<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="65001"%> Untitled Document
NOTE: While this is designated as an ARCHIVE FILE, it is retained despite the date of first publication because it offers information of continuing current interest and/or for its historical perspective. Please be guided accordingly.



RVing BC's Discovery Coast Passage

(Revised 06/03 -- Reviewed 10/2011)

Note: The article that follows summarizes our first trip between Port Hardy and Bella Coola. We've since taken the trip on two subsequent occasions, the most recent in June 2003. What follows is an updated composite of those experiences.]

Perhaps because we live on an island, we often find ourselves going a bit out of the way to catch a ferry ride that's somewhere in the vicinity of our intended travels. So when we first learned that BC (British Columbia) Ferries had initiated a new "Discovery Coast Route", we could hardly wait to book passage. In fact the trip was so outstanding we subsequenlty retraced our steps in June, 2001 and June 2003. While this travelogue describes our impressions from the first trip we took in 1998, we've updated it to note any new or changed circumstances we found in our latest journey.

Both for reasons of ferry fares and the challenge of some of the roadways we expected to encounter, we opted to let our larger RV take its own vacation -- and used our 10' Alpenlite slide-in camper for this venture. We booked mid-August passage from Port Hardy, on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island, to Bella Coola, BC's only roadway link from the Province's mid-coast into the Province's interior, where it intersects the Alaska Highway at Williams Lake. [Note: When we booked our trips in 2001 and 2003, we found we were able to take advantage of BC Ferry's promotional package which offers free BC ferry service between Vancouver, BC and either Sydney or Nanaimo on Vancouver Island as part of a promotional package. This was a considerable savings.]

There would be entirely new-to-us adventures for us on this trek. The first would be the ferry crossing itself, with several scheduled stops en route to Bella Coola. Another would be the little traveled road between Bella Coola, and Williams Lake, a distance of some 450 kilometers. There has been little RV-related information published about this remote overland passage. And what is written always warns of "The Hill", a steep gravel section which connects the coastal rain forests east of Bella Coola with the highlands of the interior coastal mountains. A portion of this trip has grades of 18%, and offers a series of switchbacks which are not for the faint of heart. With little documenting of this trip for RVers, we decided that part of our mission would be to create a travelogue to benefit those who might choose to visit here at a later date. As our adventure progressed, we found much of what we'd be reporting would be of interest to those traveling by car (or even bicycle!) as well.

What follows is a report of this memorable RV trip, which we've divided for ease of reading into three sections:

BC Ferry's Discovery Coast Passage: Port Hardy to Bella Coola

RVing the Remote Chilcotin: Bella Coola to Williams Lake

Getting There is Half the Fun: Vancouver, BC to Port Hardy


Whether to schedule the ferry trip from Port Hardy to Bella Coola, or from Bella Coola to Port Hardy, is purely a matter of choice. We chose to depart from Port Hardy for two reasons. First, the 350 mile trip from Bella Coola to Williams Lake involved RVing through terrain completely unknown to us, and we wanted to avoid having to pass through that portion of our trip with a fixed commitment to depart from Bella Coola on a date certain. If the area proved worthy of an extra few days exploration, we wanted to have the time to do exactly that. Second, like most first-timers on BC's Highway 20, we really didn't know what to expect of "The Hill" -- the steep grade which seemed to offer a challenge to vehicle and driver alike. The only thing we've ever concluded about steep grades is that we'd rather go uphill than downhill. With hindsight, we think once you've read through the materials that follow you'll have enough information to be comfortable taking the trip in either direction.

There are several different itineraries for the BC Ferries' Discovery Coast Passage route. Some minimize the number of stops en route and also the time required to make the trip. Others include more stops, with an opportunity to explore some of the villages along the route. Our ferry departed Port Hardy at 9:45 pm, spent the first evening crossing the main body of water which separates Vancouver Island from the mainland, and made a 2 hour stop at MacLoughlin Bay the following morning. The ferry landing is adjacent to -- but not a part of -- the native village of Bella Bella. The village has apparently not yet determined how it wants to respond to the influx of tourists brought here by this new ferry route, and for the present at least has not welcomed tourists into the main part of the village.

However, the ferry landing is located where the original village of Bella Bella was first situated. It was here we were introduced to an interesting new native business venture, See Quest, which specializes in introducing visitors to the customs and culture of the aboriginal people. Since the boat makes a two hour stop, a variety of tour options were available. All passengers, including those who chose not to book one of the tours, were welcomed at a shoreside "long house", where the local native tour manager provided a brief overview of the history of the band which lives here. This included a presentation of some of the music of the local culture. It appears this is an entirely new "business" for the local band, and represents as well an effort to diversify job opportunities, since traditional timber and fishing options are diminishing here as well. We found the reception here warm, friendly, informative, and distinctly non-commercial. It was a true effort to communicate the history, traditions, and culture of this interesting native community.

