Eastern Canada gets all of the fame for its fall colours, but you really can’t beat the golden flare of aspens and cottonwoods on a sunny autumn day in Quesnel. Weekend trips to see the fall colours or “Leaf-Peeping” is a popular activity there and even gets its own weather report on the news! We really ought to import this idea to Quesnel. The contrast of yellow and gold against a deep blue sky is so joyful and we have so many great vantage points, so close to town to see the best of fall.
An early evening paddle on Milburn Lake is a fall ritual for me. This tiny lake is west of Quesnel, just off of the Nazko Highway and I can be on the water less than 15 minutes after I leave from work downtown. The small lake is almost always calm and is ringed with dense forest and a few homes. The best part is the narrow channel that leads through reeds and bulrushes to 2 smaller lakes. Each lake is ringed with golden cottonwood trees and are a great place to watch eagles fish and fly. In these hidden lakes, you feel so removed from the rest of the world. The wind in the trees, the sounds of birds and all around, there are golden trees and the silhouette of Mount Milburn…utter peacefulness!
The Wonderland Trail is my favourite place for fall hiking. It’s got clear views over the interesting shoreline of Dragon Lake and faces west to soak up all of the afternoon sun and warmth. This is my go-to spot to take a dog or kids for a short jaunt to a lofty view. Park at the Wonderland parking lot on Quesnel-Hydraulic Road and follow the power lines for as long as you wish. I like to set my sights on the highest rise on the trail. Hop over to the rocky outcropping for my favourite view in Quesnel. You can see the entire shoreline of Dragon Lake and in the fall, it’s ringed in yellow cottonwoods, russet rosehips and golden hay fields. Retrace your steps and return the same way that you came. This is also the best sunset-watching spot. Just remember that the sun dips down suddenly, so tuck your headlamp in your pocket just in case you end up savouring the sky for a little longer than planned.
Any bike commuter knows that the views from the Bryce Trail (especially on the way down) are some of the best in town. The paved trail switchbacks up the hill above the Arts & Recreation Centre on North Star Road to connect folks on bikes or foot to the neighbourhoods of South Quesnel. For me, this is an utilitarian route that gets me home on my bike without riding on the highway, but I appreciate the panoramas overlooking the City of Quesnel every. Single. Time. Pause at each switchback to catch your breath or to take your breath away! This is another great sunset viewing spot and a nice way to extend an outing on the Riverfront Trail, or to go for a quick walk in the midst of a long drive.
This last one is full of nostalgia for me. The most popular road bike ride in Quesnel is definitely the loop around Dragon Lake. The undulating terrain leads you through fields and sparkling lakeside views, all without leaving the pavement. In the fall, Dragon Lake Road blazes with golden leaves on either side of the road. You’ll feel like you’re riding your bike through a tunnel of golden coins.
This 28 km loop is appropriate for any bike with gears. Road bikes make it fun and fast, but even a cruiser will get you there. Park at Frank’s Supermarket and pedal along Quesnel-Hydraulic Road, turn right onto Dragon Lake Road, cross Highway 97, then turn right onto Red Bluff Road, right onto Maple Drive, then cross Highway 97 one more time and turn left to wiggle through the South Quesnel shopping route and back to Frank’s supermarket. The fresh pavement on Dragon Lake Road makes this even sweeter!
The trick with fall colours is to master the timing. Typically, you can count on peak colour in the first half of October but the final week of September could also be lovely. I suggest checking out a Quesnel webcam to confirm the timing. Until Leaf-Peeping really takes off in the West, this is your best bet to savour the colours, crisp air and golden sunshine of autumn in Quesnel.
By Brenda Beatty