Beat the Crowds Along Route 37
The Stewart-Cassiar Highway is a window into BC’s true North. The 724-kilometre highway, which branches from Route 16 at Kitwanga via Highway 37 until it meets the BC-Yukon border, features more provincial and wilderness parks, glaciers, and wildlife with communities and amenities along this route to keep you fuelled and fed in between. But if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, there’s no better route to explore.
Plan Your Trip
This route has some gravel sections and a narrow shoulder. There are few amenities and services, although the communities you’ll encounter along the way — Kitwanga, Stewart, Dease Lake and Jade City — make excellent basecamps for when you want to venture (far) off the beaten path on lonely roads into the area’s wild and rugged terrain. Keep in mind cell service along Highway 37 is limited.
The village of Kitwanga, and 15-kilometres farther north, Gitanyow, are home to some of the oldest and most stunning carved totem poles in BC. There are more than 50 carved poles within an hour’s drive (including nearby Hazelton along Route 16). Follow the “Hands of History Tour”, a self-guided, 110-kilometre circle loop between The Hazeltons and Kitwanga to learn about the area’s rich Indigenous culture and to marvel at the craftsmanship of these towering carved giants. Continue your self-guided tour at the Gitwangak Battle Hill National Historic site, once the site where the Gitwangak peoples defended their territory. Set on a high grassy knoll, it offers a spectacular vantage point over Kitwanga and its namesake river. As you head north, be sure to stop and see the famed 140-year-old “Hole in the Sky” totem pole.
Meziadin Lake Provincial Park is a popular campsite along this route and a favorite of anglers thanks to its ample stock of Rainbow Trout, Mountain Whitefish and Dolly Varden. With nearby salmon spawning creeks that feed the lake, it’s one of only three places in the province where salmon spawn in the bays and inlets of a lake with four species returning yearly. (There is a convenience store where you can buy a fishing license and gear.) Spend the night camping by the lake before detouring to Stewart in the morning.
This is where the highway forks, with one tine heading towards Stewart, and the other heading towards Dease Lake.
Stewart, BC and Hyder, AK
The 60-kilometre side trip on Highway 37A to Stewart is well worth the detour. Along the way stop at Bear Glacier, one of two vehicle-accessible glaciers in the area. The other is Salmon Glacier, located 37-kilometres north of Stewart, and the fifth largest glacier in the world. Be sure to check any travel restrictions as the road to the Salmon Glacier travels through the United States. It’s also worth noting that the road to the glacier is not paved and may not be suitable for all vehicles.
Stretch your legs while strolling Stewart’s charming downtown, lined with colourful wooden buildings that are reminiscent of the town’s mining past. Learn what life was like in Stewart in 1898 at the Stewart Museum, then swing by Toastworks, equal parts kitschy cafe and toaster museum, for a snack. Be sure to save room for what may say is the best, gooeyest cinnamon bun in the Northwest, across the street at Temptations Bakery.
Book a fishing charter with Wild Northern Adventures to experience the bounty of the Portland Canal for yourself, or treat yourself to a heli-tour with Yellowhead Helicopters to see the area’s glaciers, grizzlies, and scenery from above.
On the way to the Salmon Glacier, stop at Fish Creek in Hyder, a Grizzly and black bear habitat, where you’ll often see these magnificent creatures feeding on salmon in the river from elevated wooden viewing platforms.
Follow Highway 37 north from Meziadin Junction to Kinaskan Lake Provincial Park. Located between the Skeena and Coast Mountain Ranges, the park offers spectacular scenery and good rainbow trout fishing. A quick paddle across Natadesleen Lake will bring you to the trailhead to the dramatic Cascade Falls. As you continue your drive north, watch for wildlife. Moose, bears, Stone sheep and mountain goats are frequently spotted from the road.
This stretch of road is sandwiched between two of BC’s most spectacular and expansive wilderness areas: Mount Edziza Provincial Park at 230,000 hectares, and the Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park at 260,000 hectares. Book a floatplane tour with Alpine Lakes Air to explore Mount Edziza’s unique volcanic landscape and lakes (there is no vehicle access into the park). In Spatsizi, spend a week at Spatsizi River Adventures’s remote fly-out lodge angling for trout on mountain streams rarely fished. Spatsizi River Adventures also offers hunting and guided horseback expeditions in the park. For a budget-friendly option, make the multi-day trek into the park and stay at BC Parks-managed cabins at Cold Fish Lake. Bring your own rod and tackle for easy fishing off the dock. At Dease Lake, you’ll also find excellent fishing, with stocks of Dolly Varden, Grayling, Northern Pike and trout. Dease Lake is the largest service hub of this route so make sure to stock up on groceries, gas, and other amenities before hitting the road again.
Telegraph Creek, in Tahltan territory, is home to the “Grand Canyon” of Canada: the upper Stikine River, a bucket-list river on every whitewater rafter’s list. Book a guided tour to explore these Class II and III rivers; Nahanni Wild Outfitters offers multi-day expeditions, leaving from Terrace via charter van to Iskut, where you’ll take a private flight into Tuaton Lake, deep in the heart of Spatsizi, and then onwards deeper into the Stikine.
Stay at the charming Stikine Riversong Café and General Store, and enjoy the warm hospitality of this wonderful little BnB on the river. Or check out Hyland Creek cabins 5 minutes out of town. And be sure to stop in at the Stikine Museum, a meticulously-curated showcase of the area’s rich history.
Make a pit stop in Jade City, named for its abundant deposits of its namesake mineral, and grab a souvenir at the local gift shop. Take a side trip into the now-abandoned outpost of Cassiar, a former mining town, where you can still see remnants of life in the crumbling cabins and still-standing tramline.
Further north, Tā Ch’ilā Provincial Park (Boya Lake)’s vibrant aquamarine hue is no sleight of Photoshop: the clarity and colour of the lake are a result of light reflecting off of marl, a mixture of silt and shell fragments, which has settled on the lake’s bottom. While tropical in hue, the lake is cold so if you’re not prepared for a refreshing dip, bring a canoe or standup paddle board to enjoy its calm waters. There are two easy interpretive trails to walk, accessible from either end of the lake.
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.