Trip 130 - May 18, 2018 (Friday)

Trip on British Columbia Highway 20

Williams Lake to Bella Coola (455 kilometers)

Distance From Vancouver to Williams Lake:
(via Highways 1 East and 97 North): approximately 550 kilometers.

Distance From Vancouver to Bella Coola: (via Highways 1 East, 97 North, and 20 West): approximately 1,000 kilometers.

Liked: Very light traffic, meeting cows by the roadside, several fine mountain views.

Of note: Considering the substantial length of the highway, good views are few and far in-between. No cell phone signal for most of the highway. Free-roaming livestock by the roadside. Several cattle guards on the highway. A portion of the highway is gravel. The stretch through South Tweedsmuir Provincial Park closer to the western end of the highway, features a very long, steep and narrow road, with enormous drop-offs and no guard rail.

Cariboo Chilcotin Coast Backroad Mapbook (2015 edition) Coordinates: Page 28-27-26-13-25-24-38-37-23-22 (Williams Lake to Bella Coola). The latest edition of Backroad Mapbook for this and other regions, as well as GPS maps, are available for purchase  at

Related Links: South Tweedsmuir Provincial Park (BC Parks website), DriveBC (highway conditions).

British Columbia Highway 20 runs for from the town of Williams Lake in BC interior, through a few very small settlements (Riske Creek, Hanceville, Alexis Creek, Redstone, Tsi Del Del, Chilanko Forks, Tatla Lake, Kleena Kleene, Nimpo Lake, Anahim Lake, Firvale and Hagensborg) to the coastal community of Bella Coola, some 455 kilometers away. While the highway itself is by no means a scenic drive, it leads to some of the best BC wilderness, including a huge Tweedmsuir Provincial Park. We drove the entire length of Highway 20 today, and here is our trip report.

1. We are Northbound in Williams Lake, with a sign showing that left lane would lead to Highway 20.

2. A few hundred meters later, we are getting ready to turn left. Williams Lake is the right place to fuel your vehicle at the best price, and to stock up on supplies, prior to driving on Highway 20. There are very few stores for the rest of the way, and the selection of goods is much more limited. No Wal-Marts, Safeways, Save-on-Foods, or Canadian Tires exist West of Williams Lake.

3. Now on Highway 20, still in Williams Lake, with a sign indicating the distances to various destinations.

4. For the first 25 minutes, Highway 20 goes up and down the hills.

5. This cyclist sure got a great workout.

6. Then, the Chilcotin area of British Columbia begins, and the hills become less numerous and not nearly as steep.

7. There's lots of green around, and very little traffic.

8. Within an hour or so, Hanceville Lookout rest area features this neat view.

9. Passing by an aboriginal settlement.

10. In Tatla Lake we have encountered dozens of cows roaming freely on the side of the highway.

11. Tatla Lake, BC.

12. Cows in Tatla Lake. Watch out for cattle guards - there are four or five of them on Highway 20.

13. Hello to you too.

14. The first mountain showed up far away on the horizon 171 kilometers after the beginning of Highway 20. And it took close to three hours of driving before really good mountain views started to appear, like the one on the photo below.

15. Here is another good view, seen from a pullout.

16. After Anahim Lake (320 kilometers from Williams Lake), the asphalt is replaced by gravel for the next 60 kilometers. There are numerous rough spots on this stretch of Highway 20, usually accompanied by a small "slow" sign nearby.

17. About 15 kilometers of the gravel portion of the highway is a very steep descent, which begins after Tweedsmuir Provincial Park entrance (which itself starts 355 kilometers after Williams Lake). A sign requires all vehicles to have chains on drive axles (during the winter season, obviously), but, even with the road being dry, it was far from a serene drive.

18. You lose over 1,000 meters in elevation fairly quick. The road is quite narrow in many places, and not that smooth.

19. Plus, there are no guard rails. Driving this road in the winter is not for the faint of heart.

20. A steep drop-off.

21. The enormous hill ends in Bella Coola valley. The road was a bit flooded at one point, but quite passable.

22. In the valley, the mountain views get better and better.

23. One more.

24. It's a neat drive, once you are in the valley. There are houses on both sides here and there, and, still, very little traffic.

25. Highway 20 ends at a government wharf, a few kilometers past a small settlement of Bella Coola. Here we are approaching Bella Coola.

26. After this bridge, turning right leads to the center of Bella Coola, while going straight for about three more kilometers would lead to the wharf and the end of Highway 20, both of which we will cover in the next trip report.

BC Highway 20 is far from being the most scenic drive in the province, and features a pretty complicated hill closer to its western end. That said, if you want to experience the vast and mostly people-free wilderness of the Chilcotin region of British Columbia, or to visit Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, Highway 20 will get you there.

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