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Spirit, Soul & Vibe

The Cariboo Chilcotin Coast of British Columbia, Canada, has flown under the radar of the mountain bike community until relatively recently. Bypassing iconic destinations such as Squamish, Whistler and Pemberton may seem bizarre, but those willing to travel beyond the beaten path will find buff, fast trails aplenty and adventure around every corner. This ecologically diverse, relatively remote, and vast area is not to be missed.

Travel from Vancouver is straightforward. Just hop on Highway 99 North, set cruise, and enjoy the views on one of Canada’s most picturesque roads. The small "guaranteed rugged" (best town slogan ever?) town of Lillooet marks the first major decision point for a trip to this area. To the west, the South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park, Gold Bridge, and surrounding area are quickly becoming a popular riding destination for those looking to escape the crowds further south. Those venturing further north to the Cariboo can stop for a quick pedal in 108 Mile Ranch before Williams Lake where there is an ever-growing network of great trails.


In order to maximize shredding, we suggest choosing either the South Chilcotin area or town of Williams Lake. Don’t be fooled into believing that these are the only two areas worth exploring, they’re just two spots we’re particularly fond of. 


South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park

On The Way

Those in a rush (and who have a 4x4) often choose to access the region via the Hurley River Wilderness Road, which connects the Pemberton Meadows with Gold Bridge. We however prefer to drive further north to Lillooet in order to a) save the suspension on our vehicles and b) spend a day riding in Lillooet before heading towards the unincorporated town of Gold Bridge.

Our favorite trail near Lillooet is Della Creek. This 3-mile, 3,000-foot descent overlooks the mighty Fraser River and features high speed corners, jumps, and ridges top to bottom. Downhill bikes aren’t out of place, as Finn Iles demonstrates in the video below, though we prefer our trail bikes given the rest of the riding in the area. There are eye-watering sections along the ridges, with perfectly contoured, loose corners that beg you to leave the brakes alone and let it slide.


Back in town, the Lillooet Offroad Cycling Association has also been building, maintaining, and proposing more trails for those looking for a quick stretch or extended stay. Before leaving town, the Rugged Bean Café is a great spot to trade trail tales and get a bite to eat. 

Where To Ride

What we feel is truly special about the South Chilcotin area is the alpine. Most of the trails were created by hikers, horseback riders, hunters, or prospectors, so don’t expect machine built berms. Trails can be quite challenging and some have exposed sections where falls could lead to serious injury. Navigation skills are a must – those lacking a sense of direction and experience with backcountry navigation should definitely hire a guide. High elevation trails tend to have plenty of loose rock and fine dust, whereas lower elevation trails are less rocky, but have roots and show signs of increased traffic.

The Taylor Creek Trail is the most commonly used climb and gains over 3,000 feet of elevation over 10 miles. This relatively easy double-track climbs beyond the trees to the Taylor Cabin and it also accesses the most straightforward, yet still epic loops. The Taylor Cabin is a somewhat dilapidated structure that oozes “if these walls could talk.” It is a great spot for a snack, water refill (don’t forget water purification drops) and a look at the map. From there the trail steepens and gets increasingly technical and all but the fittest of riders will need to take a breather or two.

One of our favorite loops from the cabin is to climb High Trail to Windy Pass and descend to Spruce Lake. From the pass, the horse-trodden trail has just enough width that pedal snags aren’t a concern and riders have excellent visibility of what’s to come…the perfect recipe for fast paced blind riding. As the trail returns to the trees, things get a little more technical, but the trail can still be enjoyed by riders of all abilities. From Spruce Lake, Gun Meadows and the Gun Creek Trail undulate and descend for what feels like an eternity. This “short” 30-mile ride justifies the trip alone: the view, flow, climbs, dust, and wildflowers are unforgettable. Alternatively, Gun Creek and High Trail can both be climbed, but expect to push some of the steeper sections unless you’re running a 24-tooth chain ring or wear rainbow stripes. More thrilling “short” rides include equally memorable and unique descents of Lick Creek Trail, Ridge-O-Rama, and Molly Dog.

In this video, join the Coastal Crew on a backcountry epic typical of the Chilcotins:


More adventurous riders can access increasingly remote terrain using a few options: self-supported, airplane assisted, or fully supported options that extend literally hundreds of miles into the backcountry. Tyax Adventures has been providing all three options to hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers longer than anybody. Not only can they provide the best beta on recent trail conditions, but they also have a handful of fully stocked cabins strewn about the backcountry for those who prefer to travel light. Our favorite backcountry camp has to be the remote, yet fully stocked Sky Camp on Crystal Lake. The cabin, wall tents, lake, and backdrop are second to none… Not to mention there’s a wood-fired sauna. Sky Camp is also a great spot for those looking to do more than just ride: there are canoes, fishing gear, hiking, or just sit on the dock and take it all in.

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Not your typical shuttle! Floatplane adventures with Tyax can take you deep into the Chilcotins. - ​Photo by Andre Charland / CC BY

Floatplane shuttles to Spruce, Warner, or Lorna Lake are a rite of passage and provide riders with a huge number of possibilities to begin their adventure. “Shuttle” definitely doesn’t mean little to no climbing, but overall these rides allow for significant elevation loss over a day of riding.

