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Williams Lake River Valley [PDF]

General Trail Info

Name of the trail

Williams Lake River Valley


a 13 km trail in the heart of the city that gives an incremental wilderness experience as you get closer to the Fraser River

Trail can be used for the following activities


Directions to the trailhead

Start at any one of several locations - most commonly is the parking area below the City Cemetery which has been beautifully imporved by the City Parks & Recreation department in cooperation with the Railway.

Detailed description of the trail

Please see

the following text is edited and updated from the website:

Williams Lake River Valley - A Great Walk, A Great Ride


In 1989, two BC Government land managers and the City Recreation Director did an impomptu (off duty Saturday) mountain bike ride through the Williams River Valley - an area where sewer lines, gravel pits, dumping, and former log haul road had almost obscured the 10,000 year old natural corridor of animals and water. The group included (by coincidence) two Rotarians who decided to take the potential of the valley further. That premonistic ride by John Peebles, Eric Gunderson and Tom Watson set the wheels of community consultation in motion and led to a community based steering group that brought about one million dollars of community infrastructure to resolve water, sewer, recreation, access, and conservation issues that had dogged the community for two decades prior.

(Map courtesy of Exton, Dodge & Gallibois Land Surveyors)

The Williams Lake area has been subjected to the action of great ice sheets about 10,000 years ago during Pleistocene times.

Today, glacial deposits from these ice sheets can be found in the sides of the Williams Lake River Valley. These deposits are exposed in some areas where the valley wall has given way to gravitational forces or along stream cut banks where water erosion exerts its influence. As ice retreated from the area in a South Easterly direction, the Fraser River was dammed and a lake formed that covered the Fraser Valley and the tributaries including the entire Williams Lake area. This glacial lake had water levels up to 2500 ft. (760 m) above present day average sea level. That glacial lake completely filled the exisitng lake area nd the vicinity of the current Stampede Grounds - visible from the highway 97-20 intersection.

Near the top of some valley sides there are deposits rich in shells that provide evidence of the former glacial lake. Over the years since the glacial epoch, Williams Lake River has eroded away significant amounts of glacial sediments and redeposited them as fluvial sands and gravels.

The Williams Lake area boasts a moderate climate with four distinct seasons that allow for a variety of recreational activities. The average July temperature is 22 C. while the average January temperature is -10 C. The annual precipitation is 40 cm with snowfalls adequate for a host of winter recreational activities. We do not recommend this terial for skiing as the lower limits do not support continuous good snow. The Williams Lake area has about 120 frost free days per year and a growing season of 113 days (May 22 to Sept 19). The Williams Lake River Valley is deemed to have growing conditions that are more favourable than the surrounding area making it of considerable ecological interest.

The river valley starts within the boundaries of the City of Williams Lake as a narrow green strip draining from the north end of Williams Lake and is surrounded by industrial and commercial development. West of the city boundary, the valley is at its widest. As it nears the Fraser River, the Valley narrows again with high spectacular cliffs rising over 150 metres with deep gullies on each side. A variety of trees, shrubs, flowers and grasses are found in the valley.

The highest diversity of plant communities and species are found where the valley is at its widest expression ( the middle section); in other words closest to the residential and industrial areas influencing the valley. Here large black cottonwoods are abundant and represent one of the few, northerly areas near Williams Lake where large specimens of this species remain.

Other areas of the valley boast very attractive open parklike areas of Douglas fir and white birch. Within the river valley, large changes in plant community composition occur over short distances due to the effects of slope, aspect, microclimate, soil materials and drainage. For example, marked floral changes are evident between the moist valley bottom and the sunbaked south slope of the north valley side. These dry south slopes are frequently inhabited by sumac and rabbit bush shrubs that are generally uncommon to the area. Both shrubs, however, are more typical of the Dry Interior Zone south of the Cariboo.

The bird life in the valley is extremely diverse because of the wide range of habitats including running water, shorelines, marsh, low brush, tall deciduous and coniferous trees, standing dead trees, clay banks and open grasslands. Most of the 252 species of birds found in the Cariboo region can be seen in the Williams Lake River Valley at one time or another. In fact, several birds not thought to occur in the Cariboo region were first sighted in the Williams Lake River Valley. These include the wood duck and winter wren that have since been found in other areas within the region. Interesting birds of prey such as the pygmy owl and goshawk live in the valley year-round. Several species such as the common goldeye, belted kingfisher, great blue heron and dipper (water ouzel) overwinter in the valley because sections of the river have fast running water that remains open, even during severe winters.

Many other wildlife species are found in the river valley especially in the western end away from the City of Williams Lake. In this remote part of the valley signs of mule deer, black bear, bobcat and moose can be seen. Muskrats, mink and beaver live along the river with foxes denning in the upper valley sides.

The beavers have returned to the valley within the last 35 years and have played a part in modifying the ecology of the aquatic and adjacent terrestrial ecosystems. Many trees have been felled by the beavers and quiet ponds have been created. Frequent flooding of the valley sometimes decimates these dams which are then rebuilt.

The Williams Lake Field Naturalists Club (1978) felt that the beaver dams and the shallow water depths in the river resulting from the lake controls have prevented the pink salmon from spawning the full length of the creek. Eighty five years ago the pink salmon navigated the full length of the river, passing upstream through Williams Lake to the San Jose River. In recent years counts of about 600 pink salmon have been found in the shallow water of the Williams Lake River about 1 km. upstream from the Fraser River. During 1994 bridge replacement thousands of salmon were observed in the river and are suspected to have 'escaped' the warmer low water of the Fraser without making it to higher parts of the system. This anomalistic behaviour supports the Williams Lake Band traditional knowledge of Salmon in the River and Lake.

