Summer is the season that so many people wait months for. The hot, steamy days are glorious, but for the sweetest relief from the heat, everyone in Quesnel has a favourite swimming hole that they count on for refreshment on those hottest days. Locals keep a bag in their car all summer with a swimsuit, towel, flip-flops and a water bottle so they’re always ready for one of the best parts of summer: a cool dip on a hot day!
If you’re visiting Quesnel between mid-May and mid-September, you can count on at least a few days when you’ll want to cool off at some point. Natural swimming spots are the best place to cool off, relax and re-energize and we have so many faves. Here’s the local scoop to the absolute best ones. Be sure to check with locals about current water conditions. Rivers may be flowing high and unsafe for swimming in the early spring with mountain melt water and spring rains.
Have you ever been to a lakeside beach that’s covered in grass and wild strawberries? This spot will change how you imagine a beach. Besides, sand is over-rated! This spot is 40 km west of Quesnel on the Nazko Highway. The pleasant twenty-five minute drive there will take you through rolling hills and forested highlands to a well-marked left turn into the park. There is a public boat launch and a covered picnic area, numerous picnic tables and fire-pits for your own piece of paradise. When it’s time to cool off, wade into this clear lake for a dip that really refreshes. The water tends to stay warm and clear all summer and if you can’t tear yourself away, it’s okay, because the west-facing beach has some of the prettiest sunsets around. So inviting!
The Cottonwood River wiggles around Quesnel to the East and North and there are several spots to float around for a hot summer cool down. One of the best is near Cottonwood House Historic Site. Drive east from Quesnel on Highway 26 for 30 km (35 minutes). Just before crossing the bridge (over the Cottonwood River, of course!), turn right on Victoria Creek Road. You will quickly see several spots to pull-over and park. Follow one of the well-trodden paths to the left and you’ll be at the sparkling flowing river in a minute. Pack some water shoes (the shoreline is covered in smooth fist-sized rocks) and a floaty to feel weightless as you float down the instantly cooling water for several minutes, then repeat endlessly.
This spot is great for families and pets (a dog-friendly beach!), and has one of the rare sandy beaches close to town. Drive north from Quesnel on highway 97 for 12 km and turn left at the park entrance. There is a public day use area (or make it a longer trip and spend the night, or a few, at the campground) with a covered picnic area, picnic tables and fire-pits. This is Quesnel, after all, and we LOVE our campfires! Head down to the beach for a swim in the calm, warm waters, launch your boat or sink a line from the dock and see if you can bring in a Kokanee. The outdoor showers are handy for cleaning off the sand before you get back in your vehicle.
If you’re more of a “splasher” than a swimmer, you don’t need to go far to get cooled off on a hot day. The Spray Park in LeBourdais Park is practically downtown. In the park between the Quesnel Museum and the West Fraser Centre, you’ll find all of the liquid refreshment you need for a fun afternoon with kids who aren’t quite ready to jump into natural bodies of water. You won’t be missing out on any fun. With water bucket dumps and sprinklers galore, all that’s missing is a post-splash ice cream treat!
You don’t need to be a Water Baby to want to chill out on a hot day. One of the lessons I’ve learned from spending time in mountains is if it’s too hot down low, just go higher. Quesnel is lucky to have the impressive topography of Dragon Mountain right outside of town. The elevation of downtown Quesnel is 474 metres and the peak of Dragon Mountain is at 1250 metres, there’s a lot of potential cooling there! This means that at the mountain, winter starts 3 weeks earlier and lasts 3 weeks later than in Downtown Quesnel; and the mountain trails can be counted on for a “Refrigerator Effect” all summer long. Drive up to the Brightway Access Trail on the East Side of Dragon Mountain to hike or bike and revel in the shady, cool and damp refreshment found in this special forest. The trail gradually climbs for 5.3 km, but you can turn around anywhere on this beautiful out-and-back single-track trail.
From Quesnel, drive south on Highway 97 and turn left (southeast) onto Quesnel-Hydraulic Road. Drive for 10 minutes (10 km), then turn right onto Brightway Road. Park at the end of the cul-de-sac (1 km from the intersection) and follow the clear trail southwest.
By Brenda Beatty