British Columbia’s Highway 20 is the one on the map in grey that’s described in the atlas as Other paved road; Unpaved Road. Bring it on is what I say. Those are the roads where the traffic is almost nonexistent and the communities along the way are delighted to see a tourist. And where the only thing you have to stop for on the road is a horse or a cow – never a stop light.
Highway 20 takes you from Williams Lake in the over the Chilcotin Plateau to Bella Coola on the coast of British Columbia. Along the way there are only a smattering of small communities but plenty of places worth stopping.
Here are 20 things you can do and see along Highway 20 starting in Williams Lake, BC
Check out the Fraser River – by car or via Jetboat. The river starts at Mount Robson and 860 miles later empties into the Strait of Georgia.
Take a short detour and visit Junction Sheep Range Provincial Park – and in particular Farwell Canyon. There’s a hiking trail that leads to the top of the hoodoos and if you’re lucky you might spot a herd of big horn sheep.
Raft the Chilcotin River as it races through Farwell Canyon.
Go fishing for rainbow trout in one of the lakes that dot the Chilcotin Plateau that can be accessed from Highway 20 including Eagle Lake, Puntzi Lake, and Tatlayoko Lake.
Go grizzly bear watching during the salmon run. You can do this around Chilko Lake, out of Bella Coola or by drifting in a boat along the Atnarko River. And the start of the season is in late August.
Hike into the Rainbow Range in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. The 16 km hike into the Rainbow Range was one of my best one day hikes EVER. There is the option to backpack into the Rainbow Range too.
Take a pack horse trip into the Rainbow or Chilcotin Mountains.
Make a two hour detour off Highway 20 and go horseback riding in the breathtaking Nemaiah Valley. Overnight trips are available.
Stop in Anahim Lake and arrange a floatplane tour over Hunlen Falls. They are Canada’s third highest waterfalls and hard to see unless you fly or to a long hike up to the Turner Lakes.
Better yet, plan a multi-day canoe trip on the Turner Lake circuit. You can hike in off of Highway 20, though that’s a slog, or you can get dropped off and rent canoes on Turner Lake.
Pay your respects from a distance at the Native Cemetery on the south side of Highway 20 near Redstone. Since I visited, they would prefer you not go on the land.
Head for Charlotte Lake, just 20 kilometres off the highway and relax for a few days at the Atnarko Retreat. Read, go birdwatching, fish, kayak and swim or do nothing at all.
Drive Highway 20 all the way down to Bella Coola. That would include the eleven kilometers of steep, winding, dirt road with serious drop offs.
Walk the Eagle’s Nest Marsh Trail on the southwest side of Anahim Lake. Look out for the bald eagles, white pelicans, trumpeter swans, ospreys and great grey and horned owls.
Go for a swim or a paddle on Anahim Lake.
In Bella Coola area choose from a variety of hikes including Schoolhouse Mountain Falls, Snootli Creek Regional Park and the trails to Blue Jay Lake and McGurr Lake in the high alpine.
Drive the streets of Bella Coola and admire the Native art – totems on front lawns and murals on the grocery store.
Head to Clayton Falls Park just past the ferry terminal in Bella Coola. Take a picnic lunch and watch the world go by. And take a few minutes to check out Clayton Falls too.
Look for the petroglyphs at Thorsen Creek in Bella Coola. Hundreds have fallen from a cliff face and lie strewn in the forest. The site is estimated to be 3,500 years old. You can arrange for a tour with Nuxalk guides.
Do a float plane tour out of Nimpo Lake, called the Floatplane Capital of British Columbia. There’s a lot of fantastic country to see, especially the rainbow coloured mountains. Be prepared to be gobsmacked by the Rainbow Range.
Check out the maps below to help get you oriented.
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I highly recommend picking up a copy of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast BC Backroads Mapbook to make the most of the drive.
Don’t forget to take a roadside emergency kit for your car – as often on this drive you are a long way from anywhere.
Places to stay along Highway 20
Bella Coola Mountain Lodge – A nice looking newer lodge with 14 rooms and a dining room with an inspired menu – offering fresh, local seafood, organic greens and predator friendly ingredients. They also rent cars to their guests should you have arrived on foot via the ferry.
Tweedsmuir Park Lodge boasts 600 metres of river frontage and views of Mt. Stupendous and Mt. Melikan. Choose a cabin or a chalet and sit back and relax OR pick something out of their wide range of activities – fishing, mountain biking, bear viewing, and heli- skiing to name just a few.
Anahim Lake Eagle’s Nest Resort is located on Anahim Lake at the top of The Hill. Choose a cabin or a suite and enjoy your meal in a dining room overlooking the lake.
Atnarko Lodge on Charlotte Lake is about a 45-minute drive off of Highway 20 but it’s lovely. I stayed here for four nights and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Close to Nimpo Lake is the Retreat Wilderness Inn, rated exceptional or Nimpo Lake Resort, rated as fabulous.
In Tatla Lake, Eagle Bear Lodge, 11 km from town is rated superb.
Big Creek Lodge near Hanceville offers horseback riding and seasonal cattle drives.
In William’s Lake – unless you want a chain hotel – I would recommend Juniper Trails B&B.
Further reading on things to do in British Columbia
- Nanaimo to Tofino Drive – 13 Fantastic Stops to Make
- A Trip to the Beautiful Bella Coola Valley
- The Cape Scott Trail on Vancouver Island
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