The community of Hagensborg is located in the Bella Coola Valley, on the Bella Coola Road (Highway 20). Highway 20 crosses the Coast Mountains and the Chilcotin Plateau, linking the Central Coast with the Central Interior of British Columbia at Williams Lake.
Long the home of the Nuxalk people, the Bella Coola Valley became a route to the Cariboo gold fields in 1858, and the location of a Hudson’s Bay Trading Post in 1867.
Norwegian colonists from Minnesota settled in Hagensborg in 1894. The colonists chose the area because the landscape reminded them of their homeland – fjords just like in Norway! Farming, lumber, and fishing industries began shortly thereafter, and the first school was opened in a large communal tent in November 1895.
The Bella Coola Valley is of archaeological and historical significance in that it was a trade corridor between coastal and interior Native groups. The river had several villages along its length. Furs and leather were exchanged for salmon and eulachon grease, and were transported along what were called the ‘grease’ trails. (You can still see, though you might not want to smell, the herring-sized eulachon being rendered into oil by the local Nuxalks at the right time of year.) 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.
The Bella Coola Airport is located at Hagensborg and offers chartered and daily scheduled flights to and from Vancouver and Anahim Lake, as well as to local glaciers, fishing areas and coastal destinations.
The Hagensborg Norwegian Heritage House was built at the turn of the twentieth century by Norwegian settler Andrew Svisdahl. The home is furnished as a typical Norwegian home of the early 1900s, and is well worth a visit to get a feeling for life in Hagensborg a century ago.
Augsburg United Church, built in 1904 as a Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church, still welcomes parishioners, and the cemetery relates the poignant history of the Norwegians who travelled to this unknown valley from the United States.
The Thorsen Creek Petroglyphs are located 8 kilometres west of Hagensborg. Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl suggested that the Easter Islanders originated here because the incised rock symbols on the canyon face so greatly resemble the Polynesian stone carvings on Easter Island.
Snootli Creek Fish Hatchery breeds and releases chum, chinook and coho salmon to the Bella Coola River. Other programs include monitoring the spawning success of wild salmon and monitoring wild fry migrations so that hatchery fry can be released to coincide with wild fry migrations. Snootli Creek Hatchery is located off Highway 20, 12 km east of Bella Coola, at the head of North Bentick Arm. Guided tours are provided. No self-guided tours allowed.
The Coast Mountains begin about 30 km west of Anahim Lake and stretch westwards to Bella Coola, west of Hagensborg. Heavy glaciation on these peaks is evidence that parts of British Columbia are still in the grip of the most recent ice age. Viewpoints abound, and particularly notable are those at the summit of the Bella Coola Freedom Road (Hwy 20) at Heckman Pass, near the eastern entrance to Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, and farther west The Hill, which overlooks the Atnarko Valley.
The portion of Highway 20 over Heckman Pass was only completed in August 1953 – by the residents of Bella Coola. They gained road access to the Chilcotin Plateau and Williams Lake and a newfound freedom; hence, the route’s other nickname, the Freedom Highway.
The low-lying Atnarko Valley and Bella Coola Valley have a more coastal climate and vegetation. Towering specimens of coastal hemlock, western red cedar, and some remnant Douglas-fir abound. Also present are black cottonwood on the valley floors, which thrive in forests carpeted with giant sword ferns and tangles of huckleberries, blueberries, raspberries, wild roses, thimbleberries, salmonberries, wild lilies, and orchids, to name but a few of the many plant species found here.
Bears: With all those berries around, it’s no wonder that there are so many bears in the area. Both grizzly and black bears occupy the Atnarko and Bella Coola Valleys, congregating along the riverbanks in autumn to feast during the annual salmon spawning migrations. Due to the wild nature of this region, visitors who wish to get off the beaten track, but lack backcountry experience, would do well to hire a guide.
