Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park

Turner Lake Canoe Circuit

photo of canoeists on Turner Lake

Introduction:

This three to five day canoe trip destination is unusual and very scenic. It is at high elevation on the east slope of the Coast Range and features seven lakes and short linking creeks and portages. Because there is no road access, paddlers must either hike in or charter a floatplane to fly in. The trail in is a strenuous 16-km hike, the Hunlen Falls Trail, described in the Tweedsmuir (South) Trails web page. Canoe rentals are available from a park operator, who also collects overnight camping fees. For details of the operating season and fees, click here and scroll down to Tweedsmuir (South). July, August and the first half of September are the best times to paddle the lake chain. These months are relatively dry (though you must prepare for cold rainy weather). Typically, campsites are more crowded in August, so June, July and the first half of September are recommended for those seeking solitude. For a map of the Hunlen Falls/Turner Lake area, return to the main Tweedsmuir Park web page. For more information on canoe rentals and access to the Turner Lake Chain, please check the following non-government website.

Safety:
The trip is suitable for intermediate or advanced paddlers. There is no significant moving water in the creek; hazards arise from wind and waves on the lakes. Wear Personal Flotation Devices at all times and stay close to shore on the larger lakes. As this is a multi-day, mountain wilderness trip, you must be completely self-sufficient. Leave a detailed itinerary with someone trustworthy at home. The Park Operator at the north end of Turner Lake has a radio phone for emergency communications. Cell phones do not work.

Wildlife:
The area is home to grizzly and black bears, as well as moose. Please do not approach or harass these or any other wildlife. There are lots of waterfowl (herons, grebes, loons, mergansers, widgeons, buffleheads, etc.) and birds of prey around the lakes, and chances are good you will see pine marten, mink, or other

Fishing:
The lakes abound with coastal cutthroat trout, thanks to pioneer Ralph Edwards, who somehow stocked them by carrying them up from the Atnarko River system. Fly fishing in Hunlen Creek is a popular pastime. Anyone fishing or angling in British Columbia must have an appropriate licence.

Hiking:
Many people choose to combine the canoe trip with a few days of alpine rambling. There is excellent hiking in the area surrounding Ptarmigan Lake, which is a moderate day's backpack above Turner Lake. For details on these and other trails, click here.

Canoe Route Description:

The chain of lakes forms a J shape, heading south then veering westward. Turner Lake is the longest at 5 km, and has high mountains only on one side. As you paddle up the creek and lake chain, the view shifts with successively higher and sharper peaks visible. The other three large lakes are Junker, Widgeon and Kidney Lakes. These, as well as Turner Lake are subject to strong winds, channelled by the mountains. The energetic can top off the trip with a hike to Sunshine Lake.

Portages are short, well marked, and supplied with canoe rests. They are not maintained to a standard for canoe carts, however. Always use the portages where provided. Lining canoes is not allowed because it disturbs the gravel creek bed, essential to spawning fish. Route markers are posts with reflective white squares; campsites have orange markers. The following description is for the outward portion of the trip.
  • Turner Lake to Cutthroat Lake
    Starting at the dock just south of Turner North campsite, paddle the length of Turner Lake (about 5 km). Go up the creek to the left of the campsite. A portage trail starts about 300 metres upstream on the right. This portage is 400 metres long, through dry pine forest with kinnickinick and lichens covering the ground. Paddle upstream for about 500 m, then portage around a short rapid for about 100m. Put in and paddle the rest of the way up the creek to Cutthroat Lake.
  • Cutthroat Lake to Vista Lake
    Cutthroat Lake is less than 1km long. Look for the white portage marker at the south end of the lake. The first portage is 400 metres long and it leads to tiny "No Name Lake". Another portage starts on the left of the creek at the south end of this lake, and comes out at Vista Lake after 130 metres. If you prefer not to load and unload twice, an extra trail section around No Name Lake links the portage trails.
  • Vista Lake to Junker Lake
    There is a white route marker at the southwest corner of Vista Lake. Paddle about 400m upstream then take the portage trail on the left for 100 metres to Junker Lake. To reach the Junker Lake campsite, turn east and head for the red sand beach. Caution: if the wind is blowing from the west, you will have to paddle parallel to the waves. The forested sites (where campfires are permitted) are at the northwest end of the beach. Fires are permanently banned at the beachfront sites, but the view of the glaciated Talchako Mountains is hard to beat.
  • Junker Lake to Widgeon Lake
    Junker is the second-longest of the lakes, at around 3.5 km. It is prone to strong winds from the west, usually starting around 9:00 a.m., so it is best to paddle this lake in the morning when the lake is calm. The 150-m portage trail to Widgeon Lake may be difficult to spot until you are close by, as it's in a small bay at the far end of the lake. The campground on Widgeon Lake at the end of the trail also has excellent views.
  • Widgeon Lake to Kidney Lake
    Widgeon Lake is also subject to strong westerly winds, though it's smaller, at 2.5 km. The portage trail starts just west of the creek inflow, and it's a tough one: over 500 m long with several uphill sections for a total elevation gain of 40 m. The camping area on Kidney Lake is directly across the small bay from the end of the portage.
  • Kidney Lake to Sunshine Lake (hike)
    The trailhead for the Sunshine Lake trail is at a small sandy beach directly south of the campsite, and may be difficult to access in rough conditions, since paddling parallel to the waves is tricky. The marker is orange. The 1-hour, 3-km trail angles upwards through spruce forest onto a ridge with views of the creek far below, then follows the ridge up into a zone of subalpine fir, with huckleberries and white rhododendrons abounding. After crossing a short bog, follow blazes to the right and across a log bridge to the campsite. Views across the lake to the south feature more jagged peaks and hanging glaciers. This also makes a very nice day trip from the campsites at any of the previous three lakes.

