British Columbia
The Great Northern Circle Route
  (July 29 to August 12, 2008)

You can click on "photos" to get directly to the first photo page, which has a connector to the second page (if there is one).

In 2006, Diane and I made the journey to Alaska. There are several ways to make that journey. One is to drive up the Alaska Highway and back via the ferry in the Inside Passage. Another way is to drive up the Alaska Highway and back via the Cassiar Highway to Hyder to see the bears. We did the journey by driving up and back on the Alaska Highway. I promised Diane that the next time we were back in the northwest we would go to Hyder.

Our plans for 2008 were to tour Alberta and British Columbia with our good travel companions, Norm and Linda Payne. The Alberta plans were easy. We would go to the Calgary Stampede and then tour the Canadian Rockies. Where to go in British Columbia was more up in the air other than we planned to visit Vancouver. So I suggested that we could drive the Great Northern Circle Route. Typically, this route is thought to start in Prince George. From there, it goes up to Dawson Creek where the Alaska Highway starts and then up to Watson Lake in the Yukon. Then it's down the Cassiar Highway to Kitwanga where it meets the Yellowhead Highway and then back to Prince George. We decided to do that route, but we started in Dawson Creek because we were coming up from the Rockies. So the only piece of the route we didn't do was the leg from Prince George to Dawson Creek.

This travelog documents our experiences along the Great Northern Circle Route. It's mostly a pictorial travelog. The scenery was fantastic, especially on the Cassiar Highway where it seemed that there was a mountain, a lake, a river, or a creek around every bend in the road. Diane and I did enjoy retracing the part of the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek to Watson Lake that we did on our journey to Alaska. The scenery was, to be sure, very nice, especially the Muncho Lake area, but we thought the best scenery was in the Yukon, which we didn't cover on this year's trip.

July 29 to July 30: Dawson Creek, British Columbia (236 miles)

Route:  AB 2; BC 2

Campground:  Walmart parking lot

We weren't able to convince Norm and Linda to go to Alaska with us in 2006, so we were very happy to be able to share driving part of the Alaska Highway with them this year. We spent two days in Dawson Creek and did the usual things that one does when in this home of Mile Marker 0 of the Alaska Highway:  we went to the museum, took photos at Mile 0, and went to see the historic Kiskatinaw River Bridge. Rather than rewrite the words, I'm just going to lift the words from one of our 2006 Alaska travelogs.

The actual Mile Marker 0 is in the middle of an intersection in town. Dawson Creek is known for being the home of Mile Marker 0 and it's motto is "Where the adventure begins". The Alaska Highway was built in nine months in 1942 by some 11,000 American troops, 16,000 civilians from Canada and the United States, and 7,000 pieces of equipment. The highway was born as a result of Canada and the U.S. determining that in order to secure North America there needed to be a way to transport military goods and material from the continental U.S. to Alaska. That meant building a highway some 1,500 miles long through untamed wilderness in Canada and Alaska.

Before the highway construction began, Dawson Creek was a small town with about 600 people. When American troops started to arrive, the town's population grew to over 10,000 people instantly. On November 20, 1942, the "Alcan" Highway was dedicated at mile marker 1061 (known as Soldier's Summit). The road was actually 1,528 miles long. Today the highway is a major draw for people who are adventurous enough to want to drive its distance from Dawson Creek in British Columbia to Delta Junction in Alaska. Due to constant  upgrading and straightening of the highway, it now ends at mile marker 1422 in Delta Junction. The Alaska Highway opened to the public in 1948.

We drove over to the visitor center and art gallery for the obligatory photo in front of the Alaska Highway sign. After that we went to the visitor center to see the one hour movie about the building of the highway. It was very interesting. One can only imagine the harsh conditions those people endured while building the highway. They had to contend with cold and wet; heat; mosquitos, mud; being far from home for months. We also drove into town for photos at Mile 0.

At milepost 17.3 there was a turnoff to a loop road that led to the Kiskatinaw River Bridge. The Alaska Highway has been modified over the years and this loop road allowed us to travel a stretch on the old Alaska Highway. The bridge is a curved wooden bridge 531 feet long and is the only original timber bridge built along the highway that is still in use. It dates back to 1942.

