Slow Travel and Wide Open Spaces: Vancouver to Big Bar Guest Ranch

Travel slow, stop often and learn more on a trip that highlights Indigenous destinations on your way to and from the itinerary feature–a three-day sojourn at Big Bar Guest Ranch.

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Travel slow, stop often, and learn more on a trip that highlights Indigenous destinations on your way to and from the itinerary feature–a three-day sojourn at Big Bar Guest Ranch.

This scenic route begins and ends in Vancouver, without ever leaving Indigenous lands.

Leave the City Behind

📍 Vancouver – Squamish – Whistler

The city is behind as you prepare yourself for spectacular views on the 99N from present-day Vancouver. Coastal Salish vistas wind up through arbutus, great rock cuts spilling fresh mountain water, and just enough ocean sunshine to highlight it all. The weather is warming, and the cottonwood is settling. 

Stop for fuel in Squamish at Thunderbird Gas Station, located in Squamish near Shannon Falls under the Stawamus Chief. Start your climb toward Whistler and beyond, through even more dramatic views of the mountains and waters that are home to Squamish and Lilwat Peoples.

Turn off of the highway on Lorimer Avenue and take a lunch and learn with Cultural Ambassadors at the magnificent Squamish Lilwat Cultural Centre (SLCC) in present-day Whistler. Stop for a spot of Indigenous lunch and culture, with guided tour experiences by Squamish and Lil’wat Nations members on the hour, every hour, from 10 AM to 4 PM daily. The SLCC hosts the largest Indigenous gift shop in Whistler and an affordable Indigenous-inspired menu at its Thunderbird Cafe.

Switchbacks and Summer Vibes

📍Whistler – Duffey Lake Hwy 99 – Clinton 

Count endless roadside waterfalls, creeks, and streams as you continue north from Whistler. Just past Pemberton, a dappled winding road takes you along a low-banked river and past powwow grounds. You are now headed toward the turn that begins your climb up the legendary Duffey Lake Road. A set of slow-highway switchbacks toward a rock wall thousands of feet in height take you through cactus, sagebrush, and an area known for its hot, dry summers and a sequence of summer berries, including treats from blackcaps to saskatoons.

Stop at one of the multiple crossings of clear, bubbling Cayoosh Creek before it enters Seton River and eventually joins the mighty Fraser River in Lillooet. Lightfoot Gas in Lil’wat Territory has fresh-baked pizza, the best gas station sandwiches, a vast selection of gifts, fresh-baked goods, cool treats, and the friendliest full-service attendants. From Lillooet, continue to the junction of Highway 97 and head north toward Clinton.

If you’re not used to the drive, consider spending the night in present-day Clinton, home to High Bar First Nation, one of 17 Secwepemc communities. Secwepemc’ulecw, or Secwepemc Territory, is a vast territory that stretches from the Columbia River valley along the Rocky Mountains, west to Fraser River, and south to Arrow Lakes. If the vista-fuelled drive has you inspired to continue, you can still make it to the ranch before sundown. 

Clinton is your last chance to gas up and gather groceries and supplies before you head toward Big Bar Guest Ranch and the Traditional Territory of Stswecem’c Xgat’tem, a semi-remote Secwepemc community southwest of Williams Lake.

Watch for Big Bar Lake signs and make a left turn on Big Bar Road, about nine kilometers past Clinton. Big Bar Guest Ranch is approximately 46 km from the highway.

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Getaway on Horseback

📍Big Bar Guest Ranch, Clinton

Check the road status before you head in, bring bug spray, and make sure your tank is full. From Clinton, you’re not far from a road that quickly turns to dirt and even closer to a journey toward the Fraser River. The community of Stswecem’c Xgat’tem, with its rich Indigenous cowboy heritage, welcomes you to Big Bar Guest Ranch. Here you will find expansive wide-open beauty and the kind of quiet you’ve been longing for. 

Your three days at Big Bar Guest Ranch can be as easygoing or jam-packed as you like. With accommodations and amenities ideal for romantic getaways and family vacations, staff at the ranch are experts in land adventure and quiet relaxation. In support of peaceful rejuvenation, there is no cell signal, limited wi-fi, and television-free rooms. 

