Cariboo Chilcotin Travel Guide
This is the region in BC where The Wild West Lives On. Explore the Gold Rush Trail and Cowboy history in the rugged Cariboo Chilcotin Country.
Cariboo Chilcotin Country
Facts about Cariboo Chilcotin
Take a wilderness road trip through the Cariboo Mountains. Discover a region with a rich past and a great adventure spirit.
The land is settled by outdoor enthusiasts, artists, and explorers. Many authentic guest ranches offer wilderness trips on horseback. If western riding is your passion, this is the place to go for a ride. Look for ancient hoodoos and volcanic mountains in the Chilcotin, or discover deep fjords and Aboriginal culture on the coast.
The area is populated with more moose than people and you will encounter plenty of Canadian wildlife where ever you go.
Don’t miss some real cowboy action at the Williams’s Lake Rodeo or at one of the Guest Ranches.
Clinton is the official start of the Cariboo
Clinton was Mile 47 on the original Gold Rush Trail. The museum offers a wealth of information on the gold rush history. If you’re looking to find some antiques, that’s the place for it. You will many antic stores in the area.
This is ranch country and many old ranches are located in the area, including Big Bar and Hat Creek Ranch. Hat Creek Ranch is a British Columbia heritage site dating back to 1861.
You find Hat Creek Ranch at the junction of Highway 97 and Highway 99. Make sure to stop and learn about its history.
The Cariboo runs south to north and the best way to explore it is via Highway 97, the Cariboo Highway, also known as the Gold Rush Trail. Many side trips are branching off the highway.
Highway 97 follows the old Gold Rush Trails through the towns of 70 Mile House, 100 Mile House, 108 Mile House, and 150 Mile House.
The towns are named after the mile-marking roadhouses by prospectors and settlers heading north to the goldfields.
Highway 24 – The Fishing Highway
At 93 Mile House, you can detour east along Highway 24. The 97 km connector route to Hwy 5 is very scenic with over a hundred fishing lakes before you get to Little Fort and the junction of Highway 5.
This is a fisher’s paradise! These lakes produce rainbow, brook, lake trout, turbot, and kokanee.
Hwy 24 follows the historic bridge trail, used by the Shuswap people as a trade route and later developed by the Hudson’s Bay Company in the early 1800s for their fur trade. The area is locally known as the Interlake community.
Highway 24 provides access to many good secondary roads. The roads take you north to Mahood Lake and Wells Gray Park, and south to the Green-Bonaparte Lakes area.
Read more: Exploring Waterfalls at Wells Gray Provincial Park, British Columbia
100 Mile House
100 Mile House began as a rest stop for travellers along the Cariboo Wagon trail during the excitement of the gold rush in the 1860s. Remnants from the village’s days of lore still exist in the form of an original red Barnard Express stagecoach located at the North end of town.
Here you will find the most outstanding cross-country ski trails in the world. No wonder that 100 Mile considers itself the “International Nordic Ski Capital”. With nearly 1000 international competitors for the annual Cariboo Cross-Country Ski Marathon, held the first weekend in February, they seem to earn that title.
100 Mile is a getaway to hundreds of fishing and recreational lakes. Explore Moose Valley, a wilderness park that claims untouched wetlands and lakes that are home to beavers, moose, and even wild horses. An easy two-day canoe trip through the provincial park is a great adventure to see the beauty of the South Cariboo up close.
108 Mile Historic Site
Step back in time at the 108 Mile Historic Site. The 108 Mile Heritage Site is located halfway between 100 Mile House and Lac La Hache on Highway 97. The 8-acre site borders the 108 Mile Lake and contains a unique collection of 13 buildings dating from the early 1860s into the 20th century, some original to the site and others moved to the site from other locations in the region.
This is an excellent place to have a break on your journey. Visit the buildings and dig into the Cariboo history at the museum. Go for a stroll along the lake, it’s beautiful.
Lac La Hache
Lac La Hache is a small, friendly community, only 15 miles North of 100 Mile House, and is known to be the longest town in the Cariboo. Highway 97 follows the entire 18 km shoreline of this beautiful lake.
There are many stories to explain how the lake was named. According to one, it got its name when a trapper lost his hatchet axe when chopping a hole in a frozen lake. The area is rich in fur trader’s tales, gold seekers, and cattle ranches.
13 km north is Lac La Hache Provincial Park, a nice stopping place for weary travellers.
150 Mile House – Horsefly – Likely
50 km from 100 Mile House is 150 Mile House. North of the turnoff, east for the communities of Likely and Horsefly. Horsefly is situated 52 km from 100 Mile House and is a forestry centre and gateway to great camping, hiking, and fishing in the surrounding area. The crystal-clear Horsefly Lake is known for excellent fishing.
The small community of Likely is one of the few remaining Caribou Gold Rush settlements. Likely is located at the mouth of the Quesnel River, at the west end of Quesnel Lake. Quesnel Lake is the largest lake in the Cariboo.
Thirteen km from the turnoff in Likely is the old ghost town of Quesnel Forks, a historic town from the Gold Rush area, founded in 1859.
Williams Lake – British Columbia’s Stampede Capital
Williams Lake has a rural charm showing its ranching culture and gold rush history. It is the gateway to the Cariboo Chilcotin coast and the town of Bella Coola.
Williams Lake is best known for its Stampede where you can join the rodeo action of the Cariboo Chilcotin. For a week in early June, you can experience wild and colourful Western hospitality. Bull riding, steer wrestling and other rodeo events draw cowboys and crowds from afar.
William Lakes also has a great Visitor Centre and a museum worth visiting. Another good reason to stop is the Discovery and Visitor Centre, a huge log building with lots of regional information.