The tours offered included a "walking tour" of the original village site; a water tour by motorboat to view various points of interest in the area, ending at Shearwater -- a scant five miles away and the next stopping point for the ferry; and an option for small groups to paddle authentic looking reproductions of native dugout canoes across the waters from McLoughlin Bay to Shearwater, where the paddlers would rejoin the ferry at its next stop.

Another two hours were available in Shearwater for walking the beaches, and exploring the small marina area. Those who had opted to do this ferry segment by canoe re-joined us here. The ferry departed Shearwater in the late morning, and arrived at the native village of Klemtu mid-afternoon. This was a four hour layover, with many passengers opting to take an extensive walking tour of the village, followed by what was reported as an excellent meal prepared by the local village women, and accompanied by entertainment of local dances.

[Note: On subsequent trips we found the available tour options had changed -- and subsequently these options were eliminated. Check with BC Ferries about current optional activities at the varous ports of call.]

Unlike Bella Bella, Klemtu eagerly welcomes visitors. Indeed, there is a hand painted sign at the ferry dock placed presumably by the townspeople proclaiming "Welcome to Klemtu". It seemed that a good portion of the population had turned out to see the ferry land. Walking along the town's quaint "boardwalk", a shoreline structure of perhaps a quarter mile which links one side of the village with the other, it was easy to perceive that this band is extremely friendly to those arriving by ferry. There was always a smile and a greeting when we passed them. These people seemed sincerely pleased to have visitors. And again, there was little hint of commercialism here as well. By now we had the sense we were really on a "discovery" route -- and very likely one of the last in North America.

A word is owing here concerning the outstanding public relations efforts of the BC Ferry system in respecting the wishes of the native villages their vessel now visits. In opening this route into previously seldom visited areas they have been extremely sensitive in recognizing the residents of Bella Bella were not prepared to welcome visitors to the village -- at least yet -- and they advised the passengers accordingly. It was not presented as "they don't like strangers", but rather as "they're still trying to decide on how to deal with the potential implications of so many visitors" -- and explanation we find extremely reasonable. And in the case of Klemtu, which eagerly welcomes new visitors, their policy has been to "open the ship" to the local natives while they're in port there. Thus we'd see whole families walking onto the ferry, strolling around on the various decks, or enjoying a snack from the cafeteria. It was as if it were "their" ship too. This policy seems to have nurtured an excellent relationship between the townspeople and the passengers. We commend BC Ferries for its enlightened and thoughtful policies in dealing with the different needs of the native villages it now includes along this new route.

A final stop occurred during the second (and last) night of the voyage. It was at Ocean Falls. While the middle-of-the-night stop on this particular itinerary did not provide an opportunity for us to see it (we intended to -- but slept through!) , we understand this stop (not a native village) has limited overnight accommodations in the form of B&Bs and some type of campground. Reportedly there is a lake behind the town which would be ideal for a car-top boat.

[Note: In June '03 we made a 3 hour daytime stop at Ocean Falls, and found it to be a charming place. An abandoned pulp mill provides evidence of its busy past; and today there is an enclave of residents (many seasonal) who have attractive homes in a nearby coastal valley. The "Falls" themselves are spectacular, and one can hike to them from where the ferry docks. At the top is a very large lack, reportedly providing excellent trout fishing. Camping facilities are very primitive -- a sort of "do it yourself" sort of thing. At this time of year the profusion and diversity of wild flowers was the most spectacular of any place we've visited in our travels around North America -- and several other parts of the world. With hindsight, we'd recommend selecting one of the Discovery Coast Passage itineraries that includes a daytime stop at Ocean Falls.]

We'd have to make a note for kayakers here: Virtually all of these waters seemed like fantastic areas for kayaking. Indeed, this ferry frequently drops off and picks up kayakers along the mainland side of this ferry route. This would surely be one of the world's great kayaking opportunities for those with the relevant experience and inclination. We saw some kayakers who had arranged for kayak rentals out of Port Hardy.

We've been on a number of ferry adventures in our travels, including multiple trips on the Alaska Marine Highway system. This particular trip, which involves a smaller ferry, fewer cars, and fewer passengers has much more of a "small town" atmosphere. The passengers share a number of new experiences together; and many will meet again and again as they travel east from Bella Coola, or south from Port Hardy. And the crew is much more relaxed and "laid back" than on other trips we've taken, all contributing to a casual, friendly ambience. The size of the ferry is not large enough to have staterooms, but there are well over 100 spacious and fully reclining seats. Other travelers brought sleeping bags aboard, and a number set up small tents on the outside decks. All other amenities, including showers, are available on board. Other itineraries offer passengers the option of leaving in the morning on a trip involving minimal stops, and arriving in the late evening of the same day. But it would be unfortunate to miss some of the interesting stops along this "discovery" route.