Your ranch experience is completely customizable. Check in with staff at booking to plan your riding and dining experiences. The low-key ranch offers quality dining and service overseen by a Red Seal Chef and dedicated staff who pride themselves in the use of local, sustainable ingredients. The weekly set menu features three meals and dessert daily, with such Indigenous-inspired delicacies as sage salmon and chokecherry pie. Need trail snacks? The kitchen is happy help with advanced notice.

If You Seek Rest

📍Big Bar Guest Ranch, Clinton

If you seek rest, you need not move beyond the ranch property. A private lake, Lake Squalley, provides the opportunity for gentle, water-based fun. Take your children fishing, try a pedal boat picnic with your partner, or a solo canoe ride at sunrise. Lake and boat access are included with your stay, and fishing gear is available for a small fee. Remember to purchase your freshwater fishing license. Fill in these small adventures with your own study of walking paths, flora, and fauna. Grab a Trail Map at check-in and wander the network of shady, cool trails under Black Spruce and Log Pole Pine.

If You Seek Healing

There’s no denying the healing effects of time on the land, among the abundant plant and animal life in this corner of Secwepemc’ulecw. While in Stswecem’c X’gattem Territory, you may chance a private transformative encounter with sandhill cranes, osprey, elk, wild horses, moose, and pelicans.  In spring,  fields erupt with blooming wildflowers and transform the countryside into a sea of colours–a spectacular show to witness as your traverse this wild terrain. Some of the meadow flower varieties you will find here are lupine, columbine, lilies, orange hawkweed, wild roses, yarrow, and paintbrush.

Free Cultural Walking Tour: Local Indigenous Plant Medicine

One of the many unique highlights of your stay at the ranch is the free 30-minute Indigenous Plant Medicine Walking Tour. Casual and educational, this hands-on, senses-engaged experience will have you smelling spruce, juniper, and sage. Walk the land as a curious guest and tour a circuit of information stations with local guides from Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation who share their local plant knowledge. Your Indigenous cultural tour guide will explain how to forage natural teas and remedies and give you a new perspective as you look out over the land.

If you Seek Adventure

If you seek adventure, guides from the ranch can escort you on challenging hikes from June to September. With options ranging from 5-12 hour romps, you can conquer local peaks, including Mount Bowman, Mount Jesmond, and Wild Horse Ridge. You heard that right–wild horses. If you are looking for high adventure, explore the area on horseback. There are on-site pony rides for children and rides through meadows of lupine, columbine, lilies, orange hawkweed, wild roses, yarrow, sage, and paintbrush. To turn up the adventure on your ranch experience, wranglers will match you to the perfect horse based on experience and size. Find your ideal horse and head out on a ride. Rides range from hour-long beginner adventures to six-hour exclusive experiences for more advanced riders, complete with a cowboy cookout and views that are otherwise inaccessible. When your slow fireside nights are over, grab a bag lunch from the kitchen, say goodbye to the guest ranch, and head back down that dirt road with three solid ranch days in your pocket.

Full Circle Indigenous Travel

📍Big Bar Guest Ranch – Merrit – Chilliwack – Vancouver

Travel two and a half hours from Big Bar Lake to Merritt for breakfast and coffee at the flagship location of the only Indigenous restaurant franchise in Canada–Kekuli Cafe. Kekuli bakes their golden vegan delights daily and offers unique options like Skor bannock and Saskatoon berry bannock. Takeout or dine in and dally with the delightful staff.  Indigenous business leadership with an extra shot.

Before you begin the final leg of your return to Vancouver, stop in at Sto:lo Gift Shop in Chilliwack. Shop a wide selection of art, jewelry, and local goods. Commemorate your Indigenous tourism experience in a way that not only reminds you of your adventures but contributes to Indigenous success and wellness. 

Wrap up your week-long road trip with the grand finale–a meal at top-rated Salmon n Bannock, the only Indigenous restaurant in Vancouver. Savour your renewed freedom to sit elbow to elbow with three courses, a bottle of Indigenous wine, and the warmth of Indigenous food, art, and hosts. There is no better place to conclude this itinerary that starts and ends in Vancouver on the Traditional Territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Peoples.