Thank you for your patience waiting for what will likely be the last big story from our Yukon travels! It took me far longer to get this posted than I expected, as Antoine and I had a busier week than planned. More on that in a blog post to come 😉 In addition to these “storytelling” posts which were written while on our trip, I am planning to craft up a summary post detailing our trip route, campsite locations, highlights and summarized expenses for the trip in case this proves useful for anyone planning a trip to the Yukon / NWT. But for now let’s get back to the tales from our last bit of adventuring…
There are two routes you can take to get to the Yukon via British Columbia. The first is the Alaskan Highway (1) route, which we travelled on through the Northern Rockies to Watson Lake, YT in early August. When planning our route back to Ottawa, we decided to take a different return route via the Stewart-Cassiar highway (37). We expected our adventures to be over once we left the Yukon, so we’d originally planned fairly long days of driving along this route. My cousins had travelled along this highway in early August on their way to the Yukon, though, and had some must see recommendations for us. As a result we departed the Yukon a few days earlier than expected in order to stop in their two favourite little towns along the 37: Stewart and Smithers, BC!
Our first stop was Stewart, BC which is a 45 minute detour from the highway along the Glacier Highway (#37A). This highway takes visitors past over 20 glacier formations that are visible from the road, including Bear Glacier. It’s a twisty, beautiful route through the mountains down to sea level – the scenery was quite a contrast from what we’d become used to in the Yukon with lush, towering trees reminding us of a rainforest. The town of Stewart (population: 500ish) is located at the head of the Portland Canal, the fourth longest fjord in the world at 90 miles. Stewart is considered Canada’s most northerly, ice free port. Based on recommendations from Paul and Nat, we stopped in for drinks that evening at the funky Bittercreek Bar and Lounge. This eclectic little spot is filled with local oddities, serving up craft beers from nearby Terrace B.C. Live music was starting at 7:30pm, but we couldn’t stay to enjoy it as we’d planned to spend the night camped outside of town.
We hit the road around 6:45pm bound for Salmon Glacier. This is the world’s largest road accessible glacier, and the fifth largest glacier in Canada. The road to the glacier also crosses the Canadian-American border. Stewart is located only 3km from the Alaskan border and the town of Hyder, Alaska. After our quick jaunt into the U.S. we continued down the road and back into Canada, hoping to camp nearby the glacier. Sadly weather was not on our side, with rain in the forecast for most of the night and next day. The mountains were also socked in with clouds, which made viewing the glacier difficult that evening. We continued past the summit viewpoint and found ourselves a nice campsite on a side road. We quickly fell asleep listening to the sounds of rain on the car roof and a nearby waterfall.
The next morning the clouds had lifted a bit, but rain persisted. Visibility of the glacier and ice fields had improved though, and we stopped periodically along the route to take pictures. We planned to stop at the Fish Creek Wildlife viewing area on our way down to see grizzly and/or black bears feeding on coho, chum and pink salmon spawning in the creek. The constant downpour put a damper on these plans, and we decided not to stop in as we’d had many bear viewings just along the highway 😉 After a quick stop at the Canadian Border Services building, we were back in Stewart and Canada! We enjoyed a delicious breakfast by the window at Temptations Bakery & Deli before departing, bound for Smithers BC. We were hoping to leave the rain behind us!
Fortunately Mother Nature was on our side and the weather improved steadily as we made our way to Smithers, BC. We arrived mid-afternoon at the Twin Falls Recreation Area just outside of Smithers. Nat and Paul had recommended this spot for camping, but it was full when we arrived. We forgot that this was Sunday of labour day weekend…! We’d been on vacation so long we were never quite sure what day of the week it was! We took a short hike to the bottom of the waterfalls, and then debated starting out on the steep, longer Glacier Gulch hike. I was still recuperating from a cold and was leaning towards a more relaxing afternoon in Smithers, though. Antoine sensed that I wasn’t up for the adventure, so we hopped in the car and headed to the recently opened Smithers Brewing Co. for some not exactly well earned pints.
