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

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

  1. Lynn on October 15, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    The elevation graph depicting the extreme rise experienced on the Coquihalla is an excellent tool to get the message across that it truly is a high mountain pass. Awesome!

    • tranbceditor on October 16, 2014 at 10:48 am

      We think so too Lynn! Thanks for connecting with us.

  2. Steve Brushey on October 17, 2014 at 7:52 am

    How about Gnat Pass, Ningunsaw Pass, Bear Pass? All of these are snowbelts and higher in elevation.

  3. Simon on October 17, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Under Point #6 “Check DriveBC”, you forgot to mention that 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.

    • tranbceditor on October 17, 2014 at 3:06 pm

      Thanks Simon – we have updated the blog to include this!

  4. Steve Brushey on October 24, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    I’ll try again….Ningunsaw Pass, Gnat Pass, Bear Pass and one more to add …Rainbow Summit. Come on TRANSBC, think of of northern folks please! 🙂

    • tranbceditor on October 27, 2014 at 9:14 am

      Hi Steve,
      Thanks for the comment. As one of our Avalanche techs, I know this topic is top of mind for you. Of course we always think of the North. The intent of this blog is to make sure those travelling from the Lower Mainland and the Island are aware of the changing weather and driving conditions in the Interior and the North. We’ll look to add your suggestions to our list as well.

    • tranbceditor on October 27, 2014 at 9:57 am

      Hi again, Steve. We updated the list with your suggestions. How could we have missed Bear Pass? It’s featured in one of our favourite avalanche control videos:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61QxHIpcGS8&index=2&list=PLKHNpQ_j-IWGIbSp5QgQ_GhFjzOKF5J6O

      Did you take part in this one?

  5. Me on November 5, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    This is just straight up common sence shit why not tell ppl how to dreal with the driving conditions you don’t even mention that you should carry blankets and a flat nose shovel and some kind of sand or gravel bag to help you out in a bad situation like give ppl info that is more useful then a picture …

  6. Laurel on December 23, 2014 at 12:30 am

    Interesting site for people unused to winter driving. I’d sure love to see the words “SLOW DOWN” written somewhere in capitals. I know it’s mentioned above but in such a pleasant way I wonder if it will register. So many people do not know black ice is hard to see but very easy to lose control on and don’t seem to even know enough to check it out. Bare & wet can often be icy. Why not add a winter speed LIMIT when conditions are treacherous? 120, 110 and even 100 k/p/h are too fast much of the time and especially at night.

  7. Jackson Nem on January 14, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Not sure if anyone mentioned it and I might of overlooked it but getting a BCAA premium card might pay off too.
    Check all fluids, thermostat, belts, hoses, alternator, battery and put a piece of cardboard in front of your grill or radiator if it’s too cold for your car engine to stay warm.

  8. Barbara on August 23, 2015 at 11:28 am

    What is the weather like on the Coquihalla in the summer?

    • tranbceditor on August 24, 2015 at 9:30 am

      Hello Barbara,

      While weather on the Coquihalla during the summer is typically fair – summer storms can bring rain and even snow to high elevations. The tips given in this blog are valuable during the summer and winter and as always, please remember to check DriveBC for up to the minute road conditions and events.

  9. Francis H McArthur on September 9, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    Good Evening, I will be transiting the Yellowhead Westbound in late October from Winnipeg through to Tsawwassen. I was hoping to get better road
    Intelligence for the entire route. I chose the Yellowhead because of winter driving conditions in the Field, Golden, Revelstoke, and Rogers Pass areas
    Are known to be treacherous at best during the winter months. I was trained to drive on the logging roads of the Comox Valley, and have transmitted the TC1 through the summer many times. I have a 4×4 with good mud&snow tires, and will be hauling a utility trailer with me. Any advice would be welcome.
    I am a survival equipment specialist in the RCAF by trade, so survival equipment and extra gas is without question.

    Respectfully,
    F.H. McArthur, CD1, Winnipeg.

    • tranbceditor on September 10, 2015 at 10:02 am

      Good morning sir,

      Thank you for connecting with us here. We were glad to hear that you will be travelling your chosen route well prepared. To be clear, safety of the travelling public on British Columbia highways is our absolute top priority and the Trans Canada between Golden and Revelstoke is no exception. Our maintenance contractors work very hard to ensure that all of our highways are safe for travel. Our traveller information system, DriveBC is a great source of information for travellers in BC and we encourage you to check the site before you leave and if possible during your travels so that you will be aware of the conditions that lie ahead. Using proper winter tires is also highly recommended on most highways in BC between October 1 and March 31. Our last recommendation is to make sure that you give yourself lots of time, so that you don’t need to rush. But it sounds like you are one highly prepared fellow and we think you will be ready for anything – especially a beautiful road trip through fabulous BC! Hope that this helps.