Salmon fry hatch in February and emerge in April or May, leaving immediately for the Pacific Ocean. They return to the river after their two year life cycle to reproduce and die. The survival of their eggs depends on the amount of oxygen available to them. The Williams Lake Field Naturalists Club (1978) had concerns whether the effluent transported from the City had caused a depletion in the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water resulting in the death of the salmon eggs and fry. This effluent is no longer dumped into the Williams Lake River but transported by the sewage trunk line to the Fraser River.

Caution should be exercised on the bridges. There are twenty six bridges locations in the valley plan. Twenty of those bridges were built about 1980 and several have fallen into disrepair or have been washed out. Under the new recreation plan, many bridges are planned for renewal or new construction in 1996 under sponsorship of Forest Renewal BC and BC Forest Service/City of Williams Lake.

All visitors are urged to be cautious and travel in groups. The area has natural hazards and children/pets are at risk from natural elements; the occasional bear, cattleguard, rockfall and meandering trail network means that common sense is a requirement. Please avoid the private land and railway tracks. Enjoy your visit to this very special place.

Bridges (TWENTY OF THEM) have been replaced due to their poor state of repair. The considerable support of then MLA David Zirnhelt and Forest Renewal BC permitted the replacement of the old wood en bridges with cleverly salvaged rail car decks. Local consulting engineer Ernest Krajczar supervised the installation of the adapted bridges. A sudden flood during this installation proved the design as quickly adaptable to the fickle changes of braided stream erosion.

- taken in part from the Williams Lake River Valley Trail Study prepared by NordicGroup International with support from the Williams Lake Field Naturalists

Contributions to this trail and its steering committee from several sources should be gratefully acknowledged:

Government of Canada (including Dept of Fisheries & Oceans)
Province of British Columbia (specifically the former agnecy - Forest Renewal BC)
Williams Lake Indian Band
City of Williams Lake (including a succesion of supportive recreation directors)
Riverside Industries (now Tolko Industries)
City of Williams Lake
Rotary Club of Williams Lake
Kiwanis Club of Williams Lake
BC Lands
Williams Lake Forest District
BC Rail (now CN Rail)
Williams Lake Field Naturalists
(and dozens of other media groups, community clubs, corporate donors, and very supportive individuals)

We also acknowledge the Fraser Basin Council - while not cash contributors they provided critical support in recognizing the work as a 'demonstration project' and helped to promote this joint project as an example of how interpersonal skills can vercome community differences to bring about a common will.

The catalyst for the project was the Rotary Club of Williams Lake whose continuing contributions to the project are gratefully acknowledged by all users.


Williams Lake River Valley Trail Study


In 1992 the Rotary Club of Williams Lake with an alliance of six additional funding partners including; the City of Williams Lake, BC Heritage Trust, Green Gold Grants BC/Canada, Williams Lake Indian Band, BC Forest Service and the Cariboo-Chilcotin Economic Futures commissioned the preparation of a resource management plan for the Williams Lake River Valley that focused on developing recreation and trail activity uses. The river valley corridor stretches from its origin at Williams Lake to the river's confluence with the Fraser River approximately 12 km. downstream (14.5 km by way of existing service road). The River flows through the commercial core of downtown and residential districts, through areas bounded by industrial lands and into a rural and more natural landscape. Due to the wonderfully unique situation and characteristics of the Williams Lake River Valley, the potential for development as a recreation corridor and park are outstanding. This is the general view held by the citizens, community groups, and interested agencies in the Williams Lake area. The project has received overwhelming, almost unanimous support from local agencies and citizens in the City of Williams Lake.

(2006 - Since replacement of the bridges the recreational use of the Valley has escalated and the use by cyclists and hikers has proven the suitability of the valley to casual low-impact recreation.)

The original study examined public and private land ownership, natural features and recreation planning potential for the 14.5 km. corridor, historically known as the San Jose drainage. It provides a first stage assessment consolidating a wide range of information dating back to the 1960's and 1970's when the valley's recreational potential was first seriously considered issues of zoning, access, feature site design, reclamation and community benefits are addressed to maximize public recreation and resource conservation values. The study presents a preliminary Master Plan for the recreational development of the valley lands intended to ensure the long term viability and enjoyment of quality community recreation benefits.

The Williams Lake River Valley has and will continue to experience pressures from many sectors to relinquish its finite resources of space, aesthetic quality, flora and fauna habitat. To maintain the valley system in perpetuity will require wise and capable management and planning. It will also require the commitment of more than a single group or organization. The study is seen as a first step in the planning ' process providing guidelines which will lead to the successful recreation development and conservation of the river valley. This report is seen as a 'living document" whose content and principles will change over time as the plan evolves.

Sept 2006 update to Text by Eric Gunderson, project Chairman (1983 to 1998)
Updated text not specifically approved by stakeholders, or local trail managers.
Always check in advance for local conditions.
Web References:

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Location and Amenities


Nearest city

Williams Lake

Trail located in region


Trail located in province

BC - British Columbia

Trail located in park

City/Forest Service/First Nation joint project


Availability of amenities

TrailheadDrinking water, Garbage disposal, Restaurant, RV (Front country), Picnic table, Inn, Foodstore,
TrailPicnic table, Pit toilet, Boat launch, Fresh water raw, Camping (Back country), Camping (Front country),


Name of the section


Total distance (km)


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Elevation at start (m)


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Linear One-Way


Condititions @ Sep 28 2006

Trail quality and condition5
Road condition and accessbility5
Vehicle parking5

Point of Interest


Sources of Information

AuthorEdits and updates - Eric Gunderson
Editionsee also
Resource TypeInternet Site

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