It’s no secret that exploring outdoors in the winter comes with hazards and British Columbia’s Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region is no exception. Oftentimes the places that are the most difficult to get to are also the most rewarding and when getting to the destination is the goal, it’s important to be prepared. Despite the need for more planning, however, a well-thought-out winter road trip is a wonderful way to escape the winter blues and fully immerse yourself in the beauty of this season.
But what does being prepared out here look like? With the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast’s rugged terrain, varied landscapes, unpredictable weather, and sprawling distances between communities, it’s about more than just having winter tires.
CHOOSING YOUR ADVENTURE
During the summer months, it can be relatively easy to pick a location and jump in the vehicle soon after. The winter season requires more research and preparation. When selecting your destination, be honest about your expectations and know your limits. Have you experienced the outdoors in sub-zero temperatures? Will you be disappointed if certain attractions are closed? How much experience do you have with winter driving?
Booking a guided adventure or inclusive overnight stay with a local business can add immense value to your experience, not only by alleviating planning stresses but by offering you local expertise. While in other seasons a multi-destination road trip can be exhilarating, during the winter, don’t underestimate the value of a one-stop, all-encompassing destination or area. Many of our accommodators offer cozy cabins, hot tubs, lakes for ice skating, cross-country skiing loops and much more directly on site. By staying in one place, or at least very few, you get the chance to truly relax – plus it’s less winter driving.
No matter where you decide to go, be sure to leave a copy of your itinerary with a trusted family member or friend – especially if you are planning a solo trip. What is your return date, and when should someone start searching for you if something goes wrong? If you are planning to stay at a private accommodation option, be sure to call ahead to provide them with the same information and your expected time of arrival. AdventureSmart even has a Trip Planning app to help you with this.
PLANNING THE ROUTE
Along with choosing the destination, take plenty of time to plan your route as well as a Plan B route in case of road closures or poor conditions. Much of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region has little to no cell phone service making it difficult to use apps like Google Maps in real-time. Instead, download the Google Map for your route as an offline map before leaving for your destination. To be extra safe, printouts or road maps are never a bad idea.
It’s also important to plan your route times according to winter driving conditions. Even though Google Maps suggests the length of the trip, this is an estimation using full speed limits only achievable in prime driving conditions. Consider as well that there is less daylight the further north you drive, so you should adjust your departure and arrival time accordingly. Giving yourself extra time will not only make the driving less stressful, but it gives you time to make stops for provisions and winter photo ops.
Speaking of stops, ensure that your planned route includes gas stations, restaurants, bathrooms and whatever other breaks you may need. If technology is available to you, add these stops directly on your map so you don’t miss them. Certain businesses may be closed during the winter, so again, have some backups ready before you leave.
No matter how fool-proof your route may seem, conditions can change in a blink of an eye. Be sure to check resources like local radio stations and DriveBC both before and during your trip.
PACKING & PREPPING THE CAR
Although the spontaneity of throwing a pair of skis in the back of a vehicle and heading on out on an adventure sounds appealing, packing for a winter road trip in this region requires far more gear and careful planning.
We suggest a winter survival kit that includes:
- Winter tires (studded are recommended)
- Non-perishable food (canned, granola bars, etc)
- Water (an insulated flask can keep water from freezing)
- Blankets/extra coats
- Lighter and/or waterproof matches
- Roadside markers
- Booster/jumper cables
- Rechargeable battery pack (your vehicle and electronic devices drain faster in winter temperatures)
- Regional map
- Extra windshield wiper fluid rated -30 or more
- Snow/windshield scraper
- First aid kit
- Candles and a deep container to keep/burn it in
- Lock de-icer
- Spare tire, or a tire repair kit (these are cheap and can be purchased at most gas stations or Canadian Tire)
For this region, winter tires are more than just a recommendation, they’re a legal requirement on BC highways starting October 1st. For those planning on using rental car services, be sure to discuss this before driving off the lot as most rental cars only come equipped with mud and snow (M&S) or all-season tires which, although highway legal, are not recommended for this region. If you’re using your own vehicle, get winter ready with a maintenance check-up before departing on a trip. Learn more about winter tire requirements.
