Chilko-Chilcotin-Fraser River Expedition
OUTSIDE Magazine choose our Chilko trip as the BEST River Trip on the planet in 2014 because the Chilko-Chilcotin-Fraser River is unmatched in its awesome diversity and enormous stretches of Class IV white-water.
Explore this amazing trip courtesy of our favorite videographer James Ramsay
This world-class river adventure winds through lush alpine forests, narrow canyons, high desert plateaus and sky-scraping hoodoos, then ends 3,000 vertical feet lower and one week later on the Fraser River, the lifeblood of Canada’s largest river system. 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 begins in Vancouver with a spectacular flight over the Coast Mountains to either Williams Lake or direct into Chilko Lake (see flight options). From Williams Lake, we transfer you 4 hours across the Chilcotin Plateau to the headwaters of Chilko where we begin our river odyssey. We think celebrated author Pam Houston sums the river trip 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.”
The Chilko-Chilcotin-Fraser is much more than this, but we think you get the picture! This trip combines perfectly with our 4 or 5-day Bear Camp Multisport, before or after the expedition, respectively.
|Trip Length||8 days|
Sunday to Sunday
* Additional private launches may be available by request
|Meeting Place||Vancouver, BC|
|Gateway City||Vancouver, BC|
- Itinerary at a Glance
- Meet in Vancouver where we board a flight to Chilcotin country (see flight options). Flying over Whistler and the Coast Range offers a scenically spectacular start to our adventure
- Spend two glorious nights at the Bear den on the banks of the Chilko River
- Hike Mt Tullin and/or paddle 20 miles of swift current and mellow rapids to camp in a beautiful meadow surrounded by pines. Enjoy the many delightful meals in the wilderness
- 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
- Hike at an ancient Indian fishing spot deep in the 1500-foot canyon
- Soak up the scenery or hike to your g=heart’s content on a layover day 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
- R/T Vancouver to Williams Lake plus transfers on commercial plane $400 pp
- One-way direct charter to Bear Camp/ return to Vancouver commercial plane from Williams Lake $700 pp
- Float plane or heli access – quotes by request
- Detailed Itinerary
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.
Day One (Sunday):
We meet in Vancouver for our 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 the Bear’s Den, on the banks of the Chilko River, we’ll go through the camping procedures and then enjoy the first of many delightful meals in the wilderness.
After a delicious and hearty breakfast, you can choose to an easy hike to Green Lake, a big hike up Mt Tullin, mountain biking on some fun double track, inflatable kayak 20 miles back to the Bear’s Den, cast a line for trout, or simply hang out in our scenic riverside camp and prepare for tomorrow’s big water adventure.
You will quickly notice that the pace of the river has increased. Today 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. Depending on the trip, we will choose a secluded riverside camp just above or 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 Indian 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.
Today is a well-deserved lay over day. This means a leisurely breakfast, plenty of time to hike up Dome Mountain for an incredible view or taking some time fish for rainbow in Big Creek. If you feel less active, you’ll be able to wander with your camera through this beautiful valley.
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.
Day Eight (Sunday):
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.
- Pre-trip Accommodations
While on the river, you will be accommodated in spacious expedition style tents complete with sleeping pads, sleeping bags and pillows. The Bear Den also has a comfortable indoor/outdoor lounge area that will be base camp for the first two nights.
The Granville Island Hotel* and Sandman Signature Vancouver Airport* offer our travellers “preferred rates” if booked through our Canadian office.
*Granville Island Hotel
1253 Johnston St
Tel 683-7373 Fax: 683-3061, US/Canada 1-800-663-1840
Easy to get to and hard to leave, this island retreat in the heart of the city is right on the water and within walking distance of the Public Market and other attractions. Centrally located, you can even take the water taxi to shopping districts downtown.
*Sandman Signature Vancouver Airport
10251 St. Edwards Drive
Tel: 604.278.9611?Fax: 604.233.7733 US/Canada 1-800-726-3626
Offering the latest in upscale hotel elegance. Enjoy the convenience of staying at the airport, while still only a short taxi ride to downtown. They have a nice lounge and restaurant and a complimentary airport shuttle departing every half hour.
845 Hornby Street
Tel (604) 689-7777, Fax (604) 608-5348, US/Canada 1-800-663-0666
If you are looking for a small country inn with downtown elegance, the Wedgewood is for you. Proudly owned and managed by Eleni Skalbania, the Wedgewood has loads of character.
- About the Region
Why The Chilko-Chilcotin-Fraser?
