Bella Coola Marina, Photo Destination BC Albert Normandin
The Bella Coola Valley is a gem of natural beauty within the Central Coast area of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region of British Columbia. Wilderness abounds and beckons nature lovers and soft adventurers who wish to get off the well-trodden tourist path. It is also a key gateway to what is widely known as the Great Bear Rainforest, a 64,000-square-km expanse that represents one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled temperate rainforest left in the world. Wildlife viewing is all around you including mountain goats, black and grizzly bears. Explore the nearby wildlife-rich estuary, see soaring eagles, waterfowl and seals.
Take a guided hike on the Nuxalk trail to the petroglyphs at Thorsen Creek or hike on the trails in Tweedsmuir Park including the colourful, volcanic Rainbow Range and Hunlen Falls, one of Canada’s highest waterfalls. Do some fishing. Take an eco-adventure river drifting tour and drift peacefully on either the Bella Coola or Atnarko River, spotting eagles, waterfowl, kingfishers, heron and songbirds that inhabit this lush temperate rainforest. History also showcases itself here through the museum, a local history tour and a visit to the Tallheo Cannery that reflects the history of a thriving canning industry that began in the late 1890s.
The community of Hagensborg is just 19.2 km (12 mi) east along Highway 20. It is home to a large black bear sanctuary where you can view these magnificent bears in the wild in a safe setting.
Bella Coola lies some 456 km (283 mi) west of Williams Lake on Hwy 20. The Valley stretches 80 km (50 mi) from Bella Coola on the North Bentinck Arm, to Stuie at the base of the “Hill” on Hwy 20. Driving westwards, the “Hill” descends from Heckman Pass along a 30-km (18-mi) stretch of sharp hairpin turns and switchbacks.
Bella Coola has an alluring history: the First Nations Nuxalk (nu-halk) people date back 10,000 years thriving here alongside the salmon-filled rivers. The valley was part of a trade corridor between coastal and interior native groups, where furs and leather were exchanged for salmon and eulachon oil – obtained from the rendered fat of a small herring-like fish that was valued for its calories and vitamin content – and transported along so-called “grease” trails.
Bella Coola itself marks the western terminus of Alexander Mackenzie’s trek from Saskatchewan to the Coast in 1793 – the first crossing of North America by land. Situated at the western edge of the Bella Coola Valley across from the towering 2,438-metre-high Mount Nusatsum, it was once the site of a Hudson’s Bay fur-trading post.
The Bella Coola valley thrives today on fishing, logging and tourism and as a full-service hub for the area’s tiny outer coastal communities.