Another handy item to pack is a jerry can of extra gas in case you don’t make it to your planned gas station or a road closure or accident requires you to take a longer route. A handwritten or printed document including important phone numbers such as local tow truck companies, your accommodations, and trusted loved ones is also great to have in case your phone dies and you need to use someone else’s. Carrying a SPOT, inReach, or Zoleo Satellite Communicator that you know how to use can be extremely useful in these times, especially if travelling solo. You can rent these satellite communicators from places like Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) or purchase them directly.
A less obvious but nice addition to the packing list includes something to dry or store wet gear in. Nobody likes to have melting snow and dirt all over the back seats after a day of adventuring! Additionally, games or books to keep you and any children distracted and entertained in the event of an unfavourable situation can be an unexpected lifesaver.
While it may seem like a lot, this packing list will keep you and those around you safe in the unlikely but possible case of an emergency situation. Be sure to double check all of your gear before you leave as we all know how easily items like gloves can magically disappear from bags!
What to Wear
The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast is a large region that sees every type of weather so always plan for function over fashion. Even if you check the forecast and it looks good, pack for variable conditions. Bringing an extra winter jacket and not needing it is better than needing a jacket you didn’t bring. Dressing in layers of moisture-wicking materials such as merino wool, polyester, and polypropylene, is very important as hypothermia and frostbite are a concern. Water-resistant, non-slip boots with good insulation, socks, gloves, toques, scarves, and back-ups of these are key to staying warm and dry. A pair of ice cleats are handy as well as freezing rain and snow can cause the ground to be slippery. Just as important, don’t forget your sunglasses and sunscreen as sun reflection off snow and bright light can affect you even in the winter, especially when driving.
Winter Driving Tips
On the subject of driving, it’s important to note that winter road trips require their own set of skills. Slippery roads and decreased visibility are common. If you need to drive, make sure to idle your car before departing for your trip, as running cold oil through it can damage the engine. You will know it’s ready to safely drive once your car’s oil temperature gauge is resting consistently in the middle. While you wait for this, clear your vehicle of any and all snow, frost, or ice. As winter brings decreased hours of daylight, it is also important to clean your headlights and taillights, removing any dirt or debris. This ensures good visibility for you and those around you on the road. Additionally, it’s a good practice to keep your gas tank as full as possible at all times in case of an emergency or in the event that you miss one of your planned gas stations.
While driving, remember to give yourself lots of extra time and space. High winds can cause surprisingly deep snowdrifts in unexpected places so being slow and careful is critical. Avalanches are also possible in the mountainous areas of our region and while they’re often unexpected, you can limit the surprise factor by learning about and preparing for the avalanche areas along your route.
If you ever get lost, break down, have a flat tire, or feel that the conditions are too unsafe to drive, pull over and turn your hazard lights on. Don’t panic and do not get out of your vehicle as standing on the side of the road can be dangerous in poor conditions. To avoid overexertion and exposure, open your window slightly to ensure you have a fresh supply of air, and turn your vehicle off, if possible, to conserve gas and battery power. It is in these circumstances that having a winter survival kit as well as providing your trip itinerary to someone you trust in helping you is paramount.
The most important thing to remember is that winter road trips out here will almost always take longer than those during the summer, but as long as you’re not in a rush and are careful, the drive in itself is part of the journey!
HAVING WINTER FUN!
Exploring the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast during the winter can come with challenges, however, as long as you are prepared and respect the power of nature, you’ll be a safe and responsible winter warrior in no time!
The warmth of the people, the wild experiences, and the winter wonderland-like scenery of this region cannot be missed – so while you get to safely planning and packing, we’ll be prepping the apple cider and crackling fires for your arrival!