This itinerary is very fast-paced, designed for those who want to experience the Great Bear Rainforest and Chilcotin Plateau in a short amount of time. You'll have 2-4 hours of driving each day, with two nights in the beautiful Bella Coola Valley to unwind and recharge before taking the long ferry sailing to Vancouver Island. You'll also get a brief feel of the historical Gold Rush Trail, as you overnight in Cache Creek. 

Highlights

  • Explore "The Last Frontier" of the Chilcotin Coast, famous for its unique diversity
  • Get a true sense of adventure, away from the popular tourist routes and crowds
  • Catch a glimpse of the rare Spirit Bear in the Great Bear Rainforest
  • Stay at historic, family-run ranches and wilderness lodges in the heart of this remote wilderness

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Vancouver Vancouver
Day 2 Vancouver to Cache Creek (4 hours) Cache Creek
Day 3 Cache Creek to Chilcotin Lodge (3 hours) Chilcotin Lodge
Day 4 Chilcotin Lodge to Tatla Lake (3 hours) Tatla Lake
Day 5 Tatla Lake to Nimpo Lake (1 hour) Nimpo Lake
Day 6 Nimpo Lake to Bella Coola (2 hours) Bella Coola
Day 7 Explore the Bella Coola Valley Bella Coola
Day 8 Bella Coola to Port Hardy (11 hours) Port Hardy
Day 9 Port Hardy to Parksville (3 h 45 min) Parksville
Day 10 Parksville to Vancouver (3 h 30 min) Vancouver
Day 11 Depart Vancouver  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Vancouver

Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver
Stanley Park and downtown Vancouver

Fringed by the Pacific Ocean and backed by the coastal mountains, Vancouver is one of the world's most livable cities with some of North America's best cuisine, rich indigenous heritage, and opportunities for outdoor activities. 

It takes around 30 minutes to get from the airport to downtown. The city center and surrounding neighborhoods are within easy walking or biking distance and all the main attractions are a short distance away. To get your bearings, start with a stroll along the seawall from English Bay to False Creek before wandering the historical, cobbled streets of Gastown and Chinatown

With over 60 different cultures, pick from a variety of international restaurants serving anything from Asian cuisine to seasonal farm-to-table dishes. For dinner, choose from a selection of top-notch eateries—from downtown and the West End to the North Shore and Kitsilano. Keep in mind, Vancouverites love eating out any day of the week so be sure to make a reservation if it's a popular restaurant.

Day 2: Vancouver to Cache Creek (4 hours)

Fraser River near Lytton
Fraser River near Lytton

Leaving Vancouver, head east on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1) through the agricultural lands of the Fraser Valley toward Hope. Stop at Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park to walk the impressive Othello-Quintette railway tunnels, carved out of solid granite and which now form part of the Kettle Valley Railway Trail, a community-built and maintained bike route across southern British Columbia. 

Just after Hope on Highway 1, you'll reach Yale Historic Site, part of the original Cariboo Wagon Road. Stop in at the Yale Museum to learn about the history of the gold rush boom of the 1800s that brought miners to the goldfields of the Cariboo and Barkerville and the region you'll be driving through today.

Next, drive north through the Fraser Canyon, one of the most scenic drives in the province. Between Hope and Lytton, the Fraser River surges through a narrow gorge while the road clings to the canyon walls high above the churning water. At Hell’s Gate, you can take the air tram (open late-April to mid-October) across a narrow section of the Fraser Canyon or simply enjoy the views from their viewing platform which overlooks the gorge.

From there, it's a short drive to Boston Bar.

Reaching the top of the canyon and the town of Lytton, this is a place that the local First Nations called Camchin (Kumsheen), or the "meeting place", where the Thompson and Fraser rivers meet. The Gold Rush prospectors simply called it The Forks. Walk the Fraser River Walkway, a pedestrian bridge over the river, for views of the confluence or learn about Lytton’s multi-layered history at the Lytton Museum. You can also cross the river on the Fraser River Reaction Ferry to see the old-growth wilderness of the Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park on the far bank. Needless to say, it's also a great spot for whitewater rafting on the Fraser, Thompson, or Nahatlatch rivers.

