several canoeing and kayaking opportunities for you to enjoy. With over 4,500 lakes in the area that welcome such activities, you most likely won’t have to worry about the body of water you choose getting too crowded, either.
With so many lakes in the area, it almost goes without saying that there are countless fishing opportunities afoot. Some of the larger lakes scattered about the Cariboo offer opportunities to hop into a boat and engage into a bit of sportfishing. However, a lot of the smaller lakes around the area also make for prime fishing opportunities if you’d prefer to keep your feet on the shore.
If you’re feeling especially adventurous, the nearby Chilcotin River and Quesnel River provide prime river rafting opportunities. These excursions can be a simple day trip, or they can be more elaborate multi-day experiences. The latter type of trips can also feature hiking expeditions on top of the rafting fun.
If you’d prefer to connect with your inner cowboy, you can also take a horseback riding trip through the Cariboo. The region is also home to several heritage sites that highlight the way life was some 150 years ago, from villages containing First Nations artifacts to old villages that were once booming gold rush towns. In some cases, some of these sites, like the area’s ranches, are still used for their intended purposes today.
Williams Lake in the Winter
As one may expect, it gets cold around Williams Lake in the wintertime. However, for those unafraid to bundle up to keep warm, Williams Lake offers some beautiful cold-weather activities. These recreational escapes will allow you to see the splendor of the area in a whole different way.
Williams Lake is a mere 20 minutes from Bull Mountain, a local haven for cross-country skiing. The mountain contains 28 kilometers of meticulously kept trails, providing enough variance to bring smiles to skiers of all skill levels. For those that crave the thrill of downhill skiing, nearby Mount Timothy is home to 35 runs suitable for every ability and age.
The Cariboo also provides a vast network of winter trails ideally suited for snowmobiling. These particular trails lead to some of the most spectacular scenery to be found in the area. In the summertime, these trails can also be used for ATVing.
The Cost of Williams Lake
The price tag of your Williams Lake trip will depend on the activities that you pursue when you’re here. However, prices tend to be reasonable enough to make unplugging here a cost-effective option for most. For instance, day-pass tickets to the Williams Lake Stampede run from $12 to $20 depending on your age.
If you plan on fishing, you will need to obtain the proper license to do so. One-day fishing licenses will set you back $20, but they are conveniently sold at the Williams Lake Visitor Centre, so you won't have to put a whole lot of effort into tracking them down. The Centre also lends out tackle and fishing rods at no additional cost, in case you accidentally leave your gear at home.
Williams Lake also offers several guided tour opportunities that lead to the area’s various heritage sites. The cost of these activities varies depending on which tour you take. However, each tour does offer unique activities that you can enjoy along the tour, such as panning for gold or spotting spawning salmon.
The various camping opportunities in the area also range in price, depending on various factors such as location and amenities. It should be noted that camping seasons also vary from site to site – some stay open longer than others. Some campgrounds also fill up fast, so you’ll want to research your desired site’s reservation process a few days in advance of their booking season opening.
The Wild Yet Mild West
With its unabashed ties to cowboy culture, Lake Williams has positioned itself to be a relaxing alternative to the Calgary Stampede. Its bucolic surroundings of mountains, lakes, and trails make it a worthy place to unplug even if you don’t want to engage in the town’s Old West vibe.
Regardless of what brings you up to this special hunk of British Columbia Interior, the important thing is that you come here and enjoy its awesomeness.