Road Trips North
One fine morning we left our Nanaimo home and drove up to Port Hardy at the northern end of Vancouver Island. The next day was spent cruising British Columbia's magnificent Inside Passage on the ferry to rainy Prince Rupert.
Our road trip north began with a drive east along the Yellowhead Highway to historic Hazelton and its totem poles. Northbound on the Cassiar Highway, we made a sidetrip to Stewart, BC, and its ramshackle neighbour, Hyder, Alaska, where bears are gorging on the salmon run.
The Yellowhead and Alaska highways are linked by the 700-km Cassiar Highway. Paving crews were at work when we passed and we got through okay, but the car was pretty muddy when we rolled into Watson Lake, Yukon Territory.
Click the red stars on the map to go to photo pages about each area.
The Yukon is still alive with memories of the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. The old train from Skagway, Alaska, now turns around at the Canadian border, but there's still plenty of railway memorabilia in Carcross.
Whitehorse still has the feel of a brusk and friendly frontier town. Miles Canyon on the Yukon River just outside town is a scenic highlight, and there's good hiking around the city.
Kluane National Park is under two hours west of Whitehorse by car. The main visitor center is in Haines Junction. We stayed in a hostel on the shores of Kluane Lake farther west, within sight of Sheep Mountain.
Every visitor to the Yukon tries to get to Dawson City, eight hours northwest of Whitehorse on the Klondike Highway. During the gold rush, thousands of stampeders sailed down the Yukon River on makeshift boats to the goldfields at Bonanza Creek. The Five Finger Rapids north of Carmacks were a major navigational hazard on this route.
Dawson City today retains many vestiges of the crazy summer of 1898 when it was the largest city north of San Francisco and west of Chicago. That atmosphere is best felt at Diamond Tooth Gertie's gambling casino, where cancan dancers perform three shows a night in summer. And the drives up to Midnight Dome or out on the Top of the World Highway are wonderfully scenic.
The highlight of our whole trip, however, was Tombstone Territorial Park, on the Dempster Highway just under a hundred kilometers from Dawson City. Here the vegetation was bright yellow and red, there was snow on the nearby hills in August, and it froze overnight in the campground - Canada's Kashmir!
On our way back down the Alaska Highway to Fort Nelson, BC, we stopped at the fabulous Liard Hot Springs for a swim in the very hot thermal waters. We found a campsite nearby and were able to visit the baths several times - great. We probably saw more wildlife in this area than anywhere else on our trip: wood bison (buffalos), caribou, sheep, black bears, etc. The Liard River is wonderfully picturesque.
Before returning to Nanaimo, we had a week in Whistler, BC, with a group organized by the Nanaimo Tuesday Hikers. We enjoyed some truly outstanding hikes to places like Garibaldi Lake, Whistler Peak, Joffre Lakes, Cougar Mountain, and more. Our thanks to Paul, Jo, Ted, and others for setting the week up.
The following summer, we traveled to the Northwest Territories. The big surprises here were the numerous waterfalls just off the Mackenzie Highway and the barren rock of the Canadian Shield around Yellowknife. The roads were better than we had expected, and it was no problem driving north on the gravel road from Fort Nelson to Fort Simpson, or east on the unpaved portion of the Mackenzie Highway to the pavement extending into Alberta. We especially enjoyed the large herds of wood bison on the way north of Fort Providence and the flocks of pelicans at Fort Smith. We left with happy memories.