From Lytton, continue on Highway 1 to Spences Bridge and stop for lunch at the historic Packing House (once a packing house for widow smith apples) or the Inn at Spences Bridge (one of BC’s oldest continuously operating inns). At Boston Flats, take a short detour to Ashcroft, where Sundance Guest Ranch offers rooms and meals as well as riding, or explore the historic town starting from Ashcroft Museum.

Just north of Cache Creek, Historic Hat Creek (open May through September) is a place to revisit 19th-century life with guides in period costumes depicting its history. Visit a roadhouse used by Gold Rush travelers, ride a stagecoach, and learn about the culture of the local Shuswap people. 

Driving time (Vancouver to Cache Creek): 4 hours (215 miles / 345 km)

Day 3: Cache Creek to Chilcotin Lodge (3 hours)

Banks of the Chilcotin River
Banks of the Chilcotin River

Head north to William's Lake and then turn off onto Highway 20  to the historic Chilcotin Lodge on the Chilcotin-Bella Coola Highway. Surrounded by rolling hills and grasslands of Riske Creek, this is a great spot to base yourself to explore the surrounding region, especially the sculpted hoodoos and the Bighorn Sheep of Farwell Canyon.

Driving time (Cache Creek to Chilcotin Lodge): 3 hours (155 miles / 250 km)

Day 4: Chilcotin Lodge to Tatla Lake (3 hours)

Landscape around the Chilcotin River
Landscape around the Chilcotin River

After breakfast, drive west on Highway 20. At Bull Canyon Provincial Park, stop for a riverside walk and picnic along the banks of the turquoise-colored Chilcotin River. If you're into fishing, just beyond Alexis Creek, you'll find Puntzi Lake, famous for its Kokanee and Rainbow trout.

Reaching Tatla Lake, you'll start to notice the landscape changing from the grasslands and lake-dotted hills of the Chilcotin plateau to more rugged mountain vistas. Around Tatla Lake, there are a number of rustic cattle ranches and lodges where you can spend the night and learn about the history of these family-run establishments. Activities include horseback riding, fishing, canoeing, hiking, mountain biking, and helicopter tours. 

Driving time (Chilcotin Lodge to Tatla Lake): 3 hours (105 miles / 170 km)

Day 5: Tatla Lake to Nimpo Lake (1 hour)

Grasslands of the Chilcotin, nearing Tweedsmuir
Grasslands of the Chilcotin, nearing Tweedsmuir

Drive to Nimpo Lake, edging closer to the peaks of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park—British Columbia's largest provincial park. Spend the day at Nimpo Lake, relaxing by the lakeshore, heading out for a standup paddleboard, or partaking in a yoga class at Retreat Wilderness Inn. If you're only spending one night, here, arrange for a charter flight today to Turner Lake and Hunlen Falls, one of Canada's highest waterfalls. In the evening, grab a cocktail and settle in next to a fire. 

Driving time (Tatla Lake to Nimpo Lake): 1 hour (50 miles / 80 km)

Day 6: Nimpo Lake to Bella Coola (2 hours)

Shoreline near Bella Coola
Shoreline near Bella Coola

If you haven't already, charter a floatplane to fly over Turner Lake and get a glimpse of Hunlen Falls, one of North America’s highest waterfalls, which plunges 850 ft. (250 m) over a sheer rock face. 

Then, head west on Highway 20, coined the "Freedom Highway" for the determined locals who constructed the road in the 1950s after the provincial government declined to build it themselves. From Heckman Pass, the road descends through a series of switchbacks for more than 25 miles (40 km) from the pine and spruce forests of the Coast Mountains to the towering hemlock and cedar groves of the Bella Coola Valley. (The road is mostly paved apart from a well-maintained gravel section.) Keep your eyes peeled for mountain goats, black bears, caribou, moose, and numerous bird species.

