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The Hell’s Gate Airtram and foot bridge over the Fraser River in the Fraser Canyon

BC Road Trip: Merritt to Hope via Highway 5

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There are so many amazing things to see and do on a BC road trip that it can be hard to choose which route to take. When travelling from Merritt to Hope, there are two routes – Highway 5 or a circle route via Highway 1 through Spences Bridge and Hell’s Gate. Both routes offer incredible mountain and river views, photo opportunities, and chances to spot wildlife, so no matter which road you choose, you’re in for a great trip. Here’s a breakdown of both routes. Note: Highway 8 is still under repair with no estimated time of opening yet as a result of flooding. 

Highway 5 (South)

Highway 5 is 120-km (75-mi) route commonly known as the Coquihalla Highway. With a speed limit of 120 km/h (75 mph), it is the fastest way to drive South from Merritt to Hope. The Coquihalla passes through the Coquihalla Pass, and nearing Hope, follows alongside the Coquihalla River, from where the road got its name. At the summit, the road reaches elevations of 1,224 m (4081 ft). This section of highway was completed in 1987 and winds through the Cascade Mountains, following the route of the historic Kettle Valley Railway. Keep an eye out for small locomotive-shaped signs marking the nearby locations of the old Kettle Valley Railway Stations. The stations have Shakespearean names, as one of the Canadian Pacific Railway engineers was a huge fan of Shakespeare and named the stations after characters in his plays.

If you’re looking for a great family hike along this route, the Othello Tunnels located near Hope on the Coquihalla are a great place to stop, however, the historic tunnels will remain closed for the 2022 season due to heavy storm damage from November 2021. This beautiful 3.5-km (2-mi) return walk takes you through old train tunnels and over bridges steeped in history. It’s impressive to see where engineers built a railway over 100 years ago given the sheer rock cliffs, racing river, and remote access to the area. The Othello Tunnels were restored as part of the Kettle Valley Railway Trail, a popular route for cyclists. After an enjoyable walk and some great photo opportunities, you can travel back to the 5A for the final leg of your journey – a quick 6-km (4-mi) drive to Hope.

An old, white stone tunnel known as the Othello Tunnels.

One of the Othello Tunnels in Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park. Photo: -JvL- via Flickr

Highway 5 or 5A (North) and Highway 1

The second route option from Merritt to Hope is a circle route along Highway 5 or 5A North towards Kamloops and onto the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1). This route will take you through Cache Creek and Spences Bridge, a community rich with local history and known for its spectacular Steelhead fishing. Located along the Thompson River, this small town began when gold prospectors came to the area and a ferry was established to aid in the crossing of the river.

A rolling mountainous landscape and a dark green river.

Spences Bridge, where Highway 8 meets Highway 1. Photo: ansonchappell via Flickr

79 km (49 mi) from Spences Bridge, you will reach Boston Bar and 10 km (6.2 mi) later, Hell’s Gate. Hell’s Gate is an awe-inspiring feat of nature, where the canyon walls along the Fraser River tighten dramatically, narrowing the path through which the river can flow to a mere 35-metre (115-ft) wide trench. The torrential river is an amazing sight, and you can take the Hell’s Gate Aerial Tramway across the river, as you watch 750 million litres of water push through the space between the canyon walls – a truly spectacular experience. After traversing the river from high above, stop by the café, choose to pan for gold, walk the suspension bridge, or visit the Fudge Factory for a tasty sweet treat. From Boston Bar, continue south along Highway 1 for 64 km (40 mi) to Hope.

A red airtram travels above a red bridge and rushing waters.

The Hell’s Gate Airtram and foot bridge over the Fraser River in the Fraser Canyon. Photo: Vagabond Quest

Whichever route you choose, the trip from Merritt to Hope is a beautiful one!

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