Premier Listings: Hiking & Backpacking: Cariboo, Chilcotin, Coast

Inside Passage and Discovery Coast

Shearwater on Denny Island features a couple of good trails to nearby lakes, including Croil Lake (1 mile/1.6 km return), Eddie Lake (4 miles/6 km return), and Gullchuk Lake (6 miles/10 km return).

There are plenty of trails and roads in and around Ocean Falls for hikers and mountain bikers. Those who are fit might want to hike up and around Link Lake behind the dam, or just hike around the remains of the old community and try to imagine what it was once like.

Depending on your route, your trip aboard the Discovery Coast ferry Queen of Chilliwack may include an offshore photo stop at ‘Mackenzie’s Rock,’ 24 miles (39 km) east of Ocean Falls on the north shore of the Dean Channel. Of inspirational significance for hikers, this marks the western terminus of Alexander Mackenzie’s historic overland passage, where he inscribed the following message: Alex Mackenzie, from Canada, by land, the twenty-second of July, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-three. An engraved plaque commemorates the first-ever transcontinental journey, achieved by this employee of the North West Company, and the small Sir Alexander Mackenzie Provincial Park surrounds the site. This is also the formal western terminus of the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail.

The Bella Coola Road (Highway 20)

Southwest of Bella Coola on Hwy 20, the MGurr Lake Trail (easy; just over 0.5 mile/1 km) offers access to local mountain hikes with spectacular views of the Coast Mountain ranges and fjords. Nearby, the Gray Jay Lake Trail crosses some sensitive wetland habitat on its way to a scenic viewpoint of local fjords.

The Snooka Creek Trail, developed by the BC Forest Service, is an easy to moderately challenging trail between Bella Coola and Hagensborg that accommodates hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders. It consists of two loops and one linear trail named (respectively) Snooka East Loop (easy; 3.5 miles/5.5 km), Snooka South Loop (moderate; 1 mile/1.7 km), and Snooka West (moderate; 4.7 miles/7.5 km return). To reach the trailhead, turn south off Hwy 20 across from the ‘Barb’s Pottery’ sign on the north side of the highway and drive for just over 0.5 mile (1 km) on the gravel Snooka Creek Forest Service Road to the parking lot.

Three miles (5 km) east of Hagensborg and about 12 miles (20 km) south of Hwy 20, Odegaard Falls is a fine destination for picnics or hiking. The turnoff is immediately west of the Nusatsum River Bridge, and the rough access road, with four short steep sections, takes about 40 minutes to drive under good conditions. The major attraction of this Forest Service recreation site is the outstanding view of the falls, which cascade about 600 feet (200 m) 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.

The Odegaard Falls Trail (easy; 2.4 miles/4 km return) begins at the nearby Nusatsum River Recreation Site about 0.5 mile (1 km) south, where you can watch the Nusatsum River flowing down a steep, narrow canyon. After snaking through beautiful hemlock, cedar, and balsam forests for 30 minutes, you’ll begin a moderate, steady climb up to the falls. The last 900 feet (300 m) of the trail can be muddy and slippery when wet. There are also a number of small creek crossings.

South of the Nusatsum River Recreation Site is the Ape Lake Trail. Only 3.7 miles (6 km) of this planned 13.6-mile (22-km) trail have been developed so far. The trail now ends at a viewpoint of rugged ice-capped mountains averaging 8,000 feet (2500 m) in elevation.

The Saloompt Forest Interpretive Trail (easy; about 0.5 mile/1 km) north of Hwy 20 at Hagensborg takes you to an old-growth forest and riverside walk, with views of the local valley. A bit farther east, the Lost Lake Trail (easy; 0.5 mile/1 km) travels through an old-growth forest, up some moderately steep terrain, and ends at a small lake with a view of the Bella Coola Valley. East of the Noosgulch River on Hwy 20, the Capoose Summer Trail (strenuous; 28 miles/45 km return) connects to the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail. The Capoose Summer Trail has some steep and winding sections but can be completed by foot or on horseback.

Hikers with a historical bent would appreciate tackling some or all of the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail, which stretches a full 260 miles (420 km) from the mouth of the West Road (Blackwater) River between Prince George and Quesnel to the Sir Alexander Mackenzie Provincial Park in Dean Channel west of Bella Coola. The trail’s hiking terminus is at Burnt Bridge Creek, adjacent to the western boundary of Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park, where it is intersected by Hwy 20.

Designated as the first heritage trail in British Columbia in 1985, the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail is gaining international recognition among hikers who wish to make a three-week trip along this historic route. The trail includes local wagon roads, provincial highways, forest access roads, rivers, and coastal waterways. Approximately 186 miles (300 km) of this corridor is recreational trail, and about 62 miles (100 km) is well-preserved aboriginal footpath. The 50-mile (80-km) stretch of the trail in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, which takes five to seven days to travel, is perhaps the most scenic of the entire route. A short section of the trail that offers views of the Bella Coola Valley and south to Stupendous Mountain can be reached in a one- to two-hour loop from Burnt Bridge Creek.

The heritage trail spans an area traditionally occupied by three culturally distinct Native groups: the Nuxalk people of the Bella Coola Valley, an enclave of the Salishan linguistic group; the Heiltsuk people of Bella Bella and the Outer Coast, members of the Wakashan linguistic group; and the Southern Carrier people of the Interior Plateau, members of the Athapaskan linguistic group. There are a number of prehistoric cultural sites along the trail. Several are at Bella Coola and in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, and about eight are located in the Upper and Lower Blackwater River areas. Portions of the trail itself have been in use for thousands of years.

