Northern Highways - Alaska, the Yukon & northern British Columbia
Here at ExploreNorth, we're big fans of circle trips rather than driving to a destination and back on the same route. With time a precious commodity for most of us, a circle route simply offers more variety in a given amount of time.
When the Yukon and Alaska are your destination(s), British Columbia offers some superb circle routes. With the Great Northern Circle Route described here, you come north using either the Alaska Highway or the Stewart-Cassiar as your main route, and the other highway as the main route southbound. Here are some of the highlights, using the Alaska Highway northbound and Stewart-Cassiar southbound.
1 - Start your journey in the vibrant, modern city of Prince George. This outdoor playground has more than 120 parks as well as plenty of indoor attractions. Discovery is the theme at The Exploration Place Museum and Science Centre in Fort George Park. This hands-on experience of cultural, scientific and natural history includes the SimEx virtual voyage theatre. Admire modern, contemporary artwork at the Two Rivers Art Gallery or visit the vintage railway collections at the Prince George Railway & Forestry Museum. Nearby, tour Huble Homestead, a fully restored early-1900s homestead and trading post.
2 - Drive north on Hwy 97 to scenic Pine Pass. Stop at beautiful Bijoux Falls (seen to the right) before heading to Chetwynd. Head north on Hwy 29 to Hudson's Hope and visit the W.A.C.Bennett Dam to learn about one of the largest earth-filled structures in the world. Backtrack to Hudson's Hope - known as "The Land of the Dinosaurs" - and peruse the dinosaur fossil and footprint collection at the Hudson's Hope Museum. From Hudson's Hope you can continue northeast on Hwy 29 to Fort St. John. This stretch of highway runs parallel to the spectacular Peace River for more than 70 km (43 miles). Alternatively, you can backtrack to Chetwynd and take a side trip to Tumbler Ridge where you can head out on a "Dinosaur Trackway Tour", hiking to a dinosaur footprint site. Then return to Hwy 97 and head east to Dawson Creek.
3 - Overnight in Dawson Creek, Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, and visit the art gallery which is housed in a renovated grain elevator complex. Get your picture taken at both of the "Mile 0" monuments, and before continuing north on the Alaska Highway, stop by Alaska Highway House to learn about the construction of this famous road.
4 - Just north of Fort St. John, stop at picturesque 13-km-long (8 mile) Charlie Lake, known for its fishing opportunities. Angle for trout, Arctic grayling, walleye and Northern pike. Further north, stop to photograph the rich hues of Pink Mountain at sunrise. The stretch of highway north to Fort Nelson has outstanding roadside wildlife viewing - you may spot deer, moose, and the occasional black bear. Fort Nelson is a friendly town originally founded as a fur trading post. Don't miss the wonderful Fort Nelson Museum, which showcases equipment (as well as other artifacts) from the early days of the Alaska Highway.
5 - Head north to Watson Lake, Yukon. Along the way, look for Stone sheep, caribou, bison and other wildife. Camp at Muncho Lake Provincial Park - beautiful jade-green Muncho Lake is nestled in a valley surrounded by folded mountains and decorated with brilliant wildflowers. Further north, stop for a lesiurely soak in the natural pools at Liard Hot Springs Provincial Park. The famous Signpost Forest at Watson Lake is certainly one of the highway's "must-see" attractions. Add your mark to the 90,000+ signs of all types already mounted there, then head south on the Stewart-Cassiar (Hwy 37) to swim in Boya Lake's crystal-clear waters.
6 - From the town of Dease Lake, adventurous travellers can take a side trip to Telegraph Creek along the Stikine River. The road is steep and narrow in some places and is not recommended for large RVs - see this Telegraph Creek Road photo album for a good look at it. Back on Hwy 37, stop to fish in Iskut Lake, paddle the Iskut Lake chain, or take a wilderness expedition into the remote Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park.
7 - At Meziadin Lake, detour an hour west on Hwy 37A to the village of Stewart, a saltwater port on Portland Canal. Along the way, you'll pass by Bear Glacier, one of the few roadside blue glaciers in the world. From Stewart, cross the border to Hyder, Alaska - continue on to the bear viewing platform at Fish Creek (both black and brown bears may be seen up close), and further to the vast and magnificent Salmon Glacier, seen to the right. Back on Hwy 37 and headed south, stop to see the many totem poles in the Kispiox Valley. At Kitwanga, you'll head east on Hwy 16, the Yellowhead. Visit the 'Ksan Historical Village, which features replica longhouses and a museum
8 - Near Smithers, stop along the highway to see the raging waters of Moricetown Canyon, an important fishing site for thousands of years. Further along the highway, venture near thundering Twin Falls, which are fed by glaciers on Hudson Bay Mountain. Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park features one of the world's most significant fossil beds. Explore the plant, animal and insect species that inhabited the area 50 million years ago and remain preserved in the shale formations.
9 - Northeast of Smithers are the rugged peaks and abundant wildlife of Babine Mountains Provincial Park. South on Hwy 35 is Burns Lake, gateway to the Lakes District, with over 300 wilderness fishing lakes. Return to Hwy 16 and continue east - near Vanderhoof, take a detour north to Fort St. James National Historic Site to experience the fascinating history of Canada's fur trade. Established by explorer Simon Fraser in 1806 for the North West Company, the site was dubbed the "Siberia of the Fur Trade" because of its harsh winters. Today, Fort St. James is reconstructed to the year 1896, and is the largest grouping of wooden buildings representing the fur trade in Canada. Fort St. James is also the gateway to exellent fishing on numerous lakes including Stuart Lake. An hour further along a gravel road, you'll reach the access to exceptional multi-day canoe routes on the 120-km (74 mile) circuit of the Nation Lakes chain.
Back to Hwy 16, another hour of driving gets you back to Prince George.
For trip planning, here are the mileages between some of the most significant points:
- Prince George to Dawson Creek - 403 km / 250 mi.
- Dawson Creek to Fort St. John - 75 km / 47 mi.
- Fort St. John to Fort Nelson - 380 km / 236 mi.
- Fort Nelson to Muncho Lake - 240 km / 149 mi.
- Muncho Lake to Watson Lake - 273 km / 170 mi.
- Watson Lake to Dease Lake - 257 km / 160 mi.
- Dease Lake to Meziadin Lake - 334 km / 208 mi.
- Meziadin Lake to Smithers - 266 km / 165 mi.
- Smithers to Prince George - 370 km / 230 mi.
Destination BC has identified 64 routes throughout the province that will guide travellers to many of the most interesting and most spectacular locations. See the list, with links to much more information on each, here.