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Exploring Northern British Columbia – a Circle Tour Adventure: Tour 3 Yellowhead Hwy

The Northern British Columbia Circle Route is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This vast region encompasses stunning scenery, majestic mountains, rolling hills and wildlife-viewing that will amaze you. Provincial parks, national historic sites one of which offers a glimpse of some unique ecosystems and the dancing lights of the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), as they bring the skies to life in a rainbow of colours, must be witnessed. All of this and more bring adventurers to this part of British Columbia.

The entire route starts and ends in Prince George, rightfully called the northern capital of BC and heads in a counter-clockwise direction north on the Alaska Hwy 97 (Tour 1), south on the Stewart-Cassiar Hwy 37 (Tour 2), and east on the Yellowhead Hwy 16 (Tour 3).

Tour 3 Yellowhead Hwy (Hwy 16) Kitwanga to Prince George

Northern Lights from Ksan Campground in the Hazeltons

Northern Lights from Ksan Campground in the Hazeltons by SimonRatcliffe.com

Continuing on the 3rd and last leg of this bucket list circle tour of Northern British Columbia, you will travel across BC from west to east beginning in Kitwanga where Hwy 37 joins Hwy 16. Look for signposts for Smithers and Prince George. The 3rd Tour of the trip takes just under 6 hours of driving and is 486 km / 302 mi. long.

Section 1: Kitwanga to Smithers

Directions & Estimated Driving Time:  Head east on Hwy 16 (Yellowhead Hwy) to Smithers 115 km / 72mi. 1 hr 20 mins.

 Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in this area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the appropriate community.

Things to do:

Seeley Lake Provincial Park – situated just west of New Hazelton on Hwy 16. A great place to relax in a peaceful setting whether just for an hour or two or in one of the overnight campsites. Fishing, canoeing and swimming are some of the activities available plus there is also a wildlife-viewing platform over the marsh and ecologically sensitive area.

The Hazeltons – the collective name for several small communities located just 45 mins east of Kitwanga and off Hwy 16 on Hwy 62. This area is definitely worth a visit as it offers a glimpse into the history and culture of the Gitxsan peoples at the ‘Ksan Historical Village, with several cedar longhouses, totems and dugout canoes. There are also performances of traditional dances during July and August. Take a walking tour of Old Hazelton that has been reconstructed to resemble the village in the 1890s. If you pick up a brochure you can take a drive on the Hands of History Tour showing many historic sites and some 50 totem poles. On your drive to Hazelton you will pass over the Bulkley River and the Hagwilget Canyon – a one-lane suspension bridge that is one of the highest in North America. You can park here and walk across the bridge for some stunning photos. There is also some excellent fishing, both in the Bulkley River and the Kispiox River. More info.

'Ksan Historical Village

‘Ksan Historical Village by SimonRatcliffe.com

Outdoor Adventure & the Arts – this is what makes Smithers tick!  This lively town has alpine-themed architecture and murals, and is nestled beneath the towering Hudson Bay Mountain. Trails for every level of hiker are located in and around the area. Horseback riding, mountain biking, 50-million-year-old fossils, kayaking, river rafting, salmon fishing and golfing are just a few of the outdoor activities. The Smithers Art Gallery, live entertainment, Bulkley Valley Museum and musical coffeehouses provide some of the opportunities for less active activities.

Waterfalls & Rapids – there are excellent photo opportunities just west of Smithers at a pull-out where you can see the churning whitewater rapids of Moricetown Canyon, and a short distance off the highway are the cascading Twin Falls and Glacier Gulch.

Lake Kathlyn, Smithers

Lake Kathlyn, Smithers by SimonRatcliffe.com

Section 2: Smithers to Burns Lake

Directions & Estimated Driving Time: Continue East on Hwy 16 143 km / 89 mi. I hr 40 mins.

Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in this area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the appropriate community.

Things to do:

Telkwa – a charming village that is well worth a stop, if for nothing else than a wonderful cup of coffee and homemade baked goodie at Telkwa Baeckerei Kaffeehaus which has received great reviews on Trip Advisor. And to walk off the carbs, grab a walking tour brochure from the museum and follow the trail to the historic site of Aldermere and Tyhee Lake Provincial Park – a scenic park that offers camping, hiking, water sports and more. Located on a lovely sandy beach, this park is easy to access from Hwy 16 near Telkwa. You can also stop by Eddy Park on the Bulkley River to enjoy a picnic and some relaxation.

