Sue North

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Tag: Car Camping

Stewart-Cassiar Highway (#37) – Stewart and Smithers, BC

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!

 

Bear Glacier on Highway 37A to Stewart

 

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.

 

Salmon Glacier on a rainy day

 

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!

 

Main street in Stewart, BC

 

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!

 

View from the dock at Dennis Lake Recreation Site

 

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.

 

Crater Lake

 

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!

 

Liz and Britta in Calgary

 

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

 

Our last days on the Dempster Highway

After a busy few days of hiking our way down the Dempster, our legs were ready for a break. And what better way to rest than fishing? The Ogilvie River was not cooperating with us, so we continued south towards Blackstone River which we’d previously camped and fished on before parting ways with Derek and Jeni. We discovered another beautiful campsite on the river, a ways from the highway at approximately km 98. Two other parties had also set up camp here, but there were plenty of spots right on the rivers edge. We went to bed really early that night and rose rather late, almost fully recuperated from our hikes.

 

Paul eagerly set out with his hip waders that morning to scout the fishing for us, but returned with dire reports. It seemed the high water levels were continuing to affect us! We packed up camp and continued south on the Dempster, stopping at any spots that looked fishable. We really wanted a fish fry evening! After one unsuccessful stop, Antoine and I decided to brave the chilly river waters for a much needed “shower.” Brrrrrrr!!!

 

Nat and Paul fishing at a culvert on the Blackstone River

 

Sadly the Blackstone never rewarded us with any fish. Defeated, we headed to the Tombstone Interpretive Centre to sit by the wood fire and enjoy some freshly brewed Labrador tea while we made a plan for the night.

 

We decided to stop in at the gravel pit we’d stayed at on our first night on the Dempster, as this was part of a different waterway than the Blackstone and Ogilvie Rivers. We secured a campsite at the Tombstone Mountain campground, and then returned to try our luck there one last time. We didn’t catch the 8 fish we were needing for dinner, but I managed to catch my first two Arctic Grayling and Paul caught another one. No photos were captured for proof as it started raining just as we cast our first lures. The 3 fish were enough for a delicious appetizer, fried in a skillet with Cajun batter. What a great end to an incredible 11 days on the Dempster highway!

 

Highlights of our time on the Dempster:
  • 3 different mountain ranges (Tombstone, Ogilvie and Richardson), easily explorable from the highway

Drone shot of the Ogilvie Mountains

 

Tombstone mountains

  • Experiencing multiple seasons along the way, and watching the colours change in the mountains and tundra

  • Wildlife and bird sightings including caribou, a grizzly bear, foxes, beavers, and some distant dall sheep; ptarmigans, gyrfalcon and eagles, among others

 

  • Reaching the Arctic Ocean and seeing the Arctic communities of Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk

Lowlights of our time on the Dempster:
  • Eagle Plains (very poor road conditions and least exciting scenery)
  • Mud, mud and more mud. It’s everywhere!
  • Few spots to shower, other than a frigid dip in rivers or creeks

The highlights far outweighed the few lowlights of the trip! Next up: we head south back to Whitehorse and Kluane National Park and Reserve for our final few days in the Yukon.

Thanks again for reading 🙂

Liz & Antoine

The Prairies: Days 5 and 6

We just spent two nights on the Prairies, taking the northern Yellowhead Highway route from Winnipeg through Saskatoon and the Battlefords. Here’s a quick little recap of this leg of the trip:

 

So happy to finally reach Manitoba! Ontario is SO big!

There were no options for free campsites around Winnipeg on popular free camping apps (we’ve been using freecampsites.net and Campendium), but I’d done some research before the trip and knew of a wildlife management area north of the City that I hoped would do the trick for an evening. We went for dinner at a pub in Winnipeg so that we’d arrive near dusk, and then drove north of the city to Grant’s Lake. This is a waterfowl bird refuge that is managed by Ducks Unlimited Canada. The spot was sufficiently tucked away from the road, but like most of the prairies didn’t offer a lot of tree cover.

 

Drone shot of our campsite at Grant’s Lake

 

The mosquitos were really bad here, and we thanked our lucky stars for the screens we made for the windows. The evening started out very warm, but cooled down once the sun set. It wasn’t our best sleep, but we were happy to have found a spot! Given the mosquitos we packed up quickly in the morning and enjoyed breakfast later on down the road at a picnic rest stop along the highway.

 

The mosquitos were hard to capture on camera – this doesn’t do the swarm justice!

 

We stopped for our routine provincial sign picture mid-day. Somewhere early into our drive in Saskatchewan, a mouse appeared on our windshield wipers. I wish I’d thought quickly and captured a photo, but the little fellow was on the move scrambling across the window and was quickly taken away by the wind. Where he came from and how he got there, we can’t be sure! RIP little mouse passenger.

