Bella Coola Road

A drive to Bella Coola, one of BC's most treacherous roads

Bella Coola Road (part of the Highway 20) is a 282 miles (451 km) long road located in British Columbia, Canada. The road links the community of Bella Coola and the city of Williams Lake.

The surface of the road includes paved and unpaved parts. It was finished in August 1953 by the residents of Bella Coola themselves. It includes 11km of switchbacks at a maximum grade of 18%, on the way up to Heckman Pass, nicknamed as The Hill, at 1.524m (5.000ft) above the sea level. Highway 20 cuts through a rugged land of lakes and mountains on its way to Bella Coola, a Native village on a Pacific inlet. This journey takes the adventurous driver from Williams Lake and the desert canyons of the Fraser River to glaciated peaks and finally to the shores of a narrow ocean fjord. It's an amazingly scenic trip, but be ready for lots of gravel roads and steep grades. The road also links the Central Coast with the Central Interior as it crosses the Coast Mountains and the Chilcotin Plateau.

Is Bella Coola Road paved?

The drive can be a nerve-wracking experience. The road is 451km long. It’s paved for the first 319 km to Anahim Lake. Then, the road changes to an all-season gravel road. The road is not for the faint of heart. Driving in low gears and fully concentrating on the road is necessary when traversing the hair-pinned killer curves. It is such a white-knuckle gravel road that on occasion tourists who have ventured down it have refused to return on it.

Can you drive to Bella Coola?

Driving into Bella Coola is a spectacular experience. Due its unique location and passing through remote areas, it is important when driving in these conditions to be prepared. There aren't a lot of facilities along the way, so start out with a full tank of gas. You can easily make this trip in a day, especially in summer, but leave plenty of time to stop and explore. It has a well-deserved reputation for being dangerous because of unpredictable snowstorms and blizzards, and driving under these conditions, can be extremely challenging.

The road is certainly breathtaking and has a fearsome reputation. The road features an 18% grade and narrow, winding switchbacks on the climb out of Bella Coola through the coastal mountains. Once out of Bella Coola, it runs through the mountainous Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park, which contains a great deal of wildlife, including grizzlies and black bears and then through the mostly desolate country of the Chilcotin Plateau. The road descends 43 km (27 mi) of steep, narrow road with sharp hairpin turns and two major switchbacks to the Bella Coola Valley. The descent includes a 9 km (5.6 mi) section with grades of up to 18% (about 1 in 6). Tourists who have driven to Bella Coola from Williams Lake have been known to refuse to drive back and have had to be taken out by boat or float plane.
Pic: George S


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