British Columbia’s Cariboo Chilcotin Coast is an untamed wilderness sprawling with nature and wildlife. The region spans from Bella Coola in the Northwest to the historic gold rush towns along Hwy 20 and Hwy 97, to the town of Lillooet in the South. The region makes up some of the most diverse landscapes in Canada, serving the perfect backdrop for a road trip.
There’s never a dull moment driving through this part of the country. From snow-capped mountains to glistening waterways, the remote area is an incredible destination for sightseeing and adventure.
We recently embarked on this scenic route and are here to share our tips, advice, and our recommended stops for the perfect Cariboo Chilcotin Coast road trip.
Road Trip Along British Columbia’s Central Coast
Known as the Great Bear Rainforest Loop, this amazing road trip winds through some of the most dynamic landscapes in British Columbia. Starting on northern Vancouver Island, the route veers into the expansive Cariboo Region by way of Bella Coola. You’ll cruise past waterfalls, shimmering lakes, and hoodoos before hitting the ranchlands of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast.
From Williams Lake, the route heads south through the Cariboo mountains into some of British Columbia’s most famed mountain towns. Hike your way around Whistler and Joffre Lakes before riding the Sea to Sky Highway into Vancouver.
Top Stops Along the Great Bear Rainforest Loop in British Columbia
Start: Port Hardy on Vancouver Island
Port Hardy is a lovely little town on the northern tip of Vancouver Island where forests surround the roaring Pacific Ocean. It’s an excellent destination for wildlife viewing and is the gateway to the Central Coast via the Bella Coola ferry.
It’s worth spending a few days in town before you jump on the ferry, and even a few weeks to explore other destinations on Vancouver Island.
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Things to do in Port Hardy
- Try your hand at fishing on a fishing charter through some of British Columbia’s most bountiful waters.
- Hop on a whale watching tour from the nearby Telegraph Cove
- Indulge in Port Hardy’s favourite snack, smoked candied salmon, while perusing the local shops on Market Street.
- Explore the Port Hardy Seawall and soak in ocean views from Seagate Pier.
Bella Coola by Ferry
Port Hardy to Bella Coola: 263 km // 10 hours 15 minutes
The ferry to Bella Coola cruises through the diverse scenery that makes the Central Coast so unique. Keep in mind that the ferry only operates during the summer from June-September.
Once in Bella Coola, enjoy being in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest! The region offers stunning views, with beautiful forests, surrounding mountains, and rivers winding through the landscapes. It’s a hub of outdoor adventure ideal for bear watching, fishing, and even heliskiing.
Things to do in Bella Coola, British Columbia
- Learn about the rich First Nations history of the Nuxalk people on a cultural tour with Copper Sun Journeys in Bella Coola. We joined their Petroglyph Tour to see ancient stone carvings and listened to the fascinating stories in the rainforest.
- Kayak the many inlets and passages. During high tide, the Bella Coola Estuary is spectacular and bustling with marine life.
- View wildlife in its natural habitat. During the Summer months, you’ll find bears, and mountain goats plentiful in the forests and mountains as well as salmon in the rivers.
Tweedsmuir Provincial Park
Bella Coola to Tweedsmuir Park: 60 km // 50 minutes
If you’re itching to see grizzly bears, Tweedsmuir Provincial Park is a must-see on the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast. Search for abundant wildlife at one of the largest parks in British Columbia that serves as a critical habitat for bears.
Things to do in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park
- Stay at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge and go on a guided grizzly bear-watching tour along the Atnarko River. Drift through the water or perch yourself on the Belarko Wildlife Viewing Platform to see grizzlies mowing down on salmon.
- Hike the park’s many trails through the Rainbow Range or along Burnt Bridge.
- Go fishing for salmon, trout, and whitefish in the lakes and rivers.
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Tweedsmuir Park to Heckman Pass: 38 km // 30 minutes
The thrilling ride up “The Hill,” or Heckman Pass, is an adventure in itself. The winding road hugs the mountainside from Bella Coola to Anahim Lake with no guard rails insight. The grades are steep and parts of the road are unpaved. Many older cars struggle to make it up the hill and there are plenty of stories of locals who never left the area and have made the Bella Coola region home as a result of not being able to make it up the hill.
The truth is, the drive is a lot less challenging than one might expect (unless you are driving a really old car), but the views along the Heckman Pass are spectacular!
Things to do in Heckman Pass
- Throw your fear of heights out the window as you climb British Columbia Highway 20 along switchbacks and cliffsides.
