Stewart-Cassiar Highway is 725 km long and runs between the Yukon Border and the Kitwanga Junction on Highway 16. You really are off the beaten track. For most of the highway, cell service doesn’t exist. And except for basic fuel, food and accommodation stops, it’s rare to pass others on the drive.
The highway offers a glimpse into the lives of rural British Columbians and First Nations, who live a more rustic, slower-paced life, in which wilderness dominates the landscape.
Starting at Kitwanga, head to the Gitwangak Battle Hill National Historic site. Just 1 km north of Kitwanga, this is where the Gitwangak First Nations people once defended their territory. On top of the high grassy knoll, you’ll get a great view of the town of Kitwanga and the Kitwanga River, a tributary of the Skeena River. Before getting back on the road, grab a meal at the local restaurant that serves home-cooked comfort food in a nostalgic setting described as ‘Westcoast Rustic Industrial’.
Drive 15 kms north to Gitanyow, known for its totem poles, some of the oldest in BC. 20 totem poles remain in the community today and help tell part of the lengthy history of the area, as does the St. Paul’s Anglican Church, across the street.
Continuing on, 134 km north of Gitanyow, you’ll arrive at Meziadin Junction. Camp at the 66-spot Meziadin Lake Provincial Park campground, right on Meziadin Lake. Then take a side trip of the Stewart-Cassiar Highway, 60 km northwest along Highway 37A, to see Bear Glacier and explore Stewart.
From Meziadin Junction, continue 330 km north to Dease Lake, a former Hudson Bay Trading post. On the way, you’ll pass by and through Bell II that’s host to a luxurious wilderness lodge, and Iskut and Tatogga, small Tahltan Nation communities.
Several provincial parks are also in the area, the most significant being Mount Edziza Park and Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park. Mount Edziza is over 230,000 hectares with a unique volcanic landscape and five lakes. Spatzizi is almost 260,000 hectares and well known for its hiking, hunting and fishing. People spend days exploring each of these areas.
Another worthy side trip from Dease Lake is Telegraph Creek, a Tahltan village with approximately 250 residents that sits on a terrace overlooking the Stikine River. The 112-km road to get there has narrow passages along canyon walls and around tight switchbacks, with views of the “Grand Canyon of the Stikine”. Recently, the community of Telegraph Creek was damaged by wildfires and is in the middle of rebuilding.
Keep going 113 km north of Dease Lake to Jade City. The Cassiar Mountain Jade Store teaches visitors about the gem, and sells a variety of souvenirs including jade jewellery and sculptures, carvings and home décor. There’s also a post office, a 40-site RV campground and playground here.
From Jade City, head 23 kms north to Good Hope Lake. Here, the Ta Ch’ila Lake Provincial Park (formerly Boya Lake) has 44 camp sites to choose from, many right on the lake. The water is cold but crystal clear blue and great for exploring the lake’s many islands in a kayak or canoe. Across from the campsites, you’ll see the Ne’āh’ Conservancy, a protected area of spiritual and cultural significance to the Kaska Dene First Nations people. During the summer wildlife is everywhere in this area. Black bears are often seen munching blueberries along the side of the highway. Also watch for moose, lynx, wolverines, goats, and Grizzly bears.