We found the meals on board both reasonable in price and of exceptional quality. No standard "ferry fare" here. For instance, on the second evening the crew had barbeques fired up on the outer decks, and did an outstanding job of serving up such dishes as fresh local salmon, and Alberta beef.

For us the ferry portion of this intended circle tour ended all too soon. We knew we'd experienced something very special, and very different. We keenly sensed the spirit of "discovery", for which this route is so aptly named. At approximately 8 o'clock on the second morning, we arrived at Bella Coola on the BC Mainland -- the western terminus of Highway 20, which was to become our next adventure. [On our second trip we opted for the "Bella Coola Express" route, which left at 9:30 from Port Hardy and arrived at 10:00 PM in Bella Coola. Because of the late hour, we drove off the boat and found a large, mostly vacant parking area immediately adjacent to the Bella Coola marina. It was both convenient and scenic, and avoided the need to find a commercial park in town at that late hour.]


BELLA COOLA TO "THE HILL". The ferry terminal is located at the end of a long fjord (North Bentinck Arm). The village of Bella Coola is some three kilometers up the Bella Coola river valley. In that three kilometers we saw easily a hundred bald eagles, seasonally attracted to the area by the spawning salmon. We didn't know what services would be available at Bella Coola. But we quickly found that it has an full-service supermarket and hardware store, where the visitor can buy just about anything one might want. Since the trip from Port Hardy is done with propane tanks closed and sealed (no refrigerator), Bella Coola is an obvious choice for stocking the refrigerator for the next several days' exploring -- though another good option is the market at Hagensborg (see below).

For the first night's stay we settled on the Gnome's Home RV Park in Hagensborg, a small colorful Norwegian village located ten miles east of Bella Coola. The owner/manager, Karl Osmers, was most helpful in pointing out many of the "must see" places in the Bella Coola valley. His RV park, offering 40 full service sites on 20 acres, provides its own private area to explore -- a large chunk of old growth timber, enlivened by small creeks (complete with spawning salmon during our visit), and all made accessible by a carefully laid trail comprised of 4" x 12" timbers which wander through this pristine forest. We'd heard much about the large population of "ursus americanus" (black bear) and "ursus horribilis" (grizzly bear) in the Bella Coola valley. Here we could see the trails they'd carved through this old growth rainforest "jungle".

We'd interject a note for the satellite TV aficionados. DirecTV disclaims any coverage in Canada. Accordingly, it does not provide any information about just how far north into Canada its coverage extends; nor does it provide information on the elevation and azimuth to catch the signal. We found it with a little trial and error at 24.5 degrees elevation, and 128 degrees on the compass, with a signal strength of 76..

[Note: On our June '03 trip we opted to spend the evening before the 8 AM sailing from Bella Coola in Hagensborg -- this time right across the roadway from Gnome's Home at a new park called "Rip Rap". It too was pleasant, with spacious sites and attractive views in all directions. RV visitors to the Bella Coola valley now have two nice choices of overnight accommodations near Bella Coola.]

Unfortunately, it seems all too many travelers disembark the ferry at Bella Coola, and don't slow down until they've driven through the Bella Coola valley and topped "The Hill" (see below), the 11 miles of grade that challenge vehicle and driver alike. Unfortunately for these visitors, they've just sped by some of the most fantastic opportunities and scenery available anywhere in the world. The valley is bordered by high granite cliffs, rising nearly 10,000 feet, and more than rivaling the vistas in Yosemite National Park. Much better vistas -- and almost no people! The extensive river system traversing the valley, some glacial in color, host some of the largest salmon and steelhead runs on the planet. Government campgrounds in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park -- the largest in BC -- offer well maintained (no service) primitive sites in a pristine forest environment, with a never ending view in all directions. [Most areas are well posted with reminders of the large population of those creatures who've been around much longer -- the Black and Grizzly bears.] The small but elegant Tweedsmuir Lodge is a "must see" -- if only to check out the incomparable view from its flower laden front deck. Jutta (pronounced "Uta") is the very gracious innkeeper. Of German descent, and a resident in winter months of Vancouver Island, she maintains this small 7 room lodge and 2 cabins, and is a delightful hostess for visitors. With beautiful internal furnishings, the lodge seemed to us a miniature equivalent of the famed elegant Ahwanee Lodge in Yosemite. But again -- without traffic, noise, or any obvious sign of crowds. This seemed to us the ultimate in peace and quiet...

Once we'd passed the second campground in Tweedsmuir [no hookups, but extremely attractive sites in a wooded area adjacent to a fishing stream], some 50 miles from where we'd landed at the ferry terminal, we shortly found ourselves looking up -- almost straight up it seemed. The road had now lost its paved surface and headed up the grade which will be remembered by all who proceed on from this point -- "The Hill". But read on...

