Great Bear Rainforest Loop
Vancouver – Nanaimo – Port Hardy – Bella Coola – Anahim Lake – Williams Lake – Lillooet – Whistler – Vancouver
Vancouver to Nanaimo via BC Ferries
1hr 40 mins crossing time
Vancouver and Nanaimo are both gorgeous, well-known and bustling west coast ports in British Columbia. Vancouver is consistently named as one of the top five worldwide cities for livability and quality of life and Nanaimo, known as “The Harbour City” is the gateway for other destinations on northern Vancouver Island. We highly recommend planning a day to explore each city’s landscape and culture. We recommend you reserve a spot on the ferry leaving Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal, as the wait for sail times can get quite long in the spring and summer months.
Nanaimo to Port Hardy Ferry
385 km | 4.5 hours Coming out of Nanaimo, take Highway BC-19N toward Campbell River and follow it all the way up to Port Hardy, where you will board a ferry to Bella Coola. This picturesque stretch of highway is chock full of quaint towns, camping and fishing spots, wineries and craft breweries, and so much more. Check out Tourism Vancouver Island for the lowdown on the island’s activities and sights. Port Hardy: A fantastic town at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Port Hardy serves as a hub for air, ferry and marine transportation networks, and serves as the gateway to the fast-growing Central Coast (part of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region). The town also supports several traditional and emerging sectors and remains rich in natural resources and community spirit. Definitely, plan to spend at least a day or two in Port Hardy to explore or just unwind in the ocean breeze.
- Flightseeing: Experience the thrill of flight while you follow the network of isles and islets over to BC’s coastal mountain range.
- Land Adventures: Check out the local beaches or hike and explore the backcountry in the area’s parks and reserves.
- Water Adventures: guided boating tours, whale watching, ocean kayak adventures, even ocean paddleboarding fun is available in this part of the Central Coast.
- Wildlife Viewing and EcoTours: Bear viewing, bird watching, whale watching. So many majestic creatures populate the central coast region.
Port Hardy to Bella Coola via BC Ferries
10 hours Bella Coola At the Port Hardy Ferry Terminal (6800 BC-19 in Bear Cover), board the Northern Sea Wolf, which offers direct service from Port Hardy to Bella Coola in the summer months. BC Ferries reservations are strongly recommended and bring a camera, as on one of the most scenic routes in the world you’ll have plenty of picturesque opportunities.
- Guided Tours: Hire a guide to give you the ultimate experience. They can show you local favourites, such as Clayton Falls or the Petroglyphs at Thorson Creek or the famous white Kermode “Spirit” bears.
- History: Take a tour of the Bella Coola Museum (housed in a building that dates back to 1892) and trace the history of the town and surrounding areas.
- Hiking & Wildlife Viewing: There are dozens of hikes in and around the valley, for all levels and experience, and an absolute excess of wildlife to be seen. Be sure to travel to nearby Snootli Creek Regional Park to walk through the ancient cedar grove. Truly humbling and uplifting.
- Ocean Adventures: Boat tours, whale and wildlife watching, kayaking, sailing, fishing…you name it, they have it!
Places to stay in Bella Coola include Bella Coola Grizzly Tours & Outfitting, Bella Coola Mountain Lodge, and Nusatsum River Guest House.
Bella Coola to Anahim Lake
135 km | 2 hours 22 mins Take BC-20E up and out of Bella Coola, through the switchbacks and over the Heckman Pass Summit toward Anahim Lake.