July 31: Fort Nelson (283 miles)

Route: Alaska Highway

Campground:  Fort Nelson 5th Wheel Truck Stop  This campground may be out of business shortly.  The lady who leased the truck stop and RV campground said business was off by about 60% this year. We wanted to get some diesel fuel, but she told us she was out of diesel.  Tough times for business owners.

Fuel:  $1.58 per liter, which came to $5.988 per gallon ($5.981 with exchange rate) at Fas Gas in Fort Nelson

This was just an overnight stop. We did the small museum in 2006, but it was something we could have missed. This time we only drove into town to find a place to eat dinner and scout out places where we could get diesel fuel the next day. We found a couple of places and decided we would each go to a different place to fill up given the price was the same all over town and none were big enough to easily handle two rigs at the same time. That didn't turn out to be true pertaining to the price of the diesel.

One of the stations was a Fas Gas. When we stopped in Grand Prairie, Norm and I went to scout out some fuel stations and we stopped at a Fas Gas. I went in to chat with the guy at the counter. I remembered that Fas Gas had a "cash back" program. The guy told me you had to have 12 fill ups before getting cash back. What he didn't bother to tell me was that the other part of the program was that the "cash back" program was also for fill ups of $150, or more. So our fill up in Fort Nelson got us a refund of $9.27. It also meant that we lost out on a refund of $12 in Grand Prairie, and Norm would have received a refund of $22.50 in Fort Nelson had he gone to the Fas Gas. So for anyone who reads this and traveling in Canada, and you come across a Fas Gas station, ask about the "cash back" program if you are going to spend more than $150 to fill your rig.

August 1: Muncho Lake (146 miles)

Route:  Alaska Highway

Campground:  Boondock in roadside pullout

In 2006, we stopped in Muncho Lake for a night on the way back from Alaska and stayed at Strawberry Flats Campground. This time we stopped on the way north, but the campground was pretty full and there weren't any big rig sites available.

Muncho means "big lake" in the Kaska language. It is 7.5 miles long and is one of the largest natural lakes in the Canadian Rockies. The lake is a beautiful jade green in color created by tiny rock fragments scraped from the valley walls by glaciers and carried by meltwater down to the lake. Most of the silt sinks to the bottom of the icy water. Fine particles ground to the texture of flour remain suspended in the lake water giving it a milky appearance. The "rock flour" reflects and scatters the sunlight, returning mainly the blue green spectrum to our eyes.

One of the things we learned from a roadside sign was that the mountains in the area were a terminal range of the Canadian Rockies. "Terminal" refers to the geographic position of the mountain range and is the northernmost section of the Rocky Mountains. People think that the Rockies extend north into the Yukon and into Alaska, but that is a misconception. The Mackenzie Mountains continue north and are a different mountain range. The total length of the Rockies is about 1,850 miles. In Canada, the Rockies go from their northern tip to the international boundary between Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta and Glacier National Park, Montana. They then stretch into the U.S. through Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and into New Mexico ending near Santa Fe.

On the drive from Fort Nelson this year we saw bears, caribou, deer, and stone sheep. We also noticed more businesses that had closed, including the J&H Campground in Muncho Lake. RV caravans stopped at J&H on their way to Alaska, so now it looks like they have a much longer drive to their next stop. It has been very clear that 2007 and 2008 have been extremely difficult years for the RV industry and related businesses such as campgrounds and restaurants.

Restaurant Warning:  I have to post a restaurant warning here about the Northern Rockies Lodge in Muncho Lake. This is about the only place in the area to get a meal, so we stopped there to check it out. Typically, Diane and Linda will go into a restaurant to check out the menu and prices and let me and Norm know if it's a go for a meal there. When they got inside the restaurant in the Northern Rockies Lodge, they found the entree prices to be in the $20s. We will sometimes eat in a place with what we consider pricey entrees and each couple will split a meal. The lady in the restaurant, who may have been an owner, was very curt to Diane and Linda and said "no split plates" and "no sharing off one plate". She said that to Diane and Linda three times. Needless to say, we do not patronize businesses like that. We spend what we can afford to spend, plus it helps with portion control as entrees are usually a lot more food than we need.

Instead of getting money for two meals and drinks, the Northern Rockies Lodge got NADA, nothing, zero. That doesn't seem to be a very good business decision, but maybe they are doing better than it looked like they were doing given the parking lot was pretty empty. I did send them a note telling them that we passed on their restaurant due to their "no sharing meals" policy, but I never received a reply.

