Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Park Photo Kim Walker
Stewart-Cassiar Highway 37 is the artery to some of the wildest scenery in North America. It follows a scenically stunning route on the east side of the Coast Mountains. It traverses the Cassiar Mountains and Liard Plain before joining the Alaska Highway west of Watson Lake in the Yukon. The adventure begins in Kitimat at the head of the Douglas Channel about 63 km (39 mi) southwest of Terrace.
Kitimat was conceived by Alcan (the aluminum producing company) in 1948, and it features organized neighbourhoods with green spaces and schools and shopping facilities away from the industrial areas of town. Kitimat has developed a more comfortable lived-in look through the years but the orderly way it was envisaged remains evident. There is an abundance of natural splendour here as towering mountains loom over the deeply nestled port. The Haisla First Nation home, Kitamaat Village, dates back many thousands of years and offers both fresh water and salt water fishing opportunities. Imagine fishing in the same spot once fished 5,000 years ago by the first migratory tribes that came upon the land. Princess Royal Island exists to the south of the immediate area. Accessible by air or water, this island is rugged, densely forested and is one of the last refuges for the Kermode Bear, the elusive white spirit bear of the North BC Coast. The road north offers countless recreational opportunities.
One such option is Lakelse Provincial Park near Terrace, a 57 km (35 mi) drive from Kitimat. Lakelse provides great fishing and soothing hot springs for the ultimate relaxation experience. Terrace has its roots as a logging town and is an ideal resting point to relax while taking in a breath of nature’s beauty.
Traveling north, Highway 37 links temporarily with Highway 16 for an amazing drive along the Skeena River. This linking of highways ends at Kitwanga where the Stewart-Cassiar heads north. The Highway follows the Nass River to Meziadin Junction. Here it is worth taking the trip on Highway 37A through Bear Pass which heads west to Stewart and Hyder, Alaska at the head of the Portland Canal. The stunning scenery along this route showcases over 20 glaciers that are all visible from the highway. Bear Glacier and Salmon Glacier are perhaps the most photographed with tours available on the latter.
Returning to Highway 37, the adventure continues through breathtaking scenery crossing the Naingunshaw Pass north of Bell II and climbing through the narrow canyon. Heli-skiing adventures are available.
Soon enough, the Highway will cross over the Stikine River. To the east, the River enters Mt. Edziza Park, and to the West, Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park.
Few know that lava flows exist in Northern BC, but Mt Edziza Provincial Park is 230,000 hectares of protected volcanic landscape. Part of a larger volcanic complex that formed over eight million years ago, Mt Edziza was created when tension along the Pacific Plate caused rifting inland. Although remote, this park displays spectacular landscape for those willing to find it. Lava flows, basalt plateaus, cinder fields and cinder cones are on display for all to see. Mt Edziza, the park’s main feature, towers at an elevation of 2,787m (9143ft). It is a composite Volcano with a glaciated crater 2,500m (8,202ft) in diameter. The last time Mt. Edziza experienced activity was 10,000 years ago when a basalt flow emerged to solidify and plug the central vent. From the charter planes that tour the area, or to experienced climbers, the 900,000-year old crater of Mt Edziza offers a glimpse into another millennia. Thirty small lava and cinder cones surround the huge volcano. An adventurer’s spirit is needed to access the park as it is best done by horseback, hiking, or flight – it is inaccessible by car. These arrangements can be made at Dease Lake, Telegraph Creek or Iskut.
Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park is one of Canada’s largest and most significant parks. It’s a pristine habitat for innumerable animals indigenous to northern environments. Caribou, moose, mountain goats, stone sheep and giant hawk moths are just a few of the wildlife inhabiting the park. As with Mt Edziza Park, this remote area is not accessible by car. Trails within the park are immensely rewarding, offering recreation seekers a fine opportunity to witness the harmonious balance of nature.
Adventurers seeking water sports are at home in the vicinity as the Stikine River Recreational Area is the starting point for many canoe trips. Take a riverboat tour or kayak the river lined by rugged shores and majestic wildlife. This recreation area is a narrow park west of Dease Lake and connects Mt. Edziza Park to Spatsizi Plateau. The Grand Canyon of Stikine is particularly inviting for fly-over tours and offers 80 km (50 mi) of sheer rock face on the river’s edge that is inaccessible by boat.
Traveling further northward, you will come to the town of Dease Lake. This is the largest settlement on Highway 37 and is located 491 km (305 mi) north of Kitwanga/Highway 16 and 235 km (146 mi) south of the Alaska Highway. Take a moment to reminisce in the town’s past and explore the remains of the Hudson Bay Company trading post that still stands at the south end of the lake. A fort was built nearby in 1837 when prospecting miners and suppliers poured through town during the Cassiar gold rush of the 1870s. This made Dease Lake part of a major transportation route for trappers and prospectors wishing to make a living off the rugged and weathered land. There are also large jade reserves in the area and visitors can explore Jade City and purchase a memento or two.
From Dease Lake, Highway 37 continues to stretch north for another 257 km (160 mi) to Watson Lake in the Yukon then it meets the Alaska Highway Y1 and Y4. This part of the journey is scenic and offers an amazing variety of landscapes. Witness windblown mountain peaks and watch rivers sprawl across the land while entering the Yukon Territory.