Just to the north of Vancouver’s wisteria-twined trellises and cherry-blossom orchards is BC’s world-class RV backyard: the Coast Mountains. Here you’ll find canyons and quaint villages, crazy-mad history and quiet pastoral rambles. Tick all of these boxes and more on the 600-km Coast Mountain Circle Route. With long stretches between towns and plenty of campsites, it’s a route tailor-made for RV travel.
Vancouver to Pemberton (158 km)
With views of Howe Sound to the west and sinewy tarmac that goes vertical to greet towering summits like the Stawamus Chief, the Sea-to-Sky Highway is a slice of B.C. at its coastal mountain finest. Because of the sheer spectacle, this fast track to Whistler Blackcomb is a prime driving route for motorcycles, cars and big riggers alike.
Make a stop 2.5 hours north of Vancouver at Nairn Falls Provincial Park. Here you can stretch your legs on an easy 1.5-km hiking trail that begins at the parking lot and traipses alongside the Green River to the 60-metre-tall falls. The park is home to Canada’s only native species of boa constrictor.
Just five minutes north of Nairn Falls (and 32 klicks north of Whistler) is the rustic village of Pemberton, an old gold rush town with a western look and feel. Recently it’s enjoyed a new lease on life as travellers opt to bypass trendy (and expensive) Whistler to make a pit stop where they can still enjoy backcountry flavour, with plenty of RV turnaround room. Pemberton has been reborn as a mountain town with a coffee culture, thanks in great part to new-generation adventurers like Chris Ankeny, a photographer and extreme snowboarder who came for the powder years ago and has since opened Mount Currie Coffee, serving craft coffee and organic deli-style food. For comfort food at its best, gulp down gourmet burgers at Pemberton’s Mile One Eating House, founded by Cindi Yu and chef Randy Jones, who trained at Fairmont Hotels.
When it’s time to bed down, double back to RV-friendly (up to 15 metres max) Nairn Falls Provincial Park, with its full hookups and room for slide-outs. Many sites are fully shaded by stands of hemlock, red cedar and Douglas fir.
Pemberton to Hope (301 km)
Heading east from Pemberton, the Sea- to-Sky morphs into Duffey Lake Road, which then follows a chain of canyons toward the high sage benches of Lillooet. Its curves and decreasing-radius corners make the Duffey a darling of the go-fast crowd, though the tarmac is pitched wide enough to accommodate the longest RVs at posted speeds.
Stop for lunch at stunning Seton Lake, which is technically a freshwater fjord, with a 45-site campground at the edge of its emerald-green waters. Then drop south from Lillooet on Hwy. 12 and experience Hell’s Gate on the Fraser River, where some of the province’s defining stories meet in a collision of white water and sheer cliffs. Tramp miners of the Cariboo gold rush passed alongside and over Hell’s Gate Canyon, as did the CP and CN rail lines. With what must have been a serious case of the yips, explorer Simon Fraser, while blazing a trail to the west coast in 1808, inched across the steep cliff face on thin poles suspended by rawhide ropes – making him Canada’s granddaddy of extreme sport. The Hell’s Gate Airtram cable car takes passengers on a 10-minute round trip over the frothing Fraser to the north shore, where there’s an interpretive centre with terrific archival photos, a suspension footbridge over the river and, for reasons not entirely clear, a fudge factory. Visitors can also try gold panning.
A half-hour east of Hope, Sunshine Valley RV Resort & Cabins offers a quiet retreat – along with 50 RV sites, 10 cabins and a 1,580-square-metre main building with a general store.
Hope to Vancouver (169 km)
Mount a morning expedition to the Othello Tunnels, where, in 1914, CPR engineers cut five train tunnels and a series of bridges through the Coquihalla River Canyon. Here’s a surrealistic landscape straight out of Lord of the Rings, as the tunnels navigate a twisted and towering maze of craggy ramparts and spires carved by the hostile yet strangely alluring river.
The Fraser River crossing at Hope puts you onto Hwy. 7 near Harrison Hot Springs. The springs themselves are the feature attraction, but this is serious Sasquatch-sighting country, with tours, stores, restaurants, a park and a festival honouring the big shy fella. Leaving cryptozoology behind, park at Hot Springs RV and Camping Park in Harrison Hot Springs and cycle the Circle Farm Tour of Agassiz-Harrison Mills – a 25-km route highlighting local farms and organic producers, such as Farm House Natural Cheeses and Canadian Hazlenut, which sells dozens of hazelnut products. The countryside is flat and serene, and makes a quiet capper before you pack up the rig and head back to Vancouver.
By John Campbell