The Chilcotin region of British Columbia is located between the Coast Mountains and the Central Interior of BC. Highway 20 runs from Bella Coola to Williams Lake, linking the Central Coast with the Central Interior as it crosses the Coast Mountains and the Chilcotin Plateau. Highway 20 passes through diverse landscapes ranging from grassy plateaus and rolling meadows to picturesque canyons and high mountain peaks. Roads off the highway provide access to excellent views of the Coast Mountain Range, as well as important backcountry lakes.
Remnants of precontact Native culture include the site of Friendly Village, visited by Sir Alexander Mackenzie in 1793, pictographs near Big Rock, a burial ground and smokehouse near Stuie, and aboriginal trade trails. There are also obsidian quarries on Tsitsutl Peak.
Air services based in Nimpo Lake offer canoe and cabin rentals at Tweedsmuir Wilderness Camp, Turner Lake; floatplane flights to Turner Lake; and sightseeing flights to the massive Monarch Icefield in the Coast Mountains just west of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park’s southwestern border.
Although you’ll find cowboy boots and Stetson hats to be standard issue in many parts of the province, from Surrey in the Lower Mainland to Dawson Creek in the Northeast, the Chilcotin Plateau east of the Bella Coola Valley can rightfully claim to be the true bastion of the range rider in British Columbia. Very few of the roads are paved, restricting access to only the most adventuresome and savvy map readers. Vast expanses of the Chilcotin are worked by large outfits such as the Gang Ranch, at one time the largest ranch in North America with over 1 million acres (400,000 hectares). The ranch epitomizes the spirit of this isolated region. Wherever you stop along the Bella Coola Road, there’s always a pot of (mostly free) coffee brewing.
For more than a century, general stores throughout the Chilcotin region have played an important role as community centres and meeting places where hospitality is legendary and genuine. Stop in to get a taste of Chilcotin living today – and as it was in the past. Examples along Hwy 20 include the Riske Creek General Store, about 30 miles (47 km) west of Williams Lake; Lee’s Corner (Hanceville) General Store, 56 miles (91 km) west of Williams Lake; the Chilanko Forks General Store, about 35 miles (56.5 km) west of Alexis Creek; the Kleena Kleene General Store, 19 miles (31 km) west of Tatla Lake; and the Anahim Lake General Store, about 60 miles (95 km) west of Tatla Lake.
It’s a land where cowboys reign, but both outstanding fishing and adventure are making a run for top billing. Out here the interesting characters are friendly, full of stories, and are always ready to entertain. The locals also exude a certain independence of spirit. It is this spirit that opened up this rugged landscape, and it is in this spirit that you must take your journey into the Chilcotin.
Location: The Chilcotin region of British Columbia is located between the Coast Mountains and the Central Interior of the province. The area is accessed by Highway 20, also known as the Bella Coola Road, that runs for 282 miles (451 km) from Bella Coola on the BC coast to Williams Lake, located on the Cariboo Highway 97.
The small community of Alexis Creek on the Bella Coola Highway is the service centre for the East Chilcotin region.
The native community of Anahim Lake is a splendid base from which to embark on horseback or hiking trips into the surrounding Chilcotin wilderness of the Itcha Mountains, the Ilgachuz Mountains, and the multi-hued Rainbow Mountains. Located 61 miles (98 km) west of Williams Lake, Anahim Lake is the largest community in the West Chilcotin.
Bella Coola Hwy 20
The Bella Coola Road runs for 283 miles (456 km) from Bella Coola to Williams Lake, linking the Central Coast with the Central Interior as it crosses the Coast Mountains and the Chilcotin Plateau, including Tweedsmuir Provincial Park and Farwell Canyon.
At 80 kms (50 miles) long and fed by glaciers, Chilko Lake is the largest natural, high-elevation freshwater lake in North America. The lake plays host to the third-largest chinook/sockeye salmon run, from August through October. Chilko Lake is located in Ts’yl-os Provincial Park.
Located in the Bridge River Valley, nestled amongst the towering snow-covered peaks of the Southern Chilcotin Mountains, Gold Bridge was in one of the richest gold-producing regions in the history of BC.
Located approximately 20 miles (30 km) west of Tatla Lake, Kleena Kleene is the departure point for flights to remote lakes such as One Eye Lake, and rivers such as the Klinaklini. Charter flights are also available at Tatla Lake to nearby fishing lakes.
Moose Lake is located east of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, in the wilderness of the upper Blackwater, Upper Dean, and Entiako River watersheds. The area is an isolated wilderness area, home to a wide range of wildlife, including moose, grizzly bears and wolves. Visitors to the area come to enjoy the opportunity to boat, fish or hike in a truly remote wilderness.
The Nazko Valley is a beautiful valley with crystal clear rivers and lakes, vast verdant forests and impressive mountains. Nazko is located 100 Km (60 miles) west of Quesnel.