- Visit Anahim Lake for excellent fishing for rainbow trout
Hunlen Falls via Nimpo Lake
Heckman Pass to Nimpo Lake: 58 km // 50 minutes
Hunlen Falls is an incredible destination tucked away deep in the Southern part of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. The waterfall cannot be reached by car which makes it all the more exclusive.
The waterfall is considered one of the tallest waterfalls in North America and the highest in Canada. The falls pour out of Turner Lake in Tweedsmuir Park and flow through the rivers into the Pacific.
How to get to Hunlen Falls
- Take a 20-minute scenic flight over the falls in a floatplane from Nimpo Lake. The flight offers panoramic views of the falls and is by far the best way to see this incredible natural wonder.
- Because there is no road, the only other way to access Hunlen Falls is via a steep 16.4 km hiking trail.
Nimpo Lake to Tatla Lake: 77 km // 1 hour 10 minutes
The rolling hills around Tatla Lake are part of the Chilcotin Plateau, where ranching is a popular lifestyle. The area is flanked by mountain valleys and offers fantastic access to the Cariboo Chilcotin wilderness.
Things to do at Tatla Lake
- Join local anglers and fish for rainbow trout and Dolly Varden in Tatla Lake. Plus, there are several other lakes along this stretch of highway worthy of a stop to drop a line.
- Dine at the Graham Inn for local favourites like hamburgers and fresh bannock.
Tatla Lake to Redstone: 76 km // 1 hour
Redstone is a small town and a First Nations community of the Tsilhqot’in people. The town doesn’t offer a ton in terms of sightseeing, but it’s a great pit stop to refuel and to visit the KiNiKiNiK Restaurant where “pasture to plate” dining celebrates local ingredients.
Things to do in Redstone
- Visit KiNiKiNiK Restaurant & Store for sustainable dining on the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast. Their wholesome menu serves meat and eggs raised right on the property. If you are looking for a place to crash for the night, Kinikinik also offers on-site accommodation in cabins.
- Stroll over Lover’s Bridge and see the waterfall, farm animals, and grassland outside the timber-clad KiNiKiNiK Lodge.
Riske Creek | Historic Chilcotin Lodge
Redstone to Riske Creek: 97 km // 1 hour 15 minutes
Soak in history at Riske Creek when you step back in time at the Historic Chilcotin Lodge. Built in 1940 as a hunting lodge, the Historic Chilcotin Lodge is one of the last remaining authentic lodging facilities in BC.
The charming lodge has 10 beautifully decorated bedrooms, each with a washbasin and a comfy bed. The lodge also has a restaurant on-site along with a tea house and gift shop to relax and unwind.
If you are traveling in an RV or campervan, the lodge also has an RV Park. It’s a perfect place to spend the night, eat some delicious homemade food and stuff yourself with some yummy cinnamon buns and other sweets.
Riske Creek to Farwell Canyon: 22 km // 30 minutes
Farwell Canyon, located about 20 kms south of Riske Creek, feels a million miles away from the humidity of the Central Coast. Here limestone and sandstone form uniquely shaped hoodoos carved out by water hundreds of years ago. The canyon is an impressive sight and a worthy detour from Hwy 20. The canyon is easily accessible by car (no 4WD needed) and is a great spot for some hiking to check out the scenery.
Things to do at Farwell Canyon
- Hike the trails into Farwell Canyon to walk amongst the sandy hoodoos.
- Explore the cliff faces and keep your eyes peeled for rock carvings.
Farwell Canyon to Alkali Lake: 100 km // 1 hour 30 minutes
The Alkali Lake is a remote community, home to the First Nations Esk’et band. Known as a community of healing, the people of Alkali Lake are vital to addiction recovery in BC. They aim to inspire by sharing stories of hope to overcome the battles of alcohol addiction.
During our visit to Alkali Lake, we stayed in the Esk’et Tiny House, a beautiful custom-built tiny home located just outside of the Esk’et Community. It was the perfect cozy cabin to spend a few nights while enjoying the quiet peaceful surrounding of the area. In the evenings, we relaxed in the outdoor hot tub, stargazing and watching the lights of the Esk’et Community twinkle in the distance.
We loved learning more from Robert, the founder of the Esk’et Tiny House and an active member of the community. His stories offered an insight into the community’s turbulent past and offered hope for a brighter future.
Alkali Lake to Williams Lake: 52 km // 45 minutes
Williams Lake is the central hub of the Cariboo Chilcotin Region and a staple of BC cowboy culture. The crossroads town has historically been a meeting place and hosts an annual rodeo, offers great rafting, and amazing mountain biking. It’s your go-to place to replenish any road trip essentials before continuing south.
