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Explore the Gold Rush Trail

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BC Road Trip: A Gold Rush Adventure

Long before “gold fever” struck in the 1800s and drew thousands of fortune-seekers to British Columbia, the land along the Gold Rush Trail was alive with history and culture, shaped by its vast nature and the Indigenous peoples who have lived on the land since time immemorial.

Begin at the mouth of the Fraser River and explore north for a taste of culture, adrenaline, and history. Along the way, you’ll unearth stories of human resilience, adventure, and ingenuity—cornerstones that give the area a character all its own and make this a must-do trip for every British Columbian.

Note: This road trip (originally published in August, 2020) was updated specifically for the unique travel circumstances of 2021. Information is accurate at the time of publication; we recommend you contact businesses directly to confirm availability and familiarize yourself with their COVID policies.

Start Your Trip

If you’re coming from Vancouver or elsewhere in the Lower Mainland, begin your trip at  New Westminster. This riverside city is just one hour southeast of downtown Vancouver on the mighty Fraser River.

Fraser River | Michael Bednar

The Mighty Fraser River

Stretching for 1,325 kilometres, the Fraser River snakes its way from its headwaters in the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Coast, rushing through vast canyons and past historic towns. Today, key locations along the river are ideal for recreational activities like fishing and rafting adventures, though it also plays a critical role in BC’s transportation and commerce—which accelerated during the Gold Rush.

If you’re driving from Vancouver, the first leg is New Westminster to Hope. With its home at the mouth of the Fraser River, New Westminster became a gateway for international prospectors, clamouring to reach British Columbia’s gold-rich interior. The “Royal City,” with its heritage sites, contemporary dining, and parks, is an interesting first stop. You can even take a tour on a Paddlewheeler Riverboat.

Fort Langley National Historic Site, one of the BC’s original Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading outposts, was also a popular stop for gold prospectors. This is a jumping-off point to the Fraser Valley, with its Indigenous culture, lush valleys, lakes, and rivers. Take a Circle Farm Tour and sample goodies from local farms, vineyards, breweries, and artisan producers. Book a guided tour with an Indigenous elder to learn about the living culture of the Stó:lō  people and their deep connection to places like Sumas River, Chilliwack Lake, and beyond (check ahead for tour availability).

Stop in at Harrison Mills (or opt to stay overnight in one of Rowena Inn’s  luxury cabins on the river). Go back in time with a visit to the nearby Kilby Historic Site, BC’s museum of rural life. Hope is the final stop along scenic Highway 7 before the Fraser Canyon that lies beyond. Located on the traditional territories of the Stó:lō Nation, whose culture is intertwined with the land, the town became a European settlement in 1848 with the arrival of the Hudson’s Bay Company, playing a major role in the Gold Rush. This is the perfect spot to grab a home-cooked meal, stretch your legs on a hike, or go on a bike ride.

View of the Hell’s Gate Airtram and foot bridge over the Fraser River | Vagabond Quest

Fraser Canyon

The Fraser Canyon—a deep gash in the land that formed millions of years ago—runs between Hope and Lytton and is one of the most scenic legs of the Gold Rush Trail. A quick look at the Fraser River’s frantic, raging rapids and you’ll see why this is a popular place for whitewater rafting.

Drive 20 minutes north of Hope to see the Yale Historic Site, where travellers once transitioned from riverboat to the famed Cariboo Waggon Road. Pan for gold, enjoy a tasty bite at The Ward Tea House, or head out for a hike. Call in advance as space is limited.

Be sure to stop at Alexandra Bridge Provincial Park and walk across the ornate Alexandra Bridge.

The Fraser Canyon is also home to the Hell’s Gate Airtram, which offers an exhilarating ride over the raging river below. Nearby, book an interpretive tour at Tuckkwiowhum Heritage Village, located just five kilometres south of Boston Bar on the traditional territories of the Nlaka’pamux people, and learn how Indigenous communities played a critical role in the Gold Rush.

Closer to Lytton, you’ll find Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park (check closures for 2021), which has 150 kilometres of hiking trails and showcases Indigenous history, including pictographs and petroglyphs.

