Mackenzie Provincial Park is a small coastal park located near Elcho
Harbour on Dean Channel, approximately 65 km northwest of Bella Coola
on the central coast of British Columbia. Sir Alexander Mackenzie
Provincial Park is recognized as a cultural heritage site, located
at the westernmost point in the journey of Alexander Mackenzie.
is Canada's Lewis and Clark, both wrapped up into one intrepid explorer.
Mackenzie was the first European to cross the Rocky Mountains and
view the western seas from the shores of northwestern North America,
preceding the more widely known Lewis and Clark expedition by 12
years. Mackenzie and his party trekked overland and by canoe from
Lake Athabaska in 1793 on behalf of the North West Company in search
of a trade route to the Pacific. His journey took him 72 days and
covered over 1,240 miles (2,000 km) of unmapped terrain. Near Prince
George, he set out on foot across the Interior Plateau, through
the Rainbow Mountains and down Burnt Bridge Creek.
Where the creek
enters the Bella Coola River, they rested at a community that was
named "Friendly Village" because of the hospitality of its Nuxalk
inhabitants. These people guided Mackenzie and his men down the
river into Dean Channel. A dispute between the Nuxalk and the coastal
Heiltsuk people prevented them from reaching the open sea, but Mackenzie
was satisfied that his mission was complete.
followed pre-existing trading trails established by Native British
Columbians. The trails were used by First Nations primarily for
trading eulachon (a small, smelt-like fish) grease, perhaps the
most valued commodity in the northwest. Long before Europeans discovered
North America, First Nations peoples used a network of trails between
the west coast and the interior of British Columbia for trade and
travel. Because these trails were commonly used to transport eulachon
grease, they are now referred to as "grease trails".
At the westernmost
point of his journey, Mackenzie wrote on a rock in reddish paint made
of vermilion and bear grease: "Alex Mackenzie from Canada by land
22nd July 1793". Now called Mackenzie's Rock, the rock
near the water's edge still bears his words, which were later permanently
inscribed in the rock by surveyors. A prominent 40-foot cairn stands
above the rock, and a plaque, erected in 1926 by the Historic Sites
and Monuments Board of Canada, is also located in the park. The cairn
also marks the location of a historical fortified First Nations village,
and petroglyphs can be found at the cobble beach.
use of the 5-hectare park is limited to day-excursions by air, or
boat charter from Bella Coola or Bella Bella. The park is remote
and access is difficult. Visitors should be prepared for variable
water and weather conditions. Boaters may tie up to shore during
good weather, but there is no dock or secure anchorage.
Mackenzie Provincial Park has no wilderness, backcountry or walk-in
camping facilities, no day-use area or picnic facilities, no toilets,
and campfires are not permitted. There are undeveloped campsites
a short distance northeast of the point, outside the park. visitors
should bring their own drinking water, as potable water is not available.
There are fishing and kayaking opportunities at the park, but access
is lengthy and requires experience.
As you cruise
through the waters near the park, watch for orcas, Pacific white-sided
dolphins, harbour seals and other marine mammals. It is important
that you keep your distance from these creatures - never approach
closer than 100 metres. Steer a steady, slow course and avoid cutting
in front of them. On shore, watch for Columbia black-tailed deer,
mink, black bear and wolves.
The park marks
the end of the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage (Grease) Trail, which
travels through Kluskoil and Tweedsmuir
Provincial Park (South). Hikers with a historical bent would
appreciate tackling some or all of the Nuxalk-Carrier Grease Route,
known as the Alexander Mackenzie Heritage Trail, which stretches
a full 264 miles (420 km) from the mouth of the West Road (Blackwater)
River between Prince George and Quesnel to the Sir Alexander Mackenzie
Provincial Park. The major appeal of the extensive backcountry hiking
or horseback riding trail is the opportunity for long-distance wilderness
travel along an historic route that follows the footsteps of First
Nations peoples, Alexander Mackenzie, and other explorers. The trail's
hiking terminus is at Burnt Bridge Creek, adjacent to the western
boundary of Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, where it is intersected
by Highway 20.
as the first heritage trail in British Columbia in 1985, the Alexander
Mackenzie Heritage Trail is gaining international recognition among
hikers who wish to make a three-week trip along this historic route.
