Well, it turned out that not only was this loop possible, but it was actually a named "thing," packaged and advertised by BC Ferries and made even more attractive by the opportunity to photograph grizzly bears, who descended to the Great Bear Rain Forest from the mountains in September and October to feast on the salmon returning to their birth streams to spawn.
Despite the dissipation of some of the mystery, we decided to give this circuit a try. We drove to Vancouver, where we crossed over from Tsawassen to Vancouver Island by ferry, and then we drove up to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. We explored the northern part of the island for several days, and then we took an all-day ferry from Port Hardy to Bella Coola, where we stayed for a week. After that, we drove east from Bella Coola, up "the Hill" and across Highway 20, stopping at Nimpo Lake and Lake Tatlayoko. At Williams Lake we joined Highway 97, which took us, by way of Highway 99 (Sea-to-Sky Highway) and the mountain towns of Lillooet, Pemberton, and Whistler, south to Vancouver and eventually home to Seattle.
Northern Vancouver Island was a mixed bag of accessibility. The main town of Port Hardy had the most scooters per capita I've seen (probably because it's a small town, so lots people use scooters instead of cars), which helped ensure that sidewalks and retail entrances were accessible. I spent a good amount of time and money at Cafe Guido. We stayed at the Kwa'lilas Hotel, a First Nations hotel in the center of town, with at least one officially accessible room, complete with a (too narrow) roll-in shower and a toilet grab bar. There was an accessible restaurant/bar on site, and it was perhaps the most beautifully-decorated hotel I've ever seen.
|Trail to Eternal Fountain
About 1 1/2 hours from Port Hardy, on the unpaved logging road to Cape Scott Provincial Park, is a pull-out for Ronning's Garden. This 5-acre garden in the middle of the rain forest is reached by 10 minute accessible-but-muddy path, and the garden (not very accessible to roll around) is worth a quick stop.
|San Josef Bay
Next part (2 of 3): Bella Coola Valley