Maps & Circle Tour
The Chilcotin is out of the way, but surprisingly accessible, and getting here is part of the fun.
Travel By Road
From Vancouver it is about a 7 hour drive to reach the Chilcotin, travelling north first to the city of Williams Lake then turning west along Highway 20. Alternatively, you can take a ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island and drive north to the town of Port Hardy. From there a ferry will take you on an enjoyable “mini-cruise” to the town of Bella Coola, where you can pick up Highway 20 at its western end.
Highway 20 is 452 kilometres of road without a single traffic light or stop sign – and no cell phone service.
If you are travelling from Williams Lake, you will cross the Fraser River and climb Sheep Creek Hill to arrive on the Chilcotin Plateau. From there the wide open spaces beckon as you drive through a timeless landscape.
Through rolling grasslands and canyons, past Puntzi Lake and its excellent fishing, you eventually approach the looming Pacific Coast Mountains at Tatla Lake, the entrance to the West Chilcotin. From here a side trip to beautiful Tatlayoko Valley is possible.
Soon you will see Clearwater Lake, then the little communities of Nimpo Lake and Anahim Lake. From there it is just a half hour drive to magnificent Tweedsmuir Park and your descent into the Bella Coola Valley and the Great Bear Rainforest.
At one time there was no road access into the Bella Coola Valley and it was an entirely land-locked community. In 1953 the people petitioned the government to build a road link between the valley and the Chilcotin Plateau, but the government claimed it was not possible because the terrain was “too extreme”.
So the independent people of the Chilcotin and Bella Coola said “fine, we'll do it ourselves”, and put together two crews with two D9 bulldozers, one in the Valley and one on the Plateau, and started to work from both ends. Those crews clawed their way along the mountainside until eventually they met in the middle. They called their new road, appropriately, the “Freedom Highway”.
The Hill is 15 kilometers of road that drops about 5,000 feet from the high plateau into the valley rainforest. Kept in good condition year round, it is a testament to the people who built it, unpaved to this day and with endless switchbacks as it snakes down the mountain.
Discovery Coast Circle Tour (See map below)
This travel route is one of the most scenic in British Columbia. It is an excellent way to see the Chilcotin-Coast, by making it part of a larger trip that begins and ends in Vancouver.
The Discovery Coast Circle Tour (see map) will bring you many of the highlights of beautiful British Columbia, including high mountain lakes, glaciers, semi-arid canyons, grasslands, waterfalls, and rainforest. Lots of wildlife and charming little towns along the way too!
From Vancouver you head north on Highway 99 to Whistler, then past Pemberton and over the incredible Duffy Lake Road to Cache Creek and on to Williams Lake. Leaving Williams Lake west along Highway 20, you soon reach the Chilcotin Plateau.
Driving across the plateau you get a sense of the vast wilderness spaces and seemingly endless possbilities. At the western end of the plateau you enter Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, the largest and most unspoiled park in British Columbia, and begin the dramatic descent into the Bella Coola Valley at sea level.
Once in the spectacular Valley you soon reach Bella Coola, where you can board BC Ferries' new Northern SeaWolf vessel for a mini-cruise that sails through a 100 kilometre long wilderness fjord past huge mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers, where you might see humpback whales, orcas, dolphins, and eagles, and then along the BC coast to Port Hardy.
From Port Hardy on Vancouver Island you drive along the beautiful inner Island coastline, past many charming small towns and eventually arrive in either Nanaimo or Victoria, where you can board a ferry back to Vancouver.
Travel By Ferry
BC Ferries provides service between Bella Coola and Port Hardy on Vancouver Island just about every other day during the summer months. It is advisable to book well in advance.
Travel By Air
Pacific Coastal Airlines operates a scheduled service between Vancouver, Bella Coola, and Anahim Lake, that runs every day in summer and three times a week during the remainder of the year. Flight time from Vancouver (Airport South Terminal) to Anahim Lake is approximately one hour.
Car rentals are available from Bella Coola Airport and Anahim Lake Airport through Bella Coola Vehicle Rentals. At the present time, vehicles must be returned to one of these rental outlets.