Camping Areas:

All camping areas are equipped with a pit toilet (no toilet paper is supplied) and a bear-proof food cache. Most have metal fire rings, benches and worktops for cooking. The style of the bear caches varies: some are elevated platforms, while others are large metal boxes.

Campground Number of sites Description
Turner North 10 tent pads On northern tip of Turner Lake. The float plane dock and canoe rental facility are just south of the campground. The must-do 2-km loop trail to the Hunlen Falls Viewpoint starts at the north end, and the outhouse is nearby.
Turner West (also cabins) 2 tent pads
2 cabins
On point of land about 4 km south on west side of Turner Lake. Scenic but often windy. The bear cache is 50 m behind the outhouse - follow the orange trail markers. The rustic cabins are available for rent from the Park Operator.
Turner South 5 tent pads At the south end of Turner Lake next to where Hunlen Creek flows in. A larger, more sheltered campground popular with fly-fishers.
Junker Lake 8 tent pads On the northwestern shore of Junker Lake. There are two locations: 4 pads are on the red-sand beach, while 4 more are in the forest. The bear cache and outhouse are behind the forest sites 300 m from the beach sites. No campfires are permitted at the beach sites at any time, due to the fire risk from prevailing onshore winds and the amount of dead timber.
Widgeon Lake 7 tent pads A scenic camping area at the west end of the portage trail.
Kidney Lake 3 tent sites A more rustic area, with well-spaced campsites on the point directly opposite the end of the portage trail to Kidney Lake.
Sunshine Lake (hike in camping) 3 tent sites A backpack of about one-hour accesses these rustic sites on the western shore of Sunshine Lake. The toilet is located behind the bear cache.

Ethics:
  • Keep a clean campsite: you are in bear country! Use bear caches any time you are away from camp or asleep. Never cook or store food in your tent. Strain out food particles then throw used wash water into the pit toilet.
  • If you fish, never clean your catch in camp as this will attract animals. Puncture the air bladder and throw offal into deep water. You must have a licence and be familiar with the regulations. At the time of writing: creek fishing is prohibited until July 1 each season; in lakes and streams bait is banned, single barbless hooks only; daily limit 4 with only 2 from streams.
  • Pack out all your garbage. Food scraps often don't burn fully, and may attract bears.
  • Be careful with fire: most of the campsites are in very dry forest, so always use the metal fire rings, and make sure your fire is extinguished when you leave. Please conserve firewood. Bring a camp stove for cooking.
  • Don't pollute: never put soap or food scraps into the lakes. Wash at least 100 m from water sources.
  • Boil or treat drinking water.
  • It is best to leave pets at home. If you do bring a pet, it must be under control at all times.
  • Firearms are prohibited.
Other canoeing destinations in the Cariboo District:
  • Nazko Lake Park northwest of Alexis Creek off Highway 20 offers an easy 2 - to 4 day outing with good wildlife viewing.
  • Bowron Lake Park, east of Quesnel, is famous for its 6 - 10 day Canoe Circuit.
  • Moose Valley Park, near 100 Mile House, is a very pleasant destination for easy day or overnight canoe trips.

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