  10. Gloria on October 8, 2015 at 12:00 pm

    Our vehicle has all season tires. Someone said we could be fined travelling the Coquilla without winter or M&s tires? The trip is this weekend.

  11. Nick Thomas on November 23, 2015 at 1:39 pm

    Sadly drivers can’t be trusted to prepare or drive to conditions – especially some of the so-called ‘professional’ drivers working in the trucking industry.

    I am starting to believe that it is time that precautionary road closures need to be considered when big storms are forecast. I have worked on far too many road closures that have happened after the fatalities or life changing injuries. They are getting so predictable that wouldn’t it be better to close the road before they happen.

  12. Sherry on November 26, 2015 at 11:33 am

    Are chains required or recommended for travelling Rogers Pass in December?
    We are driving from Calgary to Kelowna and although I have winter tires I want to be prepared if its recommended to have chains as well. I grew up in NW Ontario and remember chaining up well. I drive a Toyota Sienna so definitely not a 4×4!

    Thank you for any thoughts on this…

    • tranbceditor on November 26, 2015 at 1:52 pm

      Hi Sherry,

      We strongly recommend travellers carry chains in addition to their winter tires while travelling mountain passes in BC. Our other advice is to check conditions on your planned route via DriveBC, our traveller information system. Safe and happy travels!

  13. valerie on December 18, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Hello,
    I have studded tires for my all wheel drive ford freestyle, as well as one set of chains. Should I buy another set of chains since my car is all wheel drive? Do you suggest that I actually drive with the chains on if I’m going through the Coqhihalla this weekend?

    • tranbceditor on December 21, 2015 at 2:11 pm

      Hi again Valerie. We talked to our traffic safety engineers about your question of chaining up all-wheel drive vehicles. You’ll need to know how the drivetrain operates. In general, for passenger cars, we always recommend a minimum of four winter tires for traction and lateral stability. When seeking to enhance “traction” by the means of chains, we always recommend a minimum of two be added to the primary drive axles of the vehicle, which for front wheel drive cars is the front axles, and for rear wheel drive vehicles, the rear axle.

      All-wheel drive vehicles will be different. Under normal driving conditions for many all-wheel drive vehicles there is a 60% to 40% split between the power going to the front as compared to the power going to the rear. In this case, when deciding to chain-up, you’d want to switch to equal amount of power to each wheel on all four corners of the vehicle. To do this, you’d activate the full time 4-wheel drive feature. Then put chains on front axle of the vehicle in order to take advantage of the weight of the engine over the front axle, which will provide enhanced traction.

      You can also simply chain up all four tires.

  14. Bill on January 2, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Wondering what the maximum size of sand is used in BC as I find the East Koornay Region is using small rocks in their mix. I have been driving for 30+ years all across Canada and have never seen pebbles on the road.
    As a result I have also received numerous window and paint chips on my vehicles as a result as have most motorists living in the Elk Valley.
    Who is tesponsible fir these repairs?

  15. Jay on March 16, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    Hi I am planning to drive to summerland from Squamish to pick up some motocycles I will be hauling an empty trailer one way and 1000 pounds of Harley’s I was planning to use my 1981 rabbit pick up truck . It’s front wheel drive with ,4 brand new snow tires.. Would I need chains for the trailer?

    • tranbceditor on March 18, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Hi Jay
      It depends on when you’re travelling and what the weather conditions are. From Oct 1st to March 31st, vehicles must carry tire chains.

  16. Abby on March 24, 2016 at 8:18 am

    Hello,

    My wife and I are about to set off on our Canada road trip from Ontario to BC. Our car has had a great tune up and has good all season tires on it. Do we need winter tires? How are the road conditions right now? Any advice would be appreciated. We are doing strictly Canada driving on the TCH on to BC. And should I buy chains? Have a 2003 Manual Honda civic, where do I buy chains?

