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Williston Reservoir

Williston reservoir

Largest reservoir in B.C., popular all year

In northeast British Columbia, near the towns of Hudson's Hope and Mackenzie, is Williston Reservoir, seventh largest in the world by volume. The Peace River flows out of the eastern edge of Williston through the Peace River Canyon.

BC Hydro's Peace Canyon project includes the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and the associated Gordon M. Shrum Generating Station, and the Peace Canyon Dam, 23 kilometres (km) downstream, which reuses water that has already generated electricity.

Williston Reservoir has multiple boat launch ramps, and is an excellent fishing lake, with bull and rainbow trout, and rocky mountain and lake whitefish most prevalent. Williston Reservoir is also well used during the winter months, when the surface is frozen.

The Williston Reservoir is located on the traditional territory of Treaty 8 First Nations.

Where it is

Williston Reservoir is near the towns of Mackenzie and Hudson's Hope. The W.A.C Bennett Dam Visitor Centre is east of Williston Reservoir.

Need directions? View a map of BC Hydro recreation areas and get specific directions to Williston Reservoir.

Visitor information

A boat launch ramp is located on the Parsnip Reach near Mackenzie (BC Hydro's Alexander Mackenzie's Landing Recreation Area). The minimum usable elevation of the Alexander Mackenzie Landing boat ramp is 658 metres, or 2158.8 feet above sea level.

Access at Cut Thumb Bay, Six Mile Bay, and Finlay Forks is provided for car top type boats only and aren't maintained by BC Hydro. Ramps on the Peace Reach located at Elizabeth Creek and at Dunlevy Inlet are currently open. The minimum usable elevation for Elizabeth Creek boat ramp is 659 metres, or 2,162.1 feet and the minimum useable elevation for Dunlevy boat ramp is 660.9 metres, or 2,168.3 feet. Generally the boat launch ramps are unusable at very low water levels which normally occur just after ice breakup.

The current Williston Reservoir elevation may be found here.

Some locations on the reservoir provide excellent angling for bull trout, rainbow trout, rocky mountain whitefish and lake whitefish. Fishing licenses are required; these may be purchased at local merchants or Government Agents. Be sure to check the Freshwater Fishing Regulations Synopsis for provincial angling restrictions.

Williston Reservoir begins to freeze over during November and continues until mid-January when total freeze-up usually occurs.

Snowmobiling and other winter activities are common on Williston Reservoir. When using the frozen surface of the reservoir extreme caution must be exercised as winter hazards include pressure ridges, gas holes, open water, and broken shoreline ice. Rapid temperature changes that may cause ice melt and extreme cold and wind are also hazards to the wintertime users.

During the winter season an ice- breaking barge is in service on Williston Reservoir which results in open water and thin ice. Use of the water channels is not recommended during the winter season and snowmobilers must exercise extreme caution.

The area in the vicinity of the WAC Bennett Dam water intakes is extremely dangerous during the winter freeze-up. Reservoir users must stay well back from the structures and obey all posted signs.

Since 1968, BC Hydro has implemented a surface debris clearing program on the reservoir. BC Hydro remains committed to the goals of the program – to create a safe, attractive waterway available to the public for recreational use.

BC Hydro’s clearing program is ongoing, therefore, debris may be encountered at any time in all areas of the reservoir.

Boating and other safety information

All persons intending to operate a boat on Williston Reservoir should always:

  • Obey all boater safety laws, which include carrying emergency equipment and wearing lifejackets.
  • Carry extra shearpins and a spare propeller.
  • Inform others of your destination and when you are to return.
  • Observe all warning signs and stay well away from BC Hydro's dams and structures.

Extreme caution and an awareness and appreciation of hazards are essential for safe boating on Williston Reservoir.

Williston Reservoir is a very large and potentially hazardous reservoir for the unwary. Boaters are cautioned that when the reservoir is not at its maximum level, snags and stumps may lie just below the water surface. Floating and submerged debris may be encountered in all areas of the reservoir. Boaters should also be aware of strong winds that occur suddenly, causing high waves (over 2 m) and strong currents.

The banks of the reservoir are easily eroded and subject to sloughing from reservoir actions. If wave action is severe and you need to reach shore, it may be difficult to make a safe landing due to cliffs, unstable banks and/ or floating or submerged debris along the shoreline.

Boaters who are not experienced with large cold lakes, natural and man- made hazards of reservoirs, and isolation from other users, should remain in sheltered areas.

Generally the reservoir level is lower during winter reaching a low water elevation in May. The reservoir reaches maximum levels in August after runoff from yearly snowmelt. A normal yearly reservoir change could be 18 m.

Dam intakes cause strong surface and underwater currents. For your own safety and the safety of others please remain well away from dams and structures.

BC Hydro offers a safety radio service [PDF, 1.6 MB] as a courtesy to people working or enjoying recreational opportunities  in and around Williston Reservoir.

The radio service is intended to be used for safety check-ins, reporting hazards and emergency use. The system is intermittently monitored for safety and emergency use, but service outages may occur.

Please note that the radio service is not a replacement for following proper safety policies or procedures. Prior to your trip departure, it is good practice to let others know when and where you are going and when you are expected back.

BC Hydro is not liable for any personal loss, injury or death due to system failure or fault.

History and hydroelectric operation

Williston Reservoir is the largest reservoir in B.C. It has a surface area of 1,773 square kilometres. The WAC Bennett Dam is the controlling structure for the reservoir. The dam is 183 metres high and 2,068 m long along its crest. The WAC Bennett Dam and its generating station (G.M. Shrum) were constructed between 1961 and 1968. The generating capacity at the G.M. Shrum Generating Station is 2,790,000 kilowatts.