Hiking the Niut Range in the Coast Mountains | Kari Medig

Cariboo Trails

Hiking and mountain biking options abound in the Cariboo, and proximity to Indigenous experiences, heritage sites, and character towns adds to the fun.

One of the most famous trails is the Cariboo Waggon Road, an engineering feat that was built by hand using simple tools, unearthing plenty of gold along the way. The route, which went through a number of iterations, transported prospectors and Hudson’s Bay Company fur traders through treacherous terrain and over rivers between Yale and Lillooet. Today, its historic towns add a cultural accent to rugged outdoor adventures.

The Gold Rush Trail is a gateway to the jaw-dropping South Chilcotin range, a hub for backcountry bike-packing and floatplane-accessed descents.

The varied terrain in 100 Mile House, 108 Mile Ranch, Williams Lake, and Quesnel is perfect for two-wheeled fun; from gentle rides to rugged and challenging cross-country treks. Take it easy on a boardwalk ride, or challenge yourself on a multi-day mountain bike expedition in the wetlands near Wells-Barkerville, or near Williams Lake.

There are a number of accessible trail adventures to be had along the Gold Rush Trail, including a visit to the Gavin Lake Low Mobility Trail and Cedar Point Provincial Park.

With so many hiking options, why choose just one place to go? Lillooet is a great hiking home base, offering scenic trails with historic significance. Two hours west, Bridge River Valley boasts a bit of everything: challenging alpine hikes, and meandering ridges and meadows. At the end of the day, reward yourself with a bite to eat and a beer at Jackson’ Social House and Brewhouse, a favourite spot for locals.

In the northeast, the Cariboo Mountains near LikelyHorsefly, Wells, and Barkerville are also popular for adventure seekers.

Teepees at Xatśūll Heritage Village | Blake Jorgenson

Gold Cities and Heritage Sites

The economic boom of the Gold Rush created instant towns in BC that swelled in population seemingly overnight. However, once they served their purpose, they were often abandoned for the next big gold haul down the road, leaving intact historic towns that visitors can experience today—along with plenty of museums and heritage sites.

At the junction of Highway 97 and Highway 99, you’ll find Historic Hat Creek Ranch , located on one of the few accessible sections of the original Cariboo Waggon Road. Here you can catch a stagecoach for a ride along Hat Creek and visit a traditional Indigenous village.

Get a feel for life in the 1800s by visiting Clinton, home to several original historic buildings and the Clinton Museum, located in an old schoolhouse.

Pay a visit to Soda Creek for a cultural experience at the Xatśūll Heritage Village 30 minutes north of Williams Lake along the Fraser River. You can even stay the night in a teepee or traditional pit house (kikule). Call ahead to pre-book your visit and enjoy a range of educational and recreational activities to learn about Northern Secwepemc culture and this unique area of the Shuswap.

About 1.5 hours northeast, you’ll find Likely and the decommissioned Bullion Pit gold mine. The ghost town of Quesnelle Forks is just 20 minutes north, with heritage buildings, an old cemetery, and peaceful views of the Cariboo and Quesnel rivers.

Drive two more hours to Barkerville Historic Town and Park, named for Billy Barker’s famous gold strike that helped set BC’s Gold Rush in motion. The site is beautifully preserved with 100 heritage buildings—you can even stay the night in some of them. Book your tickets ahead and plan for a full day’s visit to this National Historic Site (and final stop of the Cariboo Waggon Road).

There are plenty more heritage sites and towns along the Gold Rush Trail—choose your own adventure and plan to stop along the way.

Big Bar Guest Ranch | Ben Giesbrecht

Provisions

Early settlers blazed trails with dynamite and determination, and journeyed with everything they would need to get through a winter. Today, we can pack light and break to eat along the way. From the tip to the tail of the Gold Rush Trail, you’ll find farm-fresh provisions, craft beverages, and artisan goodies.

Steeped in Indigenous culture and infused with international influences from arriving gold miners, fur traders, and now, travellers, you’ll find a unique combination of global fare in these parts: gyoza to gourmet cheese; paninis to poutine; bannock to bacon.

Stop in at a farm market to sample local fare (Desert Hills Ranch and Horsting’s are two of the largest in the area). Be sure to try local craft breweries: Barkerville Brewing in Quesnel and Fox Mountain Brewing in Williams Lake are just a couple of highlights.

