Highway 97, the Cariboo Highway, approximates the path of the Cariboo Waggon Road, completed in 1864 to help prospectors reach the gold fields. Many towns en route, from 70 Mile House to 100 Mile House, are named for their distance from Lillooet along the original road.
For many prospectors, the destination was Barkerville, where Billy Barker struck it rich and thousands more hoped to do the same. Once the biggest town west of Chicago and north of San Francisco, Barkerville Historic town, 80 kilometres (50 miles) east of Quesnel on Highway 26, now boasts more than 125 restored heritage buildings, musical theatre shows, stage coach rides, and actors interpreting actual citizens of 1860s Barkerville.
Nearby is the 1930s-era village of Wells, full of brightly painted false-fronted shops, many selling local arts and crafts. Here, you’ll find five art galleries, the Sunset Theatre, an annual ArtsWells Festival and a new network of mountain biking trails. Also in the area is Bowron Lake Provincial Park, with its famed 116-kilometre (72-mile) canoe circuit.
The Cariboo is also cowboy country, and the area is home to a wide range of guest ranches, from the rugged to the luxurious; you might also catch a rodeo while you’re here. A fisherman’s paradise awaits those that travel Highway 24, also known as “the Fishing Highway.”
The Chilcotin Coast starts west of Williams Lake, where the Cariboo Highway meets Highway 20, or the Freedom Road. This route through some of BC's deepest wilderness won its name in the 1950s, after determined local residents completed the road themselves. Today, it's one of BC's more adventurous drives, cutting through the Coast Mountains and bisecting Tweedsmuir Provincial Park, the province’s biggest park. Just past Hagensborg, a hamlet of traditional Norwegian architecture, it meets the sea at Bella Coola, a fishing town at the head of Burke Channel.