TAMING "THE HILL" -- WHAT IT'S REALLY LIKE "The Hill" is the without question the most talked about segment of Highway 20, the roadway which connects Bella Coola on BC's mid-coast and William Lake on the Alaska Highway. Because of its reputed steepness, it no doubt discourages many travelers, particularly RVers, from coming this way. We researched "The Hill" using a variety of sources before we made the journey -- but we did not find any objective first hand account of just what to expect when we reached "The Hill". Since we've now driven The Hill both from the bottom up and from the top down multiple times, we want to set forth our experience and impressions for those who plan a trip through this utterly fantastic country. With hindsight we think most of the "fear" here may well be of the "unknown".

Let's start at the bottom of the hill. We'll document each segment of this 11.2 mile climb (starting at approximately 1,000 ft) to the top of Heckman Pass (elevation approximately 5,000 ft). Going east from Bella Coola, the pavement ends exactly where "The Hill" begins its ascent. The surface here is gravel, but seal coated to keep the dust down. The grade quickly ascends 2.1 miles to the lower of two spacious "switchbacks". The climb was both steep and steady, but using second gear we were using only a fraction of our available power. This segment appeared to us to be the steepest part of The Hill, and it landed us at the first switchback -- an extremely wide turnout with lots of level parking area to stop and enjoy the changing views.

Between the first and second (last) switchback is 1.1 miles. The grade here, while still persistently steep, appears to be on average a couple of degrees less than the bottom (2.1 mile) segment. Along this stretch there is a bit of a vertical overhang along the right side of the roadway going up. This presents no problem to commercial trucks and RVs, which can avoid the overhang by moving to the side of the road away from the overhang. The roadway here is clearly "one lane" at this point of passage. As a practical matter this doesn't present a problem for vehicles either ascending or descending the grade, as there are ample pull outs both above and below this somewhat constricted portion of the grade. The driver of an overheight vehicle simply needs to be aware of this slight obstacle, and be prepared to use one of the turnouts if a vehicle is approaching this point from the opposite direction. While the second switchback is not quite as spacious or level as the first, it still offers a point to pause and check the vistas here if desired.

[Note: In June '03 we encountered a major construction project to clear the "overhang" from this portion of the roadway. It involves considerable blasting and clearing, and traffic here is restricted to certain hours until completing of the project in mid-summer Once this section is improved by removing the rock overhang, perhaps the most pulse-quickening portion of the trip will be eliminated.]

The next 3.4 miles will take you to the top of the "main" portion of The Hill. The first 1.3 miles rivals the bottom segment in grade, but thereafter the grade eases somewhat for the next .8 mile, and moderates to a very ho-hum climb for the last 1.0 mile to what initially appears to be the summit.

While Heckman Pass is still 5.2 miles ahead, and some 1,000 vertical feet higher, at this point most of the challenging portion of The Hill is now behind you. From here the road dips down a few hundred feet over the next 1.8 miles before resuming its final climb to the top of Heckman Pass. This last 3.4 mile segment climbs approximately 1500 feet to the top of the pass. The overall average grade here is a bit less, though portions of the last mile offer a few reasonably sharp turns, and shorter grades comparable to some of the steeper parts you've already encountered. But there are no cliffs or overhangs along this portion, and by comparison this segment is "duck soup".

With this detailed description in mind, we'd like to offer some of our own impressions from doing The Hill in both directions -- by June 2003 a total of 4 times.

First, we should point out that the vehicle we were driving was ideally suited for this type of roadway. We were driving a one ton Dodge dually, equipped with four wheel drive, a five speed transmission, and a Pac Brake which provides the diesel engine with considerably more compression than diesel engines typically offer. In the truck bed was an 11 foot slide in camper unit which weighs in at just over 3,000 pounds. We used second gear going up the steepest portions of the hill, and engaged the four wheel drive simply for added convenience -- it was absolutely not needed. Ascending in second gear left a great deal of power unused. In fact, at no time did the auxiliary cooling fan even come on. Descending The Hill we used second gear on the steepest sections, and third gear on the rest. And with the benefit of the Pac Brake, we could have done the entire downhill run without touching the service brakes had we wanted to do so.

We do not want to either understate or overstate our evaluation of the relative difficulty of The Hill. To us, it was considerably less challenging than we had expected -- in either direction. At the relatively slow speeds most drivers will handle this road, it is not particularly bumpy for a gravel road. The main portion of The Hill is mostly a two lane road for the top portion, changing to a mostly one lane road with ample pullouts to permit passing on the lower portions. The middle segment -- that portion between the two switchbacks -- offers a fairly steep downhill drop off at the outside edge of the road, but we found it somewhat less intimidating in that respect than other back roads we've traveled on other occasions. Moreover this section was being improved in June 2003. Traffic is quite light, and is comprised of everything from an occasional biker to 18 wheelers. There is a bus twice weekly between Williams Lake and Bella Coola which travels this route as well.

