A classic gold rush town in the Fraser Canyon - a pleasant desert area surrounded by Ponderosa pines and cowboy country and rooted in a series of gold rushes, Lillooet is in a very dry area - some parts of town receive less than 2 inches of rain a year - and like neighbouring Lytton it has very high temperature extremes. In summer on certain hot days, it can be the hottest place in Canada, although there is a rivalry with Lytton for that title. Even in winter it is very sunny, and typically Lillooet enjoys sunshine even when nearby Pemberton is socked in with coastal-type weather. Blessed with a mild climate thanks to its low elevation (750') and the shelter of the surrounding mountain ranges, it has a long growing season and is known for its cherries and apricots and other produce and in recent years, ginseng; in the past hops and tobacco were grown, with hometown brands of beer, cigars and chewing tobacco being exported throughout BC. Long a centre for mining and ranching industries, it became a major centre for logging operations from the late 1970s onwards. It now looks to tourism for its future and thanks to its rich history, spectacular setting and sheltered climate it will likely succeed.
Lillooet is one of the oldest continuously-inhabited native settlements on the continent and was the first town in the BC Interior. Originally known as Cayoosh Flat, it claims the title of "Mile 0" of the original Cariboo Wagon Road and, as one of the main centres of the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush of 1858-60, held for a while the title of "the largest city west of Chicago and north of San Francisco", succeeded soon after in that capacity by Barkerville. The town's museum holds a fascinating collection from the long and rich history here, and the local sights include a Hanging Tree and a suspension bridge built by the Royal Engineers. Lillooet is also famous as the adopted home of Margaret Lally "Ma" Murray, the feisty founder of the Bridge River-Lillooet News, known for her spicy editorials and flamboyant personality and relentless boosterism of Lillooet and its amazing but still-unfulfilled potential. Her antique presses are part of the collection of the Lillooet Museum, which is located at the bend in Main Street near the library and hospital.
Just north of Lillooet is the historic confluence of the once mighty Bridge River with the Fraser River, which is the site of a major ancient native fishing site where fishing platforms and drying racks are busy during salmon runs. The Bridge River is now dammed and diverted into Seton Lake by the Bridge River Power Project, the last part of which is a canal from Seton Lake to a small powerhouse on the Fraser River just south of town. Up the valley of the Bridge River is a spectacular road through the Bridge River Canyon to the "living ghost towns" of Gold Bridge and Bralorne, as well as access to the area known as the South Chilcotins and the resort communities at Gun and Tyaughton Lakes. This is a good dirt road, paved much of the way now, and open in winter. In summer, its continuation via the Hurley Main (Railroad Pass) leads through to Pemberton.
Lillooet can be reached from Vancouver or via the Duffey Lake Road (Hwy 99) from Pemberton, which continues through to connect with Hwy 97 at Lower Hat Creek just north of Cache Creek on Hwy 1, or via the older upper Fraser River highway (Hwy 12) which branches off from Hwy 1 at Lytton. Both roads are paved all the way. Lillooet is a natural basetown for climbing, hiking and other outdoor activities in the surrounding region and is in fact the only centre of any note within a 75-mile radius. Through rail service from Vancouver and Whistler is no longer available, but passenger service is still available from D'Arcy, at the farther end of Anderson and Seton Lakes, a trip which takes about an hour and a half and which runs daily.
Interestingly enough, Lillooet is not on the Lillooet River, but got its name by public entreaty to the colonial government and the local native chiefs as the name Cayoosh was distasteful to the local population, perhaps because of associations with the recently-ended Cayuse War in Washington Territory. The name Lillooet was chosen because the town was at the end of the Douglas Road, i.e. the Lillooet Trail via the Lillooet River and the Lakes, which was the original main route to the Interior from the Coast.
In winter, Lillooet has increasingly become a destination for Ice Climbing, and ice climbing bulletins are regularly posted on the web. See casbc.ca. Climbers Access Society Ice Bulletins.
Marble Canyon is also only about 25 miles away, as is the Bridge River Canyon, and there are any number of forestry or ranching roads in the area which lead to the heights of the several mountain ranges which converge on this location. Rough roads north of town lead through the desert rangelands of the upper Fraser Canyon, and another leads south through the rural community of Texas Creek to the cable-ferry at Lytton.
The lower elevations around Lillooet are bona fide desert and the local flora includes prickly-pear cactus, so hikers in lower elevations should beware of these very common cacti which are often hidden underneath dry grass and sage. There are no rattlesnakes in the Lillooet area, however, unlike similar terrain around Lytton and the Thompson Canyon. Hikers and mountainbikers should be mindful of private property and Indian Reserve boundaries in the area, although if permission is sought from local band offices - there are three, plus the main Lillooet Tribal Council office by Cayoosh Creek - it will probably be granted, and you might get some helpful advice in the process. The public beaches at Seton Lake are excellent swimming, albeit a tad on the cold side. There is a very nice and often busy free campground operated by BC Hydro nearby; the campground by the highway bridge has showers and RV facilities, but is without much in the way of shade although is much more convenient to town for people without vehicles.