Houston – en route to Houston there are several rest areas with views of the Bulkley River and the snow-covered peaks of the Babine Mountains to the north. The world’s largest (18 m / 60 ft long) fly-fishing rod can be found at the Visitor Centre in Steelhead Park which also has excellent parking if you are in an RV.

Side Trip to Red Bluff Provincial Park Topley to Granisle via Hwy 118. A beautiful 49 km / 30 mi drive to Granisle located on Babine Lake, the longest natural lake in BC. Fish for rainbow trout and steelhead and salmon when in season. Camping is available. Also, Houston to Granisle loop 206 km / 128mi.

Search for Agates & Opals – Just south of Burns Lake is the Eagle Creek/Opal Beds Trail in a Recreation Site that has a trail network with a few rustic campsites and is well-known for its precious minerals. The short Lookout Loop has lots of viewpoints of the valley below and the town of Burns Lake.

Side Trip Francois Lake Loop, 70 km / 43 mi Houston to Burns Lake. This is a picturesque drive on the backroads between Houston and Burns Lake and includes the free Francois Lake ferry.

Walking near Houston

Walking near Houston by SimonRatcliffe.com

Section 3: Burns Lake to Prince George

Directions & Estimated Driving Time: Continue east on Hwy 16 to Vanderhoof 128 km / 80 mi. 1.5 hours.

Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in this area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the appropriate community.

Things to do:

Beaumont Provincial Park – easy to access off Hwy 16, 6.5 km / 4 mi west of Fort Fraser and a one hour’s drive from Burns Lake. Set on the lovely Fraser Lake, there are many water sport opportunities and an interpretive trail that provides information on the flora and fauna in the park.

Francois Lake Provincial Park & Protected Area – southwest of Fraser Lake 12 km / 7.5 mi off Hwy 16 is this protected area with a few rustic campsites and stunning views. Swimming, canoeing plus a 3 km / 1.9 mi hike on the Black Point Trail takes you to a viewpoint at the trailhead.

Fraser Lake – is known as the Swan Capital of the World as it’s the temporary home to some 1,000 trumpeter swans. If you need some exercise, then climb the trails to the 25-million year old lava beds and volcanic cone of the extinct Red Rock Volcano. Trees over one hundred years old still thrive inside the volcano’s crater. Take a break from driving and pick up the golf clubs for a round at Molyhills Golf Club.  Located in the heart of the stunning Glanannan tourist area, on the shores of East Francois Lake.

Fraser Lake

Fraser Lake by Tim Swanky

Side Trip to Fort St James National Historic Park.  North off Hwy 16, 54 km / 33mi on Hwy 27 this National Historic Site lets visitors follow the life, through costumed interpreters, of the fur traders and First Nations people as they traded goods in the late 1800s. Lots of things for the kids to do as well with an “Escape the Fort” challenge and world-class chicken races. The town itself is one of BC’s oldest settlements, established in 1806. There is camping at Sowchea Bay, canoeing, hiking and rock climbing in Mount Pope Provincial Park.

Fort St James National Historic Park by JF Bergeron

Fort St James National Historic Park by JF Bergeron

Vanderhoof – the area is surrounded by wonderful views, history and lots of outdoor activities for every age. A good place to stop is Riverside Park just north off Hwy 16. There are nature trails with bird watching opportunities overlooking the Vanderhoof Migratory Bird Sanctuary on the Nechako River. This is a major stopping place for Canada Geese as well as trumpeter swans and other birds. Camping is also available. A glimpse of the area’s past can be seen in the Vanderhoof Museum which also includes the original OK Hotel and café and you can pick up a self-guided tour guide and discover other fascinating places including the 90-year old Grand Reo Theatre.

Vanderhoof Museum

Vanderhoof Museum by SimonRatcliffe.com

Prince George – this completes the ‘bucket-list’ Northern BC Circle Tour 2,548 km / 1,583 mi in total.

Read our blog on mountain biking along the Yellowhead Hwy.
A Perfect Moment Mountain Biking in Northern BC

Published: March 22, 2018
Last Updated: November 29, 2022