Thompson Canyon

Length: 35 km (30 min to 1 hour)
Overall Rating:
08 - Highly Recommended
09 - Dramatic
07 - Some great sections
06 - Moderate traffic, quieter off-peak

While many people refer to the Trans Canada highway in these parts as the “Fraser Canyon”, this section actually follows the Thompson River. Very closely, in fact — due to the severity of the canyon walls the river leaves the road with few other options. The mighty Cascade mountain range meets its northern end here, but rather than whimpering out, it inspires (in typical BC style) yet another mountain range to start on the other side of the river.

It’s often dry and hot here in summer, and the arid landscape is a far cry from the rainforest only an hour away in Yale. As a kid I viewed the starting point of Spences Bridge as a bit of an oasis; it often meant a stop for a fill-up and an accompanying cream soda to ease the heat. While the gas stations are long gone now due to less traffic (most people travel the Coquihalla to the south), cars can still bunch up behind slow trucks or RVs in peak hours. Along with the heat this is a good reason to travel in the early evening — besides, the canyon walls are particularly stunning in the evening light.

About 10 km south of Spences Bridge, Goldpan Provincial Park is a nice stop to stretch your legs or have lunch. Continuing on you’ll have to contend with some nice curves and hills along the river — and if you have a convertible, you’ll get the treat (?) of listening to small rocks sliding down the slopes toward you. No worries though, as retaining walls pretty much keep everything where it should be. Plus, it’s BC — it’s not the small rocks you have to worry about (check out roadside geology books for some highly educational doom and gloom).

Other notable attractions are Nicoamen Falls (half-way) and Skihist Provincial Park (near Lytton). Although access to the falls may be limited, the park is an easy stop on the right/north of the highway. Skihist offers spectacular views of the Thompson’s White Canyon: it turns out we’re actually on the “easy” side of the river (along with the Canadian Pacific railway), forcing the Canadian National railway to take on the almost impossible terrain on the other side. Given that the highway’s twisty parts have been engineered into (mostly) smooth sweeping curves, you almost wish you were down there with the CN tracks for that ride. Almost — then you look at the cliffs and remember those roadside geology books.

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