Cariboo Chilcotin, British Columbia
Cariboo Chilcotin Coast
This historic region of BC was discovered over a century and a half ago when the word got out that gold was discovered along the sandbars and banks of the Fraser River. Today you can follow the Gold Rush Trail and explore the many heritage and ghost towns where the stories and the history come alive. First Nations people were the early settlers here and in the region you will find areas today still rich in First Nations Culture – Authentic Pow Wows, Archeological sites with ancient burial grounds and pictographs, First Nations Coastal villages, and the Great Bear Rainforest, home to the rare white Kermode Bear, named the Spirit Bear by the first Nations people .
The region is home to many natural wonders: Mount Waddington, BC’s highest mountain peak at 4016 meters, and Quesnel Lake, the world’s deepest fjord Lake. Visit Hunlen Falls, Canada’s third highest single drop waterfall, and Chilko Lake, the largest high altitude lake in North America. The Annual Williams Lake Stampede is the second largest Stampede and Rodeo in Canada and Itcha/Ilgachus Park is home to the largest herd of Cariboo in BC.
The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region stretches from the rugged Cariboo Mountains to the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean and can be divided into three distinct regions. The Cariboo, home to the Gold Rush Trail and the Waggon Road, borders the Fraser River north from Lillooet to Fraser River Provincial Park, and west to the Cariboo Mountains. It includes the communities of Lillooet, Clinton, 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, Quesnel, and Barkerville. The Chilcotin Region is home to BC’s Wild West, where you can saddle up at one of the many guest and dude ranches. The region follows Highway 20 west of Williams Lake to Bella Coola and also follows Highway 99 north of Gold Bridge, along the scenic Duffy Lake Road through to Lillooet. The Coast Region is part of the Discovery Coast Trail from Queen Charlotte Sound up to Bella Coola, then following the Freedom Highway, Hwy. 20, inland. This Region is home to the communities of Anahin Lake, Bella Coola, Bella Bella and Hagensborg.
Lillooett, originally known as Cayoosh Flats, was renamed after the Lil’wat First Nations people in 1860. It is home to the Mile 0 Cairn for the Cariboo Trail. This small town once had a population of 15,000 people with13 saloons and 25 licensed premises.
Highway 97 at Clinton is the beginning of the Cariboo Waggon Trail. In Clinton visit the Museum, once the old courthouse, to see pioneer exhibits or take a walking tour of the town’s historic buildings. Going north, stop at 100 Mile House where an original Barnard Express Stage Coach is displayed at the north end of town. 100 Mile House is also home to the largest Western Canada cross country ski race held in February. Continuing north on Highway 97, stop at 108 Mile House Historic Site where you can have a picnic and visit some of the original log buildings from the 108 ranch, which served as a post house on the Cariboo Trail. View Lac La Hache, a 15 km long lake known for its char, rainbow trout and kokanee. It also offers excellent ice fishing in winter.
Continue north to Williams Lake which lies at the intersection of Highway 97 and Highway 20. This city is one of the largest cities along this route and was named for the Shuswap First Nations Chief Will Yum. Williams Lake, with a population of 35,000, is the heart of the Cariboo. The next stop north is Quesnel, home to the world’s largest goldpan. Visit the restored 1867 Hudson’s Bay building that showcases local artisans and products, the Billy Barker Casino, or the Quesnel Museum to see spooky Mandy, the haunted doll. Head east from Quesnel along Highway 26 to Barkerville, a scenic one hour journey that once took days by stagecoach. In Barkerville, named after Billy Barker, you will relive the past. This restored heritage town features costumed interpretive staff who tell stories and guide you through the town while you visit over 125 heritage buildings, pan for gold, or watch re-enactments of days gone by. The Canadian National Gold Panning Championships is held here every August.
North of Barkerville is the chain of lakes known as the Bowron Lakes. This 117 km trek is listed as one of the top10 canoe trips in the world. These mountain framed lakes require a minimum of 6 days to complete by canoe. Reservations are required as limited numbers of people are allowed on the lakes at any one time.
Guest ranches, fishing resorts, hunting lodges and cabins offer getaways for the recreation enthusiasts amid unspoiled wilderness, lakes and rivers. Highway 24 east of 100 Mile House is known as the Fishing Highway. This scenic loop goes past hundreds of lakes offering some of the best fresh water fishing in the province along with canoeing, kayaking, boating and birdwatching. Watch for moose in the many waterways as they feed on aquatic plants. In winter go cross country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and ice fishing or try your hand at dog sledding.