This journey of discovery is one of the most ecologically diverse and personally satisfying expeditions found anywhere. We’ll start with a flight over the towering mountains and massive glaciers of the Coast Range to the Chilcotin wilderness. We’ll float 120 miles through the crystal clear, turquoise water of this incredible desert river, dropping over 3000 vertical feet. The Chilko-Chilcotin-Fraser is considered a Class IV river system with a number of extended drops. On the last day of our expedition we’ll fly back crossing over the 2000-foot canyons of the lower Fraser and the lakes and mountains of the southern Coast Range. Experiencing such a variety of phenomenal scenery has made guests claim that this seven-day trip has been the best of their lives.
Participants are continually overwhelmed by the excitement and beauty of this natural corridor. The Chilko flows into the Chilcotin, which flows into the mighty Fraser making this free flowing waterway perfect to raft from May through September. When compared to busy rivers south of the border this circuitous system is a wilderness waterway. The dramatically different sections of river offer a diversity of scenery, wildlife and roller coaster rapids that will keep you grinning from start to finish. Obviously the Province of British Columbia agrees with us as they have established more than 17 new parks in the Cariboo-Chilcotin region.
As rafters drift the lower Chilcotin and Fraser, they will see stocky California bighorns peering down from the cliff tops. Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park was established to protect the world’s largest non-migratory bighorn sheep herd. This is the heart of Chilcotin country, where steep escarpments rise from the river to horizontal plains, separated by vertical cliffs. These ancient lava beds were formed when massive flows of molten rock oozed from the earth, and spread and cooled, in step-like plateaus. Hoodoos, eroded by wind and rain, are the most prominent landforms. Our trip culminates at Churn Creek Canyon which is yet another new Provincial Park. Spanning more than 244 square kilometers, rare sagebrush and grasslands are preserved for our pleasure.
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.
- Trip Planner
We are very excited that you will be joining us on this incredible expedition. Richard Hobson, a pioneer Chilcotin rancher and author once said that the Cariboo-Chilcotin was “a land that drew me like a magnet into its soul.” We have prepared this trip planner to help you get ready for the adventures ahead in this truly unspoiled part of the world. We have tried to anticipate questions you might have concerning travel arrangements, what to bring, and getting in shape.
If any of your questions remain unanswered, please don’t hesitate to call. We strive to fully prepare you for what to expect on your trip so you can spend your vacation running rapids, hiking and landing monster trout rather than wondering whether or not you brought the right pair of shoes.
Personal Equipment Notes
The personal equipment list we provide you with has been developed through years of practical experience. It is important that the clothing you bring will withstand the rigour of the trip. Your personal equipment should not weigh more than 40 pounds and all clothing should be quick drying and be made of synthetics. Warmth and comfort are the main objectives with this outline. Weather conditions can vary considerably in the North. It’s important to dress in layers so that you can maintain a comfortable body temperature no matter what Mother Nature may have in store. The inner layer should move perspiration outside, where it can evaporate. The intermediate layer should insulate while the outside layer should act as a barrier to wind and rain.
On this trip we’ll be more likely to have the occasional shower than an entire day of rain. Still, you’ll be more comfortable if you stay warm and dry, so be sure to pack some rain gear-both tops and bottoms. They should be compact enough to fit easily into your daypack.
Pile or Fleece
The best we’ve found is 200-weight Polar Plus, which is used by a variety of companies. This fabric is warm, dries quickly and is not excessively bulky. It can be found in many different styles and colours.
Synthetic materials like polypropylene, polyester and natural fibers like silk and wool work well. Both are quick drying and bacteria resistant, as well. Do not bring cotton long underwear. When wet, cotton dissipates heat from your body and takes a long time to dry.
Choose lightweight, synthetic fabrics that breathe well for warm weather walking. Whatever you choose, be sure you have comfortable freedom of movement, especially for uphill and downhill walking.
Footwear for Hiking and Walking
The importance of good footwear cannot be overstated. What may seem like a good shoe at home could leave you with sore feet on your trip. Given that our trails are often gravelly or sometimes muddy, you need a good walking boot with a firm sole, good ankle support and a degree of water resistance. It’s now easy to find a “hybrid” walking boot, which combines the lightweight, ventilated features of a shoe with the support and durability of a boot. If you buy new walking shoes or boots for the trip, make sure you break them in well before you go.
Bring at least one pair for each day unless you want to wash them out each night. We recommend synthetic/wool blend as these tend to draw the perspiration from the foot and will keep your feet warm, even when wet. It may be a good idea to bring along some additional items such as foot powder, cushioned pads and/or bandages to place inside your footwear-just in case. Another worthwhile product is something called Spenco 2nd Skin, which provides cushioned comfort with an antiseptic for blistered and sore feet. Many people find a product called moleskin gives them great relief from blisters. The guides carry a blister kit as part of their first-aid supplies.
Bring a daypack that holds approximately 20-35 litres to carry raingear, camera and water bottle.