Over a lovely hour of craft beers, we hatched our next plan. There was a second recreation area was located outside of town, about 20km down a forest service road. For those who are not familiar with camping in British Columbia, recreation areas are free camping spots located throughout B.C. This site was also only 15 minutes away from the hike we wanted to do the next morning beginning at the local ski hill – Hudson Bay Mountain. This was another Paul and Nat recommendation! After a fun drive down a dirt road in far better shape than the Dempster, we arrived at the Dennis Lake Recreation Area. We joined one other camper, and a third joined us shortly after. The site really only had room for 3 campers, or maybe 4 if someone was tenting. We couldn’t enjoy a campfire due to the fire bans across B.C., so we set up our car tent and cooked dinner lakeside. Afterwards we curled up in our camp chairs for a Netflix night in our cozy tent home theatre. Oh the life!
We woke late, yet again, that morning. This is what happens in quiet camping spots when we don’t set an alarm… The sun was shining and temperatures rising, so we packed up camp and readied ourselves for the Crater Lake hike. The trailhead begins slightly left from the green t-bar at the Smithers ski hill. As it was Labour Day there were many people on the trail, including families with young children and lots of dogs. The trail was fairly easy to the lake, so we decided to continue on past the crowds with a summit bid to Hudson Bay mountain. The mountain was shrouded with clouds when we began our climb, but we got a glimpse of the summit as we neared the top. Unfortunately the distance was a wee bit deceiving. We arrived at the top ridge around 1:30 and quickly realized we had no hope of reaching the summit as our driving destination beyond Prince George was over 4 hours away. Slightly disappointed, we started our descent back to Sue the Subaru.
Along the way we met a group of “Smitherites” who informed us that we’d missed signing a guest book near the top. Bummer! We also met a hiker named Serge from France who was visiting Canada for work. The long weekend had given him the opportunity to explore some local mountains in B.C. We hiked the rest of the way down the mountain with him, with Antoine and Serge conversing in French on a variety of topics including his travels, his love for the Canadian mountains, and life in France. It was a great opportunity for me to practice my oral comprehension 😉 We exchanged contact information and promised we’d let him know if we ever travel to the French Alps in the future!
This exchange was one of many we had with travellers over the past few weeks on our trip. We met lots of visitors from outside Canada, including travellers from Belgium, Switzerland, France and Germany. Ironically we met less Canadians on our travels, especially on the more northern parts of our journey. It reminded us of one of the reasons we planned this adventure in the first place: Canada is a huge, diverse and awe inspiring country filled with natural wonders. Antoine and I want to spend as much time as possible exploring this amazing country we call home. Canadian destinations don’t seem to get nearly enough credit, but travellers outside Canada seem to know how lucky we are and flock here to consume Canada’s natural splendours. As Serge explained to us, the Rockies are just as inspiring as the Swiss Alps, with far fewer people and development. It was a wonderful reminder of how lucky we are to call this beautiful country home! We can’t wait to continue exploring it.
Our last 5 days of travel were spent visiting friends and family in Alberta and Northern Ontario. Thanks to my Aunt Joan, Al & Val, Britta, and my parents for graciously hosting us along the way – your awesome company, delicious sustenance and comfy beds after five weeks sleeping in our car were much appreciated!
For our last hike of the trip, we took a quick trip to Canmore Alberta while visiting Britta in Calgary. We’d planned to hike the Ha Ling Peak trail, only to find that it was closed for updates. After some last minute research, we decided uponGrotto Mountain trail. We could not complete the full loop and make it back to Calgary for dinner, so we only adventured up until the Echo Canyon portion of the trail. Echo Canyon is a popular rock and ice climbing area. The views of Canmore and warm, sunny weather made this a worthy adventure!
After three nights in Alberta with friends and family we hit the highway again, making it to the Ontario-Manitoba border in just one day. This long day of driving was worthwhile as it allowed us to spend two nights and a full day in Sault Ste. Marie with my parents! We arrived back in Ottawa on Monday September 10th after 38 days on the road. We could truly not have asked for a more memorable trip 🙂
Thanks so much for following along on our journey across Canada.
Liz & Antoine