Known as the Floatplane Capital of BC, Nimpo Lake is located approximately 37 miles (60 km) northwest of Tatla Lake on Hwy 20. It’s a major centre for air charters flying guests to remote fishing locations. In recognition of its reputation for rainbow trout fishing, Nimpo Lake was chosen as the location for the 1993 Commonwealth Fly-Fishing Championships.
The small town of Riske Creek is set amidst rolling grasslands serving as the gateway to Junction Sheep Range Park.
Tatla Lake is a small community near the western edge of the Chilcotin Plateau serving as a helicopter tour access point for several wilderness destinations, including the Homathko Ice Field and Mt. Waddington.
A special feature in the upper Atnarko River watershed is the magnificent Hunlen Falls, with its 853-foot (260-metre) single drop over a sheer rock face. It is one of the highest waterfalls in Canada.
At Sheep Creek Bridge, view the spectacular Fraser River Canyon. Good views can be had from several locations on Highway 20, including the Chilcotin Bridge, 15 miles 925 km) west of Williams Lake.
During fall, the Tsilhoqot’in First Nations (Chilcotin) fish in their traditional manner with long-handled dip nets.
Nineteen kilometres from the Highway 20 junction, the road crosses the Chilcotin River at Farwell Canyon, once the site of a native village. A bridge spans the spectacular canyon, carved through limestone and sandstone, creating hoodoos and other water-carved formations on the rock walls. The ancient hoodoo rock formations and native pictographs on the cliff south of the bridge are very popular attractions in the area.
The Chilanko Forks Wildlife Management Area, a protected marshland on Hwy 20 near Chilanko Forks, 38 miles (62 km) west of Alexis Creek, is home to more than 52 species of birds (among them waterfowl, hummingbirds, and woodpeckers) as well as beavers.
Puntzi Lake, about 4 miles (7 km) north of Hwy 20, about 35 miles (60 km) west of Alexis Creek, is a feeding area for white pelicans in the spring and summer, and trumpeter swans from fall to freeze-up. Other viewing sites are on Alkali, Anahim, and Pantag Lakes.
Nine miles (15 km) south of Hwy 20 on Farwell Canyon Road is the California Bighorn Sheep Reserve, a more than 1,000-acre (400-hectare) game reserve at the confluence of the Fraser and Chilcotin Rivers. The reserve is home to 500 bighorns, one-fifth of the world’s population. Watch for groups of them scaling the steep sandstone riverbanks.
Horseback Riding: Horses are permitted on many of the trails leading from the Rainbow Range trailhead in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, 18.6 miles (30 km) west of Anahim Lake. The Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail also can be travelled on horseback. Guides in Anahim Lake lead guided horse trips in the area. You’ll also find good riding on the Puntzi Lake trails, 4.3 miles (7 km) north of Hwy 20, about 35 miles (60 km) west of Alexis Creek.
The Chilcotin River is rated among the best – and most challenging – in North America for kayaking and whitewater rafting. The Chilko River, a tributary of the Chilcotin that flows out of Chilko Lake, is also known for its whitewater activities. Not only will the Class IV-V whitewater get your adrenal glands fluttering, the landscape will too. The headwaters of the Chilcotin and the Chilko lie in the Coast Mountains near the southeast corner of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. The rivers become runable in the subalpine regions, then they descend to the Chilcotin Plateau’s sprawling grasslands and arid canyons. Some of the most spectacular scenery is found near the Chilcotin’s confluence with the Fraser River, south of Riske Creek. This is an esteemed kayaking and rafting locale, but because of its isolation, the Chilcotin sees relatively few rafters and whitewater kayakers.
Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, at over 2.2 million acres (895,000 hectares) one of British Columbia’s biggest parks, is located in the Chilcotin and is most easily accessed from Highway 20, which bisects the southern half of the park between Bella Coola and Anahim Lake. The park encompasses an astounding diversity of landscapes and conditions, and is divided into two sections, with the Dean River acting as a natural boundary between the north and south.
Tweedsmuir Park South comprises many natural history features, as well as some incredibly diverse landscapes in the Coast Mountains and Interior Plateau regions. The Interior Plateau (which includes the Fraser, Chilcotin, and Nechako Plateaus), in the eastern portion of the park, is a rolling and hilly landscape. Within the park, the plateau is warped sharply upward to more than 6,560 feet (2000 m) and is largely covered with glacial drift. East of the park near Anahim Lake, the Interior Plateau abruptly gives way, at an elevation of about 4,430 feet (1350 m), to peaks of the Rainbow Range.
The peaks of the Rainbow Range – Tsitsutl in the local dialect, meaning painted mountains – form an enormous dome of eroded lava and fragmented rock that presents an astonishing spectrum of reds, oranges, yellows, and lavenders. Contrasting with the vivid colouration and gentler slopes of the Rainbow Range are the higher and more rugged Coast Mountains. Vast glaciers sculpted these granite giants, leaving behind serrated peaks that are still being eroded by the alpine ice.
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