Distance: 2,150 KM
Total Days: 9 (2 Long-Haul, 5 Mid-Mileage, 1 Low-Mileage, 1 Rest)
A little rough-and-tumble with a lot of distance! The Chilcotin-Kootenay Loop takes you from the coastal views of the West Coast, all the way across the province to the lake-filled mountains of Eastern BC, before wrapping back through the sunshine-filled Okanagan on your way home. It’s the perfect opportunity for an extended trip that gets you up close and personal with some of BC’s most stunning stretches of highway. You’ll even get to tag two mountain ranges along the way: the Southern Chilcotins and the Kootenays—who can say no to that?!
What are you waiting for? Grab your tent and sleeping bag and let’s rock and roll!
Day One: Vancouver to Tyax Lodge, Gold Bridge | 252 KM
Day Two: Tyax Lodge to Bralorne (and back) | 65 KM
Day Three: Tyax Lodge to Seton Lake Campground, Lillooet | 108 KM
Day Four: Rest Day! Take a drive up the Duffy Lake Road (Hwy 99)!
Day Five: Seton Lake Campground, Lillooet to Toad Rock Motorcycle Camp, Kaslo | 605 KM
Day Six: Toad Rock to Sandon (and back) | 144 KM
Day Seven: Toad Rock to Creston to Salmo to Nelson to Toad Rock | 264 KM
Day Eight: Toad Rock, Kaslo to Dewdney Recreation Campsite, Princeton | 417 KM
Day Nine: Princeton to Vancouver | 292 KM
Sea-To-Sky Hwy. A west coast classic that takes you from Vancouver to Pemberton, the Sea-To-Sky highway wraps along the edge of Howe Sound, offering views of our Coast Mountains kissing the sea. The highway was resurfaced and widened in 2010 to coincide with the Olympics, so it’s smooth sailing the entire way. Although the twisty turns can tempt you to be a little heavy on the throttle, keep in mind that this is a highly trafficked thoroughfare, with frequent speed limit changes that are closely monitored by local police.
Hurley Forest Service Road. Ahhhh, this is the precise reason we love our adventure bikes. The Hurley Forest Service Road is 74KM long, cutting through the mountains from the Northern end of Pemberton Meadows to Gold Bridge. Quite bumpy, but well maintained by the Cascades Natural Resource District Office as an Industrial FSR, we managed a slow and steady but a-okay pace with our Suzuki V-Stroms and 50/50 tires. There’s limited cell service in the area, so make sure you’re well equipped to stay safe and that you’ve brought along tools to tighten up any nuts or bolts that may rattle loose! For the latest road conditions, check out: I Survived The Hurley Wilderness Road.
Carpenter Lake Road. Offering hands-down the most spectacular scenery of the trip, this kinda-but-not-really-paved road twists and turns in super-skinny fashion along Carpenter Lake, past the COOLEST tunnel at the Terzaghi Dam (seriously, you gotta take the 2 min detour to ride through it), then into a tight, mountainous valley reminiscent of a Nordic fjord, before popping you out just north of Lillooet. It’s difficult not to be entranced by the views, but keep your eyes on the road here—there’s a fair share of “mess-you-up”-sized rocks that have fallen onto the road from the cliffs above.
Highway 31A. Known for its twisty turns and low vehicle traffic, the 45 KM stretch extending from New Denver to Kaslo is hailed by the motorcycling community as some of the best “motorcycling crack” available in British Columbia. With buttery curves that are hugged by trees on either side, your riding brain will be fully engaged from start to finish. AND, If you follow the itinerary above, you’ll be treated to cruising along this stretch not one, not two, but THREE times. Care for a leg-stretch as you ride through? No problem. About 14 KM in, on the right hand side you’ll see the trailhead for the Eastern terminus of the Galena Trail (which stretches all the way back to New Denver).
Kootenay Ferries. Because you can’t always be on the motorcycle, right? There is a network of ferries in the Kootenays that are an oh-so-fun way to get across the lakes—and even better yet, they’re free! The ferries pay homage to the pre-1950’s, where Sternwheels were the primary mode of transportation in the area. You can learn more about them, here. On this trip, you’ll take the Needles Ferry to Fauquier and the Balfour Ferry to Kootenay Bay.
