Freeze this picture-perfect moment. The late afternoon sunlight has bathed the far-reaching Chilcotin Plateau in a soft lemony hue. From our vantage point – reached on a dusty, backroad south from Williams Lake – we bask in the view of the Fraser River, a glittering ribbon that weaves a serpentine path between burnished canyons. It is a surreal scene, an untouched landscape unmarked by street signs and roadways. In fact, here you won’t even find a street. The Cariboo Waggon Road, our current route, originated to transport supplies and goldseekers not sightseers.
It’s about this time that I realize that I’m falling in love with British Columbia’s Cariboo Chilcotin Coast. Who wouldn’t? On this stretch, we’ve passed lonely, windblown lakes, trekked alongside rustic fences and spotted forgotten homesteads tucked into seas of yellow daisies. We’ve startled deer at the road’s edge and smelled the wondrous fragrance of wild sage. It seems to me, that this is getting-away-from-it-all at its best.
This region, aptly known as ‘land without limits,’ is bordered by the wild Cariboo and Columbia mountains to the east and the forested fjords of the central coast to the west. It is here that the legendary Wild West lives on. In addition to the glorious scenery, there is a mind-boggling choice of vacation options in this westerly region of the province, especially suited to those who wish to get way off the beaten tourist track.
Follow the Backroads to Barkerville: On a guided van tour, you meander sections of The Cariboo Waggon Road to step-back to the 1800s when thousands of hopeful goldseekers opened up this rugged country. You stop at sleepy towns and ranches that served as halfway houses for stagecoaches. You visit First Nations’ villages, poke around quaint museums, dine in funky places that originated in the 1860s and overnight at hidden-away ranches steeped in cowboy culture. And drive, as described above, some of BC’s most scenic back country.
Take the kids to a ranch. A day in the life of a pint-size cowboy or cowgirl may begin by petting a cow, gathering eggs, cuddling a bunny or picking – and eating – strawberries. And is there a city kid who isn’t fascinated by the action around a pig pen?
Of course, this frees up parents to enjoy everything from riding the range to fly fishing, birding, hiking, canoeing or simply relaxing. There are more than two dozen guest ranches spread throughout this region.
Go fishing. Watch your guide. In almost slow motion, he casts his line to the tune of a gentle swish. Seconds after this ‘poetry in fly-fishing movement’, he’s reeling in a glittering rainbow trout. Now you try. It looks deceptively simple, so you practice. “Just cast to your comfort measure – if it is only ten feet, be happy with that for awhile,” is this expert’s gentle directive. Three minutes later your line pulls tight, and, following the guide’s instructions, you have your own trout to admire, before returning it to its watery home.
This magical fish moment is brought to you time and again in this land spangled by 8,000 lakes. Another bonus is the hordes of resorts and ranches with fishing guides.
At fishing lodges, you can walk into a crystalline lake or be mesmerized by the call of a loon as you drift peacefully in a boat. Add an element of adventure and fly-in to a high mountain lake where your only company is moose and deer along the shoreline. Oh, and fish, lots of fish.
For many, wading into a crystal-clear stream is the height of excitement and this part of the world is made for stream fishing. Fly-fishers revel in exploring the slow-moving, trout-rich waters of the Upper Dean River. Expert fishing guides can introduce you to this part of the world that is revered by know-how anglers.
Feel good at a health ranch. Saddle up. Swim laps. Ride the range. Have a massage. Go mountain biking. Eat spa cuisine. Master the art of horse whispering. Discover a new lifestyle and lose weight.
Consider canoeing and think remote. British Columbia’s best known canoe trip is the Bowron Lakes, accessible by road near Barkerville. Many companies that offers guided trips on these nine spectacular lakes, acknowledged by Outside Magazine, as being among the world’s ten best canoe circuits.
Klemtu Kayaking. Picture a coastline, jagged with inlets, fringed by the dense green of old growth forests. Now put yourself in a kayak. The Central Coast of BC, in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest, is to kayakers what fine wine is to connoisseurs. You depart from Klemtu on a First Nations’ guided excursion to explore this coast – one of the last remains of pristine rainforest. This is home to the Kitasoo/Xaixais people and your guides w ill introduce you to their ancient culture. You will paddle into tucked-away sandy bays, ever watchful for the rare, white Kermode bear, known as the ‘spirit bear’ by First Nations’ people. This is a magical, memorable outdoor adventure.
Challenging Cycling. Itching to get in the bike saddle and do some extreme riding? Head to Williams Lake and check out groovy single tracks. Scope out some gentle slopes before exploring Desous Mountain where on the front side you sweep down over man-made obstacles to your destination. The back side features more of a full flow, free ride straight down to the Fraser River Valley. You’ll learn a lot about this sometimes white-knuckle sport on a guided two or three-day excursion which includes a fresh, innovative organic menu.
Go for the unusual. “You did WHAT on your vacation?” If this is the kind of response you wish to elicit from your buddies, here are some humdingers to consider.
Bannock anyone? Hot lava rocks steam and you drip sweat. No problem as this is what you are supposed to do in a First Nations’ sweat lodge. Set near a forest above the rushing Fraser, Xats’ull Heritage Village, is light years away from the modern world. The secluded setting, the soft-spoken guide and ancient tales told by an elder showcase the Xats’ull First Nation culture. As well as sweat – believed to be a spiritual as well as physical cleansing – you nibble on bannock, savour fresh fish and vegetables cooked in the earth, learn to ‘dip-net’ for salmon, view traditional dancing and overnight in a teepee. It’s a magical combo of enjoyment and education First Nations’ style.
Whitewater. Picture a wet roller coaster of a ride through foamy, white turbulence. Then a cruise on rushing rapids past towering canyon walls. There are guides that run trips on the Chilcotin, a Class II to IV river – a setting which offers plenty of action for all adventurers.
Discover the Coast First you ferry, then you drive on the BC Ferry Discovery Coast Passage circle trip that departs from Port Hardy on the northern end of Vancouver Island. Bound for Bella Coola, you experience the beauty of the lush and dramatic coastline. Mingling with fellow passengers, friendly BC Ferry staff point out rushing waterfalls and wildlife – the ferry slows when pods of Orca whales are spotted – and provide tours of the bridge. Shades of a cruise holiday. Some sailings, in fact, stop at remote coastal communities. From the breathtaking beauty of the coast, you drive the steep switchbacks that take you into Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, a wondrous back country park that is not easily reached and is much appreciated. Explore the Cariboo before circling back to the Lower Mainland.
The only challenge when planning a holiday in the Cariboo Coast Chilcotin may be the mind boggling choice.
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