Bella Coola Valley, British Columbia Canada
Getting to Bella Coola by Car
Monday April 21st, 2014
bella coola
Getting here by road really is a journey worth exploring!

By Road to the Valley is a Memorable Journey

Driving from Vancouver it is approximately 1000 km (620 mi) trip north to the interior of British Columbia. Follow Highway 97 to Williams Lake and continue west on Highway 20 for a 4-hour drive to Anahim Lake. Another 40 minutes is on packed, dirt road to the top of what is affectionately known as ´The Hill´ -- a 20-minute descent at slow speed, in low gear, to the Valley floor. Once at the bottom it is another 1 hour 15 minutes of relatively flat driving to the village of Bella Coola.

Consider the Circle Tour route or include the Valley as part of your travel plans to other destinations in BC.
Note the distances from Bella Coola to:

Note the distances from Bella Coola to:

Prince George, BC: 693 km (431 mi)
Kelowna, BC: 903 km (560 mi)
Seattle, Washington:  1100 km (688 mi)
Jasper, Alberta: 999 km (620 mi)
Edmonton, Alberta: 1360 km (845 mi)
Calgary, Alberta: 1350 km (844 mi)



The Hill
The Hill

The Freedom Highway known as The Hill

The romantic name for the last 65 km (40 mi) of Highway 20, the Freedom Highway, came about because of the amazing saga of how this section of road was built. The story dates back to before World War I when the residents of Bella Coola asked the government to build a road from their isolated community of Bella Coola to Anahim Lake. That request was denied, as were many more pleas over the next 30 years. Finally, in 1952, the exasperated citizens decided to build their own road. Local businesses paid the surveying and construction crews. It took a year, and in the fall of 1953, Freedom Road -- a simple, rough cat track from Anahim Lake to Hagensborg  -- was officially opened. Once shown that it could be done, the Province assumed its responsibilities. Two years later, the well-known Minister of Highways “Flyin´ Phil” Gagliardi waved exuberantly from a car hood while riding Freedom Road. Wheeled freedom had arrived for the tiny community at the head of North Bentinck Arm, which until then had been dependent on the arrival of a weekly steamship for its connection to the rest of the province.

For more information on the history of "The Hill" review Rene Morton´s story.

Features of the Hill

Features of the Hill

Highway 20 east through the Valley eventually leads to other BC locations. If you have not arrived by car from Williams Lake, you will have missed the steep, dirt-packed incline known affectionately as “The Hill.” Also known as the “Freedom Road,” it is a poignant slice of Bella Coola history. You leave the paved section of Highway 20 to start a mountain driving adventure. Remember, uphill traffic has the right-of-way. Continue uphill to a series of switchbacks that will eventually land you at Heckman Pass, 1,524 metres (5,000 ft), where there is a viewpoint pullout at the summit pass. From here you can look down towards the Atnarko River valley and out to the glaciers and jagged peaks of the Coast Mountains. Despite grades of up to 18 percent, the road handles all traffic year-round, including semi-trailer trucks and large recreational vehicles. Some adventurous souls have been known to ride mountain bikes down this thrill-packed section of the road. Mail a postcard from the Hagensborg post office and ask for the special “Freedom Road” cancellation stamp designed in 2003 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of The Hill.  
Nimpo Lake
Nimpo Lake

Highway 20 Bella Coola to Williams Lake

Highway 20 from the west winds from the mouth of the Bella Coola River, up ´The Hill´, across the rolling ranchlands of the Chilcotin Plateau to Williams Lake. In the Bella Coola Valley, highway seems a misnomer as it is more like a rural, meandering route sprinkled with two service areas, Bella Coola and Hagensborg and passing through tiny hamlets, Four Mile, Firvale and Stuie. Some so small you won´t realize they are a community. From Williams Lake heading west on Highway 20 you´ll follow the picturesque Chilcotin Plateau; along the way, consider turning off to fly fish at Chilko, Tatla or any number of other trout-filled lakes. Soon you are into mountain scenery. Arriving at Nimpo Lake, treat yourself to a flightseeing excursion and be dazzled as you soar above Hunlen Falls, one of Canada´s highest waterfalls. Then take in the amazing spectrum of red, orange, yellow and lavender hues of the well-named Rainbow Mountains. Just past Anahim Lake you enter Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, BC´s largest park. At Heckman Pass you descend “The Hill” to follow an exhilarating switchback down into the Bella Coola Valley.
Lookout from Jay Lake
Lookout from Jay Lake

Backroads

Driving off the highway, up mountains and into hidden valleys is often best done in a 4-wheel drive vehicle. (For rental vehicles, click here) Most of the roads are packed dirt or gravel and must be driven with care. Watch for other traffic and drive slowly to both enjoy the surroundings and not to damage your vehicle or the road surface. There are many Forest Service Roads. One suggestion to explore the mountain scenery is to head for the high alpine Blue Jay and Gray Jay Lakes. Turn off the highway west of the town of Bella Coola on the Forest Service Road just before Clayton Falls. Follow a 21 km (13 mi) rough road.  A 4-wheel drive is required. As always, keep alert for signs of wildlife and beware of bears.