    • tranbceditor on March 24, 2016 at 10:33 am

      Hello! Thanks for connecting with us here – sounds like you have a great trip planned. We are glad to hear that your car has good all seasons on it and we recommend that you carry chains for the high mountain passes in BC just in case. Weather at higher elevations can change very quickly and being prepared is the best thing you can do. You should be able to find the right chains for your car at Canadian Tire or any other automotive store. Winter tires are recommended but not necessary if your tires have the M+S logo on the side and at least 3.5 mm of tread depth. Here is a link to our winter tire website: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/traveller-information/seasonal/winter-driving/winter-tires-and-chains which we think you will find useful. We can’t say what the weather will look like when you arrive in BC but we can advise you to check DriveBC, our traveller information website often on your travels here. You can plan your route, check for traffic incidents, see weather along your route and view the route with our BC HighwayCams. Hope that this all helps and if you have any other questions, let us know. Safe travels.

  17. Glenn on May 29, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Will be travelling from Edmonton to Victoria and back the last week of July. What’s the Coq like that time of year? Concern about steep climb northbound, but the car is less than a year old and in great shape.

    • tranbceditor on May 30, 2016 at 10:10 am

      Hi Glenn,

      The Coquihalla is a high mountain pass and subject to inclement weather at any time of the year. July and August are typically better months for weather along the route but traffic will be busier than normal at this time. Check our traveller information site DriveBC before you go and as you travel for up to the minute information on BC Highway 5 and any other routes you are taking along your trip to the island. Safe travels!

  18. David on October 2, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Hi I’m Dave i will be traveling to Cloverdale Bc from ontario this is my first time driving to BC on Oct. 14 2016 i will be traveling alone in a small car although i have snow tires as well as reg. tires Any tips would be appreciate. I am so looking forward to the trip

  19. BCTourist! on October 19, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Hi there! It would be super helpful to show a map rather than a list of mountain passes. For travellers, googling where all 50 are one by one is not super helpful. Updating while “thinking like a tourist” would make this an awesome resource!

    • tranbceditor on October 20, 2016 at 11:17 am

      A great suggestion – thank you. We have shared it forward.

  20. Dave on October 21, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    Are chains required during summer months July and August. Road tripping from Ontario next summer.

    • tranbceditor on October 24, 2016 at 10:07 am

      Hi Dave,

      Carrying chains year round is always a good idea, especially on high mountain passes in BC. While it likely that the weather will be beautiful, being prepared for any kind of weather is always your best bet. Have a great trip and don’t forget to use our traveller information site DriveBC.

  21. Farrell henzel on December 7, 2016 at 3:34 pm

    Hello, I read your forum to find the answer about having winter tires on a camper trailer towed with a hitch not an in truck bed hookup. I could not find an answer. However this is my question, I will be driving a GMC diesel 3/4 ton truck, towing a 37 foot camper trailer with a hitch connection from the prairies to langly BC January 1st. While my diesel truck has the mandatory rated tires for driving through BC, and specifically I will be going through the coquihalla pass with my truck and camper. But does my camper which is a very large camper 37 ft. Do my tires on the camper have to be rated with the ms or snowflake logo also? Do I need tires on my camper also rated or is my truck with the rated tires sufficient? And if the camper tires do not need to be the same winter ratings as my truck? Do I also need to carry chains for my campers tires? It also has 2 axles, 4 tires, do I also need all 4 tires chained if I do have to put chains on my camper? And I am assuming if I do have to have all 4 tires on the camper rated tires, then I do not need chains for them? I’m very confused, I have read numerous posts on numerous sites, and I cannot find any info on rated required tires for towed camper/trailers? Can you Please help me?

    • tranbceditor on December 16, 2016 at 3:03 pm

      Hello Farrell,

      The minimum legal requirement for recreational vehicles is to use M+S rated tires of 3.5 mm minimum tread depth. A minimum of two winter tires would be required to be placed on the two primary drive wheels of the vehicle. We always recommends that 4 winter rated tires be used, and that drivers should carry chains where severe winter weather can be encountered. We also recommend that for those that pull a trailer, that the motorist pulling the trailer consider a single set of chains for use on one tire of the trailer. The trailer chain, when used on one tire of the trailer during snow and ice conditions minimizes the chance that a trailer will “jack-knife” when a vehicle is pulling the trailer at a slow speed while traversing a “super-elevated” curve that is snow and ice covered. We hope that this helps.

  22. M on December 18, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    Hello,
    Wonderful of you to take people’s questions. Thank you!
    We have winter tires and am planning a trip from Vancouver to Kelowna over Christmas. The fear around a few cm snowfall being a storm (I am from northern Alberta) has me worried and wondering if I need chains for the Coquihala. I have done this drive before without chains and winter tires were fine.
    Are chains required if I have snow tires?
    Thank you,
    Vancouverite via Alberta

    • tranbceditor on December 20, 2016 at 1:42 pm

      Hello!

