Trip to Bella Coola

Photos taken and copyrighted by Morgan and Mary Woodbury

In late August of 2014, my husband and I, and our moms, went to Bella Coola, BC–the gateway to the Great Bear Rainforest. I’m currently editing a PDF of my studies of the rainforest. I had completed a series of articles about the forest, but need to go back and edit links that are no longer valid. As an aside, I sent these notes to author Charlene D’Avanzo, just for her to know what it’s like to be up there after she’d asked about my experiences there; she has a climate change mystery series, and the second book, Demon Spirit, Devil Sea, takes place on Haida Gwaii. I will post the Great Bear Rainforest PDF here for free reading once I’m finished updating the links.


I have been enamored by the Great Bear Rainforest since moving to Canada. Currently Prince William’s family is set to visit the forest, and the forest has been a hotbed of controversy because of loggers, grizzly hunts, and the proposed Northern Gateway Pipelines–which don’t look to be too probable anymore. First Nations and environmentalists world-wide are key to protecting this area, because it is truly ecologically rare, with such animals as the spirit (or Kermode) bear and the unique salmon wolves.

Grizzly on right side of road–can you see it?

Living in southern BC, you do see pockets of rainforest all over the place, and we have visited Cathedral Grove on the island as well as Roberts Creek–both with these iconic old-growth and rain trees. But I really wanted to get further north.

Bella Coola is near one of the entrances to Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, a beautiful, isolated park that is actually quite hard to get to. Bella Coola is on a port far inland from the Pacific, leading into the Bella Coola River, the port city itself still on a coast of salt water, despite being so far inland.

Black bears at Williams Lake – spotted as we had lunch at the side of the road on the trip to Bella Coola

The town itself is sparse, with less than 2,000 people. According to BC Adventure:

This area was first settled because of the trade in oolichan grease for furs, hides and tools from inland. In the late 1800s, Norwegians established Hagensborg just east of Bella Coola, in the Bella Coola Valley. The communities of Bella Coola and Hagensborg share a number of facilities, accommodations and services.


To get there, we spent one day driving to Kamloops and the next driving north from my mother-in-law’s house in Kamloops, BC, to the low-populated Cariboo-Chilcotin areas. (Many would actually not drive the fairly hazardous terrain but take a ferry/plane or just plane to get there.) The total trip to Bella Coola from Vancouver is 1,000K.



The final road leading to Bella Coola was a steep, mountainous lane with dozens of switchbacks, which barely fit two cars–good luck if you see anyone coming the opposite direction. The road had no guardrails and was muddy.  Yet it also afforded stupendous panorama views of the Coast Mountains and giant western red cedars below. During that late summer, wildfires were all around, so the otherwise beautiful blue sky above was hazy and, in some areas, very smoky. By the way, speaking of stupendous, look at the actual mountain named Stupendous Mountain!


At the time I was in a film class and planned to go on this trip to be able to view and film grizzly bears on the Atnarko River. We booked a place at the Bella Coola Mountain Lodge (highly highly recommended), which also gives rafting tours to spot grizzlies coming up the Atnarko river in search of salmon, which spawn from August to October. We were a little early that year, but did get to see one grizzly on the river (a little too far for our camera to capture well) and another on the roadside later.  I didn’t get enough good film, so maybe will go back someday!

Rafting the Atnarko

This trip was just a month before I began the C25K running program, but we did several hikes in the area, including to the Nuxalk petroglyphs. According to our guide, and also

Deep in the rainforest by Thorsen Creek is Bella Coola’s most ancient site, which has a number of petroglyphs (rock carvings). These petroglyphs have spiritual significance to the Nuxalk people. Visitors to the nearby Petroglyph Gallery may see the opening to the trail that leads to the Petroglyphs.

Creek found while hiking

We went to the tourguide office (expected if you want to visit the petroglyphs) and were given a guide, but he was young and the normal guides weren’t available due to a weekend fish fry. However, when the younger guide took us up to the rocks, we were fortunate to find an elder there cleaning moss off the rocks, who was very wise and spent an hour or so telling us stories behind the petroglyphs.

Nuxalk petroglyphs

Our other hikes were along the river and around the lodge. Or we would drive to an area that looked interesting and get out to take a long hike. We were, of course, a little wary of the grizzly bears. It was their time of year to forage salmon, which were returning to the river to spawn, before winter hibernation.


Bear tracks along the Atnarko

We had such a wonderful time. It is one of the most beautiful areas I’ve ever been. The lodge we stayed at had a little kitchenette, and there weren’t very many places to eat or even buy food in the area (we did find a family run restaurant and a grocery), so we mostly cooked our own food and enjoyed the lodge’s outdoor area for picnicking.

Bella Coola Mountain Lodge

We were completely awed and mesmerized by the views around us. We hung out near the river for entire mornings and afternoons, photographing the wildlife, mountains, and the beautiful lazy currents. The silence moved us. We spent some warm afternoons out in the lodge’s gazebo drinking wine and just talking, looking out to the distance to spot bears and wolves.


It was a trip of a lifetime, a memory that will forever be ingrained.

Ruffled grouse

One Comment

  1. Awesome photos, awesome account. Thanks a ton, Mary. Charlene

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