Heckman Pass Summit: As you leave Bella Coola and reach the top of the switchbacks, take a few minutes to stop in at the Heckman Summit and have a boo at the valley beyond. Looking down the valley, you can see the point where the boreal forest gives way to the coastal rainforest in the valley below and the ocean stretches out beyond the mountains. Tweedsmuir Provincial Park: Easily accessible via Highway 20, Tweedsmuir is the transition zone from the Interior Plateau into the Rainbow Range and Coast Mountain Range and, as a result, it provides some of the most dramatic scenery in North America. The Rainbow Range gets its name from its multicoloured volcanic peaks and the day hike in to see them is well-known to be a long-time favourite of park visitors. Hunlen Falls, one of the other highlights of the park, plunges 855 ft into the Atnarko River and can be seen on many flightseeing tours in the area and is also an easy 20-minute hike in from Turner Lake. In addition to endless hiking trails found throughout the park, there is also a world-renowned multi-day, seven-lake canoe trip (the Turner Lake Chain) that begins at Turner Lake and excellent fishing opportunities in the Bella Coola, Atnarko, and Dean Rivers. With close to 40 campsites in the park, both in the backcountry and along the highway, there is always a place for park goers to bunk down while enjoying the area. If you have the time, plan to spend several days exploring and staying in the park. There is so much territory to explore and such a wide array of wildlife and sights that you may never want to leave! If you are excited to explore Tweedsmuir for a few days, but prefer to stay at a lodge, check out Tweedsmuir Park Lodge located right in the heart of the park! Anahim Lake: Located deep in the heart of the Carrier First Nation territory, Anahim Lake is the eastern gateway to Tweedsmuir Provincial Park and is known for excellent fishing, vast and virtually untouched wilderness, and some spectacular nearby ice fields and waterfalls. With a heavy dose of First Nations history permeating the region, the town has some must-see historic sites, such as the culla culla houses at Natsadalia Point on Anahim Lake, which offer great insight into the way of life of the indigenous people of the region. Recommended accommodation includes Anahim Lake Resort & RV Park and Eagle’s Nest Resort.
Anahim Lake to Williams Lake
318 km | 5 hours 49 mins This leg of the journey will take you into the sweeping Chilcotin Plateau and down into the valley and Williams Lake. This part of the Chilcotin is steeped in the First Nations history of many different peoples, as well as the settler traditions of ranching and guide outfitting. Be prepared to be blown away by not only the abundant wildlife but also the vastness of this ever-changing landscape. Continue on BC-20E toward Williams Lake.
Nimpo Lake: Known as ‘the float plane capital of British Columbia’, Nimpo Lake is a major launch point for flightseeing tours and fly-in fishing to the West Chilcotin’s pristine wilderness lakes and rivers. From here, adventurers can access isolated cabins nestled in scenery that is unmatched for its dramatic setting or enjoy all that Nimpo Lake itself has to offer including terrific rainbow trout fishing, day-hikes, bird-watching and other wildlife viewing right from Nimpo Lake Resort, Retreat Wilderness Inn, Stewart’s Lodge & Tweedsmuir Air, also offering flight-seeing tours of Tweedsmuir Park and it’s magnificent Hunlen Falls, access to over 25 air only access lakes or custom adventures in the rugged backcountry such as Nuk Tessli. Directions: Approximately 18km from Anahim Lake on BC-20E. The lake is on the left-hand side and there is good signage announcing it. There are several roads in, but the easiest route is to turn left on Cessna Drive (which turns into Otter Road) as you roll through the town on Nimpo Lake. Kleena Kleen: is a tiny settlement 61 km/ 38mi west of Nimpo Lake. Nearby Clearwater Lake is a departure point for float plane trips into remote fishing lakes and rivers and for exploring the regions Alpine Wilderness. Overnight accommodation options are plentiful including Clearwater Lake Lodge and Terra Nostra Guest Ranch. Tatla Lake: Located on the western edge of the Chilcotin grasslands, Tatla Lake is where Irish settler Robert Graham started the area’s ranching legacy. The Graham Inn is available for overnight accommodation, as is the Tatla Lake Manor. Puntzi Lake and Redstone: 11 km off the Hwy at Chilanko Forks, awaits Puntzi lake where biking and hiking trails, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, hunting and birdwatching are plentiful. Several fishing resorts and serviced