Fraser Basin Council
Home  |  CONTACT US: Offices AND Staff  |  Site Map

Fraser Basin Watersheds


The Fraser Basin has 12 major watersheds.*

Here is an overview:


* Viewed at the 1:50,000 level.

This map shows the major watersheds of the Fraser Basin (represented by the blue polygons) within British Coumbia (1:50,000). For a look at smaller watersheds in the Basin and across BC, visit the Community Mapping Network. In the map legend, select Boundaries>Ecological>BC Watershed Groups.

About the Fraser Basin Watersheds

Photo Credit: Photos are courtesy of Picture BC

Fraser: Upper Fraser

The Fraser River begins its journey of nearly 1,400 km in Mount Robson Provincial Park.

In this Upper Fraser region, the river passes by Valemount and McBride as it heads northwest through the Rocky Mountain Trench. It then turns south to Prince George. Major tributaries in the Upper Fraser watershed include the McGregor River (known for the McGregor model forest where research is done on sustainable logging), the Salmon River north of Prince George, and Bowron River and Lake (renowned for its 116 km chain of eleven lakes, rivers and portages). Bowron Lake is named after John Bowron, one of the Overlanders of 1862 who came for the gold rush and stayed on as postmaster and government agent in Barkerville.




The most northern watershed of the Fraser Basin is the Stuart. The Stuart River (named after NWC fur trader John Stuart) originates at the south end of Stuart Lake near Fort St. James and flows southeastward for 187 km to join the Nechako River 55 km west of Prince George. Takla Lake (from the Dakelh term meaning "at the end of the lake") empties to the southeast via the Middle River into Trembleur Lake and then into Stuart Lake.




The Nechako River (516 km) rises on the Nechako Plateau east of the Coast Mountains and south of Burns Lake, flows north through Fort Fraser, then east through Vanderhoof to join the Fraser at Prince George. The name comes from the Dakelh term meaning "big river." The Chilako River ("beaver hand river") joins the Nechako just west of Prince George.



The Quesnel River (named after NWC fur trader Jules-Maurice Quesnel) drains Quesnel Lake (264 sq km) by flowing northwest from between Bowron Lake and Wells Gray Provincial Park to meet the Fraser at Quesnel.


West Road-Blackwater

The West Road River (227 km) rises in the Ilgachuz Range near Tweedsmuir Provincial Park and flows east to its confluence with the Fraser River between Prince George and Quesnel. Also known as the Blackwater River, the West Road formed part of the "Grease Trail " network used by First Nations as a trading route to the interior from the coast. Alexander Mackenzie named it West Road (as he was heading West to the Pacific). Because of its black colour, it also was called Blackwater.




The Chilcotin River watershed, including Chilko Lake and River and Taseko Lake and River, drains the Chilcotin Plateau that stretches east to west from the Fraser River to the Coast Mountains and north to south from the Nechako Plateau to the Bridge River country.

Chilko Lake (185 sq km and 83 km long) is the centre of Ts'yl-os Provincial Park. It is BC's highest major lake (elevation 1,171 metres). The Chilko River drains the lake and runs 107 km to join the Chilcotin River near Alexis Creek. Named for Tsilhqot'in First Nation people, the Chilcotin River joins the Fraser south of Williams Lake. The name means "people of the red ochre river."


Fraser: Middle Fraser


The Middle Fraser watershed extends from just north of Quesnel to Hope, and includes the communities of Williams Lake, Lillooet, Lytton, Boston Bar and Yale. Many of the Fraser's major tributaries join the main stem of the River along this watershed, including the Chilcotin, Quesnel, West Road-Blackwater, Thompson-Nicola and Bridge-Seton Rivers.

Lac La Hache ("Axe Lake," which derives its name the Hudson’s Bay Company having lost a load of axes in the lake) drains into the San Jose River (named after the St. Joseph Mission). It then flows into Williams Lake and Creek (named after Chief William, leader of the Sugar Cane Reserve in the 1860s) and joins the Fraser.

The northern portion of the watershed is used in industries, including forestry and cattle ranching. The southern portion of the watershed, known as the Fraser Canyon, is known for dry, rugged terrain. Hell's Gate is a narrow gorge about 30 km north of Yale, bursting with turbulent rapids. Railway construction in 1913–14 caused rockslides that blocked the river and depleted the runs of salmon; the situation did not improve until 1946 when fish ladders were constructed around the slide area. At the river's peak flow, 908 million litres of water roar through the gorge every minute.


North Thompson


The Thompson River, the longest tributary of the Fraser River, drains a 55,827 sq km watershed in central BC and contributes 25% of the waters of the Fraser.

The Thompson River has two branches. The North Thompson (365 km) rises in the Cariboo Mountains east of Wells Gray Provincial Park and flows southerly through wooded country to Kamloops. The communities of Clearwater, Barriere and Blue River are located in the North Thompson watershed.


South Thompson


At Kamloops, the north branch of the Thompson merges with the South Thompson (161 km) flowing in from Shuswap Lake (named after the local Shuswap or Secwepemc First Nation) on the east.

