Thinking of heading out on a road trip? Have visions of chasing waterfalls? There are plenty of falls in BC that are off the beaten path and ready to be explored in the northern region. Plus, you won’t need to wait your turn in line for the best viewing spot to take a photo.
All these photogenic waterfalls are located along Highway 16 from Smithers to Prince Rupert. Some of them require just a short walk to reach them, while others involve a little more effort to end up at the reward. Bonus: Prince Rupert is just a ferry ride away from surprising things you can discover on Haida Gwaii too.
Location: Near Terrace
How to get there: Drive on service road, then walk on a modest forest trail
Time to explore: 1–2 hours
Exstew Falls is a beautiful and more remote waterfall outside of Terrace, BC, along Highway 16. It’s an ideal option if you want to stretch your legs beyond some of the more parking lot accessible hikes. The waterfall has two sections: one lower and one upper that are both fairly easy to access from the same trailhead. Both sections are visible from the base, but if you have the time and energy to hike to the upper level, it’s worth the climb as the falls are steeper and resemble a more classic waterfall shape.
The lower falls are more graduated and a nice spot to explore with groups or children as there’s more space to check things out safely. Kids will like to practice their balance on small rocks and logs (and keep an eye out for frogs too). There are no human-made structures at these falls, but it’s still an excellent place to pack a lunch to enjoy on the rocks at the lower level.
The sky in both sections is open and lots of light shines through on a sunny day. Conditions for rainbows are promising, especially at the upper falls. The upper level will put you in the “I can’t hear you” zone and allow you to really soak up and experience the power of the falls. It’s a great stop after a long morning driving to your next campsite or town on your road trip.
New Hazelton lookout and waterfall
Location: New Hazelton
How to get there: Short walk along a flat forest trail from the municipal parking lot
Time to explore: 30 minutes to an hour
New Hazelton is a small mountain town in northern BC, and is surrounded by mountains of the same name, the Hazeltons. Its local waterfall and town lookout are great choices if you’re checking out the area on a trip or want to take a short detour from the main route between Smithers and Terrace.
The trailhead to both the town lookout and the waterfall are located off Laurier Street. You can park in the lot or along the street and be at the trailhead in just a few steps. From there, you can choose to do the full trail to the lookout to get a view of the town and ridgelines or go straight to the falls. The path to the falls is short with little to no incline through a shady treed area. Ferns and moss-covered rocks are all over, and the growth around the falls gives you cool shade, dappled light and an overall relaxing setting.
Rooster Tail Falls
Location: Exchamsiks River Provincial Park
How to get there: Boat-access only, plus some mild route-finding and creek-hopping
Time to explore: Varies, depending on tour
If you’re looking to check out a waterfall accessed by few, Rooster Tail Falls is a unique pick. Since you’ll need to book a locally guided tour to get there (or have your own boat), you’ll likely be able to experience it in your own company. This braided set of falls is small, misty and tucked away along the Exchamsiks river between Terrace and Prince Rupert along Highway 16. Beds of spongey moss are at the base of the falls, and water trickles past in a small tributary towards the river.
Trusty rain gear – waterproof jackets, rain pants and boots – are recommended as there’s some creek-hopping involved to get to the falls once you’re on shore. While these aren’t the easiest falls to access, they’re chase-worthy if you have the means and the time. The boat ride along the river adds to the experience, including the chances to see black bears feeding along the banks.
Kleanza Creek Provincial Park
Location: Near Terrace
How to get there: Walk from campground parking lot
Time to explore: 1–2 hours
Kleanza Creek is a nice choice for families or anyone who wants to stretch their legs after driving. While technically not a waterfall, the creek comes out from a canyon to create a falls-like experience, with forceful water settling in ice-cold pools at the base. While there’s no access into the canyon itself, there is a loosely marked hiking trail near the creek that offers views from above. The lower pools are accessible to explore closer up.
Kleanza may not be a classic waterfall scene, but it’s worth it for its easy access and relaxed atmosphere. Pick a scenic spot to unpack lunch and sit in the sun, or try dipping your toes if you’re feeling brave. On a quiet day, you can hear the water running through the canyon in the distance.
Tips before you go
Wherever you visit, make sure to brush up on your Leave No Trace skills for hiking and camping before you explore the trails and parks. When you’re taking photo of waterfalls, remember to watch your footing – the ground can be slick – and check them out from a safe distance; never go directly under falls since the water is definitely powerful.
5 things to pack for a waterfall chasing trip
- Grippy footwear, like hiking boots or trail runners, to help get traction on trails and rocks.
- Rain jacket and rain pants, since misty days with drizzle add to the vibe. Pick a bright colour that pops in photos, like red, pink or blue.
- Daypack to keep your camera, maps and snacks handy. If you’re planning a day hike, make sure to pack along the 10 essentials.
- Maps and guidebooks to find other cool stops along your road trip route.
- Portable snacks and a reusable water bottle, so you can hang out and enjoy the view for a while.
Looking for more road trip inspiration? Check out a full list of BC road trip ideas to explore routes that include hiking trails, lakes, surf spots, caves, hot springs and lots more waterfalls.