 

Last night we treated ourselves to our first paid campsite of the trip. For less than $20, we had access to showers and a quiet parking spot in the tiny town of Maidstone Saskatchewan. We slept really well here, and are feeling rested and ready to tackle the next leg of the journey! We are skipping Alberta for camping this round, as we plan to spend a few days here on our way back to Ottawa to visit friends and family. Next stop: British Columbia!

 

A quick toothbrush stop at the Alberta provincial border!

 

More pictures to follow next post – we were fairly negligent photographers through the Prairies. Sorry everyone!

 

Lots of love,

Liz & Antoine

Ontario: Days 1-4

We left Ottawa on August 3rd at the earlier than anticipated hour of 7:30am. The car was fully packed the night before, and it felt like Christmas morning! Antoine and I woke up at 5:40am, looked at one another and said “can you sleep?” “No, ok me either… let’s just go!”

 

The first 4 hours of the trip were very familiar to North Bay, but things got more interesting once we hit Highway 11 North. There was very little traffic despite it being the August long weekend, and this allowed us to make excellent ground on our first day. We stopped for a quick picnic dinner in Hearst comprised of all the leftovers from our fridge in Ottawa, and then hit the road with the remaining hours of daylight until we reached a secluded logging road somewhere before Longlac. Our screens kept us nice and safe from the onslaught of mosquitos in this area. We didn’t dare leave the car!

 

 

After this, it was just a quick 5 hours to our family camp at Mckenzie Lake, Armstrong. We stayed at camp for two full days and enjoyed every minute of it! We spent time with my amazing family, ate way too much food, went fishing and blueberry picking and even did a little work on the new camp. It’s incredible to see my Dad’s dream post-and-beam camp coming together!

 

Beau learned how to eat blueberries straight from the bush

 

Our comfy campsite behind the new camp

 

Antoine, Robert and Beau playing on the beach

 

Antoine helped seal up the camp, while I painted a preservation sealant on the wooden posts outside

 

There were so many ups during our two days at camp, but also a few downs including two tiny rocks stuck in our rear disc brakes and the loss of my bank cards and license. The rock problems were good practice for removing our tires, and now we know we have every tool we need for the Dempster. Despite a valiant 2 hour search by the entire neighbourhood for my cards, the case was not to be found! Luckily I still have my wallet and everything else is easily replaced along the way to the Yukon. We’re not letting this get us down 🙂

 

Next time you hear from us, we’ll be in the Prairies! We are finally inching closer to the Ontario-Manitoba border, with 350km left to go. This province never ends!!!!

 

Lots of love and thanks for tuning in,

 

Liz & Antoine

Canada’s West Coast by Car – The Rockies (Part 2)

Summer temperatures have finally arrived in the Ottawa region, which is partially to blame for the delay between Parts I and II of the West Coast Highlights By Car series. We’re currently en route to a wedding in New Brunswick, and the car ride finally provided me the time to finish Part II! The weeknights and weekends are only going to get busier from here as we begin seriously prepping for the Yukon trip. This means the posts will be shorter and sweeter for the next few months, but we can’t wait to begin sharing our trip preparations and travel plans with you!

 

Getting back to our West Coast travels by car… During the second week of our trip, we hopped back on the ferry from Victoria to mainland Vancouver. From there we travelled along the Sea to Sky highway to Pemberton, BC to visit my family. We took our time along this highway, stopping in Squamish for lunch as well as any spots marked “scenic” along the route. It is a beautiful stretch of highway that benefited from upgrades for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. I’m sure this drive is much more challenging in the winter, but mid-week in the summer it was stress-free and scenic. We enjoyed a lovely visit with my Aunt Sheila and husband Craig for two days in Pemberton. Sheila was stoically battling brain cancer at this time, and sadly passed away in the fall of that year. I am so thankful that we had the opportunity to visit her during our trip.

 

Pemberton is a short drive from Whistler, so we took a day to visit the resort and hit the mountain biking trails. This was my first and only mountain biking experience, and it was epic! Antoine was super excited to rent a new Giant Reign to test out on the trails. I’ll admit I was worried it would lead to a purchase when we got home, but so far he’s held off 😉 Whistler has a multitude of trails of varying degrees of difficulty, including easy paved and gravel routes as well as single track trails. We would highly recommend this if you’re living for summer activities in the area.

