The Great Canadian Bucket List is an onion, and with each trip, I peel back a layer. This explains why my eyes are watering as our jetboat slowly hums up the turquoise Exchamsiks River, or maybe it’s just the wind.
“If the Icefields Parkway is the most beautiful drive in the country, then surely this must be the country’s most beautiful boat ride,” I tell local guide Rob Bryce, piloting the wheel. Although good luck if you take any old boat up these shallow waters. I glance at the depth gauge and somehow, we’re coasting above just 1.7ft of water. Flowing into the mighty Skeena River, BC’s second longest river, the Exchamsiks has seen many a vessel run aground on its shallow sandy bottom, although you can’t blame boaters for giving it a go. The views kick in as soon as you turn off the Skeena, which isn’t lacking in the view department either. Invented in New Zealand, jet boats are propelled by water, which means they don’t have an outboard engine with a propellor below. It also makes them exceptionally powerful – the fastest jetboats have the acceleration power of a F-16 fighter jet. In our shallow, narrow channel, Rob is understandably gentle on the throttle of his 430 horsepower Thunder Cat.
A jetboating adventure featured in the first edition of The Great Canadian Bucket List, and it was wild. Over summer, visitors to Saint John, New Brunswick could board a jetboat to speed into the rapids of Reversing Falls, a natural phenomenon caused by the world’s highest tides in the Bay of Fundy. Back then, I called it the world’s most thrilling jetboat ride (and that includes the Shotover Jet in New Zealand). Unfortunately, the owners retired shortly after my book was published, retiring my jetboating chapter too. Today, cradled by snow-capped mountains, glacial cascades, and lush old-growth forest, I was happy that a Canadian jetboat excursion had found its way back to the Bucket List.
Like all northern rivers, the landscape changes with the season. “You should see what this place looks like in late spring,” explains Rob. “We’re just surrounded by waterfalls in every direction.” We navigate up the stream, each bend delivering a postcard view, until a large tree blocks the way, and a sandbank rises that even a jetboat can’t cross. It’s late summer, and after an unseasonably dry summer, the Exchamsiks is running lower than usual. Rob also has inflatable jetboats, which he employs in just such a situation to continue the adventure, but today we’re a large group with less time on our hands. I’m here testing summer excursions for Northern Escape Mountain Lodge outside of Terrace, BC. Operating as a heli-ski lodge in the winter, it’s easy to see why visiting in summer would be just as appealing. The previous day we’d flown deep into the wilderness to experience the joys of heli-fishing, spotting shadowy schools of salmon from the air. Today, we’re quickly understanding why jet-boating on (and off) the Skeena is bucket-list worthy in itself. Rob parks the boat on a sandbar, and quickly gets to work gathering wood for a lunch time picnic. Draining directly from mountain glaciers, the Exchamsiks is freezing, crystal-clear, and clean enough to drink. It also invites a swim, albeit not a very long one.
There are parts of this country that bring a tear to the eye, no onions needed. On a clear, blue-sky late summer day, Northern BC is easily one of them. We had seen countless eagles overhead and several bears on the shore, while migrating Coho salmon leaped out the water in the shadow of dramatic rock shelves. Rob is an enthusiastic guide with a deep appreciation of the region, and plenty of hard-won experience piloting jetboats on a challenging river that demands a veteran’s touch. We finish our half-day tour at the boat launch of Exchamsiks River Provincial Park, return to the lodge, freshen up, and hop on electric-bikes to peddle to the nearby beautiful sandy beaches of the Kitsamkalum River and the aptly-named Red Sand Lake campground. It was my first time visiting this part of the country, and whether flight-seeing over untamed wilderness in a helicopter, cruising between mountains on a jetboat, or gliding through forests on an e-bike, there’s little doubt that Northern BC delivered the bucket list goods.
Click here for more info on Northern Escape Mountain Lodge Summer Packages.
Click here for info about tours with Rob Bryce’s Northern BC Jetboat Tours