Still round the corner, there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.
In this blog, I take you far from our last destination in America’s Southwest and give an overview of one of my very favorite places, the roughly eighty-mile-long Bella Coola Valley located on British Columbia’s Central Coast. As befits almost all my special places, Bella Coola is another end-of-road adventure. Getting there requires intention. Is also requires patience as we await the opening of the Canadian border.
Bella Coola River & Coast Mountains. British Columbia
For the Nuxulk Nation, which has a local history spanning over 8,000 years, the original Valley of Nuxulk means “Becoming One.” One origin theory has Nuxulk arriving at the time of Creation, on the eyelashes of the sun, in animal form. They landed on various mountain tops where they took on human form.* Having enjoyed the beauty of Bella Coola on numerous trips, I believe Becoming One well defines this wonderful and unique area where you can get closer to indigenous art and culture, and wildlife. You can witness the Atnarko and Telchako Rivers flow into and form the Bella Coola River, which flows forty-four miles to the Bella Coola estuary on North Bentinck Arm, and then west eventually to the Queen Charlotte Sound.
Grizzly Reflection, Atnarko River. British Columbia
Also known as the Gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest, the Bella Coola Valley is part of both British Columbia’s Discovery and Great Bear Circle Route. From the city of Vancouver to Vancouver Island, north to Port Hardy, by ferry to Bella Bella and then Bella Coola, then driving east up the 5,000 foot ascent of “the Hill” (a thirteen-mile descent/ascent with 18% grades built in 1953) and across the Chilcotin Plateau, then south to Whistler and back to Vancouver. It is a beautiful circuit and I have made the drive several times (about fourteen hours from Bellingham), have taken the Ferry up, and my wife Stephanie has flown into the Bella Coola airport. Any way you can, it is worth the time and adventure.
Heading North in British Columbia.
I love ferries, but my favorite is the drive. Driving anywhere in British Columbia seems like you are in a National Park, and viewing wildlife seems to happen around every bend in the road. The 280+ mile drive along the Chilcotin Highway (Hwy 20) is simply stunning, especially in fall with the yellows, reds and ochres announcing the end of the summer season. On one trip, I needed to pull over as the brilliant colors had my eyes swimming. Then the dramatic drop from the Rainbow Mountains and Tweedsmuir Provincial Park and into the valley. All of this located in the Coast Mountains that run some 1,000 miles from the Tatshenshini River to south of the Fraser River.
Pika on drive to the Odegaard Falls Hike. Bella Coola.
Originally drawn to the Valley to photograph bears, I have come to love my visits to this area for other reasons as well. The chance to sit along the river in the early evening, basking in the last glows of the sun. Conversations with other photographers, visitors, fishermen, and local tribal residents while watching bears at the Belarko Wildlife Viewing Station (the bears are everywhere when all five species of Pacific Salmon are spawning). Or deciding if I dare take my Subaru (and Stephanie) up the four-wheel drive tote road? The answer is no!
Fall Colors along the Chilcotin Highway, Hwy. 20.
While a trip to Bella Coola is an exceptional opportunity and destination, the Valley (like almost every outdoor destination today) is facing changes. Like California, Oregon, Washington, and other states, fire has ravaged the Central Interior of British Columbia. After the record-breaking fires of 2017 and 2018 (over three-million acres burned), I was distraught by the hours of driving through smoke, haze and matchsticks in Williams Lake, Riske Creek, Hanceville, and Anahim Lake on the Chilcotin Highway. It will take nature a while to heal from this, IF it can, as temperatures and wind increase exponentially each year. The thought of losing more of this wild area to fire is devastating. I can only imagine how it feels for those who live there.
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness.
Backroad to the Coast Mountains. British Columbia.
And tourism is taking a heavy toll as well. If and when you go, you need to remember exactly why this Valley is a special place, and be sure to help it keep its history, culture, and link with nature. If you are a traveler, especially a solivagant or solitary wanderer like me, you will take my meaning. The ability to see bears and other wildlife is still amazing but many rules have been put in place to protect both bears, other wildlife, and visitors. Be kind to the wildlife, as well as the tribal and agency staff working to keep it wild. Talk and get to know the local community and residents, who live in this wonderful place to which you have come – and which you will want to visit again.
Bella Coola River, British Columbia
Links and Additional Information
*Chief Sixlaxaalyc (Noel Pootlass), Nuxulk Nation Head, Hereditary Chief and Artist.
In August of 2017, British Columbia banned all grizzly hunting throughout the province. This eliminates grizzly hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest area. Unfortunately, this protection does not extend to other wildlife including black bears, mountain goats, or the elusive coastal wolves (a genetically distinct population of the grey wolf, but only found in the Coast Mountain Range).
To learn more about the lands, waters, and wildlife of coastal British Columbia, and protecting the Great Bear Rainforest, follow and support the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
Need a basecamp near the river and with beautiful views while in the Valley ? Contact Chris and Krystin Carlson at the Nusatsum River Cabins (B&B, small cabins, and home of Bella Coola Harbor Tours). A few days in one of their cabins is always a highlight for me and I cannot wait to get back there!