 

From Whistler / Pemberton we travelled north along Hwy 99 through Kamloops to Mount Robson Provincial Park. This was our longest drive of the trip at 673km in a day or 7.5 hours of driving. It did not feel long though, as the views were stunning and the winding mountain passes were incredibly fun to drive! The scenery changed significantly as well, as we transitioned from mountain vistas to the desert ecozone near the Thompson River and Kamloops and back to the rockies again. Mount Robson is the tallest mountain in the rocky mountain chain. We spent one night at Mount Robson Provincial Park at the Robson River campground – campsite 18. We were pleased with this campsite as it was away from the highway and a short walk from the river. We enjoyed wine and a delicious meal prepared over the campfire, mentally preparing ourselves for the day ahead.

 

We decided to tackle the renowned Berg Lake trail for our second day at Mount Robson Provincial Park. The 23km long trail gains almost 800 metres of elevation and features seven campgrounds along the trail. We were advised at the Visitor’s Centre that most hikers tackle the trail over 2 to 3 days, sometimes using the lower campgrounds as base camps and tackling the vertical portions of the trail without packs. We only had 1 night to dedicate to the trail, so we decided to camp 16km down the trail at Emperor Falls with hopes that we could set up camp and continue on to Berg Lake and the glacier. The hike to Emperor Lake was strenuous, but well worth it for the stunning views and scenery. We made it to Emperor Falls and our camp site by late afternoon, but were fairly exhausted from the vertical climb. We set up our tent by the river, and I stubbornly pushed Antoine to continue another 7km to Berg Lake with a light pack where we cooked dinner beside the glacier lake. Another 7km back, with a bear sighting in between, and we had covered 35km in one day! It felt like quite an accomplishment, but we wish we’d had more days to tackle the trail at a more leisurely pace. The 16km hike out was slow and painful, but we managed to complete the hike with only a few toenails lost.

 

 

We knew the hike would be strenuous, so we treated ourselves to an AirBnB in Jasper following the trek. Feeling rested and recharged, we took off down the famous Icefields Parkway with a number of plausible destinations in mind. We found that many of the well-publicized stops along the parkway were busy with tourist buses and scheduled tours, so we mostly stopped at scenic lookouts on a whim to see different sights. We spent an unplanned night at Mosquito Creek campground along the Icefields Parkway, as the campground does not take reservations and we were not sure there would be room. Don’t let the name scare you away! There were no more mosquitos at this campground than elsewhere, and the campsites along the river were wonderful!

 

The next day we completed the Icefields Parkway and set up camp at Two Jack Lakeside campground, just outside Banff. The photos for this campground were incredible and I was really excited for the final site I’d chosen. Unfortunately photos can be deceiving, and we found there was little separation or privacy between our campsite (#27) and those around us. This trip taught me to take campsite reservation photos with a grain of salt! Often the ideal campsite you cannot identify from photos and maps alone – it takes repeat visits or advice from park staff to know the best ones!

 

 

We enjoyed a full day touring Banff, Lake Louise and area including stops at Moraine Lake, Emerald Lake and the Natural Bridge. We were disappointed that some of the sights we hoped to see were not yet open for the season, such as Takakkaw Falls in Yoho National Park. Many of the openings depend on the weather, clean-up and snow melt in the mountains. This was early season rather than high season, which was both a benefit and a challenge at times during our trip. The highlight of our stay in this region had to be our hike to the Plain of Six Glaciers tea house at Lake Louise. This is one of two teahouses at Lake Louise, and it offers incredible views of the surrounding glaciers and landscape as well as the Fairmont Chateau and lake from above. We enjoyed hot tea and freshly baked treats on the balcony upon arrival, as well as unique company on our descent. We happened to depart at the same time as the owner of the teahouse, whose family owned and ran the teahouse for over 50 years. She explained that she had visited the teahouse to oversee the arrival of a helicopter drop of staples such as flour and sugar. All other fresh foods served are packed in to the teahouse by staff. The owner was hiking with her two dogs and needed a ride back to her car at the airfield. We were happy to take her back to her vehicle, as we really enjoyed her company and stories on the hike back down.

Our final night was spent at an Airbnb in Kelowna, BC. The Okanagan region is well-known for it’s landscape, warm climate and amazing wines and the city certainly did not disappoint. The drive from Banff to Kelowna was also incredibly enjoyable and scenic, and we are happy that we planned a loop route so to not repeat our drive. We gifted our cooler and condiments to our kind Airbnb host, and hit the road for the final day to catch our flight out of Vancouver on June 11th. Fifteen full days touring British Columbia and the Alberta mountain regions – 6 days on Vancouver Island and 8 on the mainland were not nearly enough to see all the sights and hike all the trails that we wanted! But it helped to confirm our shared love of road trips, camping, hiking and exploring. We can’t wait to continue our West Coast adventures in August 2018 when we cross the country en route to the Yukon! Let us know if you have any questions about our last trip out west – we’re happy to share more details, logistics or recommendations. Happy travelling 🙂

 

Liz & Antoine

 

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