Stewart-Cassiar Highway and the Smallest Alaskan Town
One of the coolest things about the Yukon is that there is no wrong way to get there. I’ve taken multiple routes- the Alaskan Highway, the Stewart-Cassiar, the highway past Beaver Creek to Alaska, Haines Highway, Skagway route, the ferry, and you know what? They are all freaking AMAZING. Each route is so unique and beautiful, it’s almost impossible to pick one. We recommend going one way and returning a different route.
Need to know:
⛽️ Fuel spots are few and far between- Meziadin Junction, Dease Lake, and Watson Lake.
📱 There is no cell service along the highway between Kitwanga and Watson Lake except Stewart which is not on the direct route.
🥘 Food is available in Meziadin Junction (limited), Stewart, Dease Lake, and Watson Lake.
💦 Bring all essentials for a long road trip, including emergency gear and water as this is an isolated stretch of land.
📝 Passports are required to cross the international border between Stewart and Hyder.
Gaia and I started this stretch in Smithers BC. Pulling up to the town, we headed straight to Riverside RV Park and Camping which is a lovely little campground right beside the river and edging the town. The campground is connected to the town centre by a series of trails. As we set up the tent, I felt the familiar itchy eyes and scratchy throat which reminded me that I should always travel with antihistamines. Fortunately, I didn’t allow looking like a puffy-eyed mess to get my spirits down or inhibit our grand plans of touring the town and doing some hiking/biking.
The town is easily navigated by a bike, even for a young child. We wandered the streets visiting the unique little stores and grabbing some delicious eats. For all my hops-loving friends, there are actually two craft breweries in Smithers!
A friend of ours had recommended we try the “Crater Lake” hike due to its ease and accessibility and I’m so glad he did! Based at the ski hill, I have to say that this hike did NOT disappoint. It was a stunning alpine hike full of wildflowers, and small natural springs. The difficulty level was definitely not beyond a 7 year old. Once we got out of the trees the wind picked up a little, but it was still a beautiful mild day.
After a few days exploring the town, we continued down Highway 16 to Moricetown where we took a long break wandering around the canyon and watching the locals catch salmon. There is a nice gift shop and playground at the parking area.
We carried on another few hundred kilometres and following another friend’s recommendation, turned off at Meziadin Junction towards Hyder/Stewart. Hyder is a small Alaskan town (think population of 87 small). The residents of Hyder rely on Stewart for most amenities, and their children even go to school in Canada. The towns are divided by a border crossing and a short piece of road, but other than that, the two communities work in unity.
The drive down 37A to Stewart reminded me so much of Norway. Navigating down a beautiful fjord along the river and even driving past a massive glacier to get to Stewart. We arrived to a downpour and news that the government campground was under construction for all of 2018. We took a drive past the RV park, but the pools of water collecting on the ground made me reconsider our options.
I sought out the famed “Ripley Creek Inn” which consists of historical buildings converted into hotel rooms. We stayed in the main lodge with stunning views of the estuary, but there were lots of options for accommodation, even an old converted brothel! The reception was so kind and welcoming, and they even had a rescued baby duck for Gaia to see.
Stewart is rustic and welcoming. There are a few delicious eateries and a quaint little library. We always visit libraries whenever possible, and as we sat by the window listening to the rain outside reading some of the books, a lady walked in and said, “As I walked by, I saw you two sitting here enjoying the warmth of the library, and I had to come in and tell you how pleasant it was to see you two enjoying yourselves.” We were surprised but happy that we were able to put a smile on her face!
For dinner, we decided to cross the border (a 5 minute drive) and drive over to the school bus in Hyder. The kitchen is a school bus and there is a beautiful little room in the back for eating. The fish was fresh and delicious. We weren’t too surprised when we walked in to see the lady from the library waiting for her food, we chatted a bit, and it turns out they were on a RV trip from the lower 48.
After dinner we drove down to the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site (otherwise known as the bear viewing area) which is approximately 15 minutes away from the main part of Hyder. There is a boardwalk and park rangers patrolling as your safety is important to them. We were told that they had just seen a grizzly but it had sauntered into the woods. We started to turn back, but a ranger with a keen eye spotted another one over by the marsh. Bear sightings aren’t guaranteed, but in the 15 minutes we spent there, we were able to see a grizzly and a duck with its babies.
By now it was quite late and cloudy, but we decided to take our chances with driving 30 km to the salmon Glacier. As we crawled down the old dirt road, the sun crept closer and closer to the horizon, and we ended up having to turn around after just reaching the toe. The clouds had settled quite low by then, I don’t think we would have been able to see the entire glacier even if it wasn’t so late. I’m a pretty confident driver, but I wouldn’t recommend driving that road in the dark, it carves around the mountain side with sheer drop offs, massive potholes, many twists and turns, and crosses multiple slide paths. I was happy we had 4x4 on the truck, but longed for better headlights.
The next day we packed up and started the drive back to the Stewart-Cassiar Highway again. Our expected destination was Dease Lake - a 6 hour drive. But for the odd car, and the even less frequent bike-packer, we didn’t see anyone. We stopped along the way at one of the many lakes for a picnic and to stretch our legs.
I stared longingly at Mount Edziza Provincial Park as we drove past, but time didn’t allow for it. Mount Edziza Provincial park is a hikers dream with untamed wilderness, volcanoes, and foreign looking landscapes. Oddly enough, it is so remote that the only way to experience it is by taking a plane into the park, and then hiking the 4-5 day traverse. (Plane tours are also available).
We finally pulled up to Dease Lake and grabbed some food from 40 Mile Grill which was a bannock food truck (yum!!) as well as stocked up on food at the grocery store. I was disappointed to hear there was no cell service and that the only place in town with public wifi had already closed. We decide to fuel up, and carry on to Boya Lake Provincial Park. Since it was so late in the day by then, we had to skip out on visiting the famous Jade City. Apparently 90% of the worlds jade comes from British Columbia, and a good chunk coming from this small settlement.
Boya Lake was absolutely stunning. Driving up to it was like a dream, we drove under a rainbow, and past a curious porcupine to get there. Upon arrival, all of the good campsites were taken except for the bike-in only, so I did something naughty and parked in the parking area and set up on the grass that was reserved for those crazy fellows that bike that long isolated road. It was almost 9:30pm and there were no bikers around so I figured one night couldn’t hurt.
Just as we started to pull the tent out of the box of the truck, another massive downpour began (it was starting to become a trend) Gaia and I raced down and set up the tent in record time. Since we were already wet, I let Gaia splash around in the mud and run off some energy on the playground before bed. Of course just as I was putting Gaia to bed, I saw the familiar shadow of a biker rolling up to the site… Luckily there was only the one, and there was more than enough space for all of us.
The next day we rented the kayaks and kayaked around the lake a little before hopping back into the truck and motoring North (we were racing my husband to Whitehorse- he was flying and I was driving).
Once you hit the Alaska Highway, cell service is infrequently available until Teslin. It was a welcome relief being able to contact my husband and tell him we were safe and en route.