Goat River Trail


Although the route was probably used by First Nations, pre-contact, the Goat River Trail’s known history began with a crew in the summer of 1886, working for John Bowron, Gold Commissioner of the Cariboo. It was led by Robert Buchanan and included George Isaacs, Arthur Johnston, Kenneth McLeod, and Neil Wilson, all of whom were noted namesakes in the Barkerville and Bowron area. It is documented in a report published in the 1886 Minister of Mines Report. They were tasked with finding a route to the upper Fraser River from the Barkerville goldfields, marking the trail, and exploring for gold prospects along the way. They cut out and marked the trail with blazes to make it easy to find in the future. (A blaze is an axe cut into a tree at about eye level, to form a flat surface, which will last for decades– as long as the target tree stands.) It is unknown if they had Indigenous guides for this expedition, as this was not mentioned in their report. The 1887 Minister of Mines Report stated that, “a tolerably good trail has been made through to the Fraser,”  resulting in about 40 men placer mining in the Goat and upper Fraser that year.

The trail was used quite a bit over the next decades to supply Barkerville miners and for placer mining along the Goat. Supplies went the other direction as well. In 1909 there was a significant winter mis-adventure of two prospectors, Baker and McCurdy, returning to Barkerville from the upper Fraser, found frozen around a campfire near the Macleod Creek confluence. Speculation has been that they died of exposure, due to lack of food and warm gear and/ or that they became disoriented, took a wrong turn on the trail and wound up traveling up Macleod Creek. In 1912 a survey was done on the prospect of turning the trail into a wagon road. The idea was ultimately abandoned, due to projected costs and construction difficulties, especially from the numerous avalanche paths along the trail. In 1914 the Grand Trunk Pacific Railroad was completed between Tête Jaune Cache and Prince George, causing the trail to become much less used. 

Prospectors and trappers continued to use the trail, especially along the Goat River in the 20s and 30s. In 1933, a young couple – Cliff and Ruth Kopas traveled the length of the trail as part of their honeymoon, the entirety consisting of a horse pack trip from Okotoks, near Calgary, Alberta to Bella Coola, BC. Their adventure is described in a classic BC book, Cliff Kopas, Packhorses to the Pacific. Cliff carried and used a typewriter to record his diary on the trip.

The BC Forest Service maintained the trail from about the 30s to the mid 70s. They erected various cable crossings, placed aluminum mileage markers (1951), then wooden mileage markers (1971). In the 70s the Forest Service stopped supporting trail maintenance and it was left to users and non-profits. Wolverine Mountain Outfitters, headed by Frank Cushman and his son Tim started maintaining it as part of their outfitting business, and re-routed the west end to avoid the Bowron Lake canoe circuit and instead use a new logging road and cut-block that nearly intersected the trail. There were later proposals to build a road through the Goat, primarily for tourism. They were all deemed too expensive and were opposed by environmentalists. Finally, in the mid 1970s, a logging road was pushed in from Highway 16 to the confluence of the Milk and Goat Rivers. In the late 90s, a permanent bridge was constructed across the Milk River with the intention of significant logging in the upper Goat. Finally, in the early 2000s a small clearcut was created past the Milk River bridge that partially impacted the trail, despite agreement in the Robson Valley Land and Resource Management Plan that any logging in the upper Goat would “manage for the Historic Goat River Trail”. Since then wildlife concerns have semi-protected much of the Goat River Valley by way of “Wildlife Habitat Area” for bull trout and “Ungulate Winter Range” for mountain caribou.

In 1998, as part of our campaign to protect the Goat River Wilderness, the Fraser Headwaters Alliance started exploring the trail to see if it could be resurrected from years of neglect. Over the next three years we were able do enough work that it could be used as a rough recreation trail. In 2000, we had a grand opening that included many dignitaries, such as the mayor of Wells, the president of the BC Federation Mountain Clubs, the son and daughter of Cliff and Ruth Kopas, and a Councilor of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation. It was culminated by long distance swimmer (now MLA) Fin Donnelly swimming into the gathering as a stop on his millennial 2000 swim of the length of the Fraser River, wet suit and all. After a brief ceremony, ten hikers started hiking the trail with the destination of Barkerville.


