The linchpin between
the Yellowhead and Alaska Highways, the Stewart-Cassiar Highway is
the only road that delivers adventurers to this awe-inspiring wilderness.
Sections are still unpaved, and services are few. Be prepared for
any eventuality, including encounters with passing bears and other
As you travel the Yellowhead Highway (Hwy 16) west from Prince
George, the fourth largest city in British Columbia, you'll pass
through Burns Lake, a diminutive freshwater fishing paradise.
With almost twenty lakes nearby, this is the place for fishing, canoeing,
hiking, trail riding and exploring. Between Houston and Smithers,
the magnificent mountains of the Babine and Hazelton Range, and the
sheer pyramid of Mount Roche Deboule, makes this truly one of the
most scenic areas in the province.
Turn north onto
the Stewart-Cassiar Highway (Hwy 37) and follow a well-marked circuit
in the Hazelton Valley called the Trail of the Totems Tour.
First, stop to view the ceremonial poles in the village of Kitwanga,
one of several locations in the Hazelton region where such
poles are situated. The dozen poles here face the Skeena River, beside
a century-old wooden bell tower and church. The weathered poles are
carved with an array of animal and humanlike images.
in New Hazelton
Then head north along the Cassiar Highway (Hwy 37) to the small village
of Kitwancool to see what are reputed to be the oldest and
finest examples of totem poles in BC. Here are more than 20 poles,
some old, but also a trio of more recent ones. All are intricately
carved and very thought provoking. Some of the tallest poles have
been left uncarved on their top halves and are surmounted by images
of ravens, bears, eagles, wolves, or humans. Nearby, a shed houses
some of the oldest poles, which have been laid to rest. They are beautifully
weathered, almost beyond recognition, with just an eye or a beak left
to suggest the original design. The three newer poles mounted together
directly in front of the Gitanyow Band Council office are among the
most intricately designed ones of the whole group, and demonstrate
that the carving tradition here is stronger than ever.
Stop again, this
time at Kitseguecla, a small Skeena River settlement near Hazelton,
to see their two poles, which are as wonderfully unique as any in
the region. Large sculptures grace the front yards of several homes
in the community. Drive slowly and smile - you're part of their view.
Spectrum Mountain Range,
Mt. Edziza Provincial Park
End the Totem
Tour with a quick detour through Hazelton and Kispiox. Pull into
the 'Ksan Historical Village and Museum in Hazelton. The
village was originally called the Skeena Treasure House, and with
good reason, judging from its rich display of totems, jewellery,
and clothing. A museum in one of the long houses honours the Gitksan
ancestors, who were graced with such abundance that they had time
to beautify the items they carved for everyday use. Seven lovingly
decorated long houses are grouped together here at the confluence
of the Skeena and Bulkley Rivers. Several of the long houses are
open to visitors, while guided tours are offered of the Fireweed,
Wolf, and Frog clan houses.
ceremonial poles are the most animated of all, with carved tears
dripping off the faces of some figures whose eyes are inlaid with
abalone. On one pole, a human character holds a grease bowl in its
arms, a reminder that not only is this a modern-day trail, but also
that it was once part of a coastal 'grease trail' along which highly
valued fish grease obtained from eulachon was transported from the
coast to the Interior. The eulachon is a sardine-sized fish whose
body contains such a high percentage of oil that it burns like a
torch when dried. The views of the Skeena River from here are staggering.
Kispiox is built on high ground, about 18 miles (30 km) north of
Hazelton on a paved side road. Its 18 poles have the appearance
of being held in the palm of the Creator.
Back on Highway
37, you're heading into the kind of wilderness that's made the north
famous. Mt. Edziza Provincial Park
and Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial
Park are home to hundreds of animal species. The Spatsizi Plateau
is one of the most important habitats for woodland caribou in British
Columbia, while both parks support a variety of wildlife, including
moose, grizzly and black bears, wolves, beavers, hoary marmots,
and more than 140 species of birds, including gyrfalcons. The village
of Iskut is the nearest community. Just north of Iskut you'll
drive through a 70-km stretch of the spectacular
Stikine River Provincial Park.
Stop and fill up
at Dease Lake before continuing north through Cassiar country.
A worthwhile side trip from Dease Lake is a drive to the beautiful
little community of Telegraph Creek, and the opportunity for
a river boat trip or tour on the Stikine River. Located on a terrace
overlooking the Stikine River, one can step back in time in the Yukon
Gold Rush town of Telegraph Creek, which gets its name from an overland
telegraph line to the Yukon.
Once you reach
the Alaska Highway, those who must find the real edge can travel west
through the extreme northwestern corner of the province to Atlin.
Along the way it runs alongside the immense, uninhabited wilderness
of the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness
Park, which is in turn bordered on the north by Yukon's Kluane
National Park and on the south by Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park.
Up here, it's a tight little world of parks - the far northwest offers
explorers huge areas of unspoiled wilderness.
Glacier in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park
Nature, it seems,
conspires to keep this region a secret, but for those who are prepared,
the Stewart-Cassiar Highway supplies unimaginably rich rewards. A
handful of wilderness parks - Mount Edziza, Spatsizi Plateau, Tatlatui,
Atlin, and Tatshenshini-Alsek, cover some of the toughest territory
on the continent. Getting off the beaten path, even as meagre a one
as Highway 37 is a must for explorers; many areas can be reached only
be foot, horseback, helicopter, or floatplane. Those seeking solitude
can go for days or weeks in some areas without sharing this rugged
beauty with anyone else. Forged in fire, carved with ice, coloured
with sprawling verdant forests, crystalline blue lakes, and fragile
alpine meadows; welcome to the backcountry.
on the Alaska Highway (Hwy 97) to Liard
Hot Springs. Even in the depths of winter, which lasts eight months
here, the springs are hot enough to provide relief to weary adventurers.
Your next stop should be Muncho Lake Provincial
Park. Muncho Lake displays a perpetually blue hue, the result
of copper oxides leached from the bedrock. A little farther along
the highway is Stone Mountain Provincial
Park. The defining features of the park are the mountains; great
humps of raw stone rising from the valleys below, where only the barest
plant life survives. You wouldn't expect to find much in the way of
wildlife here, and in truth, you won't find much on the bare slopes.
But the valleys are a different matter. Mountain caribou and Stone
sheep winter in some of the lower valleys, and mountain goats, moose
and grizzly and black bears also frequent the valleys. A number of
bird species live in the park, none more magnificent than the golden
eagle. Enjoy the rich and varied wilderness, a place where people
are scarce, but the exploits plentiful.
Next stop is
Fort Nelson, this is deep wilderness and offers true outdoor
enthusiasts some of the most pristine areas in this part of the
province. The jewel of this area is Kwadacha
Wilderness Provincial Park. No access by road, but guided hiking
and horseback riding can be arranged. Fort Nelson is a friendly
town initially founded during the fur trade. Don't miss the superb
Fort Nelson Museum, showcasing the construction era of the Alaska
Highway. From Fort St. John, a busy modern city that popped
up as the oil and gas industries in this region expanded, you'll
arrive in Peace River Country. Visit the community of Hudson's
Hope, know as the Land of Dinosaurs, this area is where dinosaur
tracks were first discovered in North America. Return south on Highway
97 to Prince George. Interesting stops visitors won't want
to miss include the breathtaking Bijoux Falls, and the mammoth engineering
feat of the W.A.C. Bennet Dam. Or visit the vintage railway collections
at the Prince George Railway & Forestry Museum, and tour Huble Homestead,
a fully-restored early 1900s homestead and trading post.
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