7 Things You Need to Know BEFORE Driving the Coquihalla and High Mountain Passes

Coquihalla safety tips

Coquihalla, Rogers Pass, Bear Pass, Pine Pass…are you ready?

If you live on the Coast, you may not travel BC’s mountains very often. We’ve noticed a number of those living in those areas aren’t always ready to go from wet Lower Mainland winter to snowy BC Interior/ Northern winter.

Sure those mountains make the perfect backdrop to all those Hollywood North movies; and of course, they’re gorgeous looking when all covered in a fresh dusting of snow. Don’t be deceived by that beauty, though. When travelling, they can change pretty dramatically when you come face to face with them.

If you are planning on leaving the Lower Mainland and travelling into the mountains this winter, you need to plan ahead. To make safety a priority, you must know as much as you can about High Mountain Passes (there are more than 50 in BC, by the way) and what they mean to you.

As you could probably guess, high mountain passes are roads built on high mountains. But there’s more to those mountains than just mounds of rock. They are living, breathing environments, subject to a diverse range of weather that can change at a moment’s notice.

It’s not uncommon for a beautiful day to turn into a raging snow storm in a matter of minutes. The coastal mountains of BC are the first in line for weather systems moving in off the Pacific, and this close proximity to the ocean can translate into high volumes of water coming down on the mountainside. And, the higher you go in elevation, the colder it gets, meaning you need to be prepared for the “snow to hit the fan.” (I’m pretty sure that’s the saying)

But don’t worry – if you plan ahead, that risk of dramatic weather change won’t put too much of a wrinkle in your plans. Here’s what you need to do before you head up the hill:

  1. Make sure your car has proper tires. For severe winter conditions for passes such as the Coquihalla, winter tires with the mountain snowflake logo provide the best performance. At the very least M+S tires with a tread depth of at least 3.5mm must be used. Check out our winter tire site for more information.
  2. Make sure both your headlights and tail lights are working
  3. Make sure your car has a full tank of gas. There is nothing worse than being stuck in a snowstorm because of an accident ahead and watching your last gas fumes drift away, leaving you chilling on a cold and dark mountainside.
  4. Dress the part. Pack warm clothes, boots, gloves and blankets. Keep them in your trunk. Always.
  5. Bring food and water. Seems like a simple thing, but those basic things will keep you going if the weather turns sour and you are stuck in your car.
  6. Check DriveBC. DriveBC has road conditions, events and webcams of those mountain passes, so that you can see what is happening before you go and help you decide if Uncle Bernard’s reunion is really worth the trip. Current weather from ministry Road Weather Stations and Weather Forecasts from Environment Canada (including High Elevation Travellers’ forecasts for some of the prominent mountain passes) are also available on DriveBC.
  7. Carry a cell phone.

Coquihalla Grade ProfileOnce you’re up there, be aware of road conditions and adjust your speed accordingly as things can and do change quickly. If the road is wet or has snow on it then you should be driving below the posted maximum speed limit. When conditions are anything but ideal you should be slowing down.

Two of the best things about living in Vancouver are the ocean and mountains. But now that you know a little bit more about those mountains, we hope that you will take some time to prepare yourself for the high mountain road ahead. Safe travels!

Let us know if you have any further questions around high mountain passes. For more information about being prepared for winter driving check out SHIFT INTO WINTER.

Remember we mentioned there were more than 50? Here’s a list of high mountain passes in BC:

A

B

C

E

F

G

G cont.

H

J

K

M

N

P

P cont.

R

S

T

V

W

Y

114 comments on “7 Things You Need to Know BEFORE Driving the Coquihalla and High Mountain Passes”

Leave a Reply to Simon Cancel reply

  1. I’m driving from Kelowna to Abbotsford tomorrow morning and am worried as it’s my first time doing this highway. I have a Elantra which isn’t a very big car but I have winter tires on it. I have a flight from Abbotsford Wednesday morning.

    Reply
    • Hi Ashley,

      Just remember to give yourself more than enough time to travel, so you don’t have to rush and remember to check DriveBC.ca to make sure there are no road conditions or events on your route which might cause delay. If you can pack a bit of water, food and warm gear in your car in case you do get stopped temporarily along the way, all the better. Safe travels!

      Reply
  2. We’re looking to tow a 8m RV from Vancouver to Glacier NP across Hwy 3 in May 2020, we’re comfortable with mountain passes. Weather looks like it will be OK. Anything we should be aware of?

    Reply
    • Hi Jack – thanks for your message. We can’t say exactly what the weather or road conditions will be at that time, but encourage you to check DriveBC.ca before you go and along your trip whenever possible, so that you can get a clear idea of what road conditions might be happening. Safe travels!

      Reply
  3. Hello!

    I’m driving up the coqahuilla pass from vancouver to kamloops and I have good M+S tires on my rear wheel drive ford e250. I’m quite concerned if I can make it up the pass without chains. Should I have chains with me? Thanks

    Reply
    • Hi Miika – thanks for your comment. The Coquihalla is a class A highway and maintained 24/7. We encourage travellers to give themselves plenty of time and to be prepared. Your tires (with at least 3.5mm tread depth) are the minimum allowable on BC Highways for winter and we encourage you to also carry chains and know how to use them. Oh, and don’t forget to check DriveBC.ca and know what the conditions are before you go!

      Reply
    • M+S tires are better know as 3 season tires. If you’re going to drive something as notorious as the coquihalla. Best would be the best mountain snowflake tires you can afford.

      M+S should NOT be legal for highways in the winter here, thank you ICBC.

      Reply
  4. Hi there,

    I have mud and snow rated winter tires on a small 2019 kia rio, I was planning on driving up to Kamloops from Vancouver on Thursday Jan 23rd afternoon. Forecast calls for rain and cloudy conditions, but should I be taking the bus instead? Don’t know if my small light car is appropriate for the driving the Coq

    Thanks for any insight!

    Reply
    • Hi Monica,

      There are a number of things to consider before you head off. The Coquihalla is a Class A provincial highway and it is monitored and maintained by our contractor 24/7. The highway was designed and built to modern standards and thousands of vehicles safely travel this route every day. Weather can change quickly at high elevations and given that this is a high mountain pass and snow is always a possibility you should be prepared to drive in snow and snowy conditions. Your tires meet the minimum acceptable requirement for travel on mountain passes in BC and if you give yourself plenty of time to travel, so you don’t have to rush, you should be fine. If you don’t feel comfortable driving in snowy conditions, you might want to opt for the bus, where you can kick back, read a book and enjoy the ride. Hope that this is helpful!

      Reply
    • Hello Beneta,

      Please check DriveBC.ca for up to the moment road condition information for your route between Vancouver and Kelowna.

      Reply
  5. Then enforce the regulations for everybody!!!..especially truckers who don’t chain up and cause havoc for everybody
    Ban truckers from Coquhalla during big snow storms.
    Police talk about education instead of enforcement..well maybe time to change that stupid mindset so the inaction of a few don’t disrupt many because of their ignorance.
    #bantruckscoqhuillasnow
    #enforcessnowdrivinglaw

    Reply