There are some
places, fortunately, that are still inaccessible by road. British
Columbia's Central Coast is one of them. Until BC Ferries launched
its Discovery Coast Passage run, the Central Coast was also largely
inaccessible by water as well.
Now, to the delight of adventurers and locals alike, from June to
September, the Queen of Chilliwack connects the community
of Port Hardy, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island, with Bella
Coola on the mainland. For kayakers and campers, RVers and backpackers,
the Discovery Coast Passage
service opens up a brand-new circle tour through some of the province's
most beautiful and largely undiscovered terrain.
From Vancouver, sail between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay, through
the beautiful southern Gulf Islands. From the Swartz Bay ferry terminal
travel south to Victoria, the capital of British Columbia
at the southern tip of the Island.
After visiting Victoria, travel north along the highway over the
Malahat, stopping at roadside pullouts - sweeping vistas
at the Malahat Summit are spectacular. Beyond the Malahat lies the
Cowichan Valley. Often called "The Little Town That Did", Chemainus
is now world famous for the series of over 40 murals depicting the
area's history that can be found on buildings and walls throughout
the downtown area. This outdoor art gallery grew from a very successful
revitalization project implemented when the town's sawmill shut
down in the early 1980's. Now, almost half a million visitors a
year come to view the murals and enjoy the other services that have
From Chemainus head towards Nanaimo, known as the Harbour
City. Nanaimo is second only to Victoria as Vancouver Island's largest
and most vibrant city. Famous for its varied landscapes and more
than two dozen parks, this city possesses one of the most beautiful
waterfronts in Canada. Stop again, this time at Qualicum Beach,
nestled on the eastern shore of Vancouver Island. Qualicum Beach
is a favoured year-round destination, accessible by road, rail and
air. It is known for its spectacular setting of safe, sandy beaches
and old-growth forests against a majestic mountain backdrop.
Your next stop should be the town of Courtenay, the urban
centre of the Comox Valley. Join a studio or garden tour, or browse
contemporary art galleries, craft shops and craft fairs that promote
the talents of local artists, many of whom are known internationally.
Continue towards Campbell River, historically renowned as
the "Salmon Capital of the World." Campbell River is beautifully
set between Strathcona Provincial Park to the west and the Discovery
Islands to the east. Strathcona not only has the highest mountain
on the Island, but also boasts the highest waterfall in Canada.
From Campbell River continue to the sheltered harbour of Port
McNeill, home to many that work in the surrounding forests and
out on the channels between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Just
north of this quiet seaside port lies the world's largest burl.
Taken from an ancient spruce tree, this burl weighs over 20 tonnes
and measures more than 12 metres around.
Like many towns of northern Vancouver Island, Port Hardy
remains a logging, mining and fishing centre, although it is recognized
as the "Gateway to the North Island" - a popular departure point
for outdoor enthusiasts heading out into the wilderness. From Port
Hardy, board the Queen of Chilliwack and cruise past sheltered
inlets, thunderous waterfalls, long deep fjords and narrow channels
- the most stunning scenery is between Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
With the setting sun behind you, the monolithic rock formations
looming over the narrow Burke Channel give the cruise a European
flavour. Weather permitting, the ships' two upper decks are an excellent
vantage point from which to watch for the logging camps, barge houses,
and abandoned settlements that indicate a human presence on this
rugged coastline. Wildlife viewing is another bonus of this trip,
as the ferry slows for orcas, so don't forget your binoculars.
at Oceans Falls and McLoughlin Bay (Bella Bella) prolong
the day-long journey, but also lead to enjoyable scenery as the
Queen of Chilliwack threads her way through the Inside
Coola, the Bella Coola Freedom Road (Highway 20), passes through
diverse landscapes ranging from grassy plateaus and rolling meadows
to picturesque canyons and high mountain peaks. Tweedsmuir
Provincial Park, at over 2.2 million acres (895,000 hectares)
and one of British Columbia's biggest parks, is most easily accessed
from Highway 20, which bisects the southern half of the park east
of Bella Coola. Fly fish for trout and steelhead on Anahim and Nimpo
Lakes, as well as on the Dean River.
Lake, take the gravel road turnoff leading into spectacular
Ts'yl-os Provincial Park - explore this
incredible park on foot or horseback. You can fish for trophy-sized
rainbow trout and dolly varden on renowned Chilko Lake. For
outdoor enthusiasts, the Chilko River is rated amongst the best
and most challenging in North American for kayaking and whitewater
rafting. Lee's Corner Rest Area, west of Williams Lake in Hanceville,
offers the panorama of the Chilcotin Plateau, with the Coast Mountains
in the distance, off to the west. At Riske Creek, take a side trip
south to Farwell Canyon for a look at ancient hoodoo rock formations
and Native rock pictographs. This road will also take you through
a California bighorn sheep reserve.
Head south from
Williams Lake on the old Cariboo Wagon Road, Highway 97,
to 100 Mile House and beyond to Clinton. The Cariboo
offers a tip of the battered cowboy hat to the ways of cowboys,
gold panners, and rustlers - those whose lives created such a rich
and vibrant history. One of the best ways to experience the fun
and flavour of life on the range is to stay at a working guest ranch.
A crash course in lassoing, and a chance to practice some fancy
rope work on an unsuspecting fencepost, may be included in the fun.
Like many of the
towns in the Cariboo, Lillooet was born of the gold rush, and
within twenty years of its founding, the town had swelled to almost
15,000 residents. Rockhounds and history buffs will find Lillooet
to be a real treasure. Lillooet is also a contender for the most unusual
gold course in B.C. - a local sheep farmer has converted his scenic
farm into a golf course. Watch where you step!
Tree in Lillooet
As the Pemberton Valley opens up, so too does the number of roads
leading off from Highway 99 that provide those seeking backcountry
adventure with quick access to hiking, climbing, mountain biking and
backcountry ski-touring routes. Complete your trip with a stop at
Whistler, a charming alpine village and the home of Whistler
and Blackcomb Mountains. Whistler Resort is a year-round destination
consistently rated the number one ski resort in North America.
Next stop is Squamish, situated at the head of Howe Sound,
and surrounded by the sheer faces of the Coast Mountains. Squamish
is cradled in natural beauty, as only a west coast town can be. Squamish
is well known for two features that outdoors people will appreciate:
winds peculiar to the area provide some of the best windsurfing anywhere
on the Pacific Coast; and there's spectacular hiking and rock climbing
at the Stawamus Chief Mountain, the largest free-standing granite
monoliths in the world.
To list even a portion of the attractions of Vancouver is impossible
to do here. Suffice to say, the real charm and advantage of this city
is the range of entertaining options open to visitors. Urbanites can
eat at world class restaurants, attend the symphony, shop at exclusive
boutiques along Robonstrasse and never cast so much as a glance at
the surrounding sea and skyscape. Those with an appreciation of the
outdoors can windsurf in the morning, golf before lunch, ski in the
afternoon, and take in the city lights atop a North Shore mountain.
The city itself is clean, colourful and friendly, with a cosmopolitan
vibrancy that Pacific West Coast cities are known for.
Towns on or near this Route - Click on a town name to learn
more about that town.