Top-notch swim spots in Northern BC

🕔Jul 16, 2009

Forget snow, mountains, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. Think instead of friends, family, neighbours and kids, maybe even dogs, picnicking on a beach, munching on crunchy sandwiches and gazing at the water.

Northern BC may have a reputation for its white winters but that doesn’t mean our summers aren’t awesome too.

Some days up here are so hot that the air is choking. Nights too – you may not be able to sleep because you can’t stop sweating.
And on those days, and during those nights, the best thing you can do is bomb into the closest body of water, take a dip…and refresh.
I can’t promise you the waters in this part of the province—lakes, rivers and, of course, the ocean—ever really warm up, but these spots will be clean and refreshing.

Whether you are looking for somewhere to camp for the night or to simply take a cooling dip, here’s a quick-and-dirty list of sweet and savory swim spots in the region. Each has its own special features ranging from the water’s unique colour to the size of swimming hole to an area’s incredible landscape, history or easy access.

But remember: these are only a select few chosen from hundreds of incredible northern BC sanctuaries. So don’t limit yourself: keep exploring and find your own special spot.

North Beach–Naikoon Provincial Park near Masset on Haida Gwaii
North Beach lies at the northeast tip of the Queen Charlottes’ Graham Island. This seemingly endless sandy beach in Naikoon Provincial Park stretches to the horizon. Catch a hot sunny day here and you are in heaven, though swimming is best in short spurts because the ocean water is cold. Average swimmers require wetsuits for extended time in this water.

North Beach is a perfect destination for privacy, camping, beachcombing, clam-digging, crabbing, and even surfing and kite-boarding. Some people drive their vehicles along the beach…but beware of the rising tide! Also, Haida Gwaii’s weather is unpredictable and can be quite stormy.

To get here, drive east of Masset, through the rainforest along Tow Hill Road. Various pull-outs on the left side of the road lead to the beach, as well as the access at Tow Hill.

Boya Lake—Boya Lake Provincial Park near the BC/Yukon border
Boya Lake is one of the few lakes in the northern part of Northern B.C. with waters warm enough to swim in and actually enjoy. It has wonderfully clear water with an aquamarine tinge. The colour is a result of light bouncing off the marl—a mixture of silt and shell pieces—at the bottom of the lake. The views around the lake are incredible, with green forests and gravel ridges formed by glaciers about 20,000 years ago.

The lakeshore has about 45 campsites with fire-pits, a cold-water pump and outhouses. There’s also a boat launch nearby and a couple of interpretive trails. Fishing, canoeing and kayaking are popular here.

To get here, drive about 150 km north of Dease Lake and turn onto the Boya Lake access road east of Hwy 37.

Lakelse Lake—Lakelse Lake Provincial Park between Kitimat and Terrace

Lakelse Lake is a local and tourist summer favourite for swimming, boating, waterskiing, wakeboarding and sunbathing. The lake is refreshing and clean. Views from the beaches are of mountains, forests and the cabins around the lake.

Lakelse has three main public recreation areas, all within 15 minutes of each other. To get to any of these sites, head south from Terrace or north from Kitimat along Hwy 37A and look for the signs on the east side of the road.

Gruchy’s, about a 20-minute drive from Terrace, is a smaller beach that allows dogs off-leash. The beach’s only facility is a run-down outhouse. On sunny summer days the beach is usually quite crowded, mainly with younger folk and their enthusiastic four-legged friends. To get there, take the Gruchy’s Beach pull-out, park in the gravel parking lot and walk for about 15 minutes along a flat rocky trail through the forest to the beach.

Your second Lakelse Lake option is the group and picnic site, which is bigger than Gruchy’s but has a pebblier beach. The picnic site has a large covered area for barbecues and picnics as well as change rooms with flush toilets. This area is popular for large family gatherings on weekends and in the evenings.

Furlong Bay Campground is the Lakelse beach closest to Kitimat. In addition to a small beach, dock and boat launch, it can accommodate RVs, tents and large groups.

Babine Lake—near Granisle
Babine Lake is BC’s longest natural freshwater lake, stretching 180 km from east to west. The town of Granisle, 50 km north of Topley, sits on its shore.