Things to do in Williams Lake
- Learn about the western rodeo culture at the BC Cowboy Hall of Fame.
- Go mountain biking at Westsyde Ridge, Dessous Mountain, or Fox Mountain.
- Explore Scout Island and the Scout Island Nature Centre for top-notch birdwatching and a great picnic spot.
Lac La Hache
Williams Lake to Lac la Hache: 66 km // 45 minutes
The 19 km shoreline of Lac La Hache is filled with restaurants, resorts, and ranches. The lake is a popular spot for angling, boating, and water skiing.
Things to do in Lac La Hache
- Go fishing for trout and whitefish.
- Visit in August for the South Cariboo Garlic Festival.
108 Mile Ranch
Lac la Hache to 108 Mile Ranch: 12 km // 8 minutes
A historic part of the Gold Rush Trail, 108 Mile Ranch is a small community with heritage buildings from the 1800 and 1900s. The area also offers hiking, mountain biking, and angling opportunities.
Things to do in 108 Mile Ranch
- Visit the 108 Heritage Site to tour old log cabins and uncover history at the museum.
- Go fishing for Bull and Rainbow Trout on 108 Mile Ranch
70 Mile House
108 Mile Ranch to 70 Mile House: 55 km // 36 minutes
Some 70 miles along the Cariboo Wagon Road lies 70 Mile House, another historic town with excellent lake access. Visit Green Lake Recreation Area and explore the rolling hills and ranches of the area.
Things to do in 70 Mile House
- Enjoy water sports and birdwatching at Green Lake Recreation Area
- If you are looking for a truly unique stop, consider a few nights at Siwash Lake Wilderness Resort. We didn’t get a chance to stay at this off-grid eco-luxury retreat but heard nothing but great things about the property. Aside from being a beautiful place to stay, the resort offers bikes, canoes, and horseback riding on the property, so there are plenty of activities to stay busy for a few days.
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70 Mile House to Lillooet: 138 km // 1 hour 40 minutes
Lillooet offers rugged nature at its finest and is another worthy stop on the Gold Rush Trail. It’s a hub of outdoor adventure offering mountain climbing opportunities, biking, hiking, and boating.
Things to do in Lillooet
- Marvel at beautiful jade sculptures on the Jade Walk along Main Street before visiting the local farmer’s market.
- Take a cultural tour to learn more about the culture and traditions of the St’at’imc First Nation.
- Enjoy endless trails for hiking, mountain biking, and climbing.
Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
Lillooet to Joffre Lakes: 70 km // 1 hour
The sparkling glacier-fed Joffre Lakes are a stunning addition to a Cariboo Chilcotin road trip. The snow-capped peaks contrasting the turquoise blue water is a can’t-miss photo op.
Register online to get a day pass (free) and stop at the park for a hike around the Joffre Lakes Trail. The trail is about 10 km and offers sweeping views of the Lower, Middle, and Upper Joffre Lake.
Important Tip: There is no reception on the highway en route to Joffre Lakes, so be sure to register online to get your pass before arriving at the park.
Joffre Lakes to Whistler: 62 km // 1 hour
Whistler is internationally renowned for its ski hills at Whistler Blackcomb Mountain. The town is bustling with shops and restaurants, set amongst a backdrop of towering mountains and wildlife. There’s always something going on, be it in the summer and winter.
Things to do in Whistler
- Hike alpine trails up to iconic Black Tusk or Panorama Ridge near Garibaldi Lake.
- Ride the gondola from Whistler to Blackcomb for a birds-eye view of Whistler Village and the surrounding forest.
- Stroll along old town peeking into shops or pop into one of the many restaurants for a meal
- Pack a picnic of local fare and head to Rainbow or Lost Lake.
Whistler to Squamish: 59 km // 45 minutes
Squamish is all about exploring the magic of the outdoors. It’s located just one hour north of Vancouver but feels worlds away from city hustle and bustle.
Things to do in Squamish
- Hike or rock climb your way up the legendary Stawamus Chief. There are many different areas for different experience levels.
- Go paddleboarding on peaceful Alice Lake.
- Grab a map of the Squamish Craft Tasting Trail and sample the best local brews from around town.
- Check out the Sea to Sky Gondola for incredible views of the town and the surrounding mountains.
Squamish to Vancouver: 64 km // 1 hour
The road from Squamish to Vancouver, along the Sea-to-Sky Highway, is arguably one of the most scenic drives in all of Canada. So take your time and enjoy the scenery on this last leg of this incredible road trip. The beautiful drive completes the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast road trip in the amazing city of Vancouver! Celebrate your journey at a world-class restaurant or relax with a sunset at Sunset Beach.
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