Lillooet, with its arid climate and fertile growing soil, is home to two vineyards: Fort Berens Estate Winery and Cliff and Gorge Vineyard.

Sample traditional Indigenous cuisine and take a cultural tour at the the Xwísten (Bridge River) fishing grounds near Lillooet, the traditional fishing grounds of the St’át’imc people. The Fishing Rock & Archaeological Village Tour takes visitors on a walk through village sites, a fishing area, and an archaeological village site of 80 identified pit houses (s7ístken). You’ll learn the wind-dried method used to preserve salmon for winter, and feast on barbecued salmon, bannock, and a traditional dessert dish of whipped soapberries called sxúsum. (Check the website to ensure this experience is available.)

Exploring Watch Lake Lodge Guest Ranch | Michael Bednar

Guest Ranch Stays

Discover plenty of wide open spaces when you visit a home (away from home) on the range. Book a stay in one of the guest ranches dotted along the Gold Rush Trail and experience the area’s distinct cowboy/cowgirl culture—and its rugged, pioneering roots.

There’s a ranch style to suit every taste, including luxury cabins, classic “dude” ranches, and glamping experiences. Depending on the kind of experience you’re looking for, meals can range from gourmet (think: tender barbecued ribs and chocolate fondue) to rustic (think: bacon and beans ’round a campfire). Partake in the daily tasks of a working ranch, learn how to ride a horse, or simply embrace being off-the-grid as you enjoy views of ponderosa pine forests and desert valleys—or even a paddle in a nearby lake.

From access to private lakes (and even private mountains!) to wood-burning hot tubs, each ranch offers its own unique blend of equine adventure, creature comforts, and rural charm.

Enjoy a family-oriented guest ranch experience at Eagen Lake Resort (near 70 Mile House), or 10,000 acres of rolling forests and trails at Spring Lake Ranch (near 100 Mile House). Two hours northeast of Lillooet, near Clinton, you’ll find Big Bar Guest Ranch, an Indigenous-owned ranch that provides an incredible wilderness experience, from remote hiking and trail rides to lakeside lounges and wildlife viewing.

Sunset horseback riding | Blake Jorgenson

Horseback Riding

Saddle up and explore the Gold Rush Trail on horseback. Cattle country is home to rodeos, working ranches, and plenty of scenic horse trails. The rough and tumble cowboy culture is part of the charm on the Gold Rush Trail—there’s even a British Columbia Cowboy Hall of Fame in Williams Lake.

Whether you’re getting back in the saddle again or it’s your first time ever, there’s a horseback riding experience for you. Learn how to ride, or set out on a full-day trek amidst the sagebrush, where you’ll see expansive views of vast, rolling ranges. You can also book an overnight or multi-day horse-packing trip deep into the backcountry—picture sleeping under the stars, just like the pioneers did.

Sunrise fly-fishing in Eagle Creek | Blake Jorgenson

Fishing and Wildlife

With thousands of lakes, rivers, and streams dotting the landscape, it’s no wonder that the Gold Rush Trail is popular for fishing excursions.

There are plenty of places to fish in the area—and for a variety of species—from the trout-stocked Sheridan Lake (known for its rotund rainbows) to late-season steelhead at Spences Bridge in the Fraser Canyon. You can also fish for Sturgeon on the Fraser River between Lytton and Lillooet, releasing these prehistoric giants back into the wild after you’ve snapped a quick photo. Since you’re in fishing paradise, why not stay a few nights? Indigenous-owned Sulphurous Lake Resort is approximately one hour from Little Fort on a spring-fed freshwater lake. They offer rustic cabins, RV sites, camping, and boat rentals.

The rugged wilderness is also home to abundant wildlife, and there are plenty of viewing opportunities. You may see curious foxes lounging in the tall grass, or maybe even bears, bighorn sheep, moose, mule deer, and more than 250 species of birds. Stop in at the 100 Mile Marsh & Wildlife Sanctuary for fantastic bird watching and be sure to check out the original Barnard Express BX Stage Coach. Pyna-tee-ah Lodge/Ecotours BC, located in the historic town of Likely, is the perfect springboard for wildlife viewing around the Quesnel River.

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