Driving time (Nimpo Lake to Bella Coola): 2 hours (100 miles / 160 km)

Day 7: Explore the Bella Coola Valley

Abandoned cabin near Bella Coola
Abandoned cabin near Bella Coola

Bella Coola is wedged between a deep fjord and the vast wilderness of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, making it the perfect place to explore nature. Spend the day hiking, rafting, kayaking, fly-fishing, or wildlife viewing in one of the world’s highest concentrations of grizzly bears. Or, if you're looking to relax, charter a boat to one of the remote coastal hot springs. Most of the activities are operated by the local wilderness lodges but the Copper Sun Gallery in town also offers local heritage walks led by a guide from the Nuxalk First Nations who have inhabited this region for centuries.

Day 8: Bella Coola to Port Hardy (11 hours)

Coast of British Columbia
Coast of British Columbia

Board BC Ferries (routes and service vary by season) for the journey from Bella Coola to Port Hardy. Stops may include Ocean Falls, Klemtu, Shearwater, and Bella Bella. As you sail west out of the fjord, keep your eyes open for whales or sea lions sunbathing along the rocky shoreline. The route passes by the forested islands of the Inside Passage before heading south through the open sea.

Ferry time (Bella Coola to Port Hardy): 11 hours

Day 9: Port Hardy to Parksville (3 h 45 min)

Shoreline of Buttle Lake, Strathcona Provincial Park
Shoreline of Buttle Lake, Strathcona Provincial Park

Head south on Highway 19 through Telegraph Cove, Campbell River, and the Comox Valley to Parksville. Consider making a detour to the Strathcona Provincial Park, founded in 1911 as the first provincial park in British Columbia, which adds another hour to the drive but offers great hiking around beautiful lakes amidst the mountains. 

Parksville
 is a quaint oceanside town with fantastic beaches which can get quite busy during the summer months but are great to visit during the spring and fall. Take the afternoon to enjoy the fresh sea air and the sounds of the ocean as you walk along the boardwalk. You can also take a short drive along Highway 4 to two popular highlights of the Pacific Rim Highway—Cathedral Grove where you can find ancient and enormous Douglas fir and Western red cedar and Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park for those that love waterfalls.

Day 10: Parksville to Vancouver (3 h 30 min)

Downtown Vancouver & Stanley Park
Downtown Vancouver & Stanley Park

In the morning, head out for a walk in Englishman River Falls Provincial Park (just south of Parksville) or Newcastle Marine Provincial Park, a car-free island just off the coast of Nanaimo.

Eventually, make your way to Departure Bay to catch the ferry to Horseshoe Bay on the mainland. From there, it's a short drive back to Vancouver along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. You'll likely reach Vancouver in the late afternoon after a long day of transit. Make a reservation at one of Vancouver's great restaurants after taking a stroll along the beach or around Stanley Park at sunset.

Driving time (Parksville to Departure Bay): 45 minutes (23 miles / 36.4 km)
Ferry time (Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay): 1 hour, 45 minutes
Driving time (Horseshoe Bay to Vancouver): 30 minutes (12 miles / 20 km)

Day 11: Depart Vancouver

Sunset over Vancouver from Kits Beach
Sunset over Vancouver from Kits Beach

Grab an early morning breakfast before making your way to the airport. If you're feeling indulgent, splurge on a seaplane harbor tour to take in the magnificent scenery of the mountain-and-sea-dominated city from a new perspective. Alternatively, enjoy some more time at Stanley Park, paying a visit to Klahowya Village via the Spirit Catcher miniature train to watch cultural performances. Here you can also purchase souvenirs and gifts of traditional First Nations arts and crafts from the Artisan Marketplace and Métis Trading Post.

It usually takes 30 minutes to travel from downtown Vancouver to Vancouver International Airport but allow extra time in case of traffic. Best to arrive at least two hours prior to your international departure while allowing extra time to drop off your rental car.