Hiking: The Hagensborg area offers a number of hiking trails, including the Lost Lake Trail on the north side of the Bella Coola River, which leads hikers to the diminutive Lost Lake, a picnic site and great views of the valley and Nusatsum Mountain. The well marked and wheelchair accessible Saloompt Interpretive Trail follows the Bella Coola River to an old-growth forest with picnic tables and benches.
The Snooka Creek Trail, developed by BC Forest Service, is an easy to moderately challenging trail between Bella Coola and Hagensborg that accommodates hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. Five kilometres east of Hagensborg, and 20 kilometres south of Hwy 20, Odegaard Falls is a fine destination for picnics or hiking, and offers a fine view of the falls, which cascade about 200 metres down into the East Nusatsum Valley. The Odegaard Glacier that feeds the creek is visible well above the timberline, at the head of the east fork of the Nusatsum River.
Outdoor enthusiasts with an historical bent can tackle one of Canada’s ultimate hikes, the ancient Grease Trail of the Carrier Indians, now known as the Sir Alexander Mackenzie Provincial Park. Hike into history, retracing all or part of the steps of the famous explorer on the trail that extends 420 kilometres from the mouth of the West Road (Blackwater) River, north of Quesnel, through Tweedsmuir Park to Dean Channel west of Bella Coola.
Camping: Forest Service campsites located close to Hagensborg include those at Odegaard Falls and Nusatsum River. Just southwest of Bella Coola, Blue Jay Lake has campsites, lakeside picnic areas, and is a popular spot for canoeing, angling and swimming. On the Bella Coola River, near the western boundary of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, McFall Flats is a Forest Service recreation site with vehicle-only sites. No tenting is allowed because of the bear hazard. The main features of this site are its sandy riverside beach, sportfishing, and numerous roads and trails nearby for hiking, mountain biking, or horseback riding.
One of British Columbia’s largest parks, Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park, is accessed from Highway 20, which bisects the southern half of the 895,000-hectare park, east of Bella Coola. The park encompasses an astounding diversity of landscapes and conditions, with the Dean River acting as a natural boundary between the north and the south sections of the park.
Campgrounds are located on the Atnarko River, near park headquarters at the bottom of the hill, and farther west at Fisheries Pool, near Stuie.
Canoeing: The chain of lakes connected by Hunlen Creek provides the opportunity for an enjoyable canoeing trip of three to five days. Leading from Turner Lake to Sunshine Lake, a distance of about 27 km one way, this route enjoys calm water, beautiful scenery, good cutthroat trout fishing, sandy beaches, and wilderness camping.
Hiking: The Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail runs through the park, but it’s not the only trail of length in the park. Tweedsmuir is serious backcountry hiking and camping. West of the park headquarters is the start of the Tweedsmuir Trail, which leads north about 35 km to the Rainbow Cabin on the Alexander Mackenzie Trail, and also leads to the Rainbow Range. The Hunlen Falls/Turner Lakes Trail (58 km return) along the Atnarko River begins at the Young Creek picnic site east of park headquarters, and passes through prime grizzly bear habitat. Don’t hike alone, and exercise caution at all times! Other trails in the south region include the Ptarmigan Lake Trail (24 km return), which ascends to Panorama Ridge, Lonesome Lake Trail (31 km), the Junker Lake Trail (21 km), Rainbow Range Trail (16 km return), and a couple of others.
Horseback Riding: Horses are permitted on many of the trails leading from Rainbow Range trailhead, 30 km west of Anahim Lake. The Alexander Mackenzie Trail can also be travelled by horseback. You’ll also find good riding on the Puntzi Lake trails, 7 km north of Highway 20, about 60 km west of Alexis Creek.
Picnic Sites include, from east to west, Rainbow Range, just inside the park’s east entrance; Young Creek, a good place to take a break while driving the hill; Big Rock, Fisheries Pool, and Burnt Bridge, near the park’s western entrance.
Wildlife: Magnificent trumpeter swans winter at Lonesome Lake, south of Highway 20.