British Columbia's forest service roads (FSRs or logging roads) are a great way to see large areas of the province that are otherwise inaccessible to most travelers. BC has a network of some 450,000 km of these roads, and while I've come no where near to exploring even a fraction of them, I'll be posting some of my more memorable trips on the site.
That said, these roads are definitely not your run-of-the-mill highway drive. They require a great deal of caution and can be dangerous. Expect natural hazards such as as washouts, bridges missing, rock slides or unstable road surfaces at any time. Also expect to encounter other traffic at any time, from other vehicles to ATVs and logging trucks. In many parts of BC, special off-road logging trucks are used on the FSRs -- encountering one of these 16-foot wide behemoths hurtling down the (18-foot wide) road at you can be a harrowing experience, and you'll be the one backing up to find the nearest pull-out.
- BC Forest Safety Council - Road Safety
- BC Forest Safety Council - Road Safety Guide (PDF)
- BC Ministry of Forests - Guide for Safe Travel (PDF)
- Backroad Mapbooks have great books and GPS-loadable maps for each region of BC. These are vital resources to help navigate forest roads.
- Most major FSRs have numbered signs along their sides at periodic intervals. These represent the distance (in km) from the start of the road, where the start is generally the end of the road closest to a sawmill (and usually, civilization). "Up" refers to moving away from the start, and "Down" refers to moving towards the start.
- A VHF/CB scanner is extremely helpful. Industrial traffic will usually announce their location (e.g. "18 Up" would mean a truck at the 18 km mark moving away from the start of the road - for a logging truck this would likely be an empty one). You can listen for these positions and ensure that you're in a pull-out before you encounter the vehicle. However, don't rely on this - some traffic (e.g. perhaps others like you) will not have radios. See Rules of the Road for more details.
- Prepare as if you would prepare for a back country hike: ensure you have a safety kit in your vehicle and suitable clothing, food and water to handle a vehicle breakdown. Ensure your vehicle is in good shape. In a worst case scenario, be prepared to walk it out (i.e. don't take a 100 km drive lightly).
- Use good tires, such as all-terrain (10 ply) tires. Road surfaces can be very rough. While two-wheel drive vehicles can often be used on the major FSRs, four-wheel drive can reduce wheel slippage and related tire punctures.
- On many roads you won't encounter any other traffic. That's nice, but that also means that there may not be anyone around to help if you have a problem. Tell people where you're going and when you should be back.
- Don't count on "circle routes"; you'll probably have to drive out the same way you drove in (although there are exceptions).
- Beware of deactivated roads. Regulations often require forestry companies to deactivate side roads after harvest and re-planting. Deactivation may involve cross-ditching, removal of culverts and other measures that may make the road impassable to your vehicle (even a 4x4 truck). It may be better to park your vehicle in safe location and walk the road, as you'll often end up going the same speed.
- Above all - don't assume anything about road conditions, or whether the road is even still active. Anything you read here - or elsewhere - regarding road conditions can change quickly and without notice.