Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.
Camping in the Old Ghost Town of Quesnel Forks BC
Old Ghost towns always intrigued me. Quesnel Forks is one of the earliest boom towns in the Cariboo, British Columbia with many restored buildings, information kiosks and free riverside campsites.
Likely BC is the starting point for visiting Quesnel Forks. A 13 km drive along a winding gravel road with a couple of steep switchbacks will take you to the abandoned townsite.
Ghost Town History
Long before the gold seekers arrived, the valley had been a favourite summer camp for the ancestors of First Nations. This changed rapidly in the mid 19th century when miners arrived at the Quesnel River and discovered gold.
A smallpox epidemic broke out in 1862. The native population with no natural immunity was decimated. Smallpox and other diseases brought to Native communities by white explorers had devastating effects on the native population all through early history.
“Forks City”, or “Forks at the Quesnelle” as it was called at the time was founded in 1860 at the junction of the Quesnel and Cariboo Rivers and served as a supply center for miners heading north on the gold trail to Barkerville. When the Waggon Road was built in 1865 and completely bypassed Fork City, the population declined as the miners moved further north.
In the late 1860 white miners had abandoned this section of the gold trail and Chinese miners and traders moved into the Quesnel Forks. With a population of at least 500 gold miners, the town became alive again with a general store, hotels, a butcher shop, markets and other businesses.
As the gold was running out, most of the population left. Only a few Chinese were determined to stay on. In 1954 the last Chinese/Canadian resident, Wong Kury Kim passed away from exposure while returning from Likely. As the story goes, his body was found by the town’s only other resident, Leo “Shorty” Lahaie.
Walk through the cemetery
I arrived at Quesnel Forks early afternoon, mesmerized by this old settlement of the early 1860s. Walking through the old cemetery reading the gravestones I tried to visualize the life of the gold miners. How did they all die? Some were killed by the elements, others died of mining accidents, some from smallpox and others were murdered by their rivals.
Where is my axe?
I just started to put up camp and oh no!! How is it possible that I left my axe behind. A backcountry road trip in Canada without an axe is bad news. Thinking about it, I remember exactly what happened. During my trip to the Northwest Territories and the Yukon two years ago I took my small axe along and it was pretty much useless.
Why I need an axe
Most of the Territorial Campgrounds in the north of Canada and many Recreational Campsites supply heaps of free firewood cut into big logs. Not so at Provincial Campgrounds down in the Okanagan Valley where you have to pay for every piece you burn.
To make use of the free supply of wood, you have to be able to split the logs. From my experience, this just doesn’t seem to work with the small axe I used to make kindling with back at the ranch.
At the time when I camped in Canada’s Territories, I made up my mind to bring the big axe along on my next northern road trip.
Unfortunately, my big axe didn’t come along and it is still in my storage trailer down in Vernon. So, now here I’m spending a night in the old ghost town of Quesnel Fork with lots of firewood piled up, and no axe.
It looks like I’ll be the only camper for the night. What the heck, I didn’t bring any newspaper either… Shame on me!
I didn’t use my own wilderness road trip planner which I so carefully created for everyone else who is planning a road trip, and wants to be prepared.
Maybe I’m excused, after spending the winter in Europe as a minimalist backpacker. It has been eight months since I sold my guest ranch and my belongings are packed in a utility trailer at my friends in Vernon BC. Of course, all this is no excuse for leaving on a road trip without an axe.
Dreaming of a Campfire
I’m still determined to build a fire tonight and cook some beans. I could use my gas stove, but a real campfire is so much more appealing in tonight’s wilderness surroundings. The roaring sounds of the Quesnel and the Cariboo Rivers, a campfire and pot of beans, what else would I want here in the deep backwoods of the Cariboo. In addition to that, the campfire will keep the mosquitoes away.
A piece of netting material attached to one of the car windows keeps the little bloodsuckers out and lets a fresh breeze into my car.
Bean Stew at Quesnel Forks Ghost Town
I cooked up a hearty stew with a can of black beans, fresh sweet potatoes and carrots, spiced up with vegetable stock and chilly powder. Not bad at all for the first campfire meal I cooked this season.
I found a stick of fire starter left in the basement of my Toyota RAV4, tor up a brown paper lunch bag, added some twigs and small pieces of wood I gathered around the area. Most wood was still soaking wet from the rain pour last night.
In the end, the campfire burnt but it was not the best one I ever lit. Did it ever smoke, they must have seen the grey cloud rising up at Quesnel Forks Ghosttown all the way in Likely, 13 km away.
Alone in the ghost town of Quesnel Forks
I sat in my comfortable Helinox camping chair at the rocky beach of Quesnel Forks at the confluence of the Quesnel and Cariboo rivers and ate my bean stew. It evoked a feeling of peace and serenity.
I had it all for myself, the sheltered River Valley, shaded by ancient black cottonwoods, the rocky beach, and Quesnel Forks, the ghost town.
How to get to Quesnel Forks
The drive from Williams Lake to Likely takes about one hour. Quesnel Forks is 13 km from Keithley Creek Road in Likely. Turn at the Community Hall on Keithley Creek Road (you will see a sign) and follow Rosette Lake Road which turns into a gravel road. Rosette Lake Road changes to Quesnel River Road, keep on going. Watch out for potholes and road hazards along the way. Drive slowly.
The site is only accessible in the summer after the snow melts.
What to See and Do at Quesnel Forks
Quesnel Fork is managed by the Likely Cemetry Society, which researches and repairs many of the markers and is slowly restoring the historic cabins.
- Stroll among the restored buildings of the past.
- Walk through the old cemetery, read the gravestones that survived the years and check out the old graves.
- Walk the mobility trail which goes along the river and through the heritage village. There are even two wheelchair accessible outhouses on the site.
- Have a picnic.
- Camp in the wilderness.
- Visit Quesnel Forks for the summer festival. Check for dates at the Info Centre in Likely, Phone: (1) 250 790 2459
Camping in a Ghost Town
Quesnel Forks Recreation Site is is a campers paradise. The free campsite is a user-maintained campsite and all sites come with a picknick table, fire pit, free firewood, view of the Rivers and a short trail to a rocky beach.
- Please respect the forest environment, don’t litter and take the garbage with you when you leave.
- 7 days stay maximum
- I was there in May and had the whole town for myself.
Maps and Guide books
Likely Info Centre and Museum
Located at Cedar Point Provincial Park. Opens in June and summer only.
Phone: 1 250 790 2459
Williams Lake Visitor Centre
A friendly place located at the Discovery Centre, 1660 South Broadway Avenue, with gift show and coffee bar and free Internet service.
Phone: 250 392 5025 or 1 877 967 5253, www.williamslakechamber.com
- Wilderness Road Through The Cariboo Mountains
- Barkerville Highway 26 BC Travel Guide
- Historic Barkerville British Columbia
- Wells BC on The Gold Rush Trail
Have you camped at any other ghost towns in Canada? Please leave a comment and share your experience.