Crowsnest Highway. This highway hugs the southern border of the Province and beyond, extending over 1,100 KM from Hope, BC to Canmore, AB. Although some of its stretches—like the one from Creston to Salmo—can feel a little straight-away-high-speed-and-too-mundane, there sure are some juicy spots! Get ready for some twisty turns as you descend into Osoyoos, some post-card-perfect mountain valley views as you head into Keremeos, hairpin turns as you leave Princeton, and BC Provincial Park beauty as you move through EC Manning Provincial Park.
Places To Stay
Tyax Lodge, Gold Bridge. Nestled amidst the trees beside Tyaughton Lake, Tyax Lodge provides a quiet, picturesque place to rest your head after a full day of riding. The Lodge has a campground (with warm showers!) that can be reserved ahead of time or you can up the luxury by staying at the Lodge itself—which has been touted as one of Canada’s top wilderness lodges. AND If you’ve got more time and are lucky enough to have been bitten by the adventure bug, check out Tyax Adventures for some wicked cool half, full, and multi-day excursions that bring you up close and personal with the Chilcotin Mountains—think: backcountry trail running, singletrack mountain biking, glacial landings, and horse-packing. If you’re interested in the multi-day backcountry trail running tour specifically, you can check out my blog post about one of them, here.
BC Hydro Seton Lake Dam Campground, Lillooet. Did you know that BC Hydro has six recreation sites across BC that provide free camping on a first-come, first-serve basis? The purpose of these sites is to allow BC’ers to use outdoor spaces developed by BC Hydro “in a way that protects the environment and still supports power generation”. The Seton Lake Dam Campground near Lillooet—open May 1 to October 31—is one of these. For details and full amenities, click here.
Toad Rock Motorcycle Campsite, Kaslo/Kootenay Lake. This is one of those “you had to see it, to believe it” type of places. Owned by Mary Laird since 1974, Toad Rock is a rough-and-tumble motorcycles-only campground with 100 sites across 34-acres of land. Choose from a classic BC Parks-esque tent site or cozy up in one of the Cabins (some of which are converted GMC buses and VW vans!). Once you’re all set up, head over to the Pavilion to swap stories with other riders over a beer, play some pool, and if you’re lucky, watch a live music performance. OH! And before you decide to catch some zzzzzz’s make sure your food is tightly packed away, or else risk it being devoured before you wake by the resident pot-bellied, crusty pig “Happy”.
Dewdney Recreation Campsite REC 1633, Princeton. Just barely off of Old Hedley Road you’ll find this 6-spot, first-come-first serve, free campsite to pitch your tent. It’s a little bit noisy with the Highway so close, but a relatively okay place to rest your head for the evening. The convenience of this campsite brings in all types of characters and excitement—one time we were even fortunate enough to meet a yappy chihuahua donned in full-on camo, what a sight! If roughin’ it here isn’t your thing, it’s not too far to head into Princeton and stay in a motel or hotel.
Things To See, Eat, & Do
By “See” I mean, a quick stop. By “Do” I mean, it’s likely a few hours. By “Eat” I mean, well, eat!
EAT: Fergie’s Cafe, Squamish. Nestled beside the Cheekeye River in Brackendale, this spot is one of my faaaaaaavourites. Fancy outdoor brunch is how I would best describe it—and if you’re one of the lucky ones, you’ll get to swap the outside patio vibes for cozying up inside next to a wood stove. Ah, who could want more? Oh yah, AND the food is delicious, especially if you are a hashbrowns and eggs-benedict connoisseur.
EAT: The Beer Farmers, Pemberton. Situated on a farm that’s been owned by four generations of the Miler family this craft brewery is what summertime patio dreams are made of. Since you’re on your motorcycle, I’d recommend skipping the tasting room, and instead, grabbing a four-pack or growler to share with your buds (or keep to yourself, perhaps!) when you reach the campsite.
DO: Keyhole Hot Springs, Pemberton. If you’re up for a leg-stretch, then detour off the Hurley Fire Service Road to take a dip in these natural hot springs. Check beforehand to make sure that they are open though—they are often closed from November to April due to Grizzly Bear activity. You can find more information about this hike on All Trails here.
SEE: Bralorne, BC. Keep your eyes peeled—if you blink, you’ll miss it! During the Great Depression, this town was home to the richest Gold Mine in Canadian History! There’s not much left here now, except the prospect of poking around a ghost town and ghost mines. And since you’ll likely have time to spare, check out the Bralorne Pioneer Museum, which shares about what every day life was like in the times of the Gold Rush.
