First Hope Then Merritt: A Ride Through the British Columbia Interior

British Columbia motorcycle ride
British Columbia’s Fraser Canyon is only an hour away from Vancouver, but it takes you a hundred miles away from your cares and worries. (Photos by the author)

When life in the big city on the coast becomes too hectic and I need some time away, a romp through British Columbia’s interior is just the ticket. Making my way to Hope, BC—the little town that doubled as Hope, USA, in the movie “First Blood” with Sylvester Stallone—is quick and easy, and then the real fun begins.

Heading north from Hope there’s Fraser Canyon, so named for the river that it closely straddles. This is a piece of the Trans-Canada Highway (TCH), but you may think otherwise, as the mostly two-lane road is lightly traveled and the newer Coquihalla Highway (5) takes on most of the interior’s business traffic.

British Columbia motorcycle ride
As the Fraser river makes its way to the coast, it is flanked by the Canadian National Railway on one side and Canadian Pacific Railway on the other.

This is a bonus for us motorcyclists, as the road narrows and reveals its recent past. Carved out of rock and canyon only a century and a half ago during BC’s gold rush days, it still follows what were originally native Indian trails and later wagon roads. The scenery is truly spectacular, with the rushing river on one side and granite cliffs on the other, punctuated with six tunnels bored through the solid rock. Do watch the speed limits a bit, because some corners really do require you to slow down.

British Columbia motorcycle ride
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com

The old Alexandra Bridge down below is a reminder of days past, and how much the road has developed, but it still provides an adrenaline rush even if the pavement is smooth and the corners banked. For this trip I took the new-to-me Suzuki V-Strom 650 that recently joined my sport tourer in the garage. The previous owner had already installed hard bags and crash bars, so all I needed to add was a taller windshield for some touring comfort.

The small town of Yale is yet another reminder of days gone by, while the even smaller hamlet of Spuzzum gets by selling T-shirts that say “Spuzzum is beyond Hope.” Hells Gate has it figured out—build a tram across the Fraser River and take tourists across—a brilliant idea.

British Columbia motorcycle ride
The V-Strom is perfect for a British Columbia adventure…bags and a windshield, just gas and go!

Soon I approach the small town of Spences Bridge. Not too long ago, it had a gas station and restaurant, but both have closed. Not, however, the small pub that caters to travelers of all kinds during limited hours these days. A true log building with suitable decor inside, it is a perfect place for a rest stop with some jalapeño poppers, if you are so inclined.

Here I turn east and leave the TCH behind, and pick up the second jewel of a road—BC Highway 8, which could easily be nicknamed the “Clint Eastwood Highway.” The reason becomes clear very soon, as low mountains and some farmland come into view, with the occasional century-old barn off in the distance. The sparse helping of pine trees adds to that western feel. This is real cowboy country, only hours away from the big city but with the feeling of another time altogether.

British Columbia motorcycle ride
Scented pine forests along the “Clint Eastwood” Highway…curves and pure mountain air make it memorable.

The pace is a bit slower now, and that is just fine since it allows time to absorb the ambience. Several “S” curves and some blind corners add to the challenge, and the pulse remains high. After a while I approach the outskirts of the town of Merritt, BC, which will be the final stop on this weekend trip.

British Columbia motorcycle ride
One of six tunnels along Highway 1, the Trans Canada Highway, carved out of pure granite.

Merritt is a country music mecca, and hosts the Merritt Mountain Music Festival that has attracted a long list of A-listers over its 18 years. Downtown Merritt is anchored by the Coldwater Hotel, built in 1908 to accommodate ranching and mining executives who were moving into the area as it was being settled, after the gold rush years passed. Today the old hotel has been nicely refurbished, and is serving chicken wings as its special, along with some live music later on. I need no further arm-twisting.

In the morning, it’s time to head back to real life, and there is a fast way back to the coast on the aforementioned Coquihalla Highway. But I’m thinking what’s the rush….let’s do Highway 8 and the Fraser Canyon again…life is short, so why not enjoy every minute.

British Columbia motorcycle ride
The Coldwater Hotel, where once upon a time ranchers and cattlemen discussed business. Nowadays, motorcyclists can discuss route plans while having some wings.

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