When you leave Williams Lake, Highway 97 follows the Fraser River to Quesnel. This is another bustling city to explore. Stop in at the Quesnel and District Museum to learn about its rich cultural heritage. Visit some of the 30 heritage sites around town.
Barkerville Highway 26
Barkerville Highway 26 is a historic driving route from Quesnel to Historic Barkerville. Highway 26 also leads to the town of Wells and is the way to Bowron Lake Park.
This is British Columbia’s living “wild west”! The Chilcotin vast landscape stretches between the Coast Mountains and the Fraser River. Here you don’t have many roads, not much industry, and only pockets of people, the majority being First Nations.
The diversity of wildlife is incredible. You find here the largest population of bighorn sheep, bears, lynx, wolves, mountain caribou, rare white pelicans, trumpeter swans, and herds of wild horses.
The area is known for having the last intact grasslands in the world. Here the outdoor adventures are endless. You can charter a plane for sightseeing over the Homathko Icefields, or Heliski the deep powder of the Chilcotin Mountains. The rugged Tweedsmuir Provincial Park has great multi-day loop treks if you are into wilderness hiking.
The Chilcotin River is rated as the most challenging white-water river in North America, so if you are a thrill-seeker, go for it! Or head for the White Mile on the Chilko for the world’s most exciting rafting adventure.
In West Chilcotin, you can charter a float plane to a remote location for a fly-in adventure. Blackwater River in the north and the upper Dean River near Anahim Lake are known for superior fly fishing.
Heading west from Lillooet will take you on the paved road along Carpenter Lake to the settlement of Gold Bridge. When I drove the road for the first time, it wasn’t paved and it turned into an adventure drive. I had to stop a couple of times and take a deep breath before I could continue. Cliffs were hanging overhead and the gravel road was narrow with lots of potholes.
I have been back a few times since then. Once I knew what to expect, the drive actually was beautiful.
Gold Bridge was once the centre of the richest gold-producing area in British Columbia. Today, people come for the great outdoors. It’s an excellent place for fishing and wildlife viewing and snowmobiling and backcountry skiing in winter.
Real Cowboy country here and a great place to look for a horseback adventure.
Highway 20 – Chilcotin Freedom Highway
Highway 20 is the backbone of Chilcotin. It runs 450 km from Williams Lake to the Bella Coola Valley. It includes Tweedsmuir Provincial Park and Farwell Canyon.
Driving the road non-stop will take you about six hours. Plan for a few days to drive it to have time to explore the area. The road has been steadily improved and more than 90 % is paved. Drive slowly and enjoy the view. Driving down from Heckman’s Pass to the valley is a 1525 m descent and you come down to nearly sea level
Make sure to have a detailed backcountry map with you for off-Highway 20 travel.
The road west from Williams Lake to Bella Coola on the coast will take you to many small communities worth exploring. Shortly after Williams Lake at Sheep Creek Bridge, you will get spectacular views of the Fraser River.
46 km west of Williams Lake is Riske Creek, the site of the earliest established ranches in the area.
If you want to drive off-road, take Farwell Canyon Road to Farwell Canyon 15 km south of Riske Creek. This is a special location where you find Native pictographs south of the bridge.
The next place along Hwy 20 is Hanceville or Lee’s Corner, the home of Norman Lee’s original ranch.
13 km west of Williams Lake is Alexis Creek, named after Chief Alexis of the Chilcotins. Nearby are Bull Canyon and Battle Rock, the sites of numerous battles fought against the Chilcotin. The Chilcotin were defending their territory against invasions by other tribes, long before the white man came.
The town is the service centre for the east Chilcotin region and has a Forest Service office., which is a good information source for access to recreation in the area.
Puntzi Lake at Chilanko Forks is known for the White Pelicans, which you can see in spring and summer. From fall to freeze-up the area is also home to Trumpeter Swans.
Tatla Lake is situated 44 km west of Chilanko Forks. This is the place for a helicopter trip to a wilderness destination. One of the trips offered is to Mount Waddington, the highest peak in British Columbia at 4,016.
An 80 km gravel road south of Tatla Lake will take you to Chilko Lake. Chilco Lake is located in the Tsyl-os Provincial Park and is the largest, natural, high-elevation freshwater lake in North America.
Kleena Kleena is a tiny settlement 35 km west of Tatla Lake, located in a beautiful valley.
Nimpo Lake is a friendly small community in the beautiful alpine ranching country of the Cariboo Chilcotin region. It is surrounded by the Coastal Mountains and rolling grasslands. Here you find a wealth of outdoor activities. Nimpo Lake is known as the float plane capital of British Columbia and is the busiest fly-out centre in the interior of BC.
Nimpo Lake is located 300 km west of Williams Lake and 152 km east of Bella Coola.
Anahim Lake is another remote community located in alpine ranching country, 15 minutes from Nimpo Lake. The community is named after a Chilcotin chief and is home to the ‘Old Fashioned Wild West Rodeo” each July. Make sure you check for dates.
The community offers year-round outdoor adventure opportunities. Tweedsmuir Provincial Park is to the west of Itcha Ilgachuz Provincial Park, to the north, and Tsyl’os Provincial Park is to the southeast. Anahim Lake is the last community before you enter Tweedsmuir Provincial Park.
You’ll get a great surprise when you reach the bottom of the hill in Bella Coola. Set in a lush valley between stunning mountain ranges, Bella Coola is definitely worth a visit. Tweedsmuir Park close by is a haven for fishing, hiking, and wildlife watching.
Bella Coola is a service hub for tiny outer coastal communities and a getaway to the Great Bear Rainforest.
Bella Coola’s Airport is located on Highway 20, 12 km east of town. Pacific Coastal Airlines offers daily flights from Vancouver.