      Being prepared and taking your time are two of the best things you can do to prevent worrying. Check DriveBC before you go so you can see what the conditions are like before you go. Because winter road conditions across most of B.C. often include snow and ice, we recommend drivers install mountain/snowflake tires for cold weather driving and, for extreme conditions, carry chains. If conditions present themselves that require chains to be used, you can put them on at that time, but if you have a good set of winter tires (with the mountain and snowflake logo), you should be fine in your travels.

  23. Arvin on December 19, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    Hi,
    My girlfriend and I are planning to drive from Vancouver to Vernon for the holidays. I have a new Honda Civic with all season tires, and I also recently purchase a set of chains from Canadian Tire. If we put the chains on the all-season tires, is that good enough for going through the Coquihalla ?
    Also are two chains on the two front tires enough or are we required to chain all four tires ?

    We’d appreciate your help.

    • tranbceditor on December 20, 2016 at 12:26 pm

      Hello Arvin,

      If your all season tires have the M+S (Mud and Snow) logo on them and a tread depth of 3.5mm, you meet the minimum requirement to travel legally on the Coquihalla. However, we strongly encourage motorists to carry chains and know how to use them when they travel over mountain passes during the winter. If the road is clear during your travels, you do not need to use chains. If conditions are poor and the road is snow covered, using your chains on the two tires of your drive axle is recommended. If your vehicle is a front wheel drive, you would put chains on the two front tires and if it was a rear wheel drive, the chains would be installed on the two rear wheels. Here’s a link for more info: http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/driving-and-cycling/traveller-information/seasonal/winter-driving/winter-tires-and-chains

      Hope that this helps!

  24. Katherine Yearwood on December 27, 2016 at 11:22 am

    I am in need of some advice…I am from Ottawa and used to tons upon tons of snow on the highways…especially when traveling to Toronto and the ever treacherous 401 and blizzard whiteout conditions…My question is this…I’ve been living in Vancouver for 2 years and I’ll be going once a month for 4 days to Kamloops from Vancouver…I am driving a newer 2015 Jeep Wrangler and I have BF Goodrich’s Rugged Terrain T/A M+S (Size – 285/R17)…they have helped me through thick and thin in the mountain trails since I got it a last year…(mud, rocks, dirt, gravel etc – and even going easily through the snow that we have had this year in the Vancouver area)…
    When I deflate my rugged terrain tires to approximately 18-20 PSI they work amzingly off-road, how will they function on the Coquihalla from January to April…

    Advice…are my tires and the jeep’s 4×4 capabilities enough (I have driven for years in Ontario’s craziest winter seasons there are – they get a lot more snow and ice than here, but low elevations)…is the Coquihalla the same as driving on the 401 between Kingston and Belleville, Ontario…as that is where numerous multi-car/truck pileups happen nearly every winter. 🙁

    Any advice is greatly needed…a new Coquihalla traveler to be… and yes I am prepared otherwise (food, blankets, shovel, phone etc…).

    Thank you in advance…

    • Katherine Yearwood on December 27, 2016 at 11:38 am

      Here are the actual dimensions of the tire…. LT285/75R17 and I believe the mm depth is approximately 10mm or just there under…the tires have about 20kms on them thus far.

      • tranbceditor on January 4, 2017 at 10:44 am

        Hi Katherine,

        Thanks for your question and for connecting with us here. Reducing tire inflation is never a good idea. A vehicles tires are designed for the vehicles load carrying ability and the vehicles responsiveness when driving day to day. Under-inflated tires cause tire damage and heating of the tire.

        The reduction of tire air pressure as a tool generally comes from those who reduce tire pressure to increase their footprint so as to spread the vehicles surface ground pressure so the psi load per tire is reduced . Those who do it are doing so in low speed applications such as when driving on “Tundra” (deep snow covered areas where no roads exist) or on roads that are close to spring break-up with “frost” coming out of the ground (tractor trailer trucks such as logging trucks with centralized tire inflation systems so as to deflate and inflate tires as conditions warrant).

        On BC highways, snow conditions are seldom encountered on a regular basis, therefore properly inflated winter tires with the M+S symbol and 3.5 mm of tread depth is the best option. We always recommend drivers carry chains they are planning on travelling severe winter weather routes on a regular basis. Giving yourself plenty of time so that you don’t have to rush and remembering to check our traveller information site, DriveBC for road condition information and webcam views is another great step to take before you leave on your trip. Hope that this information helps. Safe travels!

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