Rich in clean air, glacier-fed rivers, fresh mountain streams, and magnificent wildlife, Bella Coola – the name of both the small town and the valley – is a favourite destination of naturalists, artists, explorers and photographers. The town waterfront boasts an eclectic collection of fishing and pleasure boats, cannery sites, and tidal flats. The historic Kopas Store has a delightful folksy ambience along with a wide selection of British Columbia books, First Nations jewellery and art, fishing licences, marine charts and maps, plus goods and giftware. Don’t miss Clayton Falls, accessible from the road on a short walking trail, have striking hard granite formations worn by the water. It is also a gathering place for salmon in a major spawning year.
A few minutes east along Highway 20 is the Nuxalk (nu-halk) community of 4 Mile. Styled after the traditional long house, and with stately totem poles erected in front, the 4 Mile School is close to the highway and its design is an innovative three-dimensional work of art.
Also within this community you will find several art galleries, gift shops and the entrance to the expansive petroglyph site, which has ancient rock carvings depicting the cultural and mythical beliefs embedded in the Nuxalk culture. Local guides are available to share these legends. Some locals are descendants of those original settlers who lived in the community that Alexander Mackenzie dubbed ‘the friendly village’ at the end of his grand journey.
Situated at the western edge of the valley across from towering 2,438m/8,000ft high Mount Nusatsum, Bella Coola was once the site of a Hudson’s Bay fur trading post. The Nuxalk Nation lived throughout the valley for centuries. However, in the late 1860s, after a smallpox epidemic decimated the population, survivors gathered on land close to the mouth of the river and the Hudson’s Bay post that now comprises the non-reserve part of town.
Today’s population of roughly 900 thrives on fishing, logging, and growing tourism, and has become a full-service hub for the area. Bella Coola harbour is the grand entrance to the 64,000km2/24,710mi2 Great Bear Rainforest and is the only port between Vancouver and Prince Rupert providing road access to the Interior of B.C.
Just east of Bella Coola is Snootli Creek Park, bordering Walker Island Park just off Hwy 20, and provides visitors the opportunity to connect with nature trails, meandering through an ancient cedar grove. Here, interlocking branches of massive, ancient cedars form an almost impermeable forest canopy over the park’s four ‘easy’ 200m/656ft to 2km/1.2mi trails. Walkers stay relatively dry even when it rains!