Overland Travel: Vancouver to Quilchena

This post details day one and getting away for our overland journey from Vancouver to Quilchena by car over the spectacular Route 5 – Coquihalla Highway, British Columbia, Canada.

This post is one chapter on our trip through the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada. This trip was booked using Marriott Bonvoy Points. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Overland Travel: Vancouver to Quilchena

Three Hundred Kilometers Travelled

On Friday after work, I attended the local Hertz Neighborhood edition which is within walking distance of the house. The best part about renting a car for this type of drive is that the car would come back covered in bugs and insects and we wouldn’t be responsible for scraping them all off at the end. Not to mention, it’s always nicer to be able to run the air conditioner all the time on steep mountainous hills without worrying about anything blowing up on your own car.

We had booked a weekly rental for a reasonable rate using the American Express Platinum CDP coupon (discounted 15% off) along with 500 Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan frequent flier miles. Although I booked a mid size, the friendly agent offered us a free Hertz President’s Circle upgrade to a full size Toyota Camry or a Mid Size SUV Kia Sorrento. They were the only two cars left at the outlet so it was a one or the other scenario. I ended up going with the white Toyota Camry which was the right choice. It was great on gas as a four cylinder. 

Packing up a new Toyota Camry for a week’s road trip
MrsWT73 and I brought everything including the kitchen sink

Setting out on the Trans Canada Highway Route 1:

The next day, we packed up the house for what is normally a 3 hour and 300 kilometer drive from Vancouver to Merritt, BC. The route would take us along the Trans Canada Highway also known as Route 1 from Vancouver to Hope. The Trans Canada Highway is a cross country highway stem that travels through all ten provinces of Canada from the Pacific Ocean on the west to the Atlantic on the east. The main route spans 7,821 km (4,860 mi) across the country, one of the longest routes of its type in the world. Being a Saturday morning, it was heavy traffic leaving Vancouver with everyone getting out of town for summer trips.

Heavy Traffic Leaving Vancouver on Route 1
Lighter Traffic on Route 1 Past Chilliwack
Passing Under the Highway Information Signs on Route 1

Driving the Scenic Coquilhalla Route 5:

Once at Hope, we transferred to the Coquihalla Highway Route 5.  This highways was built in 1985 and shortened the drive between Vancouver and Calgary Edmonton by several hours. It passes through a major mountain pass which can be very treacherous in the winter. It is the main East – West trucking shipping route in Canada.  It is also home to the Discovery Television series “Highway Thru Hell” which features the plight of tow truck rescue drivers and their interactions with several stuck vehicles during terrible winter conditions. The terrain is also featured as the film set for portions of the film First Blood featuring Sylvester Stallone in the early 1980’s.

The Coquihalla Highway passes through some major avalanche zones. There is an avalanche shed that was constructed to allow for highway bombing so that any snow avalanches can pass over top of the highway. There are a few examples of these sheds on the Trans Canada Highway between British Columbia and Alberta. It’s not something that I’ve seen in many other parts of the world.

Passing Through Avalanche Zones
Passing through the Avalanche Sheds

Continuing on our drive, we passed the Coquihalla Summit. The highway was undergoing re-surfacing on the hills, which made for some slow going with respect to speed.

Rock faces near the Coquihalla Summit

After the summit, it was smooth sailing down hill towards Merritt and our final destination of Quilchena and the Nicola Lake area.

Arriving to Nicola Lake:

MrsWT73’s dad has a semi-permanent waterfront vacation campsite out on Nicola Lake. It’s about 15 minutes from the town of Merritt. We don’t always get the opportunity to visit thanks to busy work / personal schedules with lives in countless hotel rooms but when we do, the hospitality from MrsWT73’s dad and wife are sure appreciated. It also happens to the perfect remote concept for holidaying during a health pandemic since it’s so remote from other people and towns.

We arrived to the campsite on Nicola Lake.

Arriving to Nicola Lake
A Popular Summer Spot amongst other campers
Campsite Water Views, Nicola Lake

We had a good afternoon of socializing after a 4 PM arrival. We had dinner with chicken brochettes along with a greek salad while we took in the water front views.

We also had some spectacular sunsets as we watched the sky fade to black for the day.

Sunset at Nicola Lake
Oranges and Yellows streaked the sky

We followed with a campfire by the lake with the stars out.


The Coquihalla Highway is a beautiful and interesting drive if you have the opportunity to pass through in the summer months. It’s always recommended to drive the highway on a week day to avoid the holiday crowds and the Vancouver traffic which tend to clog the route during evening rush hours and against the weekend book ends.

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