Follow the Yellowhead into the Northwest
It’s impossible to see everything along Route 16 in just a few days. This nearly 720-kilometre stretch of highway, linking Prince George to Prince Rupert, cuts through a vast wilderness area studded with rolling plains, glaciated valleys, soaring snow-capped peaks, thundering waterfalls, and the wild rivers of the Bulkley and Skeena before it meets the edge of the mighty Pacific Ocean.
Whichever direction you choose to drive, and wherever you choose to make your homebase — Prince George, the Lakes District, Smithers, Prince Rupert, Terrace or The Hazeltons — this route will reward those with a sense of adventure and patience the chance to experience the Northwest’s big and bold scenery beyond the windshield.
Plan Your Trip
This route can be driven in either direction, in one-go, or you can make one of the communities along the way your homebase for a week or two as you venture out for epic day trips and overnight adventures at your own pace.
Outdoor adventures abound in the bustling northern hub of Prince George, a welcoming home base for accessing BC’s vast northern reaches. With a population of nearly 75,000, Prince George sits at the intersection of Highway 16 and Highway 97, where the Nechako River meets the mighty Fraser. From here, you can access hiking and biking trails that meander through diverse landscapes and explore hundreds of nearby lakes and rivers.
Visit the Central BC Railway & Forestry Museum, a fun industrial heritage attraction in a spacious park-like setting on the shores of the Nechako River. An hour east on Highway 16, you’ll find the Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Provincial Park, the only inland temperate rainforest in the world and home to western redcedars that are over 1,000 years old.
For guided excursions, check out the Adventure Bus, or go horseback riding with El Shaddai Ranch. For a little nostalgia, check out the Drive In for go-karts and a drive-in theatre, or take a stroll in Cotton Woods Island to explore the whimsical tree carvings, or relax at Northern Lights Estate Winery, the most northern winery in BC, specializing in locally grown fruit wines.
The Bulkley-Nechako region consists of The Bulkey Valley, the Lakes District, and the Nechako Valley. The Nechako Valley, encompasses Vandhoof and Fort St. James. In Vanderhoof, Stay at the Finger Lake Resort to enjoy camping, cabins, RV sites, freshwater fishing, hunting, canoeing, bird watching and wildlife viewing. Stay at Stuart Lodge in Fort St. James, just a quick walk to Stuart Lake.
The Lakes District serves up over 300 lakes and almost 5,000 kilometres of shoreline. View the abundance of lakes from above by booking a flight-seeing tour, or launch your boat for a sunset pleasure cruise or early morning fishing adventure. All this fresh water means there’s no shortage of wilderness lodges, like Pondosy Bay Wilderness Resort, Tesla Lake Lodge, Tetachuk Wilderness Lodge, and Beaver Point Resort. If you’re looking to go your own way, there are numerous private campgrounds and provincial parks ready to welcome you.
In Burns Lake, swing by Burnt Bikes before hitting the area’s extensive mountain bike trails then cool off with the family at the water park and beach volleyball court at Spirit Square (where you can also rent canoes and kayaks). Hike to the towering Cheslatta Falls or to China Knows Summit. And for those looking for a memorable day on the water, paddle and fly-fish the Stellako River or spend a relaxing day at Babine Lake.
The Bulkley Valley, which includes Telkwa, Smithers and Houston, are both amazing for fishing. Houston is the home to Canada’s Largest Fly Rod, which is a testament to fly fishing in the area. Be sure to stop in at Eddy Park in Telkwa, a gorgeous riverside park where the Telkwa and Bulkley Rivers meet.
Set in a fertile, rolling valley against a dramatic backdrop of towering peaks, Smithers is at once a buzzing mountain town and a bucolic farming community. To truly experience Smithers, you’ll need to see both sides. Swing by the Saturday Farmers Market to stock up on fresh produce and treats for future mountain adventures, or join the throng of Smithers cyclists en route to Rustica, the popular wood-fired bakery located at the edge of town on a 100-acre farm. Bike rentals are available from McBike & Sport. After a day of biking, cool down with a paddle board or swim at one of three local lakes, Kathlyn, Seymour or Tyhee (rentals available from Local Supply Co.)
