AAA Magazines

Learn why Bella Coola Valley is British Columbia’s best-kept secret

Photo by Jesaja Class Photography/Tweedsmuir Park Lodge

Under thick branches of hemlock and western red cedar, my guide and I make our way down a forest path that runs along a towering cliff.

“Everything I share with you is an echo of our ancestors,” says Sheldon Tallio, a cultural leader among the local Nuxalk people and my guide on this adventure. “Each day, I live and breathe what they have passed down,” says Tallio, who also goes by his Nuxalk name, Nuhawhawta.

His voice cuts through the roar of Thorsen Creek below, and we pause in front of undulating granite, where petroglyphs peek out from a carpet of moss. Here, in a rain-forest wilderness where First Nations peoples have lived for 10,000 years, these carvings tell stories of their timeworn history.

We’re in British Columbia’s Bella Coola Valley, where the ancient Rainbow Range meets the Coast Mountains. Bella Coola resides at the center of an interconnected fjord system, a coastal temperate rain forest, and a vast mountain landscape where glaciers, creeks, and rivers converge. Just a 70-minute flight from Vancouver, the remote region in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest is often considered British Columbia’s best-kept secret.

First Nations member

Photo by Daniel Stephen Pendygrasse

I’ve come to explore this otherworldly wilderness and to enjoy several nights at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge, a luxurious base with a front-row view of the rugged Coast Mountains. With its grand lodge, 10 timber-framed chalets, sauna and gym, 2 wildlife-viewing platforms, and an expansive lawn that’s a regular hangout for animals, the property helps guests slow down and connect with nature.

That connection is made in countless ways, including the food that’s served. Meals often consist of fresh seafood caught by local anglers, organic produce (including herbs cultivated on-site), and wines from British Columbia vineyards.

Meanwhile, outings can be powerful experiences. Tweedsmuir’s focus on small groups and its reliance on local wilderness guides make activities particularly compelling. Guided hikes range from easy interpretive forest forays highlighting the local ecosystem to challenging adventures above the tree line in the Rainbow Range.

Assisted climbing experiences on a via ferrata of 360 metal rungs, ladders, and wires enable guests to traverse ledges and ridgelines to a lookout high above the Bella Coola Valley. And helicopter sightseeing and hiking excursions give access to panoramic views that would otherwise be out of reach.

You may also like: Places to go in Canada

Where the wild things are

Grizzly bear rising from the water

Photo by Jesaja Class Photography/Tweedsmuir Park Lodge

A favorite activity among guests is drifting down the Atnarko River in an inflatable raft. Fishing and scenic river floats are available from late June to late August. Near the end of August, salmon migrate to local rivers, luring grizzly bears looking to gorge before winter. From September 1 to October 16, river drifts offer the best up-close seat to watch and photograph grizzlies fishing, foraging for food, and looking after their young.

While the bears may be the most thrilling species to see here, other wildlife is also abundant—from harbor seals in the fjords to deer and bald eagles in the rain forest, and even moose and caribou on the Chilcotin Plateau.

The forces of nature have shaped the landscape, but humans have also left a mark. Thanks to a partnership between Tweedsmuir Park Lodge and Copper Sun Journeys, a Nuxalk business, visitors can learn about First Nations culture, cuisine, and customs.

And that brings us back to my guide, Tallio. Standing next to stone-carved petroglyphs above Thorsen Creek, he opens the door to thousands of years of history with the stories he shares. Through those tales, he keeps his ancestors alive. For visitors, the distance between then and now shrinks to, simply, here.

You may also like: What each region of Canada does best: Which provinces should you visit?

If you go

Cabin at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge

Photo by Jesaja Class Photography/Tweedsmuir Park Lodge

Rates at Tweedsmuir Park Lodge start at $2,985 per adult for 3 nights, including meals and 2 full days of guided activities.

Vancouver is the nearest international airport. Pacific Coastal Airlines offers 70-minute flights from Vancouver to Bella Coola. From there, it’s a 45-minute shuttle ride to the lodge.

Jill K. Robinson is a freelance writer based in California.

You may also like

Follow us on Instagram

Follow @AAAAutoClubEnterprises for the latest on what to see and do.

Read more articles

You'll find more of the articles you love to read at AAA Insider.

Travel offers & deals

" "

Hot travel deals

Get the latest offers from AAA Travel’s preferred partners.

" "

Travel with AAA

See how we can help you plan, book, and save on your next vacation.

" "

Entertainment savings

Save big with AAA discounts on tickets to your next adventure.

" "

Travel with confidence

Purchase travel insurance with Allianz Global Assistance.

back to top icon