Personal Equipment List
- 1 pair light hiking boots with appropriate number of socks
- 1 pair river sandals (Tevas) with neoprene socks and/or wetsuit boots
- 5-7 pairs warm wool socks
- 2 long-sleeved shirts
- 3 T-shirts
- 2 long underwear tops (synthetic)
- 1 pile or fleece jacket (100-200 weight)
- 1 high quality waterproof rain jacket
- 1 down or synthetic jacket or vest (for early or late season departures)
- 2 pairs long underwear bottoms (synthetic)
- 2 pairs of light shorts (quick-drying)
- 1-2 pairs of quick-dry pants
- 1 pair high quality waterproof rain pants
- Undergarments (ideally 1-2 of them synthetic)
- 1 swimsuit
Head & Hands
- 1 sun hat or visor
- Fleece hat
- 1 pair lightweight fleece gloves
- 1 day pack (for use on boats or day hikes)
- 1-liter water bottle or hydration system
- Toiletry kit (personal medications)
- Sunscreen, lip salve, insect repellent
- Sunglasses with safety strap and extra prescription glasses (if necessary)
- Small flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries
- Camera with extra batteries (optional)
- Notebook, journal, reading material (optional)
- Binoculars (optional)
- Fishing rod, with case and tackle (optional)
We are flying from Vancouver in small passenger planes, so please pack your gear into soft duffle bags (NO SUITCASES). The gear should weigh less than 40 pounds in total. The airline may charge you for excess baggage or even, in rare circumstances, refuse your bags.
Getting Insured -Trip Cancellation Insurance
R.O.A.M. strongly recommends that you purchase trip cancellation insurance. You risk forfeiture of all monies paid, if you cancel your trip. You have the option of purchasing an insurance policy that meets the specific needs of our travellers.
Please make sure you understand what the insurance will and will not cover. Please consult the policy for exact coverage, details of other risks insured, and for other benefits and limitations of the insurance.
Getting in Shape
Our trips are designed for people who enjoy the out-of-doors, rather than for fitness fanatics. Still, they are active holidays. Age is unimportant when it comes to your ability to do the rafting, walking, and/or hiking-the more important consideration is your physical condition. If you haven’t attempted the kind of exercise levels required by our trips within the last couple of years, please be aware of the sort of trip you’re taking. It’s an active one, and you’ll enjoy it more if you’ve been doing some exercise before you go. No previous river experience is required.
Your guides will give you an orientation to expedition practices and teach you all the basic skills that you’ll require to enjoy the different aspects of the trip. Our prime consideration is to provide you with a trip that is as safe and comfortable as possible while still maintaining the integrity of a wilderness experience. Activities that involve aerobic conditioning, such as swimming, walking, jogging, squash, and tennis are great for overall physical conditioning. Keep in mind the relative topography of where you live compared to the region you will be visiting. If you live in flat country, for example, consider supplementing your training with artificial hill training on a treadmill or stair-master.
A Thumbnail Training Program
- Two-three months before the trip starts: try to do exercises that involve aerobic conditioning three times each week-swimming, walking, jogging, squash, cross-country skiing, tennis, biking.
- One month before the trip: go for a couple of longer walks each week.
- The week before your trip: try to go for three long walks.
- Be sure to stretch after exercising-it reduces the chances of injury, muscle pain, stiffness, and fatigue.
Our kayaks are manufactured in B.C. and are ideally suited for the waters we are paddling. When on the river, we utilize state-of-the-art self-bailing rafts. The rafts have been designed with center-mount oar rigs and allow participants the option of paddling or just soaking up the views. The mountain bikes are made by Kona and have disk brakes and good suspension. Our fishing boats are custom made by Koffler Designs and are specially designed for the Chilko. With a little advance notice, a bush plane on floats or helicopter can be located to the lodge for those wishing to add heli-hiking or fly-in fishing to their adventure.
For the fisherman, Chilko Lake is a truly world class. Home to large populations of rainbow and bull trout, the river is one of B.C.’s best fisheries and has a special classification because of it. If you plan on fishing a lot, you may want to bring your favourite 5- to 6-weight rod with case.
The Chilko-Chilcotin tends to be dry in climate and much warmer than the coast. Daytime highs in the interior can reach 90 degrees F and the temperatures will drop quite a bit during the evenings. While we don’t expect rain, it is always a possibility in British Columbia. Be sure to follow our recommended equipment list, as our experience suggests a multi-layering approach with a range of temperatures and conditions in mind.
Making Your Travel Plans
To Downtown Vancouver
Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in North America, and you should plan to spend some time here, either before or after your trip. There are many ways to get downtown from the airport. The easiest way is by taxi, which takes about 20 minutes and costs about $40. There is also a regularly scheduled airport shuttle that goes to all major hotels and costs about $25. Should your plans call for a rental car, you’ll find all the major agencies represented at the airport.