RV campsites are located on the lake including Barney’s Lakeside Resort and Woodlands Fishin Resort! Or venture further north to Chezacut Wilderness & Ranch Adventures. A little further east you will find Redstone, a small first nations community with the Redstone Store a key stop for fuel and supplies on your Hwy 20 Road Trip. KiNikiNik Lodge, Restaurant & Store: Situated in Redstone between the Chilancoh and Chilcotin Rivers, right on Hwy 20, you cannot miss the beautiful timber-framed, modern designed KiNiKiNiK! For a true pasture to plate experience, stop and sample the cuisine made with locally provided organic meats and vegetables. Bull Canyon Provincial Park: Located in a gorgeous canyon along the azure Chilcotin River, Bull Canyon offers a 20-vehicle accessible campground with full services from May 15th to September 15th. If you need to stretch your legs, hike around the 2km Chilcotin River Interpretive Trail, which highlights protected archaeological sites (please do not disturb) and displays the diverse array of plant life in the area. Fishing on the river is also permitted with an appropriate angling license and obeying fishing restrictions in certain sections of the river. Directions: 7 km (10 mins) west of Alexis Creek on BC-20E look for the sign on the right side of the highway pointing to the creek. Alexis Creek: (Tsilhqot’in)—an indigenous people who live between the Fraser River and the Coast Mountains. Named after Chief Alexis of the Chilcotin, the small community of Alexis Creek is a service centre for the East Chilcotin Region. It’s a good idea to stop here, or at nearby Redstone for gas and supplies as the stations along the highway begin to dwindle. Riske Creek: The tiny community of Riske Creek, named after a Polish pioneer who settled there in the 1860s, is the gateway to a range of outdoor adventures along Highway 20. The Historic Chilcotin Lodge—a hunting lodge built in 1940—offers gourmet meals, comfortable yet rustic accommodations, plus a gift store and tea house to relax before your journey continues. Junction Sheep Range Park & Farwell Canyon: Located at the confluence of the Fraser and Chilcotin Rivers, Farwell Canyon is home to Canada’s largest population of bighorn sheep, which range in the park and are often seen scaling the steep cliffs and hoodoos. From the Highway at Riske Creek, turn left onto Farwell Canyon Road and follow it approximately 21 km to the park. Farwell Canyon hike: From the park entrance, you can see several trails that lead down into the canyon. Most of the trails are moderate for hiking and require sturdy footwear and a small backpack of snacks and water as the trails can take you quite a way (~2-3 hours). Not recommended for people who aren’t fit.
Guest Ranches & Lodges along the way:
If you are interested in exploring some backcountry or experiencing a taste of the cowboy life that permeates this region, consider contacting some local outfits and booking a stay at Bracewell’s Alpine Wilderness Adventures, Escott Bay Resort, Rainbow Mountain Outfitting, Taseko Adventures, or Terra Nostra Guest Ranch. All provide guided tours and backpacking trips in the area, as well as horseback trail rides, fishing opportunities and much more. Williams Lake: Williams Lake is the hub city of the Cariboo region. It’s also a mountain biking mecca that serves up some of BC’s best biking on Westsyde Ridge, Desous Mountain, and Fox Mountain. The River Valley Trail also offers a 12 km gravel trail down to the Fraser River that’s great for walking, running, mountain biking and horseback riding. For nature and wildlife addicts, Scout Island houses a nature sanctuary with a beach, picnic grounds and a wide variety of small animals and birds. If History interests you, Williams Lake has a rich First Nations history and it is actually named after Chief William of the Secwepemc First Nation. Also, because Williams Lake is in the heart of Cowboy Country, it hosts a famous rodeo, the Williams Lake Stampede, every year in July, drawing rodeo buffs from all over the world. We highly encourage you to take a day and have a look around and stop into the BC Cowboy Hall of Fame, located in the Museum of the Cariboo Chilcotin, which is open daily and offers an interesting insight into the lives and histories of the regions’ cowboy past. View Williams Lake accommodation, activities and attractions.
Williams Lake to 100 Mile House, BC
92 km | 1 hour 7 mins Since this part of the country is well and truly Cowboy Country, it makes sense to spend some time immersing yourself in the cowboy culture and becoming familiar with the big sky beauty this area has to offer. Leaving Williams Lake, take BC-97S toward Clinton, BC.
