Regional Feature: The Fraser Canyon and Manning Park

By: Carolyn B. Heller

More than a Stop for Gas

At the intersection of Highways 1, 3, and 5, connecting the Lower Mainland to the Okanagan and the Canadian Rockies, Hope is a natural stopping point for road trippers. “For a small town, we have a lot of amenities,” says Sarah Brown, Visitor Centre Manager, at Hope, Cascades and Canyons, the region’s destination management organization. Whether you need to get gas, charge your electric vehicle, pick up a snack, or exercise your dog in the town’s dog park, you can find those services in Hope.

Courtesy of Hope, Cascades & Canyons

However, as the highways skirt the town centre, many travellers aren’t aware of what this British Columbia community offers. And fewer still know why they should make a longer stop in the Hope, Cascades and Canyons region, which extends from Bridal Falls east to Manning Park, and north through the Fraser Canyon to Boston Bar.

History, Outdoor Adventures, and Rambo

One of the DMO’s objectives, says Brown, is to increase overnight stays, particularly by supporting events, such as summer concerts and the biennial chainsaw carving competition, that bring in overnight visitors.

Other draws include local hiking trails, like the 5.8-kilometre Kw’okw’echíwel Stl’áleqem, or Dragon’s Back Trail, which opened in 2020, offering views across the mountains, and Syéxw Chó:leqw Adventure Park, with trails for mountain bikers and hikers on the traditional lands of the Sq’ewá:lxw First Nation.

Courtesy of Hope, Cascades & Canyons

Hope gets its share of movie tourists, too. First Blood, featuring Sylvester Stallone as Vietnam War veteran John Rambo, was filmed in Hope in 1982, and the movie’s 40th anniversary in 2022 drew a new round of Rambo fans.

Beyond the town of Hope, “the allure of the canyon is that it’s a road trip experience,” Brown describes. “There are a lot of places to stop and do things,” whether soaring over the river on the Hell’s Gate Airtram, exploring gold rush-era life at Yale Historic Site, or visiting Tuckkwiowhum Village, an Indigenous heritage site in Nlaka’pamux territory. Rafting on the Fraser and Nahatlatch Rivers also brings adventures into the Fraser Canyon.

A Four-Season Resort

While Hope has roughly 20 accommodations, Brown notes that the regional destination that’s been most successful at drawing overnight travellers is Manning Park Resort.

“We are a four-season, family resort, and we have several different components to our operation,” explains Manning Park general manager Vern Schram. Accommodations range from hotel rooms to cabins to nearly 450 campsites. Hiking and lake activities draw warm-weather visitors; winter guests come for downhill skiing and snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing. The resort hosts corporate retreats, school groups, and weddings as well.

Courtesy of Chris Barker

Spanning 80,000 hectares, E.C. Manning Park was created in 1941, and the lodge opened in 1949, operated by BC Parks, the provincial park service. In the 1980s, BC Parks began awarding contracts to private operators to manage some parks, including Manning. Current owners, Kevin and Donna Demers, have run Manning Park Resort since 2013.

“We have a loyal group of guests that come year after year,” says Schram. “We’ve got grandparents who brought their children, who are now bringing their grandchildren, and have been taking the same accommodations for 40 or 50 years.”

A developing market includes “new Canadians who have never experienced the winter environment,” who often come to Manning Park in large family groups, Schram notes. “They may make snow forts, walk in the snow, or go for a toboggan.”

Fires, Floods, and Other Challenges

Numerous weather-related issues have recently plagued the Fraser Canyon region. After devastating wildfires in July 2021 destroyed the village of Lytton, ongoing fire risk and mudslides shut down both the Coquihalla and Highway 1. Severe flooding that same year closed roads, campgrounds, and trails, some of which are still rebuilding.

Beyond the weather, Schram says that Manning Park’s challenges include upgrading its infrastructure while maintaining the historic environment. “We renovated all our standard cabins, and we had guests that were actually upset at us. But we had just as many, if not more, say, ‘Thank you, it’s about time.’”

Because it’s located in a provincial park, the resort must coordinate renovations with BC Parks. “We can’t just paint a building bright green. We have to conform to park colors,” Schram explains. Set on the unceded territories of the Stolo, Syilx, and Similkameen First Nations, Manning Park also consults with these nations to ensure that construction won’t disturb areas of cultural significance.

Both Schram and Brown see travel continuing to rebound, particularly because of their region’s varied outdoor activities. “Normally at the visitor center, we get about 50,000 visitors a year. Last year we got 26,000,” Brown says. “We’re starting to see that build up to regular numbers.”

“People are so excited to be in their car going somewhere. I think this will be a really good year.”

Main image courtesy of Hope, Cascades & Canyons