With no shortage of mountains, hiking and mountain bike trails abound; Hudson Bay Mountain and the Babine Mountains. Hike to Crater Lake and brave an an icy plunge, or push yourself to the peak of Hudson Bay to add your name to the book at the top. Opt to take in the scenery on horseback with a guided trail ride from Mountain View Adventures, though arguably the best vantage point for sightseeing is by air (book a floatplane tour with Alpine Lakes Air), or by water (Frontier Experience offers guided rafting trips down the Bulkley). Cap off your Smithers visit with a culinary downtown tour. You’ll find a ton of fantastic places to eat, plus two breweries, all within a few blocks of each other.
The Hazeltons and Witset
25 minutes west of Smithers from the steep banks of the Widzin Kwah Canyon in the First Nations village of Witset you can see local fishermen netting salmon from the rushing river below. Don’t miss the museum’s 45-minute guided canyon tour to learn more about this centuries-old fishing practice. Farther west, the Hazeltons lie at the foot of the rugged Roche de Boule Mountain Range and the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena Rivers. It’s this prime location where you’ll find ‘Ksan Historical Village and Museum, a replica Gitxsan village that will introduce you to the life, art and ways of the Gitxsan people (time your visit right and you can watch Gitxsan artisans carving poles in one of the longhouses). More evidence of the rich Gitxsan and neighbouring Wet’suwet’en culture can be found in the totem poles scattered throughout the surrounding area, many of which you’ll see in nearby Gitwangak, near Kitwanga.
In Hazelton take a self-guided walking tour of the historic downtown and stop for coffee or a snack, then stretch your legs on one of many trails in New Hazelton that will take you to alpine lakes, flower meadows, and into the steep Hagwilget Canyon (be sure to drive over the bridge for spectacular views in all directions). For families, an easy walk to the New Hazelton Waterfall in town is wonderfully rewarding for little effort and can be followed by a delicious snack at the Skeena Bakery.
Looking for a place to picnic or spend the night? Check out the provincial parks in the area like Seeley Lake, Ross Lake or Anderson Flats with stunning mountain views. The nearby Bear Claw Lodge offers once-in-a-lifetime wilderness experiences (think a guided multi-day horseback expedition or snorkelling with salmon from a mountain stream) from their home base in the spectacular Kispiox Valley north of Hazelton.
Terrace’s easy access to wilderness and abundance of opportunities make it a popular destination any time of the year. Choose from more leisurely pursuits like lounging lake-side at Gruchy’s Beach in Lakelse Lake Provincial Park (Furlong Bay Campground is a great option for camping), or cool off with a dip in the clear waters of Kleanza Creek; this well-maintained provincial park is situated just east of Terrace and offers a creekside campground and day picnic area. Or, experience one of the many world-class activities that Terrace offers, such as white water kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking or backcountry skiing. Just west of Terrace, take the turnoff to Shames Mountain, the first community co-op owned and operated ski hill in Canada. Shames grants access to over 7,000 acres of backcountry skiing and has many chairlift accessible runs for all skill levels.
At the Skeena Valley Farmers Market – the largest farmers market in the northwest – you can shop for local produce and handmade goods, listen to live music, and grab a snack from one of the food trucks. Throughout the downtown, experience the array of murals while visiting the many local shops and restaurants. Take a walk over the historic old bridge on your way to the trails of Ferry Island to embrace the mighty Skeena River. With two trail networks minutes from downtown, and an in-town bike park, Terrace is a great place to test your mountain bike skills. Rentals are available from Wild Bike.
