Rich in clean air, glacier-fed rivers, fresh mountain streams, and magnificent wildlife, Bella Coola – the name of both the small town and the valley – is a favourite destination of naturalists, artists, explorers and photographers. The town waterfront boasts an eclectic collection of fishing and pleasure boats, an old cannery site, a tidal estuary and the BC Ferries dock. The historic Kopas Store has a delightful folksy ambience along with a wide selection of British Columbia books, First Nations jewellery and art, fishing licences, marine charts and maps, plus goods and giftware. Don’t miss Clayton Falls, just 1.8km west of the wharf on a short walking trail. It has striking hard granite formations worn by the water and glacier. It is also a gathering place for salmon in a major spawning year. A small park on the fjord, with picnic benches, is a great spot to stop for lunch.
A few minutes east along Highway 20 is the Nuxalk (new-hawk) community of 4 Mile. Styled after the traditional longhouse, and with stately totem poles erected in front, the 4 Mile School is close to the highway and its design is an innovative three-dimensional work of art. Also within this community, you will find an art gallery, a gift shop and the entrance to the expansive petroglyph site, which has ancient rock carvings depicting the cultural beliefs embedded in the Nuxalk culture. Local guides are available to share these legends. Some locals are descendants of those original settlers who lived in the community that Alexander Mackenzie dubbed ‘the friendly village’ at the end of his grand journey.
Situated at the western end of the valley across from towering 2,438m/8,000ft high Mount Nusatsum, Bella Coola was once the site of a Hudson’s Bay fur trading post. The Nuxalk Nation lived throughout the valley for centuries. However, in the late 1860s, after a smallpox epidemic decimated the population, survivors gathered on land close to the mouth of the river. This eventually became the Hudson’s Bay post and what now comprises the non-reserve part of town. Today’s population of roughly 900 thrives on tourism, fishing, logging, and has become a full-service hub for the area. Bella Coola harbour is the grand entrance to the 64,000km2/24,710mi2 Great Bear Rainforest and is the only port between Vancouver and Prince Rupert providing road access to the Interior of B.C.
Just east of Bella Coola is Snootli Creek Regional Park, bordering Walker Island Park just off Hwy 20, and provides visitors with the opportunity to connect with nature trails, meandering through an ancient cedar grove. Here, massive interlocking branches form an almost impermeable forest canopy over the park’s ‘easy’ trails. Walkers stay relatively dry even when it rains! For more information on the Bella Coola Valley, please visit bellacoola.ca.