RV Adventure in Northern BC – Kitwanga Junction
The rugged beauty of British Columbia’s north offers the traveler once-in-a-lifetime views of staggering and drop-dead stunning landscapes that cannot be matched. Snow-covered mountains marching across the landscape, glaciers, rivers and lakes, forests and plateaus. This is the wild north of a great land. Plan not to miss it.
The Northern BC Adventure Tours encompass four separate tours: The Road to Atlin; Wilderness Adventure Along the Stewart-Cassiar Hwy; Kitwanga Junction; Following the Yellowhead Hwy to Prince George. If you were to do them all in one trip you would need about four weeks to appreciate it all. It also assumes that you will start your trip in the north and head south, perhaps picking up a rental motor home in Whitehorse, Yukon and starting from there.
Tour 3: Kitwanga Junction
Directions & Estimated Driving Time: This tour centres around the community of Kitwanga. As such the tour takes as long as you wish to spend here. Distances to the various First Nations communities are close by (16-50 km / 10-34 mi) except the trip to the Nass Valley which is 100 km / 62 mi from Kitwanga to Terrace and then the 100 km / 62 mi distance from Terrace to New Aiyansh.
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
Gitxsan History. This segment of the northern route connects at the Stewart-Cassiar Hwy 37 and the Yellowhead Hwy 16. It is well worth spending a few days meandering around the First Nations communities in the Kitimat-Stikine and the Hazeltons heritage region. Gitxsan history is preserved in numerous cultural centres, museums and historic sites which are in close proximity to each other. It is often referred to as the Totem Pole Capital of the world.
The area is particularly noteworthy for the treaties with Coastal First Nations in a handful of communities that now dictate the land use and management of wilderness areas over tribal and ancestral lands and preserve the lifestyle and culture in Northern BC. Note that highway sign boards show the new names of places after recent treaty signings.
The Stikine River is joined by other major rivers collecting water from the snow-packed runoff from the Coast Mountains in spring and summer, and in fall from annual rainfall of up to 250 cm / 100 in especially during periods of winter storms rolling in from the north Pacific.
Nass Valley. A side trip to the Nass Valley includes Gitlaxt’aamiks (NewAiyansh), Gitwinksihlkw (Canyon City), Laxgalts’ap (Greenville), and Gingolx (Kincolith), known as the Seafood Capital of the Nass. Another side trip on Hwy 16 south-west to Terrace further enlarges on the native history, culture and legends of the area.
Gitanyow, or Kitwancool, is a national historic site that once had the largest number of original totem poles of any Coastal First Nations village, many dating from the 1800s. Some twenty of the standing poles have been restored under guidance of the famous Kwakiuti carver, Henry Hunt. Magnificent poles, carving sheds and a graveyard contribute to the magical feeling of these ancestral lands.
Kitwanga, or Gitwangak lies at the confluence of the Kitwanga and Skeena Rivers. Nearby is Gitwangak Battle Hill Historic Park. A short trail with seven panels leads to a steep mound on bedrock that forms a natural fortification site with a palisade and five cedar plank longhouses that were built in the late 1700s. They were destroyed in 1835 after a tribal war over fishing sites and trade routes along the Grease Trail.
The Hazeltons. This is a rather complex area for touring, since it is made up of two municipalities, eight villages and two native peoples. It includes Hazelton and six villages of the Gitxsan in Gitanmaax, Kispiox, Gitwangat, Gitanyow and Gitsegukla people, and one of the Wet’suwet’en people in Hagwilget. The magical names often look and sound alike.
A touring route provides detailed directions to trails and recreation sites concentrated around Seven Sisters Park and the various communities. A self-guided walking tour takes in the artifacts from the period of the pioneers, and reminders of mule trains from the mining era. Old Town Hazelton contains a dozen Victorian buildings left from the gold rush when the Collins Overland Telegraph Line was being built to the Yukon.
More than 50 authentic totem poles stand in the Hazeltons and within an hour’s drive to surrounding villages. ‘Ksan First Nations Historical Village and Museum display totem poles with carvers at work on new poles. A model Gitxsan village consisting of seven communal houses sits where villages have been for some 7,000 years.
Gitsegukla. 16 km / 10 mi before Seeley Lake is Gitsegukla, a small Gitxsan community with carved poles on Hwy 16 east of the junction.
Kispiox. 15 km / 10 mi north of Hazelton is Kispiox. Set in an enclosure by the Kispiox River stands another cluster of 15 outstanding carved poles in a Gitxsan village that pay tribute to the Frog, Wolf and Fireweed clans. The Bent Box and Hidden Place Galleries feature inspired work by local artists.
A memorial overlooking the Hagwilget suspension bridge pays tribute to Gisdaywa, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief who was lead plaintiff in the Delgamuukw court case that in 1987 determined native land claims in the Supreme Court of Canada. This victory recognized the ownership and jurisdiction of Gitxsan Wet’suwet’en Territories. The cable bridge is strung 76 m / 250 ft above the river canyon, the highest suspension bridge in North America. The first bridge was built of cedar bark ropes and planks in 1835.
Side Trip to Nass Valley. To access the Nass Valley take BC Hwy 113/Nisga’a Hwy north from Terrace via Hwy 37. The drive is approximately 100 km / 62 mi from Terrace to New Aiyansh. The Nass Valley is comprised of four Nisga’a villages of Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh, capital of the Nisga’a’s Nation), Gitwinksihikw (Canyon City), Laxgalts’ap (Greenville), and Gingolx (Kincolith, the seafood capital of the Nass).
Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park. Lava features include lava tubes and blocky lava. Lying within this Class A provincial park, the Nisga’a have retained historic hunting, fishing and trapping rights which are jointly managed by First Nations and BC Parks. The Visitor Centre displays historic artifacts and hosts performances of dancers, drummers and storytellers.
The Ancestor’s Collection in the Nisga’a Museum is made up of over 300 hundred artifacts and art objects that through the treaty process were returned from the Royal British Columbia Museum and Canadian Museum of Civilization. This unique collection includes carved masks, headdresses, and soul catchers.
New Aiyansh (Gitlaxt’aamiks). This is the headquarters for four Nisga’a villages, here in the heartland of the 2,000 square kilometers of the new Nisga’a treaty territories in the Nass River Valley.
Canyon City (Gitwinksihlkw) 11 km / 7 mi from New Aiyansh via Nass Road. A bridge features four carved totem poles, recounting the history of four Nisga’a clans – the Wolf, Eagle, Killer Whale and Raven.
Greenville (Laxgalts’ap) 40 km / 25 mi from Gitwinksihlkw via Nass Road. Set on the banks above tidewater on the northwest coast. Haida, Tsimshian and Nisga’a clans often gathered to share in the bounty of the oily eulachon a smelt fish, which led to the naming of the Grease Trail as a trading route between the coastal and inland villages.
Gingolx (Kincolith) 29 km / 18 mi from Laxgalts’ap via Kincolith Road. Try some of the local salmon, halibut or crab in season.
Published: June 17, 2020
Last Updated: November 29, 2022