Fishing and water sports such as canoeing and kayaking are the most popular recreational activities around the lake, yet Granisle’s small population (around 400) makes for quiet swimming holes. Choose from two main ones within a few minutes drive from town.
Red Bluff Provincial Park, about 5 km west of town, is a picnic area and campground with a wharf, boat launch, toilets, cold-water pump and about 65 campsites. It is named for nearby cliffs on the edge of the lake that are streaked with iron stains.

Lion’s Beach, only a couple km west of town, is not quite as developed as Red Bluff, although it also has a campground for tents and RVs as well as pit toilets and a boat ramp.

Stuart Lake—near Fort St. James
About 90 km long with over 270 km of shoreline, Stuart Lake is another of BC’s largest natural lakes. At its widest it is 10 km across. At the lake’s southeast end the town of Fort St. James has several access routes to the water. Some are paved and others are gravel logging roads.

One of the most popular, family-friendly recreational sites—and great for swimming—is Paarens Beach Provincial Park. The park has a flat, sandy beach, playground, 36 campsites, a log picnic shelter, pit toilets and a boat launch. Views are of surrounding rolling hills and, if you are lucky, wildlife roaming in the area. To get there drive 15 kms west of Fort St. James.

Two more Stuart Lake swim spots are Sowchea Bay Provincial Park, just five kms down the road, which also has a campground. Cottonwood Park, just one km from town, is the location of a popular annual music festival. Amenities here include picnic tables, a picnic shelter, a band shelter, boat launch, change rooms, a sandy beach and a large grassy field.

Although it’s not necessary to have a boat to enjoy Stuart Lake, cruising on the water is a fantastic way to explore the area.
Stuart Lake is the starting point of the Stuart-Takla chain of waterways. This includes Stuart Lake, Tachie River, Trembleur Lake, Middle River and Takla Lake. The waterway is famous for its fishing and tons of small coves and islands.

Purden Lake—near Prince George
Prince George has hundreds of swimming spots to choose from so it’s difficult to pick just one. Purden Lake, however, is a local favourite; it’s easily accessible, quiet, clean and safe.

The Purden Lake Resort, just off Hwy 16 about 64 kms east of Prince George, is a fun and friendly place to take a dip. The area features a central sandy beach, a summer restaurant, two large log cabins to rent, about 70 campsites for tents and RVs, a playground, flush toilets and cold running water. Campground bonuses include a coin operated shower and laundry facilities.

Boat rentals—motor, canoe and pedal—are also available on site if you want to take a dunk in the middle of the lake and get great views of the shore.

Wildlife is also abundant in this area; the lake used to be called Bear Lake because of it.

Note that there’s only generator power here and no telephone. Cellular phones do work though.

Dinosaur Lake—near Hudson’s Hope
It’s not often you can swim in the former stomping grounds of dinosaurs. But at Dinosaur Lake you can.

To reach the lake’s main swimming spot and campground, drive 7 km south of Hudson’s Hope on Hwy 29. Here you’ll find 50 camping spots, outhouses, a water pump and boat launch. Most campers come here to fish as well as swim.

The Hudson Hope area is most famous for the W.A.C. Bennett Dam—one of the world’s largest earth-filled structures—that created Williston Lake. But it’s the Dinosaur Lake area where various dinosaur-age fossils were discovered during the excavation of the Peace Canyon Dam that created Dinosaur Lake. Discoveries included a fossilized partial skeleton of a plesiosaur, a huge marine reptile from 100 million years ago.

Babcock Falls—near Tumbler Ridge
Babcock Falls is located in the popular Mount Babcock hiking area, south of Tumbler Ridge. The waterfalls are smaller than others in the area such as Kinuseo Falls and the Sukunka Falls, but at the base of the falls are lovely sandstone pools that are beautiful, refreshing and safe to swim in.

To get here, drive 35 kms south of Tumbler Ridge on Hwy 52. Turn south at Chetwynd and follow the directions to Babcock Core Lodge. (A brochure with directions to the lodge is available at the Tumbler Ridge Visitor Centre.)

About 200 metres before the lodge an easy, one-kilometre-long trail heads to the high Babcock Falls. Spotted with wild wetland flowers, the trail passes over a small creek, through a swampy thicket and wet subalpine meadows. The end of the path overlooks the falls. Nearby, a steep trail leads to the pools below—a magical destination for couples and families.

The many other hiking trails, waterfalls and unique rock features in the area are also worth checking out if you have time.

Take the plunge: get out and go swimming in our clear and clean northern waters!