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Traveling the Chilcotin by Road

"In those days it took a family and team a week to reach the Williams Lake Stampede." - Resorts BC

Welcome to the West Chilcotin - An expansive region cut through by Highway 20 West, the only paved access along the entire length of the Chilcotin Plateau, spanning thousands of square miles. Oh, and not one stop light or stop sign the whole way.

It is 200 miles from Williams Lake to Anahim Lake and just about another 100 from Anahim Lake to the Bella Coola Harbour. On this last stretch you will be on the 'Freedom Highway' and the "Hill", so called because when folks asked the Government for a road from Bella Coola to the Chilcotin Plateau in the 1950's, Government refused, stating that the terrain made it impossible to build one. So...locals got together and built the road themselves through some of the roughest terrain in Canada. With grades as steep as 18%, this is judged to be the steepest public highway in North America involving a drop of 4000 feet over a distance of only 10 miles.

Highway 20 is mostly seal coat from the top of Sheep Creek to Towdystan south of Nimpo Lake with some paved sections. It's paved from Nimpo Lake to Anahim and from Anahim Lake to the foot of the Bella Coola Hill is gravel road in good condition. Excellent paved road from there to Bella Coola proper.

There are dirt backroads that swing off of Highway 20 and then rejoin it farther down but they can be in very poor condition, if not impassable at times. Check conditions with the local maintenance yard or RCMP station before proceeding!

There are several ways to get to Williams Lake before starting out on Highway 20 depending on where you're coming from, obviously. Coming across Canada via Edmonton, you stay on the Yellowhead highway to Prince George, and then drop down to Williams Lake on Highway 97. Alternatively, you can come down Highway 5 just north of Valemont after coming through the park, and pick up Highway 24 that crosses over from Little Fort to 93 Mile on Highway 97 north. This is a very scenic drive but the hill out of Little Fort is a long, hard pull for recreational vehicles and watch out for the railroad tracks. Slow down!

If you're following Trans Canada Highway 1 then you'll turn north onto Highway 97 at Cache Creek. And if you're following the Sea to Sky Highway on 99 via Whistler Pemberton, you'll come out on Highway 97 just north of Cache Creek.

If you're coming from Vancouver on Highway 1 through the Fraser Canyon, you'll turn onto Highway 97 at Cache Creek, or take the Coquihalla Freeway to Merrit, on through to Kamloops onto Highway 1 West and turn north onto Highway 97 at Cache Creek.

Finally, if you're coming in from the south through the Osoyoos border crossing or any points east, you will eventually either hit Kelowna where you can pick up the Coquihalla to Kamloops, or Vernon where you will make a connection to Kamloops on 97 which will eventually... you guessed it... take you to the Cache Creek Junction where you will turn north on Highway 97.

Once you reach Williams Lake you will see a large four way intersection with a stop light and left turn lanes. If you are coming from the south you will turn left off of Highway 97 onto Highway 20 to come to the Chilcotin. If you are coming from Prince George, you will go straight through the light toward the west. There are large road signs coming up to the intersection.

Although of absolutely no use while on Highway 20 because there is no cell service or Internet service, if you get stopped somewhere and can access the Internet, or even before you leave home, Drive BC is a highly recommended site that gives up to date information on the status and condition of all highways in British Columbia.

RVs parked on a lawn.
Highway 20 to Bella Cool is gravel with steep drop offs.
The Bella Coola Hill marker sign - Bill and Anita Miller
The Bella Coola Hill with snow on the road
Two black bears on the road
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