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Stewart & Hyder - Accessible Isolation

by Murray Lundberg

    Choices, choices - there are lots to make when you're planning your trip North. To start with, you've probably already noticed that the Alaska Highway isn't the only road that you can take, and one of the most common questions in planning is "Is the 'other road' worth taking?" Well, that 'other road' is Highway 37 - known locally as the Stewart-Cassiar - and it makes for a terrific circle tour, going north on the Alaska Highway, and south on the Stewart-Cassiar.

A totem pole makes a great swing     The Stewart-Cassiar still has 123 kilometers (81 miles) of gravel, which you may consider a deterrent to using it. The highway is well-maintained, but the gravel section can be rough after a spell of wet weather. This route, however, offers a wide variety of grand scenery, a somewhat slower pace, and the opportunities for sighting wildlife are far better than on the much more heavily used Alaska Highway. There are several parks, and basic services are available at several points along the highway.

    One of my main reasons for recommending the Stewart-Cassiar as part of your travel route is that it allows you to take the 38-mile side trip in to the villages of Stewart, B.C. and Hyder, Alaska. Off the well-beaten path, this area offers some of the most spectacular scenery to be seen anywhere in the world.

    At Meziadin Lake, you leave Highway 37 and head south on a very good paved road, and soon enter an extremely narrow valley which shows the scars of literally thousands of avalanches. The Bear Glacier will certainly cause you to stop for a look. As you get close to Stewart, keep a sharp eye open for black bears (and occasionally grizzlies) on the gravel bars along the aptly-named Bear River and past Hyder at the Fish Creek viewing area.

    As you enter Stewart, the most visible parts of town show the construction that occurred during its boom period in the 1970s, when the Granduc copper mine was going full-tilt. It's interesting in the fact that the town has survived, unlike many others which vanish after the mine closes. But have a look around - there are also several buildings from near the turn of the century, when gold first brought prospectors into this wild country. The Stewart Museum is small, but well worth a visit - I think you'll be surprised at all that's happened here over the past 100 years.

    If you're anything like me, your first footstep on Alaskan soil will be a particularly memorable event (mine was in April 1975). Your first border crossing into Alaska can be made just past Stewart, as you enter the village of Hyder, Alaska. Looking rather like a movie set, it has become famous mainly for its two bars, the Sealaska and the Glacier, where you can get "Hyderized" (if both you and the bartender are in the right mood it can be a lot of fun, and I won't spoil it by telling you what's involved!). Continuing on past Hyder, the road gets steeper and narrower, but eventually you come to what is often termed one of the best road-accessible glacier views in the world. When I lived in Stewart, I rode in a bus up this road past the Salmon Glacier (seen in the photo below) every day on the way to work, and it never lost its majesty. Life in this country, though, can be unforgiving - about fifteen miles away from the foot of the Salmon Glacier is the site of one of Canada's worst avalanches, which killed 26 men in 1965, at the Granduc Mine.

The Salmon Glacier at Stewart, BC     You will probably want to plan on over-nighting fairly close to Stewart. Stewart and Hyder have a total of 4 hotels or motels, 3 campgrounds, and 4 restaurants. Or, you can back-track to beautiful Meziadin Lake Park, but be warned that it's a very popular spot, and spaces fill up early.

    As your last check before you leave home, the current condition of all highways in British Columbia can be seen at the government Road Report site. And, of course, for other questions, you're always welcome to drop me a line.

A Guide to Stewart, B.C.

A Guide to Hyder, Alaska

A Guide to Highway 37, the Stewart-Cassiar