Off the Beaten Track: Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park
For those who don’t mind a drive, Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a – a.k.a. Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park – 100 kilometres north of Terrace, in Northern British Columbia, offers a truly wonderful adventure.
Not many places can lay claim to being the home of the most recent and most easily accessible volcanic landscape in British Columbia, being the first provincial park to share management between BC Parks and a First Nation, and being home to the first “modern day” treaty in British Columbia – the “Nisga’a Final Agreement” of 2000. Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park is a fantastic destination for those looking to combine history, culture, geology, and outdoor recreation.
Our adventure began at the Terrace Visitor Centre where we picked up a copy of the Nisga’a Auto Tour, a map detailing points of cultural and geological importance. One hour later, we arrived at Lava Lake – the southernmost end of the park. The lake offers a nice day-use area with a boat launch, possibilities for swimming, and a fascinating geological history.
Lava Lake was formed approximately 250 years ago when the Tseax River was dammed by a basalt lava flow. Today the river remains, the milky green water flowing underneath the blanket of lava covering the landscape and creating a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t effect in places where the lava rock has collapsed and the river is again visible.
There are several places along the Auto Tour where you can take short walks to scenic spots on the water. The Beaupre Falls trail is only one kilometre return, and offers beautiful views of a cascading waterfall. A little further up the road, the Vetter Creek trail provides a short walk and a fascinating story about “Phantom Fish” – spawning steelhead that have been swept over a waterfall on the Tseax River only to be trapped when the river disappears underneath the lava rock. These “Phantom Fish,” sometimes visible below the falls, reportedly have large heads and elongated, snake-like bodies. Unfortunately, the “Phantom Fish” were all in hiding the day we were there!
Moving away from the water, the Auto Tour highlights some really interesting volcanic landscapes. The Crater Creek trail travels across “A-A” lava, a type of chunky and sharp lava that covers smoother lava called “Pahoehoe” found below. From the pictures, you might be wondering how the Crater Creek trail got its name since there is no water in sight. As it turns out, the original creek is up to 30 meters below your feet, an underground river flowing through passageways in the lava except during extreme floods, when the water comes bubbling to the surface and pushes the jagged “A-A” lava aside creating the gullies through which the trail now meanders.
As you walk the trails in Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park one of the most striking things is the almost moon-like landscape. Nowhere is this more evident than Auto Tour stop number eleven – the Tree Mould trail. If you are anything like me, the concept of a “Tree Mould” is completely foreign. Thanks to the interpretive signage provided by BC Parks, I learned how during a volcanic eruption molten lava often surrounds trees and lights them on fire. In cases where the lava hardens quickly, the tree burns away leaving a hollow tube where the tree used to be. In some cases, an imprint of the tree bark is even left behind as a reminder of what used to be there!
Following our Auto Tour, we set up camp for the night at the 16-site Vetter Creek campsite. The site is really nice and surrounded by forest, a different landscape than much of the park visited during the Auto Tour. Right next to the campground is the park’s Visitor Centre, a beautiful building where you can learn more about Nisga’a culture and history, get maps of the area, and purchase souvenirs.
Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park offers a huge range of cultural, geological, and outdoor recreation opportunities and unfortunately we only had a limited time to explore the area. I definitely feel like I “missed out” on some of the park’s unique features and am hoping to get back there sooner rather than later. Next time, I will make a point of signing up for the three kilometre guided hike to the rim of the Tseax crater. I will also spend more time exploring the four Nisga’a communities located near the park boundaries: Gitlakdamix (New Aiyansh), Gitwinksihlkw (Canyon City), Laxalts’ap (Greenville) and the Nisga’a Museum, and Gingolx (Kincolith).
Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park may be off the beaten path, but in my opinion it can’t be beat when it comes to combining culture, history, and geology. You will not be disappointed!
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Published: February 12, 2020
Last Updated: May 12, 2021
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