COAST AND CANYON, A B.C. CIRCLE ROAD TRIP
By Cherie Thiessen
For Travel Writers’ Tales
The snow-cloaked Coast Mountains elbow the Skeena River, dripping long, silvery waterfalls, and there’s a tang of cottonwood wafting through the campervan window as we dawdle down Highway 16 from Prince Rupert to Prince George. Also known as the Yellowhead Highway, the narrow road invites a slower pace. We pull over to gawk and guzzle tea in our snug little RV. Enclosed like turtles, we’re never disappointed with meals, transportation, or hotels. All we need are campsites, and there are plenty to choose from, from scenic provincial and federal parks, to fully serviced, strategically placed private sites. We’re giddy with endless choices and wide-open spaces.
Day 3 of our 9-day road trip, and it’s already a winner, in spite of moody May weather. Day 1 took us 500 kilometres up Vancouver Island from Victoria to Port Hardy, and if that wasn’t scenic enough, we then indulged in a spectacular 22-hour Inside Passage cruise to Prince Rupert, aboard the B.C. Ferries’ MV Northern Expedition. Who would have thought so many waterfalls could be crammed into one small corner of B.C.’s coast? Soon after, we squeezed into Grenville Channel, rubbing shoulders with forest and rock. And then came the Killer Whales. Chief Steward, Lorne Campbell, who has been on this route for 11 years, says they’re the star attraction.
When and where do we see whales? It’s the number one question passengers ask. We often see them, especially around Bella Bella and the southern section, mostly Humpbacks, sometimes Orcas, and Grey Whales during migrations.”
In a holiday of superlatives, this cruise trumps.
Day 3 started with a detour to the North Pacific Cannery Museum at Port Edward near Prince Rupert, a National Historic site. Established in 1889, it’s the oldest remaining fish cannery on North America’s west coast. Each building, perched on wood pilings along the banks of the Inverness Passage, tells a story about the lost industry and the workers who lived here. The site is impressive but lonely.
On this circle trip, we meet raucous rivers like the Skeena, the Bulkley, the Thompson and the Fraser, but while the scenery is a big attraction, so is First Nations culture and history: the traditional fishing at Moricetown, the totems at Kitwanga, and the famed ‘Ksan Heritage Site. This afternoon we\’re heading to Old Hazelton and ‘Ksan, an historical Gitksan village at the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers. Crossing the one lane suspension bridge over Hagwilget Canyon is an adventure in itself, and camping at ‘Ksan after wandering among the totems and lodges allows us to absorb the spirit of this culture. Sitting at our iconic campfire toasting sooty marshmallows, we feel that if we weren’t camping, we would have missed something intangible.
After a sleep interlaced with the sound of frogs, and followed by a breakfast ‘al fresco,’ we’re off to join Highway 97 at Prince George, taking time out for lakeside camping at Fort Fraser.
Day 5 catches us climbing the 81 kilometres to Barkerville, where Billy Barker struck it rich in 1862 but wound up dying in a pauper’s grave. Snow still squats on each side of the muddy street as dainty damsels in period costume lift their sweeping petticoats, going about their 19th century business in this historic gold rush town. We eat doughnuts from the bakery, watch the blacksmith at work, take in a performance at the Theatre Royal, and eavesdrop on a stern schoolmistress giving a lesson to a classroom full of 21st century students. Eventually it’s back to Hwy. 97 and Dragon Lake, for another night of frog song.
Day 6. We cruise alongside grasslands with the ubiquitous Coast Mountains a smudge in the sky. Ponderosa Pine and sagebrush appear, and we join the Trans Canada Hwy at Cache Creek. Just before Lytton, is Kumsheen, a tiny but glorious strip of campsites, tents, tepees and adventure, sandwiched between the Thompson and the road. The sun’s out and Kumsheen is famous for white water rafting. We spend an extra day here.
Day 8 and we`re smack dab in the Fraser Canyon, swaying high over Hell’s Gate on the airtram. Operating since 1971, the hair-raising trip may be the longest two minutes of your life. As you dangle over that boiling stew, just imagine how Simon Fraser felt, approaching in his flimsy canoe.
Our last day is spent in Vancouver. The circle is complete.
B.C’s scenery, history, attractions, and recreation keep pulling us back on the road; RVing makes it so easy to succumb.