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Shuswap River

Shuswap River Recreation area

We provide access for boating, fishing and swimming

In the beautiful North Okanagan region of B.C., the Shuswap River is ideal for public recreation. Boating, fishing and swimming are only some of the activities that can be enjoyed in the area. Hiking – including wheelchair accessible trails – and picnicking are also possible.

Shuswap River is located on the traditional territory of the Syilx Okanagan Nation and Secwepemc.

Where it is & what to do

Use Google Map links for locations and directions to Shuswap River Picnic Area, the Shuswap Falls recreation area and the Sugar Lake Dam, which are located east of Vernon.  You can also find the location to Wilsey Dam.

The Shuswap River meets not only the needs of hydro-electric power, but is also attractive for public recreation. BC Hydro contributes to the development of the Shuswap River as a river recreation corridor, by providing unique outdoor recreation opportunities within the region.

Sugar Lake and the countryside surrounding the Shuswap River support numerous recreation opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, picnicking and viewing.

There are also abundant populations of fish and wildlife. Common fish species include kokanee, whitefish, Dolly Varden and rainbow trout. Moose, deer, bear, caribou, sheep and mountain goat are among the big game animals in the region.

Shuswap Falls Recreation Area

Facilities include 10 picnic tables, 40-car parking, landscaped areas, viewing platform, canoe pull-out, launch and portage trail, hiking trail, drinking water and two toilets.

Shuswap River Picnic Area

Facilities include a 30-car parking area, wheelchair-accessible trail from the parking area, eight picnic tables, picnic area and portage, two toilets, trail and chute portage (2 km downstream).

Sugar Lake Dam viewpoint

Facilities include one parking stall, four picnic tables, viewing area and one toilet.

Safety & visitor information

Hydroelectric facilities create special risks for visitors. Sudden changes in water flows in the spillway, strong currents near the dam, and the presence of numerous log jams and debris make swimming and boating dangerous.

The generating station at Shuswap Falls is subject to automatic shut-down, which diverts water through the spillway channel, and changes in water flow occur suddenly without warning. Do not enter the spillway channel. Strong currents are created by underwater intake pipes that funnel water downstream. The water above the dam may appear calm, but small surface whirlpools indicate the high turbulence below the surface.

For your own safety, stay behind fenced areas, away from all hydroelectric operating structures, and away from steep cliffs.

The Shuswap River is very popular with canoeists. River canoeing and tubing are hazardous activities and should only be attempted by strong swimmers.

Before embarking on a trip, ensure that you have detailed mapping, have first hand knowledge of the river and present conditions, and have taken adequate safety precautions, especially during high water. Leave a plan of your trip with a relative or friend.

BC Hydro has provided portage trails that bypass a dangerous chute downstream of the Shuswap River Picnic Area and the Wilsey Dam at Shuswap Falls.

This area is provided for your use and enjoyment by BC Hydro. Please respect the facilities and natural environment by observing and obeying the following rules:

  • Please keep the area clean by placing all refuse in the containers provided.
  • Pets must be on a leash at all times.
  • Open fires are not allowed.
  • For public safety, firearms are prohibited.
  • Overnight camping is prohibited. Vehicles left in the area overnight may be towed at the owner's expense.
  • Trails are closed to all motorized vehicles.
  • The consumption of liquor in public places is prohibited.
  • For your own safety, avoid designated danger zones and obey all posted signs.
  • The recreation areas are open May to October. During the off-season, there is no vehicular access to the sites, but walking is permitted. Please pack out your garbage and leave the site tidy for other visitors.

History & hydroelectric operation

The West Canadian Hydro Electric Corporation constructed the Wilsey Dam and generating station at Shuswap Falls in 1929.

Later the BC Power Commission succeeded the Corporation, which in turn, became BC Hydro. The concrete dam was built at the site of the original 21-metre-high Shuswap Falls while the spillway channel was blasted through solid rock immediately to the north.

Initially, the facility used only water available in the Shuswap River, without a storage reservoir (run-of-the-river). The Shuswap River flows powered this 4000 HP generating unit.

In 1942, a second dam was constructed at the outlet of Sugar Lake to create storage and increased generating potential. This new dam allowed for another 4000 HP generating unit at Shuswap Falls, which translates to another 5.2 MW of capacity.

From 1929 to 1951, the Shuswap Falls facility provided most of the electric power for the North Okanagan region.