While we found both the uphill trip and the downhill trip quite easy (with hindsight Stephanie now says she'd be comfortable driving it either way -- and would far prefer either to driving through Los Angeles on the freeways), most travelers would probably find the uphill trip the easier of the two. For vehicles towing fifth wheels or travel trailers, we'd think the trailer brakes and brake controllers should be carefully tested before attempting the downhill run to ensure both braking systems were contributing their fair share. And of course the challenge of The Hill increases proportionately with the gross combined vehicle weight.

We recognize that any type of mountain driving will be viewed differently by drivers familiar with mountainous terrain, than by those whose experience has been limited to the flatlands. We think that by simply observing some common sense considerations, driving The Hill can be an entirely pleasant trip in either direction. Go in daylight hours when visibility is not impaired (the vistas are wonderful), and avoid treacherous weather conditions. Above all, take your time. Drive slowly using lower gears, and make a few stops along the way. The locals will advise stopping a few times on the descent to let your brakes cool. As mentioned, we could have descended The Hill using only our exhaust brake.

We hope these observations will be helpful to those considering making the fabulous trip between Williams Lake and Bella Coola. And while we recognize The Hill as probably not suitable for the "quite faint at heart", we suspect most will find that its challenge is somewhat less than what they had expected. And armed with the information which we've provided above, we think RVers and others will have a more realistic expectation about the characteristics of The Hill than they've had before -- which we hope they'll find helpful. [With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, and now having driven The Hill on two subsequent occasions, we think the description above is right on target. The graded surface was in excellent shape on all occasions, though the construction project in June and July of 2003 understandably cause some varying conditions that will soon be cured.]

HECKMAN PASS TO ANAHIM LAKE By the time one reaches the top of the pass, the terrain begins to look quite different. Gone are the old growth cedar, spruce and fir. In their place, an alpine setting of smaller lodgepole pines, and sweeping vistas into the colorful, rocky slopes of the Rainbow Range. Just past the summit a trailhead invites hikers for a closer look, with trails ranging from one to 21 days -- some involving significant changes of elevation. Here, as everywhere, one finds warnings about bears -- they can be anywhere, anytime. But be especially watchful in avalanche areas, berry patches, and along stream beds -- particularly where one may find spawning salmon.

The road here, still gravel, is in places a bit rougher than that encountered on The Hill. In places it has been oiled to keep the dust down. But vehicles are few and far between, providing a feeling of being somewhere in a vast, lost wilderness. Small lakes dot the landscape, and small creeks criss-cross the wandering roadway. You're now in an area which still belongs to the wildlife -- bear, deer, moose, wolves, cats (not kitties!). One has a feeling of being a visitor to one of the last wilderness area which they still claim as their own.

Some 30 miles beyond Heckman pass is the first sign of civilization -- Anahim Lake. Here you'll find a small community with a partly native population, including a gas station, a few small stores, and a pleasant Dutch restaurant. The attraction is the lake itself. And what a lake it is. There are few float planes here. The sounds that are most frequently heard are those of the loons and eagles. Bird watchers will find a wide variety of waterfowl on the lake, including (seasonally) white pelicans and trumpeter swans.

This may well be the most productive lake for anglers, in terms of numbers (if not size) of wild trout of any lake easily accessible by car or RV. We had occasion to stay at both RV "resorts" on the lake -- Escott Bay Resort and Anahim Lake Resort. Both offer what we considered very reasonably priced RV sites with hookups, and had cabins for those arriving by car. While an occasional RV caravan can cause a crowd in these parts (most RV parks along this segment have fewer than 20 sites), usually there's more than enough room to spread out. We were now in country which made us wish we'd brought along a small boat of some type, since fishing was best from the water. However, most resorts, including these, offer boats and motors, or canoes, for hourly or daily rental.

Since most visitors come in from Williams Lake, rather than up from Bella Coola, Anahim Lake is the most distant destination for most travelers. We think it would be an excellent choice not only for exploring Anahim Lake, but also as a "base camp" for exploring by car or truck some of the surrounding lakes in the area -- many of which are accessible via roads of varying quality, and most of which offer no services or camping facilities. Here, once again, a small boat of some type would be a wonderful aid in exploring more of this pristine wilderness area.