Lac la Hache: Often called The Longest Town in the Cariboo, this community’s resorts, ranches, restaurants and homes are scattered along the lake’s 19 km shoreline. It’s particularly popular among wakeboarders, power boaters, and anglers. One of the most popular recreational lakes in the Cariboo, the lake includes campgrounds, resorts, and a bait and tackle shop. It’s also well stocked with Rainbow and Kokanee and sports wild lake trout, burbot and mountain whitefish. Definitely something for everyone and a fantastic way to spend a day out on the lake in the sun. Accommodation recommendations include: Crystal Springs (Historical) Resort and Kokanee Bay Motel & Campground Directions: Approximately 66.5 km from Williams Lake on the right side of the highway. 108 Mile Ranch: Once a working cattle ranch, 108 Mile Ranch is now a small residential community 12 km north of 100 Mile House. A heritage site welcomes visitors as they roll into the north end and contains 12 historic buildings from a period between 1860 and 1914, including one of the last Clydesdale barns still standing in Canada. In addition to the heritage sites and many kilometres of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, there is also a 9.2 km trail winding around 108 and Sepa lakes that is an easy walk for the whole family. 108 Mile Ranch is an engaging stop along the highway with all the amenities for travellers and adventurers, including one of the area’s only golf resorts at 108 Golf Resort Directions: Approximately 78.5km from Williams Lake just after Lac la Hache. You can’t miss it! 100 Mile Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary: According to the South Cariboo tourism association, “almost forty species of waterfowl can be found on South Cariboo lakes and wetlands. Many migratory species live here during the summer months or pass through in the spring and fall during their annual passage. These include not only various ducks and geese, but also trumpeter and tundra swans, and the odd white pelican. The great blue heron is often seen quietly standing at the water’s edge. Lake and stream edges, known as riparian zones, are important to nesting birds such as loons and geese, as well as sensitive amphibians. These zones impact the health of the water and creatures who live there; not only fish, but also beavers, otters and muskrats. Watch for moose peeking from among the willows and black cottonwood trees.” Be sure to stop in and grab a printed guide of all the local birds and wildlife at the 100 Mile House Visitor’s Centre at 155 Wrangler Way and then head to the Sanctuary, which is next door! Directions: In 100 Mile House at 155 Wrangler Way. 100 Mile House: Accommodations, activities and attractions.
100 Mile House to Clinton, BC
72.5 km | 44 min This may be a relatively short stretch of highway, but it is chock full of places to see and things to do. Continue down BC-97S toward Clinton.
The Sugar Shack: Find a little piece of Quebec in the heart of the Cariboo with maple syrup products & gifts, as well as authentic, no-shortcut poutine! Green Lake Provincial Park: Green Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in British Columbia with its crystal clear emerald water that is welcoming to a wide array of people. The size of the lake, the temperature and clarity of the water, and the numerous campgrounds and resorts located along its shoreline are alluring to anyone who loves fishing, water sports (such as wakeboarding, kayaking, and paddleboarding) or just relaxing on the shore in the sun. There is even a sunken boat at the north end of the lake that sports a skeleton and a treasure box. A must-see surprise for little ones. Highly recommend having a look at this lake and spending some quality time there. Directions: Turn left off BC-97N at the 70 Mile Store and follow the road until it forks into Green Lake N and Green Lake S. The majority of the campsites and resorts are on the north side of the lake. All are first come, first served. Approximately 10 minutes from the turnoff. Head back toward the 70 Mile Store and then turn left back onto BC-97S toward Clinton. This stretch of the highway is very picturesque and has two popular stops, Chasm Provincial Park and Marble Range Provincial Parks. Chasm Provincial Park: Often referred to as the Mini Grand Canyon, the Painted Chasm is one of the most geologically unique parks in the Cariboo. It displays a spectacular array of colour during the spring and summer months, with a startling contrast between the red, brown, and purple lava walls of the gorge and the green of the Ponderosas and grasses of the valley below. Carved by melting glaciers and erosion over the past 10 million years, the Chasm is 8 km long, 600 metres wide, and 300 metres deep. In a word, epic. It