EAT: Gold Bridge Hotel & Bar. This is one of those “we’re here and need to eat” type-of-things. The food leaves a lot to be desired (and usually the menu is “whatever’s kinda warm on the stove”), but it’s quite the locale, nonetheless. As you enter the bar, you’ll be greeted by walls covered in two, five, ten, and fifty dollar bills. The population of Gold Bridge is now <34, but back when it was bustling with miners, if a miner had a good week he would sign his name on a bill, and give it to the bartender for safe keeping. Then on a bad week, he’d retrieve his bill. The city bar, turned city bank! Oh, and don’t forget to ask the bartender about the bear traps hanging on the walls.
SEE: The Tunnel at Terzaghi Dam. At the end of Carpenter Lake, swing right to cross the Terzaghi Dam. The Dam itself is a sight to see—named after Karl von Terzaghi, the engineer who designed the dam and founded the science of soil mechanics—the dam forms the largest reservoir of BC Hydro’s Bridge River Power Project. BUT, even cooler than the dam is the tunnel on the other side—entirely rustic and unfinished, it’s as if the dynamite blew up, the rocks were taken out, and that was good enough! Definitely a fun, quick pit stop.
DO: The Hairpin Turn Lookout, Duffy Lake Road. If you opt to take a rest day in Lillooet, head west from the BC Hydro Seton Lake Campground to start on the Duffy Lake Road. A few minutes up the road, you’ll reach a tight hairpin turn. After the turn, park your bike at the turnout at the top of the hill. Cross the highway (carefully!) and head into the bush, you’ll see a faint trail. Keep following it until you reach the Lookout Point on the rocks at the top, and voila! Views. For. Days.
DO: Sandon, BC. This is one of only two “ghost cities” in BC. There are only four residents now, but in its 1890s heyday, there were over 10,000 people living in Sandon, many of whom worked in the silver mines. Sandon was the first city in BC to be entirely hydro-electrified and it still puts power into the grid, today. Here you’ll also find the 1970 Vancouver Street Trolleys. A blast from the past, these trolleys were moved up here as part of a national restoration project. This city is well worth the stop.
EAT: Old World Bakery & Deli, Balfour Ferry. Got some time in the ferry lineup? Head over to the Old World Bakery & Deli to grab a hot coffee and baked good for the ferry ride—there’s nothing quite like the sugar rush from a cinnamon bun or chocolate croissant to kick start your morning.
SEE: The Glass House, Sanca. Who wouldn’t love a house built of glass, overlooking Kootenay Lake? What type of glass, you ask? Ahem, well. This house is built from 500,000 embalming fluid bottles. You know, the fluid used to preserve dead bodies. Yikes! The house was built by David Brown in 1952 after he retired from the funeral business. For $10 you can take a tour and fully embrace the heebie jeebies of this place.
SEE: Kootenay Summit, Crowsnest Highway. As you reach the Kootenay Summit, take a breather at the rest stop beside Bridal Lake. The Bridal Lake Cabin—used in the winter as a warming hut for skiers—provides a nice, shady spot to each a packed lunch. If you’d like to get some hiking in, head on up the Cornice Ridge Trail, a 5.0 KM out-and-back with 360-degree views at the top.
DO/EAT: Nelson, BC. The setting for 1987’s Roxanne (starring Steve Martin), Nelson is a quaint Selkirk-mountain town that shouldn’t be missed. So, park your bike and stay a while. Grab some lunch, take a stroll down Baker Street, and sip on an iced beverage from Empire Coffee before heading on your way. Check out Discover Nelson to see what you can expect, or just wing it!
EAT: Crumbs Bakery Cafe, Castlegar. On your way out of the Kootenay’s and toward the Okanagan, stop here for some breakfast! Panini’s, breakfast sandwiches, and sweet and savoury treats galore, this will fill you with fuel that will last until you get to the fruit-stand adorned highways near Osoyoos and Keremeos.
SEE: Cascade Lookout, Manning Park. As you approach the Manning Park Resort, dip off the highway on the right-hand-side and head up to the Cascade Lookout. It’s the perfect spot for a leg stretch and view of Southern BC mountains and (if it’s a clear day!) you’ll also be treated to views that extend into the USA. If you’ve got an extra day available and are craving some backcountry trail running or hiking, this is a great place to use it. Just past the Cascade Lookout is the trailhead to the Three Brothers Trail or, you can head back across the highway to Lightning Lakes and choose from a variety of trails, including Frosty Mountain, Windy Joe, and East Skyline.
And that’s it! You’re ready to rock. Happy planning and adventuring.
If you have any questions drop ’em in the comments below!