Hikers will find trails that wind through old-growth forest to lovely vistas. Sleeping Beauty Mountain Provincial Park, Mount Herman, Terrace Mountain, Thornhill and farther east, Kitselas Canyon are all popular spots. You can’t visit Terrace without experiencing the mighty Skeena River. In fall when the salmon are running, fishing beckons but during summer, a jet boat tour will take you to scenic waterfalls, remote waterways, and in view of wildlife. Post-adventure grab a pint at Sherwood Mountain Brewery, the preferred watering hole for Terrace locals looking for their own well-earned beer. End your day with a tasty ice-cream cone from Chill Soda Shop on the Millennium Trail.
Kitimat is situated at the mouth of the Douglas Channel, a stunning deepwater fjord, which makes water adventures here all the more spectacular. Explore the Dala-Kildala Rivers Estuaries Park with Kingfish West Coast Adventure Tours and look for grizzlies in the tidal wetlands or book a charter and spend the week reeling in coho, steelhead or chinook. The boat-access only Weewanie Hot Springs are one of three natural hot springs perched at the ocean’s edge within 100 kilometres of Kitimat. After a day of heli-fishing or whale watching with Kitimat Lodge, you’ll be shuttled out to the hot springs — they’re conveniently located close to the lodge’s basecamp — to enjoy a soothing soak as you scan the shoreline looking for wildlife. Rent a kayak from North Pacific Transport & Eco-Tours to explore the fjord at your own pace or hike into the mountains for a spectacular view of it from above.
If dry land is more your thing, hiking opportunities abound in Kitimat. Try routes like North Cove, Clague, Fire Mountain, Maggie’s Point or Mount Elizabeth. For more leisurely pursuits, check out the totem poles at Maggie’s Point in Kitimat Village, or a stroll through Giant Spruce Park. The 18-hole Hirsch Creek Golf Course sits among some of the most stunning mountain scenery in northwestern BC.
Take your time along the final leg of Route 16. This stretch of highway follows the Skeena — Canada’s second-largest salmon-producing watershed — as it flows into the mouth of the Pacific Ocean. Continuing on, keep watch for wildlife on your journey and stop at one of the rest areas for views of the Skeena and a mid-drive snack. In Port Edward, detour to the North Pacific Cannery, the oldest West Coast cannery still standing and now a National Historic Site, for a fascinating look at the area’s commercial salmon fishing history (check website for operating hours and dates).
In Prince Rupert, spend some time around town looking for beautifully painted murals, or send an afternoon in the Sunken Gardens and be sure to take in Bhutze Rapids. The Museum of Northern BC is a must-stop; learn about ten thousand years of Indigenous history on this coast through artifacts, archaeological discoveries and oral recordings.
Get out on the water by booking a guided charter to reel in your own salmon (bonus: fishing charters here often pull double duty as wildlife tours). To explore the water more closely, rent a canoe or and kayak from Skeena Kayaking or book a guided day of private paddling with Outer Coast Outfitters to explore the area’s salty shoreline and quiet lakes. From the harbour you can reserve a hydrobike to see Prince Rupert from a whole new perspective, then head to a nearby patio to watch sunset (The Crest, Breakers Pub and Wheelhouse Brewing are all within walking distance, but be sure to sample the fresh seafood at Dolly’s Fish Market, (Fukusaku, Opa and Sukoshi)).
A floatplane tour with Ocean Pacific Air will show you just how remarkable this part of BC’s coastline is and fly you to stunning places — like the Khuzteymateen, a Grizzly bear sanctuary— not accessible by road.
The three major highways (16, 37 and 113) offer views of changing terrains and plentiful wildlife as you pass through the region.
The mountains and rivers give life to the northwest and give many natural adventure options. The Kitimat, Skeena and Nass rivers are nestled amongst the Coast Mountains and offer an immersive wilderness experience.
The wintertime in the northwest takes on a different personality from the warmer seasons. Each community offers different on-piste, backcountry, and cross-country skiing options, and snowmobiling.