Supplies, while a bit limited, were better than we'd expected at the primary grocery store in Anahim Lake. Some fresh meats and poultry were available, as were a fair selection of produce. Staples, camping supplies and fishing gear were all available as well. [Commercial RV parks along this route tend to be much more "rustic" than in the "Lower 48". Typically they offer 20 amp service plus water. A single sani-station serves all RV guests. Smaller rigs are, we think, better suited for all the parks we saw in the more remote areas of the Chilcotin -- though with a bit of planning larger rigs still have some options as well. During out last visit in June 2003 we found the fishing at Anahim Lake slower than on previous occasions, perhaps due to unusually warm and dry conditions. However there are lots of other lakes in the area that are accessable to those using Anahim Lake as a base camp.]

ANAHIM LAKE TO NIMPO LAKE This is a very short distance, but since it's still in the heart of some of the most beautiful and unspoiled area of the Chilcotin, it deserves separate mention.

One notable feature of this 10 mile stretch is pavement. Yup, the same kind we drive around on at home. And it extends now all the way out to the main highway at Williams Lake. But let's not make the mistake of passing up Nimpo Lake, because there's much to explore here as well. Those of us who have been lured into one of those annual "outdoor sports shows" will have a vague recollection of the name -- "Nimpo Lake". That's because some of the major "fly in fishing" operations are based here. Their representatives are frequent participants at these sports shows, offering brochures showing wilderness scenes filled with all types of wildlife and trophy sized fish. The seaplane base that supports these fly-out operations is right here in the tiny community of Nimpo Lake. But many in British Columbia prize Nimpo lake not as a place to fly away from, but rather as a choice RV destination.

RV parks at Nimpo Lake are few, with one large park capable of accommodating big rigs located near the small town center; and another more suitable for smaller rigs located at the far western end of the lake. This lake is also well known for its production of trout, which reportedly are larger on average than at Anahim.

NIMPO LAKE TO ALEXIS CREEK The choices of places to visit along this paved 118 mile segment seem endless. You'll see signs to a number of remote lakes leading from the main road, some with primative campsites suitable for small to medium sized RVs. Near Tatla Lake we pondered a side trip south some 60+ kilometers to Chilco Lake. Many with whom we'd spoken along our route had recommended this area for its unique and pristine beauty. By now we'd begun to wonder whether anything could top the scenery we'd already encountered. Suffice it to say that we opted to continue on another 45 minutes to the turnoff to Punzi Lake, which is located some 6 kilometers north of Highway 20 on a gravel access road.

Punzi Lake is also known for its fishing -- both rainbow and kokanee. Like many lakes in this area, fishing is best during the late spring and early summer months. It tends to slow down considerably during the hotter weeks of July and August; and then resumes again as cooler temperatures return. We found 5 attractive RV resort "candidates" at Punzi Lake, and somewhat on a whim choose the Punzi Lake RV Resort. We were extremely pleased with our choice, as this RV park offered well landscaped sites, all nicely maintained and most with full services. The sites along the lakeshore were particularly attractive, though some set back into the woods bordered on a huge, well mowed meadow of lawn. Missy, our somewhat spoiled Britanny, appreciated the chance to race around in this vast well manicured meadow. (DSS: 26 x 130)

The next morning would bring us a surprise we hadn't yet even imagined. Once we returned to Highway 20, we joked a bit about whether we should turn left, and continue our planned route through Williams Lake and complete the loop home by taking the Alaska Highway south -- or whether we should turn right, and go back for a "second helping" of the wondrous Chilcotin countryside we were leaving behind. For the moment at least, discipline kept us heading east towards Alexis Creek. But the nagging feeling persisted: Were we really going in the direction we wanted ?

Then somewhere near Alexis Creek we saw a prophetic sign. It said "Passing Lane Ahead". What? A "passing lane"? Were we really getting back to places where there were that many cars? Where there was "traffic"?

We entered Alexis Creek and found the pay phone located outside of the general store.. A toll free call to BC Ferries conveyed our request to book passage to go back the same way we'd come -- i.e., from Bella Coola to Port Hardy. Yes! Space was available a few days later -- and we'd just made one of the more significant "U" turns of our RVing lives. The attraction of the country we'd just left behind was just too much; and we just hadn't savored it enough. In a matter of minutes we were headed west once more -- back to the gravel roads, the lakes, the wonderful mountain vistas, and a second chance to savor the Bella Coola valley once again. On the return trip we'd have a chance to supplement the information we'd gathered to date (which we've included above), and to test "The Hill" this time from top to bottom.

For now we must apologize for the lack of information on the remainder of the trip to Williams Lake. We'd spotted a number of interesting looking places in our research. We look forward to "completing" the circle tour next year. This year we found the lure of the Chilcotin simply irresistible, and we treated ourselves to a second helping...

As we create these notes, we're now on BC Ferry's return trip from Bella Coola to Port Hardy. This time a morning departure from Bella Coola provided an opportunity to see much of the fiord scenery we'd missed on the first crossing. And a short stop at the port of Namu added a new destination -- one obviously heavily favored by the kayaking crowd.

