In the Interior of B.C. the fur trade had declined somewhat when gold was found on the Fraser River in 1858. In that same year, 25 000 people ventured inland to search for gold. Panning sites sprung up on all tributaries of the Fraser. Hudson Bay Company employees and Native people turned to prospecting. Settlements grew up quickly and fur trading forts started to supply miners as well as trappers.
Fort Kamloops was moved to the North Shore to support routes for the gold rush and the movement of cattle. The Hudsons Bay Company’s Brigade Trail crossed the north shore and then the Tranquille River, climbed the hills across the Dewdrop Range, down to Copper creek, then up over the hills to Deadmans Valley and beyond to the Cariboo. The present site of Tranquille was on the route and a small settlement and some gold panning started at the mouth of the river, mostly by Natives from the area, including Jean Baptiste Lolo “St. Paul”, who went on to become a chief of the Shuswap people.
Some minor trade in gold started in 1859, and a minor rush started soon thereafter. By 1861, hundreds of miners were working the creek. Production dropped by 1870 and many miners moved on to the construction of the CPR. Chinese miners continued on the Tranquille River until the 1890’s. At that time, hydraulic mining started with a company from the Coast building a 25 foot dam and a 1200 foot flume. A new mining boom started and continued until the 1930’s. Some platinum was found in the river and a number of miners continued to live off mining until the 1950’s. The Tranquille River is now known as one of three “18-carat rivers” in B.C. Today, we can still see evidence of the hydraulic mining along the river.
Watching Creek is a tributary of the Tranquille River. From the mouth of the river, the canyons narrow down to a gorge with lava flows, hoodoos, slot canyons, and cliffs for 15 km. At that point two gorges meet at the confluence. Watching Creek flows down from the south end of the Bonaparte Plateau through Porcupine Meadows Provincial Park. Miners staked claims on Watching Creek too and worked the gorge. There are still two claims on the north side of the creek and recreational gold panners can still be seen from time to time. Rock hounds also access the canyon for green opal nodules and agate geodes.
A rustic B.C. Forest Service Recreation sits on the west side of the river and the south side of Watching Creek is now part of Lac du Bois Provincial Park. This was the site of a homesteader named Paddy Docksteader. He was a horse trader who had worked for the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. He had many stories to tell his neighbors.
Drive the short road down to a grassy bench where camping is permitted. Another trail leads down to the creek and along the edge of the bluffs. Hoodoos and lava flows can be seen at various points. Trails once led from the recreation site across the river on two bridges, but both are washed out now. Instead, a narrow road from Tranquille Crossing (at the 15km sign) follows the river back to Watching Creek over 2.5km. A trail network is used by hikers, gold panners, and rock hounds to explore the Watching Creek Valley or south along the east side of the Tranquille River.
On your next trip up the Red Lake Road, stop at Watching Creek for a quiet spot to explore, gold pan, rock hound, hike, or geocache.
Nearest Community: Savona, B.C.
Accuracy: 4 metres
Parking: anywhere in the Watching Creek Forest Service site; closest is N 50 48.223 W 120 33.051
Access and restrictions: Follow the Red Lake Road and turn into the Watching Creek Forest Service site at N 50 47.964 W 120 33.154. Park anywhere in the flat area and walk north along the old road. The road down to the Forest Service site. N 50 48.223 W 120 33.051 can be rough and muddy after rain.