The watershed includes Adams Lake and River, famous for one of North America's most important sockeye runs. The River is named after a Shuswap Chief, Sel-howt-ken, who was baptized in 1849 as "Adam." Communities in the watershed include Salmon Arm, Chase and Enderby.




The combined North and South Thompson Rivers flow west from Kamloops Lake through arid grasslands for 169 km to the Fraser River. The name Kamloops comes from a Shuswap/Secwepemc word "Kahm-o-loops" meaning "the meeting of the waters." The community of Lytton overlooks the confluence of the rivers. The Bonaparte River joins the Thompson at Ashcroft.

The Nicola River (named after Chief Hwistesmex'quen who was given the name "Nicolas" by early fur traders) rises on the Douglas Plateau. After the river passes through Nicola Lake, it flows under the Coquihalla Highway and merges with the Coldwater River at Merritt. The Nicola flows west 150 km to join the Thompson near Spences Bridge.


Lillooet | Harrison

The Lillooet River (from an anglicized Lillooet word referring to the area around the Mount Currie Reserve) originates with meltwater from the Lillooet Glacier high in the Coast Mountains north of Vancouver. The Lillooet flows south and east past the towns of Pemberton and Mount Currie to the north end of Harrison Lake — the largest lake in the Fraser Valley — that drains by way of the Harrison River 18 km to the Fraser. The Lake is named after Benjamin Harrison, a director of the Hudson's Bay Company. The watershed also includes the Chehalis River that enters the Fraser just west of the Harrison.


Fraser: Lower Fraser

estuary.jpgThe Lower Fraser watershed is the most densely populated watershed in the entire Fraser River system. It extends from Hope to the mouth of river. All communities in the Fraser Valley and Metro Vancouver Regional Districts are located in this watershed.

Historically, this portion of the river faced spring floods, spreading fertile silt across the valley floor and rejuvenating the wetlands that supported abundant wildlife. Today, much of the land in the Fraser Valley, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam, Richmond and Delta lies behind 600 km of dikes.

The Chilliwack River (named after the local First Nation people) flows 100 km from Chilliwack Lake through the Skagit Range of the Cascade Mountains to join the Sumas River shortly before it merges with the Fraser River west of Chilliwack. The lower portion of the river was named the Vedder River/Canal (after an early Dutch settler) when it was re-routed as part of the Sumas Reclamation Scheme. In 1922, this project drained Sumas Lake to create new agricultural land called Sumas Prairie.

The Lower Fraser watershed has a number of smaller watersheds. Stave Lake and River drain into the Fraser between Maple Ridge and Mission. Alouette Lake and River flow into the Pitt River. The Pitt River, probably named for British Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, drains south from Garibaldi Provincial Park through Pitt Lake, emptying into the Fraser River between Pitt Meadows and Port Coquitlam.

Coquitlam Lake drains via the Coquitlam River to empty into the Fraser River just east of the Port Mann Bridge. The name is derived from "Kwikwetl'em," the local First Nation. The Brunette River drains Burnaby Lake and Still Creek to join the Fraser at Coquitlam. The Fraser River splits at New Westminster into the North Arm and South Arm, with Vancouver and Burnaby to the north, Surrey and Delta to the south and Richmond in the middle.

Historically there were dozens of streams that criss-crossed the forested wetland that became Greater Vancouver. Most of these waterways have been altered or lost through development and city expansion. One of Vancouver's few remaining streams (and only salmon-bearing stream) is Musqueam Creek, which flows through Musqueam Park and the Musqueam Indian Reserve just below UBC.

There are other waterways in the lower Fraser region that are not part of the Fraser River system. These include the Nicomekl and Serpentine Rivers in Surrey/Langley, and Seymour Creek, Lynn Creek and the Capilano River in North and West Vancouver.


Our Vision

Social well-being supported by a vibrant economy and sustained by a healthy environment.

About the Fraser Basin Council

The Fraser Basin Council (FBC) is a charitable non-profit organization that brings people together to advance sustainability in the Fraser River Basin and throughout BC. Established in 1997, FBC is a collaboration of four orders of government (federal, provincial, local and First Nations) along with those from the private sector and civil society. We work with people in multiple sectors, helping them find collaborative solutions to today’s issues through a commitment to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability. Our focus is on healthy water and watersheds, action on climate change and air quality and strong, resilient communities and regions.

FBC Project and
Partner Sites

Plug in BC:


ReTooling for Climate Change:

FBC Youth:

Climate Action Toolkit: 

Salmon-Safe BC

Contact Us

FBC has offices in Vancouver, Kamloops, Williams Lake and Prince George. We also have staff located in Abbotsford and Vernon.

To reach us, see FBC Offices and FBC Staff.

Our main office is:

Fraser Basin Council
1st Floor, 470 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC V6C 1V5

T: 604 488-5350
F: 604 488-5351

We are grateful at the Fraser Basin Council Society to live and work on the unceded ancestral
territories of the Indigenous Nations of British Columbia.