Unless told otherwise, your Chilko trip and flight departs 11:00 AM sharp from a private terminal near the international airport. Closer to the date, we will let you know the exact terminal (they are all close to each other) as it can vary. Assume for the time being (as a default), we will fly from the Million Air Terminal. This is not the main Vancouver International terminal-it is smaller private departure lounge near the south terminal
Million Air Terminal – Vancouver
5455 Airport Road South
Richmond, British Columbia, V7B1B5
Phone: (604) 273-6688
Any taxi can take you to the Million Air terminal from the Main International Terminal (10 minute drive) or from your hotel. For those driving, there is long-term parking available for a daily charge.
We are flying from Vancouver in small passenger planes, so please pack your gear into soft duffel bags
Here you will meet your pilots and load the aircraft for the scenic flight up and over the Coast Mountains. If you are going to be late for your flight, please call us as soon as possible (888 639 1114) to see if we can hold the plane. Unfortunately this may not be possible, so participants missing our flight will be responsible for their own airfare and expenses to Chilko Lake.
After Your Trip
After your trip, you will be dropped off in Vancouver. Weather permitting, you should arrive in time to make connecting flights that depart after 7:00 PM but we highly recommend you overnight in Vancouver. It is approximately 10-15 minutes by shuttle to the main terminal of the airport.
The Canadian monetary unit is the Canadian dollar (CDN). Like U.S. currency, coins are the nickel, quarter, the one-dollar “Loonie” and two-dollar “Toonie.” The most common bills are 5, 10, and 20-dollar denominations. Avoid carrying large sums of cash at any time during your holiday. Credit cards are widely accepted, especially VISA and MasterCard.
American dollars and traveller’s cheques are accepted everywhere though at exchange rates that thieves envy. When converting American to Canadian dollars, you’ll get the most favourable rates at banks. Most banks are open from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM Monday to Friday though some branches stay open later and on Saturday mornings. ATMs are everywhere.
Canada is very safe for travelling, but still there is no point in carrying lots of valuables when travelling. Regrettably, tourists are among the most easily targeted, so please exercise some caution. We also recommend that you check your personal insurance policy before travelling to ensure that you are covered for theft and loss while travelling. As a safety precaution, do not travel with excessive amounts of cash or jewellery if it is not necessary.
Canada is officially a bilingual nation with English and French being the two recognized languages. However, the chances that you will hear any French spoken out west are slim. Of course, once you are “oot” and “aboot” on your Canadian holiday, you shouldn’t have any language problems, eh? Once a forbidden subject, it is now okay to speak to Canadians about Olympic Hockey.
A passport is required for all travel to and from Canada
On our trip, we’ll be traveling through some environmentally and historically sensitive areas. Our excursions are designed to promote an understanding of the delicate ecosystems that make our province unique while preserving their fundamental integrity. We ask participants to share our concern for the environment by practising low-impact touring in this sensitive area.
R.O.A.M. operates on a “leave-no-trace” policy, meaning we travel in a self-contained manner, carrying in what we require and carrying out all garbage and human waste. We believe the survival of the natural environment and the wildlife it supports depends on establishing an economy beyond simple resource harvesting. Our goal is to immerse our clients in B.C.’s vast natural beauty, which, in turn, supports eco-tourism as a viable, economic choice.
Canada’s Goods & Services Tax (GST)
Canada has a Goods and Services Tax (GST) of 5% and the province of British Columbia has a 7% Provincial Sales Tax (PST). Fortunately, only GST applies to your trip purchase.
Our trip leader carries a satellite phone for emergency purposes. Should you need a phone at your disposal, you should make arrangements for your own satellite communication. Because of our remote locale, cellular phones are not an option.
Our guides are as impressive as the scenery; passionate about their work, they are delighted to pass on their knowledge and skills. They have an intimate knowledge of a region’s wildlife, natural history, culture and folklore. Trained in wilderness first aid and professionally certified to the highest provincial level in British Columbia, our guides are eager to please and will ensure you have a memorable experience.
Tips and Tipping
- Tipping is common in Canada, and fairly similar to U.S. practices. Of course, there are some exceptions, which we have noted.
- Taxis – 5% is appropriate for good service and 10% is generous.
- Porters – $2 per bag.
- Restaurants – It is appropriate to leave 15% before tax.
The tipping of R.O.A.M. guides is entirely discretionary, and we feel strongly that gratuities should not be offered to them if they lead anything less than a great trip. However, we expect that our guides will do a great job in making your trip memorable and, when they do, it is not uncommon for our travellers to offer a gratuity. The guides very much appreciate it. We are often asked what is appropriate. In general, we have found that when our travellers offer a gratuity, it is in the range of a “thank you” to 15% of the trip cost per person. But again, tipping is entirely at your discretion.