has a fenced viewing platform at the top and there are hiking trails all over it. After you’ve seen the lookout, follow the trail that parallels the train tracks north. It will fork. Take the trail that leads southwest and is lined by giant Ponderosa Pines. It follows the edge of the canyon quite a ways and the views are worth the hike. Directions: Approximately 26.5km from 70 Mile House, turn left onto Chasm Road and follow it for 4 km to the viewing platform. Marble Range Provincial Park: Known for limestone karst formations (a type of formation created by dissolved limestone, dolomite, and gypsum that results in sinkholes and caves), this park exists in an alpine and subalpine habitat. Old growth forests surrounded by karsts and mountains, this wild and unmanaged area is the perfect mix of primordial nature and abundant wildlife. The park is packed with hiking trails, is popular with backcountry and horseback riding enthusiasts and it offers a mix of both easy ambling for those who want to stretch their legs and summit scaling for those who want to test their mettle. The park does not provide any facilities and does not contain water sources, so be sure to prepare yourself accordingly. Directions: Resuming your journey down BC-97S, turn right onto Big Bar Road. Follow Big Bar for approximately 43.5 km and then turn left off of Big Bar (unnamed road) and follow that road for another 10.5 km. Clinton: Clinton is known for its gold rush and pioneer history but also as the Guest Ranch Capital of BC. This tiny town still boasts some original buildings from its inception (the Clinton Museum is located in the original schoolhouse built in 1892) and offers an abundance of history and memories of gold rush days while also still serving as a central hub for many outlying ranches and smaller communities. While the town carries historical significance, its surroundings are equally enamouring for tourists.
Walking Tour: If you are interested in the history of the area, consider taking a historical 20-stop walking tour. The tour includes many buildings built 100-200 years ago, including China Town/Pioneer cabins, and the old schoolhouse turned museum, built in 1892. To book the tour, pop into the Museum at #1419 on the Highway through town. Antiquing: Clinton is an antique collector’s heaven with five antique stores – enough to spend an entire day!
Clinton to Lillooet
106 km | 1 hour 19 mins Prepare yourself for a change of scenery as the road will take you out of the flatlands of the Cariboo and roll you into the southern Chilcotin region of winding rivers, thick forests, and rising peaks. Continue on BC-97S and turn right at the junction onto BC-99N toward Lillooet.
Historic Hat Creek: Used historically as a stopover for gold rushers in the 1860s, it’s now a BC Heritage Site in a beautiful setting with original buildings, equipment, and tours. Directions: As you turn onto BC-99N, you will see the ranch on the left side. The entrance is well-marked and easily visible. Marble Canyon Provincial Park A favourite playground for locals and visitors. Marble Canyon is a small, quiet campground and picnic area, set between two small lakes, Turquoise and Crown. The lakes are teeming with fish and the park is also popular with bird watchers due to the large diversity of birdlife in the area. Serenely nestled in the rugged Pavilion Mountain Range, this limestone canyon is a rare geological formation in British Columbia. There’s even a waterfall on the far end of Turquoise Lake (an easy 15-minute hike from the parking lot). Highly recommend stopping here to have a look (or paddle if you have kayaks or boards). Directions: On the left side of the highway between Hat Creek Ranch and Lillooet. Look for the lakes and the sign for the park. Very easy to find. Fort Berens Winery: Love wine? Consider stopping in at the recently established Fort Berens Winery, just outside of Lillooet, to sample wines crafted from the best grapes in Lillooet, the Similkameen and the Okanagan. Directions: On the right side of the highway just outside of Lillooet (1881 Hwy 99 North) Lillooet: Lillooet is considered “Mile Zero” of the Cariboo leg of the Gold Rush trail and is the beginning of the famed Cariboo Waggon Road. Despite once being the 2nd largest North American town in the 1860s, Lillooet has whittled itself down to a gorgeous small town with a nice mix of modern culture and a rich history of both indigenous peoples and settlers from the gold rush. Situated in a valley along the Fraser River, the town is bordered by mountains and surrounded by outlying lakes. Even if you are following the Gold Rush Trail for the history, the sheer magnitude of the natural abundance surrounding the town cannot be ignored. There is, simply, so much to do around Lillooet.
