Take your frontier spirit on the road and explore the vast, golden landscapes of British Columbia’s Chilcotin region. Wide open plateaus stretch west from Williams Lake, home to quaint communities, a diversity of wildlife and a place where you can get in touch with your inner adventurer. On a journey along BC’s Highway 20, make sure you stop at a few of these roadside highlights:
The Chilcotin Palate of Fall Colours
Chilcotin plateau’s tall, faded golden grass creates a contrasting foreground to alpine forests, glacier-capped summits, and twisting rivers. In autumn months, one of the best times to visit, rich oranges and reds of fall foliage create quite the scene for photographers and videographers looking for that Instagram-worthy backdrop. Photography enthusiasts are encouraged to make regular stops along Highway 20 to capture the scenery, take in the panoramic views, as well as keeping an eagle eye out for local bird species and wildlife to include in their compositions.
Step into another World at Farwell Canyon
Just off the beaten path, BC’s largest sand dune is ideal for a taste of the size and scope of the vast Chilcotin, as well as to indulge in some of its wild west natural beauty and considerable Indigenous history. View desert-dry limestone and sandstone walls, hoodoos, and intriguing water-carved formations. Some rock faces are also home to ancient pictographs depicting stories recorded by some of the first Indigenous peoples inhabiting the region. Keep your camera handy to capture area wildlife, including the California Bighorn Sheep.
Experience Biodiverse Climates
The diversity of geography here is something that one needs to experience to believe. Start in hot, arid lands of the eastern Chilcotin – home to prickly pear cactus-strewn desert landscapes dotted with sagebrush and wild grass. Canyons of multi-coloured strata provide background to the mighty Fraser River, the province’s longest river, continuing its 1368 km (820 mi) trek to the Pacific Ocean.
Head west, in the rain shadow of the Coast Mountains, for continued dry climate and grassland plateaus slowly giving way to rolling hills and forests of predominantly Douglas fir and Lodgepole pine. Further west, travellers will find glacier-draped peaks growing more pronounced, descending through alpine-forested mountains into fertile valleys and azure-blue lakes. Stop along your route frequently to capture these microclimates and experience fresh, open landscapes of inspiration.
Revel in the Colours of the Chilcotin River
In the fall months, the Chilcotin River showcases a vibrant rich turquoise colour paired with many golden aspen leaves along the banks. The unique colour of the river is derived from the mixing of the Taseko River (white water), the Chilko River and the Chilcotin River junction just west of Alexis Creek. Combined these three rivers flow approximately 354 km starting near the coastal mountains and the central plateau, into the Fraser River just south of Williams Lake. The name, Chilcotin, comes from Tŝilhqot’in (sill-ko-teen), which roughly translates to “people of the river”.
Top spots to view the Chilcotin River include Farwell Canyon, Hanceville (head south on Hanceville Cutoff Road from Lee’s Corner and continue on Big Creek Road), and Bull Canyon located outside of Alexis Creek.
Discover Indigenous History
Petroglyphs and pictographs adorn the landscape with many of the main roads built upon Indigenous trading trails.
Immersive cultural experiences are available at Nemiah Valley Lodge, where visitors to the Xeni Gwet’in (hon-ay gwi-teen) can meet each day with excitement and wonder, connecting with the land and its people through traditional Indigenous activities and cultural experiences.
Taste Authentic Local Fare
The Historic Chilcotin Lodge in Riske Creek is one of the area’s last remaining frontier lodges and is worth a stop on its own. If your schedule allows for an overnight break, book a dinner reservation to enjoy delectable meals made with fresh local products.
KiNiKiNiK Restaurant in Redstone is an ideal stop for a stretch and an opportunity to enjoy true farm-to-fork creations. All meat is raised and harvested on the ranch, eggs are from hens on site, and they even offer house-made kombucha, sauerkraut and cured meat products.
Puntzi Lake Bakery and Family Restaurant at Woodlands Fishin’ Resort on Puntzi Lake offers a full range of lunch and dinner items, as well as snacks (and breakfast on weekends) so you can refuel after an adventure or grab some takeout to continue on your way.
No trip to the Chilcotin is complete without an authentic guest ranching experience, where visitors can experience what it’s like to bunk at a working ranch and connect with their inner cowboy while forging a lasting bond with fellow visitors and the animals. Visit Terra Nostra Guest Ranch near Kleena Kleene for horse rides guided by experienced wranglers, or plan a stay at Big Creek Lodge for trail riding, cattle drives, and hearty homestyle cooking.
Side Trip to Tatlayoko Valley
If you are an explorer in the Chilcotin seeking incredible vistas, consider adding a few days to your itinerary and explore the Tatlayoko Valley. This vital ecosystem links the rainforests of British Columbia’s coast to the arid plateaus of the Chilcotin and is a hub for migratory wildlife and birds.
Heading south from Tatla Lake, you can explore Horn and Bluff Lakes, with scenic mountain views, a day use area, and hiking trail. Sticking to the main road, Tatlayoko Lake is a mere 31 km (19 mi) from the highway. The crystal-clear waters are surrounded by craggy, snow-capped peaks and are home to a variety of wildlife, including grizzly bear, wolf, and cougar. The lake is popular for kayaking, canoeing, fishing and windsurfing, making for an incredible seasonal getaway. Explore hiking and mountain biking trails, take to the waters, or relax and enjoy a Chilcotin retreat. Of course, if you would like to see even more of these incredible vistas that few experience, there are several flightseeing operators that can help you reach the untouched wilderness.
Once you head past Nimpo and Anahim Lakes (which we recommend for lakeside accommodations and beautiful natural surroundings) you will enter Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park, the gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest, and the Bella Coola Valley.
There are so many fantastic communities throughout the Chilcotin, it impossible to mention them all! Feel free to explore our Chilcotin communities page to learn more.
For more information to help you plan your Chilcotin BC road trip and find more things to see, click here.