August 2: Liard Hot Springs (37 miles)

Route: Alaska Highway

Campground:  Boondock in roadside pullout across from the provincial park

After parking the motorhomes, we got into our bathing suits and walked to the hot springs. There are two springs, alpha and beta. The closer spring is alpha and is the hotter of the two, and it is hot. However, once you get used to it, the water was fantastic. It did have a slight sulfur smell, but not at all overpowering. There weren't a lot of people in the water so it wasn't as crowded as it was when we were there in 2006. However, there were a lot of bugs this year, especially these big black flying bugs with long antennas that were a real problem when we got to Watson Lake. We learned sometime later that they were spruce beetles.

We did meet a nice couple from Zurich and had a nice conversation with them. We were in the Zurich area last summer to visit our friends, Peter and Yoko, so we talked about towns in the area that we had visited.

We soaked for almost an hour and went back to the motorhome to change. Then we walked over to the lodge down the road and had a nice late lunch or, as Diane and Linda like to call it, "lupper".

August 3 to August 4: Watson Lake, Yukon Territory (131 miles)

Route: Alaska Highway

Campground:  Downtown RV Park  As documented in the Church's Alaska book, it's just a gravel lot. However, it is walking distance to just about anything you'd want to do in town. We had full hookups to catch up on laundry. The lady in the office told me they had WiFi available, but only around the building.

Fuel:  $1.519 per liter, which came to $5.75 per gallon ($5.701 with exchange rate) at Watson Lake Convenience

The big draw in Watson Lake is the Signpost Forest. In 1942, a homesick GI, Carl Lindley, who was working on the Alaska Highway erected a sign pointing to his home in Damville, Illinois. Since then, it has been estimated that more than 65,000 license plates, road and traffic signs, and unique home-made signs have been left on posts in the Signpost Forest. In 2006, we left a sign in the forest that we had been using on the front of our motorhome. We nailed that old wooden sign to one of the posts in the forest for all to see, but it was down at the bottom of the post. Our goal this time was to find the sign and see if we could move it to a higher position. I thought I remembered where we put the sign, but I was way off and Diane found it. There were new posts that were not full of signs, so I moved our sign to a different post and about midway up. I also sprayed it with polyurethane to help it weather the elements better.

After walking around the signpost forest we all went into the museum to watch a movie and walk through the exhibits.

I mentioned that we encountered some spruce beetles in Liard Hot Springs. They were horrible in Watson Lake. They were flying around everywhere. A few even managed to get inside the motorhome, which was not fun at all. Those bugs are UGLY.

We experienced some sticker shock when we needed milk and walked across the street to the market. I think it was an all-time record to pay $7 for one gallon of milk. We did not buy any other groceries up there as everything was very expensive.

August 5: Along the Cassiar Highway (140 miles)

Route:  Alaska Highway; Cassiar Highway

Campground:  Roadside pullout on the shore of Dease Lake. We found a pullout at mile marker 518.2km. It was a gravel area down off the road and was large enough for several big rigs. There was a rest area at mile marker 517km, but with no view of the lake.

The Cassiar Highway 37 is a 450 mile long road that travels from Kitwanga, BC to the Alaska Highway. It is one of the roads, along with the Alaska Highway, that has reports of very rough conditions in some sections. When we were in Watson Lake we got several reports on the conditions of the Cassiar from some local folks. The reports ranged from very bad for 60 miles on the northern section to vehicle eating potholes for many miles. I had seen a report on a forum from someone who had been on the highway a few weeks earlier who said it was rough for about 20 miles on the northern end. If we had believed the worst of the reports we would have turned around and gone back down the Alaska Highway. But we decided we would drive the Cassiar and hope for the best. To be safe, we decided to unhook the cars and drive the vehicles separately.

So off we went with me driving our Dutch Star in the lead, then Diane in our car, Linda in her car, and Norm bringing up the rear in his Dutch Star. So how was the road you ask? Well, the first thing we encountered after some smooth asphalt after we first turned onto the highway was some gravel sections with some washboard. But it wasn't anything that going 15-20 mph didn't handle. We found that the article I read on a forum was the most accurate and the gravel sections ended about 25 miles down the road. So we stopped at a pullout and hooked up the cars for the rest of the trip. The rest of the Cassiar down to Dease Lake had some bumpy section, but nothing worse than roads we've seen in the U.S.