Yes, the Discovery Coast Passage trip offers a wonderful opportunity for a circle tour from any Pacific Northwest point of origin. But please -- learn from our experience. Allow enough time to explore as much of the western portion of Highway 20 (including the Bella Coola valley) as possible. Otherwise you, too, might find yourself in the "U" turn mode!


When we booked passage on the ferry run from Port Hardy to Bella Coola, we began to examine some options for an interesting route that would deliver us to the Port Hardy ferry terminal on our scheduled departure date. On the theory that "getting there can be half the fun", we decided to skip the more direct routes which lead from the mainland of northwest Washington to Victoria, BC; and the direct ferry links from Vancouver, BC to either Victoria or Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. Instead of taking any of these "one-hoppers", we chose a route which offered a yet another ferry tale -- the Sunshine Coast. This route led us from Vancouver, BC first to Langdale, on the mainland coast just north of the Vancouver area; and which involves yet another ferry crossing from Earle's Cove to Saltery Bay further up BC's mainland coast. The cheerful small villages along the Sunshine coast are as picturesque as any you're likely to find in North America's fiord country. And the name "Sunshine Coast" is justly deserved owing to the excellent weather that it enjoys, particularly in the summer season. To top it off, because of a warm ocean current which finds its way ashore here, swimming in the salty inland sea waters is remarkably comfortable -- which is why many from the colder water areas of British Columbia enjoy their vacations here.

At Powell River, near the north end of the Sunshine Coast, we crossed by ferry to the Vancouver Island town of Comox, less than an hour south of Campbell River (known to many as the salmon fishing capitol of the world). Interestingly, and due in part to the favorable exchange rate with the Canadian dollar, the cost of three ferry trips which we'd taken to arrive at the mid-island Comox port was actually less expensive than had we taken our RV from Anacortes, Washington, directly across to the Victoria, BC area. But more than a thrifty option, the opportunity to visit the Sunshine Coast as a warm-up to the main events is an excellent investment of a few extra days' time.

From earlier trips to the more northerly reaches on Vancouver Island we knew that once we'd passed through Campbell River, the population would become much more sparse -- indeed, very sparse. Our plan was to spend an evening somewhere within easy reach of the next day's departure at Port Hardy, the most northerly of the towns on Vancouver Island. In search of a place to overnight, we drove some 7 miles off the highway at the Sayward junction -- a spur road which leads to the small timber-based town of Sayward, and the adjacent port at Kelsey Bay. When we got to the neat and brightly painted little village of Sayward, we noted a very attractive public park right in the center of the village, which offered overnight accommodations for RVs and tenters. It was completely vacant on this particular Sunday night in mid-August.

[Important Addition: On our second trip we discovered what may well be the most specatular RV park on Vancouver Island. It is Ripple Rock RV Park, about 15 minutes north of Campbell River. This is a GREAT park for big rigs. It's located at the north entrance to Seymour Narrows -- right ON the water. Fish from their dock, walk to the nearby floating restaurant, or just enjoy the spectacular vistas -- which includes the passage of cruise ships so close to your RV it appears you could reach out and touch them. Well landscaped, clean, and a fabulous clubhouse. This park immediately found its way to our own list of personal favorites.]

But still in search of other options, we drove what was becoming a lightly traveled stretch of remote two lane highway which in due course brought us to Port McNeill, a fishing village with full services and facilities. For the night's stopover, we decided on trying the Broughton Strait Resort, some six miles north of Port McNeill, and about one kilometer off the main highway. This turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise. As we entered the park, which is situated on its own stretch of rocky beach, we were surprised to see about a dozen fisherman -- all equipped with waders, and all sporting fly rods. Even more surprising was the fact that they were all reeling in salmon about as fast as they could get their hooks into the water. As it turned out, the period from late July until about the third week of August sees one of the world's best run of pink salmon in these very waters. They were schooled up, waiting for the signal to make the spawning run up the adjacent river.

This resort is owned and operated by the local native band, and may be among the best kept fishing secrets on all of Vancouver Island. It is both "remote" from the more populated areas of the southern portion of Vancouver Island (and as of yet has no phone service to it), but "modern" in that it offers many full service hookup sites. Unlike many BC "fish camps" we've seen, which are often crowded and lacking in aesthetics, this RV destination has a variety of beautiful and interesting sites which are nicely spaced -- many with outstanding marine views. Larger rigs will only fit in a more traditional "loop" which is adjacent to the tidal estuary; while smaller RVs and tenters have access to a wonderful spit of land that has a portion of the inland passage at the front, and a portion of the tidal river in the back. It appeared one could walk for miles along the beach, and simply enjoy the scenery and solitude.

