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April 1995

Canada’s Lewis and Clark: Alexander Mackenzie

When it came to continent crossing, the noted U.S. explorers were a step behind Canada's Alexander Mackenzie. And until you hike his namesake trail, you can't truly appreciate the toughness of his journey or the magnitude of his accomplishment.

Expedition Planner:

Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail/Nuxalk-Carrier Route, BC

Getting there:

It’s possible to recreate Mackenzie’s 216-mile overland journey from the Fraser River to Highway 20 near Bella Coola, British Columbia. However, the eastern 140 miles cross a lot of marshes and developed land, so most backpackers begin their journey by taking a half-hour bush plane flight ($150 U.S.) from the town of Nimpo Lake on Highway 20 to one of three possible starting points: Eliguk Lake, making a 75-mile hike to the Bella Coola Valley; Gatcho Lake, then hiking 60 miles; or Tanya Lakes, which, at only 37 miles from the valley, allow plenty of time to wander and enjoy the alpine scenery of the Rainbow Range.

Those who don’t wish to use a float plane can drive to Heckman Pass on Highway 20, east of Tweedsmuir (a 5-hour drive from Williams Lake, British Columbia.). You’ll then hike into the Mackenzie Pass region via the Rainbow Range trailhead and Crystal Lake Trail (about 45 miles for the loop ) or the Tweedsmuir Trail loop (about 45 miles also). Hitchhiking along Highway 20 is common and the simplest way to reach loop hikes. Expect long waits for passing cars, though.

Guidebooks and maps:

In the Steps of Alexander Mackenzie, by John Woodworth and Halle Flygare (available through the Alexander Mackenzie Trail Association, P.O. Box 425, Station A., Kelowna, BC V1Y 7P1; (250) 762-3002; $17.95 Canadian, approximately $12 U.S.) features a series of foldout maps with kilometer markers linked to site descriptions. For an extensive book list and order form, contact: Cliff Kopas Store, P.O. Box 70, Bella Coola, BC, V0T 1C0; (250) 799-5553. You’ll also need the 1:250,000 series topos Anahim Lake and Bella Coola, both available from Map Connections Distributors, #100 400th Ave. SW, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 0L6; (403) 215-4058.

Customs concerns:

U.S. residents need a birth certificate and photo ID, or a current passport to enter Canada.


For Provincial Parks in British Columbia, contact: BC Parks, Cariboo District Office, 281 First Ave. N, Williams Lake, BC Canada V2G 1Y7; (250) 398-4414.

For Mackenzie Heritage Trail, contact: Alexander Mackenzie Trail Association, P.O. Box 425, Station A., Kelowna, BC V1Y 7P1; (250) 762-3002.

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