From Williams Lake take Highway 20 west to begin your adventure in the Chilcotin . Much of the beautiful and spectacular untouched scenery will require you take gravel roads from Highway 20, but they are worth the trip. Cross the mighty Fraser River at Sheep Creek bridge and begin an uphill climb to Riske Creek where a notable volcanic plateau north of town offers panoramic views from an abandoned lookout tower. See cattle grazing in green meadows while cowboys stand guard. At Farewell Canyon Road travel 10 km to the Junction Sheep Reserve where a herd of over 500 bighorn sheep make their home. Continue along this gravel road to one of BC’s hidden geological wonders, the Hoodoos. The Hoodoos are sand and limestone pinnacles etched against the sky while the turquoise Chilcotin river winds its way along the desert terrain. You can continue on Fraser Canyon Road, taking the 80 km loop back to Highway 20 at Hanceville, named after Tom Hance who opened the first general store here in 1869.
Another gravel road off Highway 20 travels 100 km to Ts-Os Park, home to Chilco Lake, a glacier fed lake that is the largest high altitude lake in North America. This brilliant blue lake empties into the Chilko River where thousands of sockeye salmon spawn in late summer and fall. This park is also home to the immense Homantho Icefield where you can explore ice caves and look for fossils. Local guides will take visitors to fishing lakes, aboriginal sites and wildlife viewing areas. ‘The white mile” of the Chilko River in Lava Canyon draws rafters and kayakers to the Class IV-V rapids that are created as the river drops 1500 feet in 15 miles. Continue west on Highway 20, following the Dean River to Nimpo Lake, the Floatplane Capital of Canada, which has become a major departure point for tour operators who fly in fishermen, hunters, canoers and hikers.
The next stop on the way is Anahim Lake, the largest town in the Chilcotin, served by regular flights to and from Bella Coola and Vancouver. In July enjoy barrel racing and cattle roping at the Anahim Lake Rodeo. Also in the Chilcotin region is that part of Highway 99 running from Goldbridge, which was once the largest producing gold pocket in BC, to the town of Lillooet. Also known as the Duffy Lake Road, enjoy the spectacular scenery of the lake. This dramatic 84 km road is now paved and although it is steep and winding, it offers some incredible views and has become a popular route with tourists.
For those looking for a different holiday, this area offers many guest and dude ranches giving the visitor the chance to join in a cattle drive, work the ranch or just enjoy the escape from city life. This is horse country. Multiday horseback guided trips are also popular, along with day rides and evening campfire rides.
This area has lots to offer if you enjoy hunting or fishing as well as canoeing, kayaking or boating. Remote rustic lodges or first class resorts invite you to enjoy a relaxed country life vacation. With a long winter, but mild conditions, the snow is powdery and light. Snowmobilers, back country skiers and snowshoers are blessed with ideal conditions and endless destinations. Heliskiing is offered in Goldbridge and near Tatla Lake.
Accessible by the BC Ferries Discovery Coast Passage ferry from Port Hardy, Bella Coola is the gateway to this region. It is home to the Nuxalk First Nations and a wide variety of their arts, crafts and jewelry can be found in the local shops. Established as a Hudson’s Bay Trading Post in 1869, Bella Coola was only accessible by boat till the citizens of the town built the Freedom Highway in 1952, taking a year to complete the project. This well-maintained 65 km gravel highway from Heckman Pass into Bella Coola is known for its steep switchbacks with grades of as much as 18%. From Bella Coola you can take a fascinating trip to Alexander Mckenzie Historic Park in Dean Channel where this explorer inscribed a message. Take a wilderness cruise, go whale watching or tour up the nearby fjords. Explore Tweedsmuir Provincial Park which features dramatic waterfalls, pristine lakes, glacier capped mountains and Hunlen Falls, Canada’s third highest falls. Also located in the park is Dean River, known as one of BC’s best fly fishing spots. The Alexander Mackenzie Trail and the Nuxalk Carrier Grease Trails also cross this Park.
One minute from Bella Coola is the town of Hagensborg where Norwegian descendants settled in the 1800’s as the landscape reminded them of their homeland. Today you can still see the influence of the scandinavian architecture. The airstrip here provides regular service to Vancouver and Anahim Lake as well as charters to local glaciers, fishing areas and First Nations coastal towns. Visit Bella Bella by ferry, boat, canoe or kayak and explore sandy beaches, hotsprings, abandoned settlements and old growth forests. Look for whales, dolphins and seals and other aquatic animals. Princess Royal Island is home to the rare Kermode Bear or “Spirit Bear” and tours to the area are available in Klemtu throughout September. Grizzly bear tours are available through the spring and summer. Fishing is at its finest in this region with trout, salmon, halibut and cod. Ocean kayaking is a popular sport as kayakers discover the untouched rugged coastline. Hakai Recreation Area, the largest marine park on the West Coast, offers 1230 square kms of recreational activities. Only accessible by boat or plane, this extremely remote area is becoming a popular spot for camping, kayaking, hiking, boating, fishing and wildlife viewing.
In this vast area of BC, towns may be sparse along the scenic highways and gravel roads, but away from the city life and traffic you will find unique opportunities to experience First Nations Culture, rolling ranchlands, fish filled lakes and rivers, foam-edged fjords, flourishing wildlife, majestic mountains and a history of gold seekers’ dreams.