Heritage Discovery Circle Route

10+ days, 3479.20 km (2161.87 mi)

Learn about Indigenous cultures in BC, catch the pioneer spirit on the Gold Rush Trail, and journey to historic destinations.

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Part 1

Vancouver to Clinton

In Vancouver, begin your exploration with a tour of some 6,000 objects from BC’s Aboriginal peoples at the Museum of Anthropology. Travel east and stop at Fort Langley National Historic Site. This is the birthplace of British Columbia and a must-see attraction! Continue on to Hope through the rich farm country of the Fraser Valley; walk through the Othello Tunnels, part of the famous Kettle Valley Railway, built between 1910 and 1916. Continue on Highway 1 to Lytton for a guided rafting trip down the mighty Fraser or Thompson rivers. Take Highway 12 to Lillooet and try panning for gold. Continue north on Highway 99 back to Highway 97 and experience the arid desert settings near Clinton.

Part 2

Gold Rush Trail to Barkerville

Continue to Clinton by following the original Gold Rush Trail north on Highway 97. Further north is 100 Mile House, named because it was 100 miles along the original Cariboo Wagon Road from Lillooet – mile zero of this famous route. See one of the few surviving stagecoaches of the Barnard Express and Stage Line here, then continue on to 108 Mile Heritage site and learn about the gold rush at this picturesque lunch spot. From here to Williams Lake and Quesnel, enjoy fishing, camping, canoeing, mountain biking and horseback riding. Make sure you bring your golf clubs and stop at the many community courses in the area – these are challenging courses where tee-off times are easily accessible.

To see where the gold rush boomed, make a side-trip east to Barkerville, a historic gold rush town settled in 1862. With more than 125 restored heritage buildings, the town has been named the “Best Large Provincial Attraction” by Attractions Canada on two separate occasions. Continue north to Prince George.

Part 3

Prince George to the Northwest Coast

From Prince George, drive Highway 16 west and follow the trail of settlers, gold seekers, fur traders and explorers. Detour north to see Fort St. James National Historic Site. It was the centre of the fur trade in the 1890s, and it’s now a restored Hudson’s Bay Company trading post. Don’t miss the 50-million-year-old fossils at Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park near Smithers.

In the Hazeltons, visit the fascinating ‘Ksan Historical Village. This replicated ancient Gitxsan village features northwest-style longhouses and totem poles that face the river, in keeping with tradition. Continue on to view the famous totems at Gitwangak and Gitanyow – there are more than 50 in the surrounding area. Detour on Highway 113 to explore the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park where a volcano erupted more than two centuries ago, leaving a pocked lava moonscape. Backtrack and spend time in lively Terrace; stroll the Grand Trunk Pathway and learn the history of this Skeena River city. Head south on Highway 37 to Kitimat, which offers plenty of outdoor recreation.

Continue west to Prince Rupert.

Part 4

Northwest Coast and Inside Passage to Vancouver Island

Spend a few days of cultural exploration near Prince Rupert. Get a close-up view of the area’s diverse Aboriginal communities: the Nisga’a, Haisla, Tsimshian and Haida. From Prince Rupert, take a guided grizzly bear watching tour to the Khutzeymateen – Canada’s only grizzly bear sanctuary.

In Prince Rupert, board BC Ferries to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands). Learn about the Haida’s enduring presence amid these magical islands at the Haida Heritage Centre in Skidegate. Arrange a tour to Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site, a celebration of more than 10,000 years of connection between land, sea and Haida culture.

Back in Prince Rupert, tour the fish cannery at the North Pacific Historic Fishing Village, and then enjoy a full day cruise on another BC Ferries vessel down the Inside Passage. Travel through dramatic fjords and green forested channels to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island. This scenic trip also offers glimpses of porpoises, whales, seals and black bears.

In Port Hardy, make sure to visit the Copper Maker Gallery, where you can inhale the aroma of cedar in the downstairs workshop and watch carvers creating beautiful, original northwest First Nations artwork.

Part 5

Port McNeill to Campbell River

Drive south to Port McNeill where another memorable BC Ferries trip glides you to Alert Bay on Cormorant Island. Visit the U’mista Cultural Centre, which preserves the rich culture of the Kwakwaka’wakw Aboriginal peoples, and see the totems of the ’Namgis Burial Ground.

Back on Vancouver Island, take a side trip to historic Telegraph Cove. Much of the town is built on stilts, raised above the water, and linked by a wooden boardwalk.

Follow Highway 19 to Campbell River and witness traditional drumming and dancing at Gildas Box of Treasures Theatre. Don’t miss the Museum at Campbell River’s “Treasures of the Siwidi” exhibit – a dramatic light and sound presentation which spotlights a series of Aboriginal masks.

Continue south to Courtenay.

Part 6

Courtenay to Nanaimo

Visit the the Courtenay and District Museum to dig for fossils in the 80-million-year-old sea bed at the Puntledge River, then drive onward to the communities of Royston, Union Bay, Fanny Bay and finally Qualicum Beach, renowned for its flower gardens and views of Georgia Strait. Further south, sunny Parksville has 7km/4.3mi of sandy beaches and may offer the warmest saltwater swimming on Vancouver Island. Stop in Nanaimo’s Petroglyph Park to see 1,000-year-old stone engravings of mythological sea creatures and other fascinating symbols. While in Nanaimo, visit the Nanaimo Museum for a unique glimpse into the lives of the town’s Aboriginal settlers dating back more than 2,000 years.

Part 7

Duncan, Victoria and Return to Mainland

In Duncan, the ancestral home of the Cowichan peoples and the famous Cowichan sweaters, watch carvers at work at the Quw’utsun’ Cultural and Conference Centre. In Victoria, the Royal BC Museum showcases the human and natural history of BC, and features outstanding Aboriginal exhibits, natural history galleries and pioneer artifacts. Finally, relax on another scenic cruise with BC Ferries back to Tsawwassen, south of Vancouver.

To complete your tour, visit the Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary west of Ladner, which has had more than 260 bird species recorded across its managed wetlands and marshes.

Last updated: May 20, 2020 

Driving Directions

Part 1 - Vancouver
  • 6.25 km
  • 12 min
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