Bella Coola

Bella Coola is in the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia

GPS Coordinates are 52.37327874089244, -126.75376303201631.
Link on Google Maps

Welcome to Bella Coola Bella Coola is at the end of an 80 kilometer long inlet just north of Vancouver island. It is within the boundaries of the Great Bear Rainforest. After visiting the place, we agree, the name is well deserved. There is rain and there are bears. It is also home to countless bald eagles. By the end of summer, the bears and raptors are drawn to the rivers with the spawning salmons.
Bella Coola

But enough with the tourist info talk. We didn't know much about this place when we left home a few weeks ago. By word of mouth, we found out about the Bella Coola Valley Fall Fair and the Grizzly viewing in the Tweedsmuir Provincial Park. This was reason enough to visit the place. We left Whistler on hwy 99 north. We passed through Pemberton, Lillooet, Clinton, 100 Mile House, 105 Mile House, 108 Mile House, 150 Mile House (We didn't make up the names) and spent the night in Williams Lake. Before Clinton, we left hwy 99 and took hwy 97. This is the highway to Yellowknife.
In the morning, we took hwy 20 west to Bella Coola. The first 370 kilometers are paved that get you to the top of Heckman Pass at 1524 meters. This is well within the Tweedsmuir Provincial Park.
From Heckman Pass, the road drops almost 1200 meters within 40 km. This is all gravel, no road marking or guard rails, partially single lane and grades of 14% and sometimes more.

Heckman Pass downhill Heckman Pass downhill turn

Our opinion? It is a reasonably well maintained road with many small pullout sections to let cars and trucks pass. In our case, to let the breaks cool down again. You may want to read the Dangerous Road site as well. As you may have read on the Going West top page, we had an incident with one of our camping trailer wheel bearings, it disintegrated. The emergency fix didn't support the electrical breaks on the trailer anymore, so the Jeep had to break all the weight. We had the breaks on the Jeep upgraded to Power Stop breaks which very likely saved the day. Long story short, they performed well and we made it down.
We were not able to fix the wheel on the trailer and decided to skip Yellowknife. Instead we took the ferry from Bella Coola to Port Hardy. But we're getting ahead of the story.

We had a reservation in the Rip Rap Campground which is in Hagensborg, a few kilometers before Bella Coola. We spent 9 nights there and met many tourists that made it down from Heckman Pass. Others came with the ferry from Vancouver Island to go up to Heckman Pass.

Standoff with grouse
To all you travellers, if you have a rental RV, take the ferry first, from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island to Bella Coola and continue to drive up to the Heckman Pass. No matter if you are used to driving mountain passes, you are operating a big rental vehicle in unknown condition. The vehicle is likely on the limit of the weight capacity and you are driving downhill with no escape path. You add a bit of rain and the sandy gravel road becomes a slushy slide. And there was snow up on the pass this September.
We cannot skip over our most spectacular encounter on the way down from Heckman Pass. Picture this, dirt road, downhill, some shrubs on the right, the valley on the left and a grouse walks out on the road. I apply the hot breaks slowly, knowing that any sane creature will run away and hide when a car approaches. Not so the grouse, wouldn't move. I had to get out and shoo the bird away. We both kept on going our way and we both have a story we can tell our kids.

YouTubeHeckman Pass down to Bella Coola in BC. The full descend from the dashcam.

Bella Coola Valley Fall Fair
Bella Coola Fall Fair cutting a cookie We had to see the lumberjack & logger sports, games & competitions and looking through the pictures, it was well worth it.
Bella Coola Fall Fair Balance act
Bella Coola Fall Fair rope war

Bella Coola Fall Fair split wook Bella Coola Fall Fair Axe Throw

Bella Coola Fall Fair Log saw women Bella Coola Fall Fair Log Saw

Bear Viewing
Rip Rap Camp Site fire pit Seeing the bears was the other reason we came to Bella Coola. We were staying at the Rip Rap Campground. The campsite is between hwy 20 and the Bella Coola river. There is practically no traffic on hwy 20, so it is very quiet.

Rip Rap Camp Site We had full hook-up, electrical, water and sewer. With the newly acquired gray tank, the water connection is really practical. We have no shower or toilet in the trailer, so the only grey water is from washing salad, brushing teeth and the dishes.

The Bella Coola river is something else, it is a fast flowing, glacier fed river. The visibility in the river is practially zero. If it ain't poking out of the water, you won't see it. This is from the Rip Rap Camp viewing platform. The scenery was ever changing, clouds or fog now, blue sky in a few minutes. It may be raining at the camp site, but further up in the valley could be clear and sunny. And who wants to see beautiful, sunny pictures anyway, so here are the foggy ones.

Bella Coola river in fog from Rip Rap Camp Site platform Bella Coola river in fog from Rip Rap Camp Site platform

We had a regular visitor across the river. We saw them usually every other day, Grizzly Mom and Grizzly Cub. There are black bears there as well, but they do not play well together. The black bears will leave the area when there are Grizzly feeding.

Bear viewing from Rip Rap Camp Site platform

Bear and cub viewing at Rip Rap platform

Bear in Bella Coola River Bear and cub on Bella Coola River

By far my favourite picture is Ursula with the park warden at the Belarko Wildlife Viewing Area. This is within the Tweedsmuir South Provincial Park. The Viewing area is surrounded by a 2 feet high fence to keep the 8 feet tall Grizzlies out. It is amazing to see them really close, like 5 to 10 meters close. The Grizzly are very aware of the visitors but completely ignore them. They may gaze in our direction but they do pay much more attention to the other bears down by the river.

Bear viewing at Belarko Wildlive Viewing Area

Fishing and Trips
Fishing boat The licensing is a bit complicated. You need a BC fishing license for the rivers and lakes and a Tidal Water license for the ocean. Then on top of the license, you need a Conservation Surcharge for Steelhead, Salmon and some other fish. Once you have all the licenses for more than one day, it's going to be a very expensive salmon dinner. Or in my case, only very expensive.

Next time, we will book a fishing trip combined with a visit to the hot springs. We were talking to one of the Park Warden at the Belarko Wildlife Viewing Area about salmon and fishing. It turns out that he is a fisherman and also does tours. I don't know about the size of the boat or the price. But we were told that there is some excellent fishing in the inlet.
The sheltered waters attract whales, seals and dolphins. On the ferry to Port Hardy, this is all we encountered.Whale fin in bay

There are many tours offered. Since our visit was more accidental, we were completely unprepared for Bella Coola. We did some side trips on the Forest Service Roads.

Culinary Delights
Bella Coola and Hagensborg have some first class restaurants, we just didn't look for them.
They both offer coffee places. We made a regular trip to the Eagle Lodge. The espresso and americano are great, but the baked goods are addictive. Mmh, home made blueberry muffin.

Just 2 minutes walking distance from the Rip Rap Campsite is a grocery store. And this was our primary source of nourishment. We had breakfast and at least one other meal in the camping trailer. The one time we decided to eat out, the place was booked already and we didn't feel like waiting until 8. So we treated ourselves to a serving of Pea Soup and toast in the trailer. The Habitat Canned Soups are actually very good. Just chop a wiener into to the soup and the meal turns into a haute cuisine experience, bon appétit

First published on September 07, 2019 Contact Us  Help