The trail follows the route of Alexander Mackenzie, who trekked overland and by canoe from Lake Athabaska in 1793 on behalf of the North West Company in search of a trade route to the Pacific. His journey took him 72 days and covered over 1,240 miles (2000 km) of unmapped terrain. When he reached his westernmost terminus he painted a memorial to his labours on what is now called Mackenzie’s Rock in the small provincial park named after him in Dean Channel.

Since portions of this trail may be on or near private property (including Native reserves), trekkers should check with the BC Parks district office, 181 First Avenue N in Williams Lake, regarding access. Staff there can also supply information on current maps, local conditions, and available guides. An excellent 200-page trail guide, as well as informative free brochures describing short walks from road-accessible trailheads are available from the Alexander Mackenzie Trail Association, P.O. Box 425, Station A, Kelowna, BC, V1Y 7P1

West of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park’s headquarters on Hwy 20 (just west of the sani-station at Mosher Creek) is the start of the Tweedsmuir Trail, which leads north about 22 miles (35 km) to the Rainbow Cabin on the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail. The Tweedsmuir Trail can also lead you to the Rainbow Range. The Hunlen Falls/Turner Lakes Trail (strenuous; 36 miles/58 km return) along the Atnarko River begins at the Young Creek picnic site east of park headquarters. This trail passes through prime grizzly bear habitat, and hikers should use caution at all times. Hiking alone is not recommended. As always, be bear aware and avoid confrontations with these wild creatures.

Hikers should allow 10 to 12 hours to reach the north end of Turner Lake, where there is a primitive campground. West of Hunlen Falls, there is good alpine hiking along the Ptarmigan Lake Trail (moderate; 15 miles/24 km return), which ascends to Panorama Ridge. To the east is Lonesome Lake (19 miles/31 km from Young Creek), made famous by writer Ralph Edwards, who homesteaded here in 1912. His descendants still live in the area and operate the nearby Hunlen Wilderness Camp. The Junker Lake Trail (moderate; 13 miles/21 km return) starts at the north end of Turner Lake. Rolling pine flats and forest meadows make for an easy hike that leads to a delightful sandy beach on Junker Lake.

The Rainbow Range Trail (easy; 10 miles/16 km return) heads north from Hwy 20 near the park’s eastern boundary, leading to an alpine environment. The trail starts in a lodgepole pine forest and climbs through stands of whitebark pine and alpine fir to a small alpine lake, offering an excellent viewpoint of the multihued Rainbow Range. Other trails in the area include the Octopus Lake Trail (moderate; 20 miles/32 km return), the Crystal Lake Trail (moderate; 31 miles/50 km return), and the Capoose Trail (moderate; 17.5 miles/28 km return). For information about these and other trails in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, stop at the park headquarters. Hikers should also consult Hikes in Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park by Scott Whittemore.

If you do attempt to hike the entire trail in one fell swoop, bear in mind that experienced hikers can expect to take three weeks, and most of the trail runs through remote wilderness areas, far from civilization. The trail is best done in late summer or early fall. Any earlier, and the black flies and mosquitoes in some of the lower, wetter areas can be unbearable. No matter how much or little of the trail you want to hike, you must plan ahead. The Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail runs through Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, but it’s not the only trail of length in this park. Tweedsmuir is serious backcountry camping, and the only road access is to the southern half of the park via Hwy 20 from Hwy 97 near Williams Lake.

To reach Tweedsmuir North Provincial Park, you’re limited to floatplane from the town of Burns Lake, jet-boat from Ootsa Landing, or by foot or horseback via the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail. Most of the northern half of Tweedsmuir is encircled by the lakes that comprise the Nechako Reservoir: Ootsa Lake and Whitesail Lake define the north and west boundaries of the park respectively, while Eutsuk Lake bisects the park, turning northern Tweedsmuir into a huge, unpopulated near-island (Eutsuk and Whitesail fall about a half-mile/1 km short of connecting). A series of trails start from Wistaria Provincial Park, located on the north shore of Ootsa Lake about 80 km southwest of Burns Lake via Hwy 35, the Ootsa-Nadina Junction Rd, and the Wistaria Hwy. To hike this route, youÕll need to get across nearly 3 miles (5 km) of open water on Ootsa Lake, which is notorious for sudden changes of weather and high winds. For this reason, canoeing across the lake is not recommended. Once across, though, hiking trails lead to Sabina Lake, Chief Louis Lake, Nutli Lake, and ultimately Blanchet Lake, 30 miles (50 km) beyond Ootsa Lake. Hikers can arrange to be dropped off and picked up by a local outfitter or tour operator. There is little margin for error in this wilderness area, and backpacking here is recommended for expert backcountry aficionados only.

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Rainbow Mountain Outfitting
P.O. Box 3360 Anahim Lake BC V0L 1C0 Home Phone: 250-742-3539Work Phone: 1-866-742-3539Visit Website

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Rainbow Mountain Outfitting offers generations of guiding experience operating horse-guided outfitted eco adventures for walkers, hikers and riders in the spectacular wilderness and alpine beauty of Tweedsmuir Park and the Rainbow range of mountains in west central British Columbia. We specialize in five-day to ten-day guided hiking and horseback ecotourism adventures that include botany, geology, wildlife viewing, First Nations’ culture and local Chilcotin history.

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Big Bar Guest Ranch
P.O. Box 927, 5960 Big Bar Road Jesmond Clinton BC V0K 1K0 Home Phone: 250-459-2333Work Fax: 250-459-2400Work Phone: 1-877-655-2333Visit Website

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Our awe-inspiring scenery has distinguished Big Bar Guest Ranch by being rated as 1 of Canada’s Top 10 Most Scenic Rides, offering year-round horse riding and a variety of seasonal activities. Accommodations include guest rooms, self-contained log cabins overlooking the lake, teepees and campsites. Open year-round.

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