To the Secwépemc people they are known as the “entrance to the bear world.” To the early settlers of the South Cariboo they were a unique geological formation that provided relief from the summer heat and a means of preserving food.
Today, the Bridge Lake Ice Caves are an increasingly popular tourist destination and year-round recreation site along Highway 24, south of 100 Mile House.
The unique geology of the Bridge Lake shoreline features caves and crevices sheltered from the elements. Melting snow seeps through the rock crevices into the caves where it freezes, creating a year-round supply of ice utilized originally by First Nations and later by settlers in the area.
Several years ago, a joint effort by the B.C. governments and local community organizations led to the creation of a system of trails interspersed with vivid carved totem poles created by Jerome Boyce, an artist from Tsq’escen’, also known as the Canim Lake Band. At the opening in 2017, Boyce shared the significance of the design on one of the two totem poles that welcome visitors to the park.
“The bear represents strength for our people and the fish and the frog at the bottom represents the water that flows through the area [that everything survives on],” he said.
The trails lead to observation platforms overlooking the lake from above the caves, making them safe for visitors young and old to visit. Visitors are strongly discouraged from trying to enter the caves below.
The board of directors of the Cariboo Regional District (CRD) recently made a tour of the park as part of the Interlakes Board on the Road meetings at the Interlakes Community Hall. CRD Area “L” director Eric de Vries offered a brief history of the ice caves and their significance to residents in the area.
“They made ice cream off the blocks they cut out here,” he said of early settlers to the region, citing the book The Rainbow Chasers by Ervin Austin MacDonald. “They also described in the book that they used ice blocks from the lake and put them in beds of straw to have cool rooms.”
Four trails of varying degrees of difficulty wind through the park. Wolf Trail is a 0.6-kilometre low-mobility walk that leads from the parking lot directly to the ice caves.
Several European-style fitness stations identified by totem poles are set up along the route for anyone who wants to get a little extra workout as they walk. These include a side hop beam, balance bars, and pull-up bars.
The 1.1-kilometre Owl Trail leads from the caves back to the parking lot and is a gentle low-mobility trail suitable for strollers or wheelchairs. It was revamped in 2021 and provides some of the best views of Bridge Lake.
For anybody wanting more of a workout, the 1.3-kilometre Beaver Trail fits the bill. A moderate to difficult single-track trail, it provides a good cardio workout along the shore of the lake. The trail is accessed by a series of stairs also dubbed the Eagle Fitness Station.
A dock installed two years ago by the Freshwater Fisheries Society of B.C. provides a spot for shoreline fishing and is easily accessible from Beaver Trail.
Coyote is a short 0.2-kilometre trail that acts as a shortcut from Owl down to Beaver. It is the most difficult of the four trails, and the steep climb can be slippery when wet.
A picnic area is located near the ice caves, and resting benches scattered along the Wolf and Owl Trails provide a spot to stop and enjoy the surroundings. There is one bathroom located beside the parking lot.
The parking lot is kept clear for visitors during the winter months, and the area is a great place for snowshoeing.