Cariboo Mountains

Name adopted in 1918
Feature type: Mountains
Province: British Columbia
Location: Between Rocky Mountain Trench and E side of Bowron Lake, Cariboo Mountains & Wells Gray Provincial Park
Latitude: 52°55’00”
Longitude: 120°15’00”
NTS map: 93A/16
Official name listed at BC Geographical Names
Also listed at Geographical Names in Canada
Google Maps
Cariboo Mountains

Cariboo Mountains

The name Cariboo is derived from the Algonquian Indian word xalibu, meaning “pawer” or “scratcher,” referring to the North American reindeer. The name was first applied to the goldfield area around Quesnel and Barkerville, where caribou were once abundant. The name goes back to at least 1861, near the beginning of the gold rush, when Governor James Douglas of the Colony of British Columbia used the name Cariboo to describe the area in dispatches to Britain.

The name “Cariboo Mountains” was officially adopted in 1918, not “Cariboo Range” as labelled on Bowman’s 1887 map of the Cariboo Mining District.

Raymond T. Zillmer made a number of explorations in the Cariboo Mountains in the 1930s and 40s and wrote articles about the mountaineering history in the Canadian Alpine Journal and the American Alpine Journal.

The Cariboo Range is important in the development of Canada. When the Canadian Pacific Railway considered the matter of its route across the continental divide, it tentatively selected Yellow- head Pass, for it offered the easiest crossing. But that decision was frustrated by the Cariboo Mountains. A practical railroad route led from Yellowhead Pass to the Fraser River and down the Fraser until the Cariboo Range was reached, about 50 miles west of the pass. Here, from an elevation of 2400 ft., at Tête Jaune Cache, the Cariboo Range rises in a very short distance to as high as 11,750 ft., the height of Mt. Sir Wilfred Laurier, the highest peak of the entire Interior Ranges of British Columbia. If a route could not be found across the range, a long detour to the northwest or to the south was necessary—the routes now followed by the Canadian National Railway. So from 1871 to 1874 four well- equipped expeditions sought a route across the Cariboo Mountains. But they found that only high glacial passes were available. So the route across Yellowhead Pass was abandoned in favor of the more southerly route now used by the Canadian Pacific Railway.


  • Akrigg, George Philip Vernon (1913-2001), and Helen B. Akrigg. British Columbia place names. Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997
  • British Columbia Geographical Names. Government of BC. BCGN
  • Bowman, Amos [1839–1894]. Map of the Cariboo Mining District, British Columbia, to illustrate the report of Amos Bowman. Cariboo Gold Rush
  • Bowman, Amos [1839–1894]. Maps of the principal auriferous creeks in the Cariboo mining district, British Columbia. Ottawa: Geological Survey of Canada, 1895. Hathi Trust
  • Zillmer, Raymond T. [1887–1960]. “Explorations in the Southern Cariboos.” Canadian Alpine Journal, Vol. 27 (1939):48-61. Alpine Club of Canada
  • Zillmer, Raymond T. [1887–1960]. “The Exploration of the Cariboo Range from the East.” American Alpine Journal, 5:2 (1944):261-274. American Alpine Club
  • Thorington, James Monroe [1895-1989]. “Canada, Cariboo Range.” American Alpine Journal, 7:2 (1949). American Alpine Club
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