A year ago, I never would have thought that I would find myself driving through the most untouched parts of British Columbia, heading towards Alaska. We decided to detour from our destination, the Yukon, and visit Stewart, BC, and Hyder, Alaska along the Stewart- Cassiar highway. Stewart is nestled in Northwestern British Columbia and sits across from Misty Fjords National Park in Alaska. Located at the end of the Portland Canal, Stewart is surrounded by dense wilderness, giant peaks, and glistening glaciers.
Ultimately, Stewart BC is an outdoor enthusiasts heaven, but the landscape isn’t the only thing that makes this town so unique. Stewart is border buddies with Hyder- Alaska’s easternmost town. With a population of 87 residents in 2010, the town is isolated from the rest of the United States. The small border town does not have anyone patrolling it’s entry, nor does it have any law enforcement at all; it is completely self-governing.
We met a man named Wes, the owner of the General Store in Hyder, who resembled a character right out of an old western movie. We asked him what happens if there are any issues in the town,
he chuckled and said ‘call me’ and shifted his eyes over to his Smith & Wesson gun.
Wes told us all about the large grizzly population that exists in the area and how they roam freely around the town. He explained that generally the encounters are harmless but it’s best to have a gun loaded with rubber bullets to scare the animals off. We proceeded to ask him if we would be okay to tent in the area as there are more grizzly bears than people. He paused, looked us right in the eyes and turned the most cliche line into the most fitting response and answers with “it’s all about the adventure”. We took his response as a thumbs up and we ended up sleeping more soundly than ever that night.
If the town’s themselves don’t already encourage you start gearing up and packing your adventure bags than the pure and untouched landscape certainly will.
There are two glaciers that are absolute must sees when visiting Stewart and Hyder.
The first one is Bear Glacier. We thought that our drive from Smithers to Stewart BC was amazing until we turned a corner and an overwhelming and breathtaking glacier unveiled itself. The drive went from amazing to outstandingly impressive right then and there.
There was not a sign to indicate its’ name and tell us how big it was. Picture the busy parking lot and line ups at glaciers such as Athabasca glacier in Alberta and scratch it from your mind. The area had no other vehicles in sight so we got to have the intimidating glacier all to ourselves. Bear glacier is nothing like you have ever seen anywhere in the Canadian Rockies. We stopped and had lunch and enjoyed the glacier for a few hours before continuing on towards Stewart.
I promised you a seat clinger so here it is.
Salmon glacier is located in British Columbia but you can access it by the Granduc road from Hyder Alaska. The Granduc road is an old mining road that’s 37 kilometres long and takes you to the fifth largest glacier in Canada, Salmon glacier. The prerequisite for this bumpy ride is a 4×4 vehicle and a tough stomach. The road has no guard rails and ascends about 2000 m on the edge of the valley towards the glacier. To your left will be millions of acres of the Tongass National Forest which is only accessible by vehicle through Hyder, Alaska. The road is maintained to a certain extent but was too snowy at this time of year for us to continue to the summit viewpoint.
There are several opportunities to experience the glacier before this point though. Salmon Glacier is absolutely stunning. The quiet and vast landscape certainly reminds you that you are a visitor and the open space in the valley below is incredibly humbling.
Either on your way to Salmon glacier or on your way back, it is absolutely worth it to stop at the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area. You know those classic images of grizzly bears chomping on salmon in the water? Yeah, this is exactly where those photos are taken. There’s a boardwalk built for visitors to walk around the creek and watch from above as these magnificent creatures feast on pink salmon. Depending on the time of year you visit, your chances of seeing the grizzlies will be higher during spawning season. Though there is a barrier, it is always important to be cognizant of the fact that the bears are wild and unpredictable. We went in June, so we were a shy bit early for spawning season.
Stewart and Hyder is a truly unique story of one town in two countries. There is so much wilderness to experience from both towns and it is hands down worth the trek to see these bizarre yet intriguing towns first hand.
Just don’t forget to pack your bear spray.