Imagine taking a stunning drive though undulating pasture land, next to the constant presence of the legendary Fraser River. The Mighty Fraser Country Circle Tour offers breath-taking views, fascinating historical sites, glorious gardens, and heart-stopping action. Your 635km (381mi) adventure starts and, three to four days later, ends in Vancouver.
The Mighty Fraser Country Circle Tour primarily explores the Vancouver Coast and Mountains Tourism Region. There are numerous communities to visit on the route, but we've only mentioned a few. More details can be found by clicking on the community links.
Start your tour in the beautiful metropolis of Vancouver. Unlike many North American cities, Vancouver, is a people place. The downtown's West End has one of Canada's highest population densities and teems with cultural diversity. The best way to take in the sights and sounds of downtown is by walking, biking, or tours by bus or trolley. Vancouver's downtown is surrounded by seafront on three sides and walkways provide access to much of the water.
Leaving Vancouver, you will travel west along Lougheed Highway 7 and reach Pitt Meadows, just 37km (23mi) away. Located on the North Bank of the Fraser, Pitt Meadows is the start of farm and horse country. Blueberry, cranberry, and dairy farms predominate the green landscape. Take time to play a round of golf at any of 4 world-class golf courses. If you enjoy fishing, head to Pitt Lake, a popular boating and fishing destination, with steelhead trout, pink, coho, spring, and sockeye salmon. In fact, Pitt Lake is the largest tidal fresh water lake in North America. If you like bird-watching, head to the Riverside dykes, where wildlife viewing, hiking, and biking are popular.
Continue 17km (11mi) west on Lougheed Highway 7 to Maple Ridge. Agriculture and forestry are mainstays in this lovely countryside, which runs along the Fraser River east of Pitt Meadows. Here, the country markets abound, and popular pastimes include horseback riding and cycling along the more than 160km (100mi) of winding trails. Don't forget to visit Golden Ears Provincial Park, a huge park north of Maple Ridge with excellent fishing, swimming, hiking and biking.
Leave Maple Ridge and keep on Lougheed Highway 7 heading west to Mission, 28km (18mi) away. Situated amongst the rugged Coast Mountains, and looking down upon the Fraser River, Mission has always been an important junction. Many visitors are amazed by the deep cultural history that is found in Mission - the Sto:lo people established a settlement here 9,000 years ago. Today the traditional cedar pit houses and cedar-planked longhouses are part of an Interpretive Centre, which presents the history of the Sto:lo people. With aboriginal folk music and theatre festivals, Mission has such a lively cultural scene that Canadian Living Magazine once named it the best city in Canada for cultural events.
Continue 47km (29mi) west on Lougheed Highway 7 past Harrison Mills and take Highway 9 north to Agassiz and the District of Kent, the "Corn Capital of Canada". From Agassiz, follow signs to Harrison Hot Springs, which has been a health and vacation resort since the first hotel was built here in 1886. Two mineral hot springs deliver water from 58 degrees to 62 degrees C (145F to 155F). The lake has a sandy beach and offers windsurfing, parasailing, and boating. Harrison Mills is known as the "Home of the Bald Eagle". Hundreds of the majestic raptors congregate here every November and December. In spring and summer the Harrison River is an angler's paradise.
Find your way back to Lougheed Highway 7 and head west to its terminus before heading north on the Trans-Canada Highway 1. At the southern entrance of the Fraser Canyon, situated 64km (40mi) away, the quiet town of Yale is one of British Columbia's oldest communities. It is famous for being home to British Columbia's oldest church, which was built in 1859.
Keep traveling along the Trans-Canada Highway 1 on the banks of the Fraser River, where the magnificent Fraser Canyon is quickly all-encompassing. Cutting a heart-stopping swath through the Cascade Mountains, the Fraser River creates a colossal valley of lush forests, dramatic gorges, and mountain-side farmlands. A transportation link for generations from the original Cariboo Wagon Trail to the Gold Rush Trail, the Fraser Canyon roadway and the railway systems continue to transport people and goods into British Columbia's interior.
Back on the highway, you'll pass the charming community of Spuzzum and find yourself in Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park. The unused bridge spans the Fraser River and offers a picturesque backdrop for a riverside picnic.
Continue on Trans-Canada Highway 1 to the Hell's Gate Airtram just 11km (7mi) to the north. Located at the crescendo of the mighty Fraser River, Hell's Gate is nature at its most magnificent. Visitors are amazed to see the sight of white water crashing and churning through the narrow 35 metre (110ft) wide gorge. A definite must-do on this leg of the journey is to ride the aerial tramway that takes you on a spectacular ride over the heart of the crashing waters.
Back on the road, continue driving north along the Trans-Canada Highway 1 to Lytton. Located 55km (34mi) away, Lytton is the registered "Hot Spot of Canada" and is situated where the confluence of the green waters of the Thompson River meets with the brown, silt-laden flow of the Fraser River. The community is one of the oldest continuously settled communities in all of North America. Built on the site of a First Nations village known as Camchin, the meeting place, Lytton was also a stopping place along the route taken by hardy prospectors as they made their way north to the gold fields.