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A word of warning: those venturing deep into the backcountry should be prepared for just about anything and can expect upwards of 8 hours in the saddle. - ​Photo by Andre Charland / CC BY

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the fragility of the ecosystem in this area. Access to this area is not to be taken for granted and riders are asked to treat the South Chilcotin trails with the utmost respect. 

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Where To Stay & Eat

Simple camping can be found at the BC Hydro Gun Creek Campground located on the Carpenter Lake Reservoir. Fit riders can ride right from the campsite, otherwise it’s a short drive to trailheads. Those looking to camp a little closer to amenities can find waterfront camping at Tyax Lodge. Travelers looking for 5-star treatment need not look beyond the lodge, where they can find swimming, a hot tub, spa, and world-class dining. 


Williams Lake 

On The Way

The drive to Williams Lake, although beautiful, can be long. If only there were a spot to stop for a quick ride somewhere along the way. Fortunately, 108 Mile Ranch is conveniently located just a handful of miles north of 100 Mile House and has a couple hours’ worth of smooth, flowy XC trails that can be ridden in either direction. Cindy’s Cookery is right around the corner for simple, yet delicious comfort food before hitting the road again. 

Where To Ride

“The Puddle” is a blue-collar town, but with industry slowly declining the local powers-that-be joined forces with passionate locals to develop and stimulate the local economy through mountain bike tourism. The Cariboo Mountain Bike Consortium has done an outstanding job of promoting cycling, expanding the trail network, and encouraging riders of all abilities to visit. In our experience, Williams Lake locals are among the friendliest out there – they flat out love to ride and are more than willing to spread the joy. With over 10,000 residents, the town has all the amenities that one would expect, with plenty of accommodation, restaurant, and happy hour options. Coordinating with the Williams Lake Stampede is definitely a good call even though the town gets busy. It is Cariboo culture at its finest and an absolute blast.

James Doerfling, a Williams Lake local, takes dirt surfing, singletrack slaying, and wide-open goodness to the next level in this video:


There are three networks within the town. Westsyde trails feature a number of short trails to loop, including Snakes and Ladders – a feature-laden trail with optional gaps, drops, and woodwork around every high speed corner. Box Trail loop is an undulating XC blast and an absolute stunner of a trail – just try to take a bad photo. Westsyde rides should have a mandatory beginning or ending at the Gecko Tree Café – a Williams Lake institution.

Fox Mountain and South Lakeside trails are the second and third trail network within the city limits and both have a broad spectrum of trails. Generally, the trails are intermediate in difficulty and grades are just about perfect for middle-ring climbing and wide-open descending. Our favorite option on Fox is AK-89 to AFlow Daddy for its berms and the odd gap. Lakeside on the other hand is mellower and has a variety of easy climbs and descents that encourage riders to let go of their brakes.

More advanced riders will definitely want to check out the Desous network which is a short drive out of town. So Long is our favorite trail on the backside with 3 miles and nearly 3,000 feet of natural steeps ending at the Fraser River. OOsous (yes, two capital O’s) is a must ride trail on the frontside and is a mixed-bag of high speed chunder, tight technical rock sections, natural airs, and a handful of rad catch berms that beg to be hit on the verge of wide open. We have a blast on any of the trails in Williams Lake, but laps of Desous always seem to end with the biggest smiles and the most high-fives. 

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Where To Stay

Williams Lake has accommodation options to suit every preference and budget. With almost 17,000 folks attending the rodeo in 2016, those in tents or trailers will either gravitate towards the Rodeo Campground or avoid it altogether depending on how much privacy they seek and the time of year. The convenient location however, is tough to beat. The Chief Will-Yum Campground is a little further removed from town, but riders can access Fox Mountain right from their sites via the Chief William XC trail.

Though we’ve never stayed, Lenora’s On The Lake has a great reputation and those looking to be pampered should give her a call. The town also has a variety of hotels, bed and breakfasts, and vacation properties, but we’ve always been happy campers and prefer to spend what little coin we have in some of Williams Lake’s watering holes.

Where To Eat

Being a blue-collar town, most of the Puddle’s eateries feature one staple: beef. It’s no surprise given the amount of beef farming in the Cariboo. Oliver Street Bar and Grill is our preferred option for a post-ride beer and burger, though there are vegetarian options for those so inclined. We have also visited the local butcher, Margetts Meats, when we’re looking to grill ourselves.

Folks with gluten allergies should check out the Gecko Tree Café. It’s also a great spot for healthy, creative lunches.

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All in a good day's work in the Cariboo Chilcotin! - ​Photo by Sébastien Launay / CC BY

Like most of British Columbia, we can’t say enough about the riding and vibe of the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast. The South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park and Williams Lake areas are just the tip of the iceberg for this zone. The terrain is huge, crowds are non-existent, and the locals are rad. We love heading to this area anytime we’re looking for full-day missions mixed with classic loops, unique terrain, lakes, laughs, and a down to Earth country atmosphere.

See More

Rad Rides, Eats & More is a Vital MTB series meant to provide you with intimate local knowledge of excellent mountain bike destinations. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks as Vital's BC local contributor, Joel Harwood, dives deep into the woods and explores the many mountains of six British Columbia regions in partnership with Mountain Biking BC and Super Natural BC.

Title image by John Wellburn

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