The small community of Bella Coola is considered a gateway to the extraordinary Great Bear Rainforest and, due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean, is a relatively mild place to visit in winter for explorers looking for a slightly different winter vacation – one full of outdoor adventure and peaceful reflection.
Located at the head of the North Bentinck Arm, this small community of just over 2000 people connects via Highway 20 to nearby communities of Hagensborg, Salloompt, Nusatsum, Firvale, and Stuie.
Travelling to Bella Coola in the winter isn’t for everyone however, those who take the adventurous step will be met with a welcoming community and experiences that will leave lasting memories for years to come.
Day One: Arrive & Explore Bella Coola
Getting to the Great Bear Rainforest in the winter is most readily accomplished via a roughly 1 ½ hour flight from Vancouver with Pacific Coastal Airlines. This might be one of the most scenic flights you will ever experience, offering stunning views of rugged mountain ranges and coastal scenery.
Upon landing at Bella Coola Airport (QBC), grab your rental from Bella Coola Vehicle Rentals – featuring a fleet of primarily SUVs, passenger vans, and mid to full-size trucks so you can get around in the winter conditions safely and comfortably.
If you’re immediately heading out of town to an adventure (or to your accommodations) and want to grab a bite first, the Bella Coola Valley Inn offers a variety of dishes featuring Western cuisine, Korean and sushi in their comfortable dining room. You’re also welcome to check in here as well into one of their 20 rooms with a beautiful view of the mountains. It is recommended to reserve your hotel stay in advance to ensure availability.
Those staying in Bella Coola are encouraged to visit Copper Sun Journeys for guided tours of the Nuxhalk region, including ancient petroglyphs, totems, rafting and big cedars. Your Indigenous guides will take you through an area home to spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, & dramatic mountain peaks while teaching about the people, places, and history.
Day Two: Outdoor Adventure
Take a full day to explore the waterways and forests surrounding the Bella Coola Valley with a guided day tour. Plenty of operators in the area offer a variety of tours, from waterfalls and hot springs to bear viewing and big trees. These tours are often booked well in advance, so plan ahead!
If you’re feeling adventurous and confident in your winter driving skills, then head to Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, about a 1-2 hr drive from Bella Coola (depending on which part you are visiting). There are a variety of cross-country ski trails to experience – visit the Tweedsmuir Ski Club for more information.
Additional trails throughout Tweedsmuir Provincial Park are available for winter recreation, including snowmobile trails at Heckman Pass. Note that the drive up/down Heckman Pass (a.k.a. “The Hill) is reasonably challenging in winter and should only be undertaken by experienced winter drivers.
If you are venturing towards Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, consider staying in accommodations close by (near Atnarko or Nimpo Lake), including some cozy winter cabins to save the drive back down to Bella Coola for the morning.
Day Three: Hiking, Heritage, and Home
If searching for a slower pace for your final day of winter holidays in the Great Bear Rainforest, consider some of the local hikes throughout the Bella Coola Valley, many of which wind through forest and meadows to take you to lookouts where you can view the North and South Bentinck Arms leading into Bella Coola. For those interested in learning more about local ecosystems, consider the Saloompt Forest Trail, a 1 km (0.6 mi) easy and flat interpretive trail that follows the Bella Coola River.
Download the Bella Coola Trail Guide for more hikes and details.
If you still have time before your flight home, head to The Norwegian Heritage House in Hagensborg. This traditional, square, timber-log style was the original home of the Svisdahl family, who were early pioneers of the area. Open: Tuesday through Friday from 10 am to 6 pm.
Time to return your rental car and catch your flight home! Remember to keep your camera handy for the flight home.
Tips for Respectful and Sustainable Travel to the Bella Coola Valley
As a guest in the territory of the Nuxhalk nation, you are asked to abide by the following four protocols during your visit:
- Qlamta – Respect all beings: Respect for the land and the life it holds; Acknowledge Nuxalk Rights & Title throughout the territory; Listen, speak kindly, and understand boundaries
- Kastsayulh – Ask permission first: Accept that not all areas are open to visitors; Ensure you follow official protocols and guidelines; Ask permission before taking pictures of people and places
- Putl’lt – Take care of the land and each other: Always think of future generations; Leave the land cleaner than you found; Support our local artisans and businesses
- Yayaatwi – Be happy: Relax and enjoy yourself! Be present in the territory; Slow down, be mindful and connect with your surroundings in a good way
Looking for more winter travel inspiration? Visit the blogs below or download our free travel guide.