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Driving 'The Hill' into and out of Bella Coola, BC

BC Highway 20, the Chilcotin Highway



Northern Highways - Alaska, the Yukon & northern British Columbia


Bella Coola's Freedom Road     "The Hill", Bella Coola's famous "Freedom Road" (see the sign to the right), is legendary for it's drop. Like many legends, the stories are usually greatly exaggerated, and even The Milepost and Wikipedia have inaccurate figures published/posted. When I drove my 51-foot motorhome/car combination to Bella Coola on May 3, 2016, it was surprisingly easy. The following day, I drove my Chevy Tracker up and back down the hill, logging and photographing significant points along it. The day after that, I climbed the hill again with the motorhome/car combination.

    The actual hill drops 4,020 feet in 19.4 km, on grades of up to 15% according to the information sign at the truckers' brake check area at the top of the hill, but driving both uphill and downhill, there are sections of descent and ascent respectively. There are some short one-lane sections, and there are many pull-offs. There are some huge unprotected drops off the side of the roads (that is, there are no guardrails).

    The downhill log is first below, then the uphill one, with distances in kilometers.


Driving The Hill, Downhill:

Heckman Pass Summit (1,524 meters, 5,000 feet)
Km 0.0: Viewpoint access, Heckman Pass Summit (1,524 meters, 5,000 feet). The road elevation has neared 5,100 feet at several points in the previous 3km

The large viewpoint at Heckman Pass Summit (1,524 meters, 5,000 feet)
The access road to the viewpoint may make those driving large vehicles nervous about the ability to turn around at the viewpoint, but it's large enough for any vehicle or vehicle combination.

Truckers' information sign at Heckman Pass Summit on the Bella Coola hill
The truckers' information sign at Heckman Pass Summit notes grades of 10%, 11%, 14%, 12%, and 15% as you go down the hill, with 11 notable curves.

Hairpin curve #1 on the Bella Coola hill
Km 0.7: hairpin curve #1 ahead.

A distant view from near the top of the Bella Coola hill
A distant view from Km 0.7.

Hairpin curve #1 on the Bella Coola hill
Km 0.8: Hairpin curve #1

Km 2.1: road starts to climb

Hairpin curve #2 on the Bella Coola hill
Km 4.2: Hairpin curve #2

Km 4.7: start of tight "S" curve

Km 5.5: cross the Young Creek bridge at 3,667 feet, then the road starts to climb

Start of 9 km of 11% grade or steeper on the Bella Coola hill
Km 8.6: Start of 9 km of 11% grade or steeper.

Km 10.1: 14% grade sign

Start of an avalanche area on the Bella Coola hill
Km 12.0: start of an avalanche area.

Km 12.8: 12% grade sign

A one-lane section of the Bella Coola hill, about 13.5 km from the top
A one-lane section at about Km 13.5.

Hairpin curve #3 on the Bella Coola hill, 14.2 km from the top
Km 14.2: Hairpin curve #3

The view on the Bella Coola hill, 14.8 km from the top
The view at Km 14.8.

The view on the Bella Coola hill, 14.8 km from the top
Looking down from Km 14.8 at approaching traffic.

Km 15.2: Hairpin curve #4

The view looking downhill at Km 15.6 from the top of The Hill leading to Bella Coola, in May 2016.
Km 15.6: the view looking downhill.

A bridge on the Atnarko Glacier Road, seen from the Bella Coola hill
Km 16.5: a bridge on the Atnarko Glacier Road can be seen far below.

A large pullout on the Bella Coola hill
A large pullout 100 meters/yards beyond the photo opportunity above.

Km 18.6: start of pavement. Heaves in the surface (in May 2016) limited speed to about 60 kmh in a motorhome, whereas speeds of 90 kmh were possible on the gravel surface between Anahim Lake and Heckman Summit.

Km 19.4: rest area, at about 980 feet elevation.

A view along Highway 20 in the Bella Coola valley A view along Highway 20 in the Bella Coola valley
The quality of the scenery doesn't lessen when you're in the valley bottom. The photo on the left is 5.2 km from the rest area at the bottom of the hill, the one on the right is 14.8 km from it.






Driving The Hill, Uphill:

Horsetail Falls near Bella Coola, BC Horsetail Falls near Bella Coola, BC
Horsetail Falls is seen about 22 km (14 mi) before you reach the bottom of the hill - a telephoto lens (200 mm) brings it closer.

Approaching the bottom of the Bella Coola hill
Km 0.0: Chainup sign

Km 0.1: a rest area is on the left, a large chainup area on the right, at about 980 feet elevation. A sign notes that Anahim Lake is 62 km ahead, Tatla Lake is 157 km, Alexix Creek is 266 km, and Williams Lake is 379 km.

A black bear at the rest area at the bottom of the Bella Coola hill
Watch for bears around the rest area.

The truckers' information sign at the bottom of the Bella Coola hill
The truckers' information sign at the bottom of the hill notes grades of 11% and 10% as you climb the hill, with 11 notable curves.

Km 0.8: start of gravel

The view ahead, 1.6 km from the bottom of the Bella Coola hill
The view ahead at Km 1.6.

The view ahead, 2.8 km from the bottom of the Bella Coola hill
The view ahead at Km 2.8.

A truck climbs through a single-lane section, 3.0 km from the bottom of the Bella Coola hill
A truck climbs through a single-lane section at Km 3.0.

The view ahead, 6.4 km from the bottom of the Bella Coola hill
The view ahead at Km 6.4.

The view ahead, 6.8 km from the bottom of the Bella Coola hill
The view ahead at Km 6.8.

Letting a trucker go by on the Bella Coola hill
If you're on a scenic drive along The Hill, use one of the many pullouts to let local and commercial traffic by.

Km 9.2: road almost level to Km 11.1.

The view ahead, 6.8 km from the bottom of the Bella Coola hill
The view ahead at Km 12.7, the start of a steep descent.

Black bears are commonly seen on The Hill in May.
Black bear on the Bella Coola hill Black bear with twin cubs on the Bella Coola hill

Climbing the Bella Coola hill, Km 14.1 from the bottom: cross the Young Creek bridge at 3,667 feet, then the roads starts to climb.
Km 14.1: cross the Young Creek bridge at 3,667 feet, then the roads starts to climb.

Climbing the Bella Coola hill, Km 17.4 from the bottom: road starts to descend.
Km 17.4: road starts to descend.

Km 19.5 from the bottom of the Bella Coola Hill: Heckman Pass Summit (1,524 meters, 5,000 feet), and viewpoint access
Approaching Km 19.5: Heckman Pass Summit (1,524 meters, 5,000 feet), and viewpoint access.

The top of The Hill - Heckman Pass Summit
The top of The Hill - Heckman Pass Summit.



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