The next leg of the journey takes you south down the Trans-Canada Highway 1 to the small city of Hope, 104km (65mi) away. Nestled against the Cascade Mountains, Hope is the gateway to the interior situated at the junction of four major highways: the Trans-Canada Highway 1, the Coquihalla Highway 5, the Crow's Nest Highway 3 and the Lougheed Highway 7. Celebrating its connection with the forest and its wildlife, Hope has become known as the "Chainsaw Carving Capital", with 20 giant wooden sculptures scattered around the town. Hope of yesteryear is best seen at the Hope Museum, where exhibits on the fur-trade and gold rush days are displayed in historical settings. The Japanese Friendship Garden, next to the District Hall, is another worthwhile attraction. Authentically Japanese in design and plantings, it is dedicated to all Japanese Canadians who were interned here during World War II.
From Hope, take Coquihalla Highway 5 and head 7km (5mi) northeast to Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park. One of the greatest engineering marvels in the world, the park features a series of five tunnels which were blasted through the Coquihalla gorge - cliffs of solid granite that rise for 100 metres (300ft). Built from 1911-1916 for the now defunct Kettle Valley Railway, the Othello-Quintette tunnels cost $300,000 to construct, and constitutes the most expensive mile of railway track ever assembled. The 135-hectare park is a popular tourist attraction for Hope, and provides walking, fishing, and picnicking opportunities.
After you've spent some time marveling in the Canyon's spectacular scenery, take a U-turn on Highway 5 back towards Hope and southeast on Highway 3 to Manning Provincial Park. An ideal place to absorb the ambiance of British Columbia's coastal old-growth forests, Manning Provincial Park offers easy-to-hike interpretive trails (some are wheelchair accessible), as well as an additional 190km (118mi) for cross-country skiing, biking, and strenuous hiking. Residents and visitors alike enjoy fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, camping, and mountain scenery in this popular 70,844-hectare park. Manning Park is also a superb winter destination for skiing and snowboarding.
Leave Manning Park and head west to Bridal Falls, located at exit 138 (heading west) of the Trans-Canada Highway 70km (44mi) away. Nestled at the base of 2107m (6912ft) Mount Cheam, Bridal Falls offers a spectacular panoramic view of the Fraser Valley. Nearby, the sixth largest waterfall in Canada, Bridal Veil Falls, tumbles down the mountain's face at Bridal Falls Provincial Park. The 122m (400ft) falls flows into Bridal Creek and into the Cheam Lake Wetlands. If you're traveling with your family, be sure to stop at Dinotown, a one-of-a-kind cartoon dinosaur town that offers live shows, fun rides, and other family-oriented attractions. Another attraction is Trans-Canada Water Slides. Spend a day sliding through exhilarating slides, playing mini-golf and lounging in a giant hot tub.
Continuing west on the Trans-Canada Highway 1, along the southern belly of the mighty Fraser, you'll come to the "City of Festivals", Chilliwack. A short 10km (6mi) from Bridal Falls, Chilliwack stages a number of great annual events. The Dixieland Jazz Festival takes place in early May during Celebrate the Arts month. In July, experience one of western Canada's largest vintage car shows in beautiful Minter Gardens. Labour Day weekends offer the Chilliwack Bluegrass Festival. The name 'Chilliwack' comes from the First Nations people, whose communities form the western edge of the city. A rough translation is "going back upstream", which refers to their ancient homeland upstream on the Chilliwack River. Famous for its sweet corn and other agricultural products, there are several interesting farm tours in the area, and local lakes and rivers offer excellent fishing and water sports. Nearby is Cultus Lake, one of the most popular recreation areas in the Fraser Valley. Here, you can enjoy swimming, golfing, hiking and go-carting. Nearby Cultus Lake Provincial Park offers beach access and camping.
Traveling 34km (21mi) west along Trans-Canada Highway 1, and further along the southern edge of the Fraser, you'll find your way to Abbotsford. Situated on the Lower Fraser Valley plain, surrounded by scenic mountain ranges, Abbotsford thrives as an agricultural city. Ostrich, llama, kiwi, vegetable and dairy farms are abundant in the area. The Berry Festival celebrates the productivity of local growers with raspberry and strawberry pies, art and craft displays and street entertainment, while the air show features aerial acrobatic teams, vintage aircraft and stunt flyers in August.
Travel 32km (20mi) west from Abbotsford along the Trans-Canada Highway 1 to your last stop on this circle tour, Fort Langley. This city started as a Hudson's Bay Company trading post in 1827, making it southwestern BC's first European settlement. The centre of the fur trade, it was also a jumping-off point for prospectors heading to the Fraser River gold fields. In 1858, British Columbia was proclaimed a colony in the fort's Big House, making Fort Langley "the Birthplace of British Columbia". Today, Fort Langley thrives as an agricultural and residential community with charming shops. Visitors passing through the city should visit the Fort Langley National Historic Site. The original Storehouse and reconstructed buildings of the fur trading post offer a surprising glimpse of early commerce in British Columbia.
Finally, from Fort Langley, it's a short 40km (25mi) drive back to Vancouver, where this circle tour ends.
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Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia
Header Photo Credit: Queen Elizabeth Park - Tourism BC/Dannielle Hayes