The hikers arrived in Barkerville some 10 days later, then caught a ride to Quesnel to greet Fin Donnelly’s swimming arrival there. At about this time we were able to get the trail accepted by Hike Canada and the Federation of Mountain Clubs as a link in the National Hiking Trail. Since then we have entered trail maintenance agreements with BC Recreation Sites and Trails, established several campsites, and built a cable car to cross the Goat River. Since our first exploration of the trail we have invested more than a million dollars from various grants and donations and nearly as much in volunteer effort to open, improve and maintain the trail. Every year requires a great deal of (mostly) volunteer work to keep the trail in usable condition. 


Trail Description

The Goat River Trail consists of two distinct recreation trails, separated by about 8 km of the Goat River Forest Service Road. Each trail uses major portions of the Historic Goat River Trail and both are sections of the National Hiking Trail.

Lower Goat River Trail: Crescent Spur to Kopas Camp (14 km; 1 day)

This trail makes an excellent day hike. Beginning at the Crescent Spur Trailhead, hikers pass through rare interior old-growth rainforest with western red cedar trees as much as three metres in diameter. The trail crosses the Goat River on the Highway 16 bridge, about 11 km from the Crescent Spur trailhead en route to Kopas Camp, located in an old logging block. Trailheads are at the end of Prospect Road in Crescent Spur (trail Km0), at the Goat River bridge on Highway 16 (Km11) and at road Km5 on the Goat River Forest Service Road (trail Km14).

Upper Goat River Trail: Goat-Milk confluence to Littlefield Creek (49 km; 3-5 days)

Traversing the pristine wilderness of the upper Goat River Valley,this segment is the most remote and spectacular of the two trails. Hikers can camp on gravel bars along the river, but are subject to being flooded in high water. A few sites established on higher ground have bear caches with hoisting cables and pit toilets. The trailheads at opposite ends of the trail are at Km13 on the Goat River Forest Service Road (FSR) and at the end of the Kruger Lake Road in the Bowron Lake area.

After crossing a logging bridge at the confluence of the Milk and Goat Rivers (trail Km0), the trail uses a logging road for a short distance, then follows the Goat River upstream for another 3 km, where a cable car is used to ferry hikers across the river. Although it has recently been upgraded, use the cable car at your own risk. An alternative crossing is a horse ford about 1⁄2 km upstream. Whitehorse Creek, 1.3 km from the crossing is the first of many fords hikers will encounter, but a bridge under construction should be in service summer 2024. Exercise extreme caution at all stream crossings. An established campsite is found near the confluence of Northstar Creek, which enters the Goat from the opposite side of the river, trail Km9.

The next major crossing is Macleod Creek, Km14 and the most difficult and dangerous ford of the hike. Note that in high water from Spring runoff or heavy rain, it may not be possible to ford the creek. Near the ford, the trail passes the ruins of a cabin built prior to 1912. An established campsite is here as well. At Km19 there is another established campsite.

The trail leaves the Goat River at about Km23, heading 2 km west to the low elevation Wolverine Pass between the Goat and Wolverine Rivers, where the trail enters Bowron Lake Provincial Park. Cushman Camp (named for the historic local outfitter) is situated in a large avalanche path with ample room for group camping at Km27.

From here, the trail follows the Wolverine River downstream to Km30.5 before leaving the historic trail and climbing steeply into an old logging block. Deactivated logging roads are utilized from here on.

Between Km34 and Km35 hikers can be rewarded with a spectacular view of Isaac Lake, before the trail descends to Littlefield Creek. Shortly after crossing Littlefield Creek, a small stream at this point that might not even show above the gravel, an established campsite can be found near Km37. After following Littlefield Creek for 12 km and fording it three more times, hikers reach the trailhead at the junction of the deactivated Littlefield Creek FSR and Kruger Lake Road. Our plans are to reroute the logging block/ road section further to the south and onto higher elevation, primarily to get off of the deactivated logging road that is difficult to maintain brush free. This would also reclaim a bit more of the historic trail and give hikers dramatic high elevation views of Isaac Lake.  We are currently in negotiations with BC Parks and Rec Sites and Trails to allow this re-routing.