Breathtaking Scenery and Adventures in British Columbia’s Fraser Valley
Between Lower British Columbia’s coastline and the spectacular snow-topped Coast Mountains, Fraser Valley offers small towns, spectacular sights and spontaneous stops at berry and flower fields, museums and waterfalls. A 106-mile loop takes travelers from Abbottsford to Hope and back along Trans-Canada Highway 1 and British Columbia Highway 7. Explore hot springs, mountain trails, river rapids and old-growth forests on a quintessential road trip for those who enjoy the outdoors and prize the journey as well as the destination.
Located on the Trans-Canada Highway about 5 miles (8 kilometers) north of the U.S. border, Abbotsford traces its roots back to the 1858 Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. Today, Abbotsford is the largest city in the Fraser Valley Regional District, with plentiful lodging options. The town’s historic downtown is dotted with eateries, cafes and shops. Book lovers looking for vacation reading should check out Hemingway’s Books for its impressive stock of new and used books and vinyl records. Abbotsford’s proximity to Vancouver and its large South Asian population give the town a cosmopolitan feel. Diners can choose from a variety of restaurants, including several serving Indian and Pakistani dishes. Abbotsford also boasts several museums. The Mennonite Historical Society of British Columbia has a large archive documenting the historical records of the region’s Mennonite culture, while the Reach Gallery Museum celebrates the Fraser Valley’s rich cultural heritage.
About 21 miles (34 kilometers) east of Abbotsford is the city of Chilliwack, an old gold rush and farming town framed by the Fraser River and the peaks of Mount Cheam and Slesse Mountain. Like Abbotsford, Chilliwack is a small city with numerous restaurants and lodging options.
Chilliwack is the gateway to several parks, including Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park and Cultus Lake Provincial Park, both of which offer spectacular alpine scenery. Activities include boating, fishing, swimming, hiking and camping.
Another popular attraction east of Chilliwack is the aptly named Bridal Veil Falls Provincial Park, showcasing a wide waterfall that spills over a smooth rock face, creating a veil-like effect. From Bridal Falls, you can take Highway 9 north about 20 minutes to Harrison Hot Springs Resort, a popular family resort hotel with restaurants.
Another 32 miles (52 kilometers) northeast of Chilliwack is Hope, a small town at a big bend in the Fraser River. Hope is the gateway to the British Columbia interior. But it’s more than a pit stop for food and gas.
Hope has a small, historic city center with several popular eateries, including Blue Moose Coffee House and Home Restaurant, and several chain and local motels.
A few minutes out of town is Othello Tunnels in the Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park. Also known as the Quintette Tunnels, these five tunnels are man-made wonders that once carried trains with the Canadian Pacific Railway. Today, the trains have been replaced by tourists, who can take the leisurely 2-mile loop stroll through the tunnels and along a wild river gorge. The tunnels are usually open from April through September. Headlamps or flashlights are advised.
An hour north of Hope is Hell’s Gate Airtram. Usually open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. between June and September, the airtram offers a thrilling view of a narrow Fraser River gorge.
Crossing the Border
Motorists traveling from Washington state can take Interstate 5 and cross the Canadian border at the Peace Arch near Blaine. However, the border crossing at Sumas (east of Bellingham) offers a more direct route to Abbotsford. Wait times at the border vary, and travelers should prepare for long lines on summer weekends. U.S. citizens and permanent residents traveling to Canada need to show proof of residency. Adults and children 16 and older should pack passports. Younger children will need their birth certificates. Travelers should check state and federal websites for current border wait times (even on the return trip) and required documents.
Canada uses the metric system, so a good app that converts kilometers to miles and liters to gallons will come in handy, as will a currency converter.
While some merchants will accept U.S. currency, it is more polite and economical to use Canadian money. Most ATMs will accept U.S. debit cards and offer competitive currency exchange rates. (Tip: Pay in Canadian dollars using your AAA Member Rewards Visa or another credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.)
–Written by Greg Lamm