Dease Lake was a beautiful place to spend the night. We walked down the road to the shoreline and saw another RV down there, a fifth wheel from Oregon. We chatted with the folks for a while and then went back up to our motorhome where we broke out the grills and had dinner. Then we took some chairs down to the lake and put them into the water as we sat with our feet in the water and taking in the beauty of the lake.

August 6 to August 7: Outside of Stewart (254 miles)

Route:  Cassiar Highway; BC 37A

Campground:  Roadside pullout

The remainder of the Cassiar Highway turned into smooth asphalt for about 200 miles on the lower section.

We found a roadside pullout about seven miles outside of Stewart. It was listed on a mile marker website I found for the Cassiar and the side road to Stewart and Hyder. We parked the rigs there for two nights before moving into town to a campground so we could catch up on laundry, and also to be able to watch the start of the Olympics.

We found a market in town that offered free WiFi, so Norm and I sat outside catching up on email while Diane and Linda toured the shops. Then it was a short drive to Hyder, Alaska to see if the bears were out in the river catching salmon. We went to the viewing point in the Tongass National Forest, which was designated as such in 1907 by Theodore Roosevelt. At 16.9 million acres, it is the largest national forest in the United States and home to more than 5,000 brown bears.

There was a long boardwalk on which people can walk and look down on the river to watch the bears. The salmon weren't running very much, so bear watching wasn't all that great. We spent about an hour and a half the first time we were in Hyder and saw no bears. The second time we saw two bears. The third time we were there we did not see any bears over about an hour and a half. We also saw a couple of eagles that were there each time we went to Tongass.

One day we stopped at the Seafood Express ("The Bus") to eat some fresh seafood. It was a converted bus and the food was delicious, although one can't be in a hurry as it takes a long time to get served. It's claim to fame is also that Robin Williams ate there when he was in town with Al Pacino and Hillary Swank while making the movie "Insomnia".

August 8 to August 9: Stewart (7 miles)

Route:  BC 37A

Campground:  Bear River RV Park  This was a nice park. Nicer than the reviews led us to believe. We had good sites. It offered cable TV so we could watch the Olympics, and also offered free WiFi that worked okay.

We were only going to spend one night there, but then we saw that the annual Bear Festival was in town with a BBQ and pancake breakfast. So we stayed an extra day. The festival was a small town affair, but we did get some BBQ and then pancakes the next morning.

August 10: Kitwanga (123 miles)

Route:  BC 37A

Campground:  Cassiar RV Park  This is a small park. No one was there when we arrived, but then a guy came out and said he was the owner. He had to go get his wife to open up the office to register us. A problem with the park is that they have trees at the front corners of the sites we were assigned and these trees tightened up the sites. Although they were pullthru sites, we had to back out to avoid having the trees rub against the side of the motorhome.

Fuel:  $1.459 per liter, which came to $5.523 per gallon ($5.345 with the exchange rate) at the Kitwanga Petro station

We stayed here for just one reason: to wash the rigs with a high pressure hose. They were filthy and in need of a washing. All four of us helped out to get the two rigs and two cars washed and then got set up in our sites.

August 11: Prince George (298 miles)

Route:  Yellowhead Highway

Campground:  Walmart parking lot

Fuel:  $1.429 per liter, which came to $5.409 per gallon ($5.199 with the exchange rate) at the Kitwanga Petro station

They Yellowhead Highway (Provincial Highway 16) runs from Prince Rupert all the way to where it connects with TransCanada 1 in Manitoba at Portage la Prairie. We did drive it all the way from Kitwanga to Portage la Prairie. For the most part, it is a nice two or four land highway and paved. Some sections, especially in Manitoba were a bit bumpy.

We only spent a night in Prince George.

August 11: Hinton (298 miles)

Route:  Yellowhead Highway

Campground:  Walmart parking lot

Well, this will bring this travelog to an end. We started north from Hinton to Grand Prairie and then on to Dawson Creek to start our drive on the Great Northern Circle Route. We covered a lot of miles and saw lots of fantastic scenery and animals.

From here we continued on the Yellowhead Highway as we made our way to Edmonton and then to Winnipeg. Our plans were to go around Lake Superior and then drop down into Michigan and points south. That will be in our next travelog.

Until next time, safe travels.....

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