- Lillooet Visitor Centre & Museum
- Mile 0 Cairn on Main Street (start of the Cariboo Waggon Road) Directions: Can’t miss it. Sits in the middle of Main Street as you drive into town.
- Jade Walk (a walk downtown memorializing the significance of Jade in the region) Directions: Walking map is available at the Visitor’s Center.
- Old Suspension Bridge; A suspension bridge built in 1913 and no longer in use. It’s also an excellent place to watch the local First Nations fishing below. Directions: Located on Old Bridge Road and accessible from in town.
- Xwisten Experience: guided tour of the archeological summer fishing site of the St’at’imc First Nations. Directions: Available at Visitor’s Center.
Side Day or Multi-Day Trip through the Bridge River Valley
105 km / 2 hr 45 Min Nestled in the Bridge River Valley among the towering peaks of the South Chilcotin Mountains, Gold Bridge, Bralorne & Pioneer await history buffs who enjoy poking around old ghost towns and abandoned mines, as well as outdoor enthusiasts who will appreciate the valley’s fishing, hunting, mountain biking, rock hounding, and rugged mountain beauty! It’s a good idea to check the conditions of the road before setting out as it is a narrow gravel road that can be adversely affected by weather. Summer and winter adventures await at Chilcotin Holidays, Tyax Adventures, and Tyax Lodge & Heliskiing.
Lillooet to Vancouver via the Duffey Lake Road/BC-99S
250 km | 3 hours 34 mins The scenery between Lillooet and Whistler will leave you speechless. The entire area is known all over the world as one of the prettiest areas in BC with a nice sprinkling of roadside wildlife. Keep an eye out for bears, deer, marmots, and bighorn sheep. The Duffey Lake Road (aka BC-99S) is actually considered its own attraction (especially to motorcycle aficionados) and has been mentioned in the Vancouver Province more than once as one of BC’s top drives. The winding road—often more switchbacks than highway—is often single lane and the sites along the way are sublime. If possible, take a day to drive the road and enjoy the laid-back, relaxing ambience of sunshine and a winding road surrounded by peaked pinnacles.
Seton Lake Recreation Area: Excellent swimming and day picnic area. Directions: 3 km west of Lillooet on the right side of the Duffey Lake Road. Duffey Lake Provincial Park: Duffey Lake is situated in the Cayoosh Creek Valley and was historically used as a travel route between Lillooet First Nations on Lillooet Lake and the Stl’alt’imx First Nations on the Fraser River. From the beach, the lake is framed by densely forested hillsides on two sides with an amazing view of snow-capped Mr. Rohr between them. Directions: 52 km west of Lillooet on the right side of the Duffey Lake Road. Pemberton: The Pemberton area is addictive with its peaceful vibe and idyllic setting, low in a river valley surrounded by the stunning Coastal Mountain range. It offers something for everyone—shopping, outdoor recreation, hiking, amazing mountain biking, backcountry trekking, river rafting, fishing, and so much more. To explore it fully, you’ll need a home base and we suggest you stick around for a day or two to get your adventure on. Whistler: A resort town in the southern Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains, Whistler is located 36 km south of Pemberton. It’s estimated that over two million people visit annually to ski in the winter and mountain bike in the summer. The village of Whistler is spectacular—clean, innovative, inviting—with a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and accommodation dotting the landscape. From Whistler, journey the scenic Sea-to-Sky on BC-99S/Sea-to-Sky toward Vancouver. Arguably one of the most gorgeous roads to travel in the world, BC’s Highway 99S from Whistler to Vancouver—locally known as the Sea-to-Sky Highway—will not disappoint you. The views are epic with the Pacific Ocean on the right and the mountains rising up on the left. Be careful you don’t get caught up in gaping at the views and cause an accident—it’s been known to happen!
Before you book your next BC bear viewing adventure tour, ensure that the tour company you choose is a member of the Commercial Bear Viewing Association.