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Dawson Creek - Northern BC Photo Courtesy of Destination BC
The Peace River Country Circle Tour covers 520km (312mi) of gently rolling plains and golden wheat fields over two to three days. This beautiful landscape surrounding the Peace River is more similar to the prairies than the rest of the province. Lakes and rivers are scattered throughout the region and offer some of the most beautiful stretches of highway in British Columbia. With its unique scenery and vast resources, the Peace River District prides itself on standing out from the rest of British Columbia.
In the heart of British Columbia’s grain producing region is Dawson Creek, home to the ‘Mile 0’ mark of the Alaska Highway 97. Grain elevators, rolling plains, and patchwork fields make this region more like the prairie provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan than the rest of British Columbia. A friendly and relaxed city, Dawson Creek is steeped in its founding history. Dawson Creek’s population exploded in 1942 when US troops led Canadian and American civilians in the rush to construct a 2,400 kilometres (1,491 miles) military supply route to Alaska. Pushing the trail through was accomplished in an amazing eight months and 21 days. The highway was a treacherous and inhospitable stretch of road through the mountains and tundra of Canada’s north. After the war, the wilderness highway captured the imagination of urban pioneers everywhere and the great Alaska Highway 97 legend gathered momentum. Although long since paved and improved, travellers still talk about driving the highway with a sense of accomplishment. The Mile 0 Post in the middle of town is one of the most photographed landmarks in the region.
From Dawson Creek, head north on the legendary Alaska Highway 97 to Fort St. John. This first 73 kilometres (44 miles) stretch of road to Fort St. John takes roughly one hour. The road crosses rolling prairies, and passes through farming communities before landing travellers in Fort St. John, the capital of the Peace River district. Fort St. John is a vibrant city that has experienced considerable growth in recent years. Deemed as ‘The Energetic City’ due to the developing oil and gas industry, Fort St. John is a commercial, shopping, and transportation hub in the Peace River area. In fact, this modern city is the largest metropolis along the Alaska Highway 97, with a population of over 17,000.
Leave Fort St. John and continue north on the Alaska Highway 97 before turning west at the Highway 29 junction. This scenic road meanders alongside the Peace River for 70km (43mi) before bringing you to Hudson’s Hope, British Columbia’s “Land of Dinosaurs and Dams”. Visitors fascinated by things enormous will have to see the W.A.C. Bennett Dam. It is one of the world’s largest earth-filled structures and holds back the water of Williston Lake, British Columbia’s largest inland body of water. Hudson’s Hope is also known for having the highest concentrations of dinosaur fossils and footprints in North America. Sculptures of giant dinosaurs lure people into the town’s museum to learn about the town’s rich paleontological history.
Continuing south on Highway 29 in the foothills on the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, you’ll find Chetwynd, nicknamed “Little Prairie”. Chetwynd enjoys a four-season playground of forests, rolling hills, snow-capped mountains, undulating fields, and crystal clear lakes and rivers. All of this, combined with an excellent recreation complex, has helped this small town to become the “most livable small community in the province”, as designated by Smart Growth British Columbia. All the while, the small town retains its pioneering and railway heritage.
To visit the outdoor enthusiast’s paradise of Tumbler Ridge, continue south on Highway 29 for 100km (60mi). The community was originally incorporated in 1981 to house the workers and their families employed by two large coal mines. Those mines have closed, but the community continues to thrive. Its resilient residents are finding ways to capitalize on the wonderful scenery and outdoor recreation on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. When snowmobiling isn’t in season, the trails are used for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Surrounding lakes are popular with swimmers, boaters, and paddlers. Even golfers have a place to unwind.
To complete this circle tour, head 97km (58mi) north on Highway 52, back to Dawson Creek. If you are driving through the Peace River District as the final leg of the Peace River Circle Tour, return to Alaska Highway 97 and travel southwest into Prince George.