The Bella Coola Valley and the village of Bella Coola are located on the mid-coast of British Columbia within the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast region.
Bella Coola is a scenic five- to six-hour drive west from Williams Lake on Highway 20 (456km/283mi), or can be reached by ferry along the BC Ferries Discovery Coast Passage route.
Heckman Pass: "The Hill"
Visitors arriving by car will enter the Valley through the Heckman Pass, affectionately known by locals as "The Hill" because of its steep elevation and tight switchbacks, and the south-eastern edge of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park – one of BC's largest provincial parks. The Bella Coola Valley is dominated by the beautiful and craggy Coastal Mountains that tower over both sides of the highway. It begins at Tweedsmuir Park and stretches about 80km/50mi to the North Bentinck Arm inlet. Learn more about the Hill on Bella Coola's transportation page.
Bella Coola on the Coast
It may be a full 160km/100mi from the open ocean at Queen Charlotte Sound, but Bella Coola also boasts saltwater access and one of the few deep-sea ports on BC's coast.
Between the port and the Bella Coola townsite is an immense estuary made up of silt from the Bella Coola River which has settled over thousands of years. Beyond the estuary and beside the river, lies the village and the First Nations' Nuxalk Reserve.
Breathtaking Mountain Ranges
There are several iconic mountains in the area including Monarch Mountain which lies at the southern corner of Tweedsmuir Park. Monarch boasts the highest peak at 3,533m/11,591ft. Nusatsum, Saugstad, Stupdendous and Table mountains all top out at elevations of about 2,500-3,000m/8,200-9,800ft, and are surrounded by smaller peaks including Saloompt, Noohalk, Four Mile and Pootlass. Bella Coola even boasts its own Matterhorn Peak (2,682/8,800ft) – though it's a lot smaller than its Swiss counterpart.
With so many mountains to explore in the valley, Bella Coola has attracted the attention of heli-skiers and wilderness adventurers. Some mountains even have glacial lakes that can be reached by tour or advanced-level hike. Check with local guides, the Bella Coola Visitor Centre or accommodation owners for more info about these.
Bella Coola Weather and Climate
Officially considered a rainforest area, the valley enjoys fairly mild weather all year round. Occasional strong winds do funnel down into the valley bringing the dry air from the Chilcotin Plateau. In the summer, this can bring beautiful warm air with the clear skies, but in the winter, temperatures and humidity plummet. Temperatures usually hover around the freezing point between December to March, then pick up slowly to reach an average high of about 16°C to 20°C/61°F to 69°F between June and September.
Driving along Highway 20 from the inland port to the foot of Heckman Pass/The Hill, the elevation barely changes, but the climate can feel dramatically different. Predominately westerly winds move inland from Burke Channel and along the valley dropping their precipitation as the winds meet the mountainsides.
Consequently, the community of Ocean Falls on the outer coast has an average annual rainfall of 439cm/172in, while Bella Coola, 88km/55mi to the east, receives just 228cm/90in. Hagensborg, which is 14km/9.5mi further inland receives just 152cm/60in, and Firvale, which is right near Tweedsmuir Park, gets a mere 76cm/30in a year.
Visitors concerned about it raining on a tour or expedition should take heart – there's a good chance it won't be raining the further east the tour goes!