The Coquihalla Highway (Highway 5) travels from Hope north to Kamloops via Merritt. The Coquihalla Highway climbs through the Great Bear Snow Shed, crests the summit of Coquihalla Pass (elevation 4,068 feet/1240 m), then crosses the top of the Thompson Plateau, with side roads leading off into rolling countryside speckled with fishing lakes. The Coquihalla Highway was the only toll road in BC, until the toll was eliminated in 2008 after recovery of the construction cost of the Hope-to-Merritt section.
Avalanche chutes scar the mountainsides and are a visible reminder of the steep terrain that surrounds the highway. Avalanche guns mounted on platforms beside the highway battle the elements to keep the highway open in winter. Travellers must weigh the pros and cons of this route: 75 minutes driving time can be saved between Kamloops and Hope (and there is the convenience of connecting to the Okanagan), but the severe winter snow and winds threaten even the most experienced and best-equipped drivers. At least the roads are well plowed. In summer, because of the steady uphill grade of the highway, motorists must monitor their vehicles for overheating. Highway patrols are frequent should you encounter engine problems.
Travelling northbound from Hope, Highway 5 follows the Coquihalla River until near the summit of the Coquihalla Pass, then follows the Coldwater River to Merritt. The route is particularly scenic in the early fall, when rolling fields and forest foliage take on a golden glow. The surrounding Merritt Forest District supports stands of Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, and subalpine fir at higher elevations; Douglas fir and ponderosa pine are found on the lower benchlands. Extensive grasslands also occur at low-elevation areas, particularly toward Merritt. Moose, mule deer, bears, and grouse are the main wildlife species here, while small numbers of elk and mountain goats find refuge in the south.
Much of the Coquihalla Highway is built upon the original rail bed of the Kettle Valley Railway. Travelling at modern highway speeds it is difficult to imagine the formidable task of constructing a rail route through this rugged section of BC.
As you drive along the highway, you may notice some small signs in the shape of an old steam locomotive, with Shakespearean names. These signs commemorate the approximate locations of the Kettle Valley Railway stations along today’s Highway #5. Canadian Pacific Railway engineer Andrew McCullough was an avid reader of Shakespearean literature, and he used characters such as Lear, Jessica, Portia, Lago, Romeo and Juliet to name stations of the Coquihalla subdivision.
Location: The Coquihalla Highway runs from Hope north to Kamloops via Merritt. Hope, at the eastern end of the Fraser Valley, is the hub for three major routes leading north: Highway 1, Highway 3, and Highway 5. The latter, the Coquihalla Highway, is a route to Merritt and Kamloops. A variety of gravel roads lead off into the bush on both the Hope and the Merritt sides of the Coquihalla Pass. For a map of the side roads, contact the BC Forest Service for a map of the Merritt Forest District: 1-800-665-1511.
An alternate approach to Kamloops via Princeton and Merritt is Highway 5A, the route that predates the Coquihalla, which opened in 1986. Merritt is a hub, where three highways converge – 5, 5A, and 8. Kamloops is 10 times the size of Merritt and Hope. Highways 1 and 5 intersect here at the confluence of the Thompson and North Thompson Rivers.
The following towns are located on or near the Coquihalla Highway (listed in order from south to north):
Nestled in deep wilderness at the base of the Cascade Mountains, the pretty little town of Hope sits on a wide sweeping curve of the mighty Fraser River, guarding the entrance to the Fraser River Canyon. The local joke is that no matter which way you’re going, the rest of BC is beyond Hope.
The growing city of Merritt is located at the hub of the Coquihalla Highway system, in easy reach of Vancouver, Kamloops and the Okanagan. Merritt is the service centre for the ranch country of the Nicola Valley, and provides an excellent base for exploring the many outdoor recreational opportunities in the area.
Set into the hills beside Logan Lake in the heart of the Highland Valley, the community of Logan Lake was originally established as a company town to support a copper mine, but has since bloomed into a beautiful rural destination and one of the more popular communities in the interior of British Columbia.
Situated at the confluence of the North and South Thompson Rivers in the Thompson Valley, the sprawling city of Kamloops takes its name from the First Nations word T’kumlups, meaning meeting place. Water isn’t the only thing that meets here; the Trans-Canada, the Yellowhead and Highway 97 all meet in Kamloops, as do the two national rail lines, CP and CN.
Parks: The following parks – listed from south to north – are located along the Coquihalla Highway between Hope and Kamloops, providing convenient rest stops and overnight campsites for motorhomes and self-sufficient campers (Monck and Lac Le Jeune Parks):
- Kawkawa Lake Park, near Hope
- Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, near Hope
- Coquihalla River Provincial Park, north of Hope
- Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area, north of Hope
- Coldwater River Provincial Park, south of Merritt
- Monck Provincial Park, near Merritt
- Walloper Lake Provincial Park, south of Kamloops
- Lac Le Jeune Provincial Park, south of Kamloops
- McConnell Lake Provincial Park, south of Kamloops
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on Okanagan and Kootenay Rockies Circle Tour. Travel the sunny interior of British Columbia, north through the Okanagan to Sicamous, following Highway 1 into the mountains of the BC Rockies. From Golden, head south through the Columbia Valley to Creston, and west through the Southern Okanagan, starting and ending your sun-drenched voyage in Osoyoos, the place where two lakes come together. Circle Tours in British Columbia.