The First Peoples of this area, the Lheidli T’enneh, relied on rivers and lakes to travel through the dense forests of the interior. Trails connected areas inaccessible by water. One such trail is the shortest route between the waterways flowing to the Pacific Ocean and those flowing into the Arctic Ocean. This trail was a highway for the first peoples traveling across borders and overland to trade goods, gather food, and visit neighbours. The Lheidli T'enneh named this trail Lhdesti or "the shortcut". The highest point of the trail is the boundary between two nations the Lheidli T'enneh to the south and the Tse'Kenne to the north.
In the fall of 1862, John Robert Giscome, a prospector from Jamaica, and Henry McDame, another prospector from the Bahamas, met in Quesnel. The pair decided to go to the Peace River area after hearing that gold had been found in the Finlay and Parsnip rivers. On their way north they got caught when the rivers began to freeze up and decided to spend the winter in Fort George and not at Fort St. James as they had originally planned. At the time the most common route north was the Telegraph Trail, an overland route through Ft. St. James to McLeod Lake and points north.
During their stay in Fort George they met several First Nations people trading at the Hudson's Bay post who told Giscome and McDame of an alternate route to McLeod Lake via the Salmon River, a tributary of the Fraser 18 miles north of Fort George. This route involved a short portage from the upper Salmon to Summit Lake, where they could continue north.
In the spring of 1863, Giscome and McDame set out for this portage with an indigenous guide. Unfortunately, there is nothing recorded about the guide beyond his presence. They headed up the Fraser River but when they arrived at the Salmon River it was badly swollen with the spring run-off. The guide told them there was another trail, Lhdesti, about 12 miles further up the Fraser. This trail began near the present day Huble Homestead site and cut through the forest to Summit Lake, a distance of nine miles. When Giscome and McDame crossed Lhdesti they were the first non-native men to do so.
In December of 1863, when Giscome had returned from the north, he wrote an article that was published in The Daily British Colonist newspaper. In the article Giscome recounted the prospecting trip undertaken by himself and his partner, he also described the trail over the Continental Divide shown to him by the guide. It is due to this article that the trail became known as Giscome Portage.
Despite the article, the trail saw little non-indigenous use until the Omineca Gold Rush. In 1871, three hundred ninety-nine British Columbia miners petitioned the government demanding a "wagon road across the Giscome Portage" to ease access to the Omineca gold deposits. That summer the portage was widened into a wagon road at a cost of $9,070, and appeared on an official government map. The portage was very heavily used after the wagon road was completed. By the 1890s traffic on the portage had dropped off as miners left for new gold strikes and other transport routes gained popularity. The portage was still used regularly until 1918 by which time the railroad had gone in across the river and a wagon road was built that connected Prince George to Summit Lake.
Today the Giscome Portage is a popular destination of those wanting to walk through history.
The Giscome Portage trail is located 40 km north of Prince George and 6 km off Highway 97 North on Mitchell Road. There is also another access point where the trail comes out at Barney Creek Road (close to Summit Lake), which is 48 km north of Prince George on Highway 97. The closest communities are Prince George and Bear Lake.
The Giscome Portage is a designated Heritage Trail operated by BC Parks. The trail is maintained by volunteers from the Caledonia Ramblers. If you're looking for more information about activities permitted on the trail and the facilities available, please visit their website. The recommended time of year to use the Giscome Portage is July to October, when the swampy ground is drier and the mosquitoes are manageable.
Trail status, as of June 2, 2020
Amazing volunteers from the Caledonia Ramblers have cleared blowdown on the Giscome Portage trail from Mitchell Road to North Fraser Road, and from the North Fraser Road to Tay Creek. Despite the planks laid down by the Caledonia Ramblers, it is still rather wet. Be warned that the mosquitoes are quite fierce. Please note that there is no bridge over Tay Creek, which means if you are starting from Mitchell Road that you will not be able to hike the north end of the portage.