The Chilcotin-Coast is often referred to as The Last Frontier, and getting here is part of the fun:
The Discovery Coast Circle Tour makes an excellent driving vacation! See more about it below.
From Vancouver it is about a 7-8 hour drive to reach the Chilcotin. The most interesting route out of Vancouver is to head north on Highway 99 to Whistler, then past Pemberton and over the Duffy Lake Road. This beautiful drive takes about 5 hours and joins Highway 97 at Cache Creek. From there it's 2 hours north to Williams Lake, and turning west onto Highway 20 another 1/2 hour to reach Chilcotin Lodge.
When you leave Williams Lake, Highway 20 crosses the Fraser River and then climbs Sheep Creek Hill to arrive on the Chilcotin Plateau. The drive across the plateau is where you really get the sense of heading into the wilderness. There is very little traffic, and the open plateau slowly gives way to hilly terrain, marshlands and valleys as the mountainous western region looms ahead. Eventually you will reach Anahim Lake and Eagle's Nest Resort, about 3 hours drive from Chilcotin Lodge.
Leaving Anahim Lake you quickly enter Tweedsmuir Provincial Park and begin the most dramatic part of the drive – down the famous “Hill”. The Hill is 15 kilometres of road that drops over 5,000 feet from the Chilcotin Plateau into the Bella Coola Valley at sea level.
This section of steep, switch-backing road was built by the people of Bella Coola and the west Chilcotin as a private initiative in 1953. At the time, there was no road access into the valley and Bella Coola was an entirely land-locked community. The government argued that building a road link would be too difficult because of the "extreme" terrian. However the people of the Chilcotin-Coast didn't listen. Extremely self-reliant and well known for their “get it done” attitude, they put together a crew with two D9 bulldozers and started work from both ends. They clawed their way up and down the mountainside until eventually the two bulldozers touched blades in the middle. They called their new road the “Freedom Highway”.
From the bottom of The Hill it is just a few minutes to Hagensborg and Bella Coola Grizzly Tours.
BC Ferries runs a summer service between Bella Coola and Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. It is part of the Discovery Coast Circle Tour (see below).
Departing Vancouver, you can travel up Vancouver Island to Port Hardy, sail to Bella Coola and journey eastward along Highway 20. Or you can drive westward along Highway 20 from Williams Lake and take the ferry from Bella Coola headed for Vancouver Island and points south.
This ferry trip is like a “mini-cruise” that takes you along a major wilderness fjord past huge mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers, where you might see humpback whales, orcas, dolphins, and eagles.
The trip actually involves two ferries – a very small one between Bella Coola and the island community of Bella Bella, and a very large one between Bella Bella and Port Hardy. Connections are easily made (see the BC Ferries website), but space is very limited and reservations must be made well in advance. In 2018 a new direct ferry service is expected that will provide much more capacity.