Note: On the return trip we had more time to explore Port McNeill. The best place to start is at the unusually friendly visitor center located near the water in the center of town. Stephanie managed a brief ferry visit to Alert Bay (see her Postcard), and we wished we'd had enough time to visit the other nearby ferry served island, Sointula. The folks at the visitor's center directed us to the library next door which offers public internet access, and we enjoyed a few minutes emailing family and friends about our summary impressions of the trip, and our schedule for returning.

[In June, 2001 we ventured into Telegraph Cove, a short distance south of Port McNeill, and found a spanking new marina and RV complex just opening. The RV sites looked spacious and carefully laid out. Clearly they were designed with big rigs in mind -- and this may be the only park in the area that can accommodate the biggest of RVs. Unfortunately for such rigs, the road into Telegraph Cove is very rough and dusty. After having a look at this new park, we opted once again to return to the Broughton Strait Resort. While much more "rustic", it has fabulous sites in a very pristine area either right on the beach or optionally adjacent to an inland lagoon teeming with wildlife. A large black bear was included in our finds here on the most recent trip.]

The next morning took us to Port Hardy, where we provisioned the RV for what we anticipated might be several days on the mainland side of the ferry crossing with uncertain opportunities for shopping -- though as we subsequently found Bella Coola has an excellent selection of almost everything we could have wanted). There are any number of tempting side trips within easy reach of Port Hardy, including Cape Scott, Port Alice, Coal Harbor to name but a few. A special find was a small business on the south end of town called "The Hardy Bouys" (their spelling), which specializes in custom fish processing, but which offers up some seafood specialties of its own. We found their offerings of smoked salmon among the very best we've found anywhere -- particularly a speciality item they call "Indian candy".

EPILOGUE: Our very active style of RVing has taken us hundreds of thousands of miles in the past 12 years -- from the Arctic tundras to many inviting destinations in Mexico; from all points along the West Coast to the Maritimes. We know of no RV trip which even comes close to this one in offering the touch and feel of exploring "the last frontier". I cannot recall another trip that we half completed, and then felt compelled to retrace our steps because where we'd just been was such an exceptional experience. We recognize this is not a trip for every RVer -- or for every RV for that matter. If RV resort living is what's favored, you'll not find it here. What you will find, however, is a vast landscape of breathtaking panoramas, both by land and by sea. And you may also conclude you've just found some of the most friendly, sincere, and helpful people along the way that you'll every find anywhere. We hope our travelogue, together with some insights offered in Stephanie's postcard "series" on the Chilcotin, can convey a bit of the flavor of what this trip offers. And we'd also like to provide a series of reference sources which interested RVers can consult to determine whether this might be an RVing adventure for you, too! [Having now done this trip twice, we feel just as strongly that it is almost without equal for the adventurous RVer. One of the major caravan companies, Adventure Caravans, discovered this trip through our initial articles, and is now visiting this area with one of its tours each summer.]


An essential map: "Cariboo Forest Region, Recreation Map (West)". This map is published by the BC Ministry of Forests. It provides an excellent overview both of the many lakes in the region, and identifies the many public campsites which are scattered throughout the region. Typically these sites are in secluded locations, with primitive amenities, and usually with access to one of the myriad lakes in the area. Available from many BC Visitor Centers, and on the BC Ferries as well.

Gnome's Home RV Park: With perhaps some of the most spectacular scenery you'll find anywhere, this clean and friendly park is located in the small Norweigan village of Hagansborg, about 10 minutes east of Bella Coola. It's a bit like camping in the Yosemite Valley -- except the crowds are absent. Karl, the owner/manager and chief "Gnome", will be more than happy to point out all of the places to visit while you're in the Bella Coola Valley. There are 40 sites here on 20 acres. And about half the acreage is actually a private rainforest sanctuary of perfectly preserved old growth timber. Since there are groundwaters flowing through here, a carefully laid path of 4" x 12" planks keeps you dry as you navigate the lush preserve. Expect Karl to be online soon.

Escott Bay Resort (Anahim Lake): One of two places we stayed at Anahim Lake. Darlene is a most gracious hostess at this well maintained combination RV park and cabin area. Some of each are at the lakefront, with others a bit further back in the woods. Guests will appreciate the comparatively high state of maintenance here, including a nice fleet of small rental boats which are available for fishing Anahim Lake. Those who might enjoy a trail ride will appreciate the offerings here as well. You can email them at escott@stardate.bc.ca

Anahim Lake Resort: Just about all of the RV sites here are on the lakefront; and for those traveling without RV, there are cabins here too. Jack and Anita will give you a warm welcome, and can provide you with lots of information about visiting other, even more remote lakes in the immediate area. There's a small watering hole here in the main building, and rental boats are available.

(For further reflections on this trip, be sure to see Stephanie's Postcard describing this area)