March 26, 2018
Welcome to the Alaska Highway, where you’re more likely to see wildlife than people. Local photographer Ryan Dickie shows us his favourite places to photograph…
By Murray Lundberg July 26, 2016 #php comments_number('0 Comment', '1 Comment', '% Comments'); ?> #php echo wpb_get_post_views(get_the_ID()); ?>
Bella Coola is one of the more remote of BC’s road-accessible destinations, but word is slowly getting out that it’s worth the effort to get there. Saltwater and freshwater fishing attract visitors, but it was the hiking that took me there in late April. There are 17 main trails in the valley, rated easy to moderate (you can download the trail guide), and there are unlimited options to get into tougher terrain.
I knew the high country would still be deep in snow, but Clayton Creek, about 5 km (3 mi) from downtown Bella Coola, offered the chance to go right from tideline to snowline. BC Hydro maintains the Clayton Falls Recreation Site here, the only ocean-front park in the Bella Coola area.
Along the way, you pass a monument to Sir Alexander Mackenzie, who reached salt water in the area in 1793. Sir Alexander Mackenzie Provincial Park, accessible only by boat, is 65 km (40mi) to the northwest.
Clayton Falls Recreation Site is a day-use site with a wheelchair-accessible picnic area. It has picnic tables and fire pits on the shore of North Bentinck Arm. North Bentinck Arm is salt water, despite the fact that Bella Coola is more than 100 km (62 mi) from the open ocean.
Directly across North Bentinck Arm from Clayton Creek is the historic Tallheo Cannery and the Tallheo Cannery Guest House, which has 12 guest rooms in the women’s bunkhouse from the 1920s.
A short walk from the picnic site, a rough path runs along Clayton Creek below the falls.
Clayton Falls provides hydroelectric power from a run-of-the-river (ROR) facility that requires no storage of water behind a dam. It was built in 1962 to replace the diesel-fueled generating station that had powered the Bella Coola Valley since 1955.
Backtracking from the Recreation Site, the Clayton Creek Forest Road leads steeply up the valley. High-clearance 4×4 vehicles are recommended here. If you don’t have a vehicle that is suitable for a road like this, Bella Coola Vehicle Rentals, based at the airport, has four-wheel-drive vehicles to get you into the backcountry.
You pass many creeks along the road, each offering a cool place for a break and some wonderful opportunities for photographers.
Much of the lower few kilometers of the road is through thick forest, but the higher you get, the more you can see the mountains towering above.
The views once you fully break out of the forest are stunning. On a hot day, the waterfall seen below would be hard to resist.
At about 15 km (9.3 mi) from the start of the road, I ran into snow that was too deep to get through without winter tread. It was only about 30 meters/yards across, so I decided to take the dogs for a walk.
The M. Gurr Lake Trail was only about 2 km (1.24 mi) past where we stopped, and the warm sun and spectacular views made it a superb day for a walk to see how far we could get. Bella and Tucker certainly agreed. We only walked about another kilometer (0.6 mi) before getting stopped by snow. I had snowshoes in the RV, but hadn’t brought them on this drive, so this was as far as we got.
The view from the point where we turned around was all I need to keep in my mind to start planning a return trip later in the season. Neither of the trails near the end of the Clayton Creek Forest Road, the M. Gurr Lake Trail and the Grey Jay Lake/Blue Jay Lake Trail, show up much online — just enough to make me want to hike them both.
This visit to Bella Coola was meant as a reconnaissance trip, knowing that I was too early to get very far into the high country, and hadn’t allowed enough time. Perhaps next year a week in late May or early June will be in store. There is so much more to see and do.
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