The trail includes local wagon roads, provincial highways, forest
access roads, rivers, and coastal waterways. Approximately 186 miles
(300 km) of this corridor is recreational trail, and about 62 miles
(100 km) is well-preserved aboriginal footpath. The 50-mile (80-km)
stretch of the trail in Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, which takes
five to seven days to travel, is perhaps the most scenic of the
entire route. A short section of the trail that offers views of
the Bella Coola Valley and south to Stupendous Mountain can be reached
in a one- to two-hour loop from Burnt Bridge Creek.
trail spans an area traditionally occupied by three culturally distinct
Native groups: the Nuxalk people of the Bella Coola Valley, an enclave
of the Salishan linguistic group; the Heiltsuk people of Bella Bella
and the Outer Coast, members of the Wakashan linguistic group; and
the Southern Carrier people of the Interior Plateau, members of
the Athapaskan linguistic group. There are a number of prehistoric
cultural sites along the trail. Several are at Bella Coola and in
Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, and about eight are located in the Upper
and Lower Blackwater River areas. Portions of the trail itself have
been in use for thousands of years.
It is not necessary
to hike the 264-mile (420-km) route from Prince George to Bella
Coola in one trek in order to get a feeling for what Mackenzie encountered.
There are a number of access points to the trail, mostly in the
first 60 miles (100 km) or so. The main trailhead begins next to
a parking lot on Blackwater Road, southwest of Prince George, near
a viewpoint that overlooks the Blackwater River Valley. To reach
it, travel about 37 miles (60 km) south of Hwy 16 on Blackwater
Road, which begins west of Prince George. You can also fly in via
floatplane to points along the trail - or, rather, trails, as this
is not so much a single trail wending over hill and dale as it is
a network of interconnected trails, fragmenting into a dizzying
array of routes in some places.
these are just different routes around a lake, while at other points
the trails lead to different destinations entirely. Proper maps
and a compass are indispensable. To obtain a detailed map, contact
the Forest Service's Prince George Regional Office, (250) 565-6100.
The main trail stretches from the primary trailhead, just south
of Prince George where Blackwater Forest Service Road ends at the
confluence of the Blackwater and Fraser Rivers, through Tweedsmuir
Provincial Park and all the way to Bella Coola, though not to the
actual site Alexander Mackenzie reached.
If you do attempt
to hike the entire trail in one fell swoop, bear in mind that experienced
hikers can expect to take three weeks, and most of the trail runs
through remote wilderness areas, far from civilization. The trail
is best done in late summer or early fall. Any earlier, and the
black flies and mosquitoes in some of the lower, wetter areas can
In order to
reach the park, hikers must still travel the last segment of the
journey by boat, as Sir Alexander Mackenzie did. Anchorage at the
historical rock is poor and exposed to high winds. Temporary anchorage
is possible in the cove immediately to the west of the point, but
it is shallow and exposed, and suitable only in settled weather.
Better protection is found at the head of Elcho Harbour, two miles
of this trail may be on or near private property (including Native
reserves), trekkers should check with the BC Parks district office
in Williams Lake regarding access. Staff there can also supply information
on current maps, local conditions, and available guides. No matter
how much or little of the trail you want to hike, you must plan
ahead. An excellent 200-page guide to the entire trail is In
the Steps of Alexander Mackenzie, published by the Alexander
Mackenzie Trail Association, Box 425, Kelowna BC, V1Y 7P1.
The park is
located near Elcho Harbour, approximately 65 km northwest of Bella
Coola, on Dean Channel. Use is limited to day-excursions by air,
or boat charter from Bella Coola or Bella Bella. Please refer to
the BC Marine Parks Guide for more information. The Canadian Hydrographic
Chart is number 3729.