Finding Gold in the Cariboo Mountains

Words by Dalene Heck | Photography by Pete and Dalene Heck

Two substantial gold rushes defined British Columbia in the mid 1800s. The more famous of the two, the Cariboo Gold Rush, graced some of the mountains and valleys that you’ll see in the photos below. It brought prospectors from around the globe, elevated the economy of every stop enroute, and forever transformed a substantial area.Gold is still mined in the Cariboo region, albeit with less fervour and more advanced mechanical techniques, and the now-diminished population reflects that. Whole towns have been ghosted.

But the draw of exploration remains. In the mist and drizzle of our first couple of days in the area, starting in the tiny town of Likely and making our way north to Wells and the iconic Barkerville, we both wanted to grab a pan and sift river bottoms. We wanted to kick rocks just to see if anything sparkled from underneath. Not for the chance of riches, but to transport us to the time where such chance caused the whole area to ripple with frenzy.

Our days there indeed included a search – not for a precious metal but with our cameras angled for autumn and animals. The former we were surrounded by, with golden leaves that glistened in ubiquitous dew. With the latter, our prospect for grizzlies came up empty. But the rear of a bolting black bear, a moose on a meadow, and several deer held our attention instead.

Our journey was not left wanting for riches.

Likely

While the official Gold Rush Trail begins hundreds of kilometres south of Likely, our journey began in this little town on the Quesnel River. It is one of the few gold rush settlements that remains. There’s only one store, a handful of houses, but it holds a draw for fishermen and adventurers alike for the nature that surrounds. Our day trips from here included an expedition up the nearby Mitchell River and jaunts down many of the quiet roads in the area.

Our days there indeed included a search – not for a precious metal but instead for autumn and animals.
Pier Reflections - Likely, BC

A lonely pier in Likely.

Lake of Glass

BC Cariboo Region

Morning Fog

Picture Perfect

Sherry Ott in Cariboo

Cariboo Region from Above

Bald Headed Eagle

Quesnel Forks, BC - Ghost Town

Enroute to Wells

From Likely we took the scenic route north and drove what is literally known as “the back road” to Wells. It is only a 150km journey but we made it last all day with an inestimable number of photo stops and a lazy picnic lunch near waterfalls.

Yellow and Blue

Those Cariboo Mountain Roads

The Back Road

Ghost Falls - Cariboo Mountains BC

Pure Green

Ghost Falls Above

Ghost Falls from above

Ghost Falls BC

Cariboo Mountains Drone Shot

Green Forest

Wells

On the edge of town we were flagged down by a passerby. He gestured to the vast meadow that spread out from the road, and opened with just one word: moose. There he was, a large bull just a couple hundred metres ahead. With a quick change of his camera lens, Pete was poised and began shooting. Within minutes, several others surrounded us, as if they were gathered by some silent moose whistle that only townspeople could here.

Their photography gear put ours to shame. For them, such a sighting was probably a regular occurrence, yet all were still determined to capture the scene. “It doesn’t get old,” one told us. Geoff, our guide, tested his moose calls to try and draw the bull closer. “It’s a special place.”

The population of this picturesque town may be a fraction of what it once was as a mining hub, but it is not lacking in allure. It has a tiny but strong community of artists and adventurers alike. Bright buildings sit on the edge of this vast meadow that teems with life. In the wintertime, it is a focal point for cross-country skiers and sledders. In the summer it’s the starting point for the popular canoe circuit in Bowron Lake Provincial Park.

Wells Aurora

Aurora in Wells

Bull Moose

Moose in the meadow

Barkerville

Near to Wells is Barkerville, a world-class heritage site named after an English prospector who spearheaded growth in the region that eventually shaped the entire province.

In the summer it bustles as a living museum, with visitors weaving in and out of the over 100 structures that stand in the same spot as when they were built starting in the 1860s, and interacting with the actors in character from that period. Winter activities are planned but less involved. We visited just after the summer season had closed, and had the town entirely to ourselves.

Gold Rush - Barkerville, BC

Gold rush in Barkerville

Barkerville Reflections

Barkerville Post Office

China Town Barkerville

Barkerville attracted prospectors from all over the world, and from China in particular. By the 1880s, half of of the towns population was Chinese and this was their area of town.

That doesn’t mean, however, that to visit means an absence of treasure.

Our visit to the nearby Bowron Lakes was still to come.

Our trip to this region was thanks to Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Tourism. Our opinions, as always, are our own.

12 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Susan Jessup
    May 23 2017

    Hey guys, now that I am temporarily living in Edmonton for the summer and fall this is very tempting. I am wondering – do you think the back roads in the area would be okay with a small RV? Where did you stay when you were there? Camping?

    • May 24 2017

      Hi Susan! As long as there isn’t tough weather, I think you would be fine on the roads with a small RV! We didn’t camp while we were there, we stayed at a lodge in Likely and at the Mountain Thyme Getaway in Wells (the latter we would HIGHLY recommend – more on that in our next post).

  • May 23 2017

    WOW! This place is STUNNING! I have to get here some day. I love finding new places for my bucket list.
    Rachel recently posted..Ultimate List of Snacks For The Trail

  • Vicky Massey
    May 23 2017

    Beautiful pictures – as always. What is the story behind the Asian lettering on the sign in the last picture? If you told it, I missed it.

    • May 24 2017

      My apologies Vicky, I had meant to put something in the photo caption and forgot (will go and do that now). Barkerville attracted prospectors from all over the world, and from China in particular. By the 1880s, half of of the towns population was Chinese and this was their area of town. Here is a bit more info on the topic: http://www.cariboogoldrush.com/people/chin.htm

      • Vicky Massey
        May 24 2017

        Thank you Dalene, that was my guess, but nice to have it confirmed. The fall colors there are lovely. Hope you are doing well.

  • May 24 2017

    Hi Dalene and Pete,
    Happy to see you both back on the road. The photos are really good Pete. Looking forward to more of your journeys….be well…?
    Molly Huddleston

  • May 24 2017

    I love old mountain mining towns, and BC! I feel like I say this on every post, but your photos just blow me away! Amazing.
    Leigh recently posted..Chicago Detours Interior Architecture Tour

  • May 26 2017

    Stunning pictures as always. Is it possible to buy the first picture? Very Canadian! I used to see pictures like this in coffee table books on Canada before it became home 🙂

  • May 30 2017

    So good to see you back on the road! The place looks like one hidden gem, would absolutely love to explore it for myself one day.
    Arti recently posted..Places to Visit in Pune: Exploring the Historic (And Haunted?) Shaniwar Wada!

  • June 15 2017

    Your photos of the area around the Quesnel River are stunning!
    Stephanie recently posted..Explore Ottawa With Big City Hunt Scavenger Hunt

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