The Bella Coola Road (officially known as Highway 20) is a 282 miles (451 km) road located in British Columbia, Canada. Bella Coola Road links the community of Bella Coola and the city of Williams Lake. The road also links the Central Coast with the Central Interior as it crosses the Coast Mountains and the Chilcotin Plateau.
The surface of the road is asphalt, gravel and sand. It was finished in August 1953 by the residents of Bella Coola themselves. It includes 11km of switchbacks at a maximum grade of 18%. Hwy. 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.
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 it 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