Thursday, August 25, 2016

Detour from the Cassiar to Stewart/Hyder

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When we left our boondocking spot at Lower Gnat lake, we were headed for the Meziadin Lake Provincial Park. This, we thought, would be our return trip-equivalent of Muncho Lake, where we spent four beautiful days on our trip north in May. It was a place we could slow down, rest and enjoy the gorgeous views. Lake Meziadin would also be our basecamp for visiting Bear Glacier, Stewart, Hyder and the Salmon Glacier.

But as we drove ever closer, I began to have second thoughts. We had anticipated multiple trips into Stewart/Hyder, but after three long days of driving, the reality of a 120 km round-trip drive each time started to set in and it didn't sound at all relaxing! When I mentioned to Steven that I thought we would enjoy the area more if we were staying closer, he agreed! That's when I mentioned how great it would be to have FHUs. (You're on to my game now, right?) We'd been boondocking for quite a few days and I was more than ready. And he agreed! Yipee!

But then we did a little research. Sure, having full hook-ups close to all the sites is a fantastic idea, until you consider the price for what you actually get. Ugh. I've mentioned before how averse we've become to paying exorbitant prices for camping spots. The more we boondock, the less inclined we are to fork over the money for something mediocre. And that's pretty much what we found in Stewart and Hyder.

Plan B was a Stewart city park, the Rainey Creek Campground. It was reasonably priced, but it offered only electric. No water, no sewer. The other issue with this little place is that it is located in a primordial forest, right in town! So while it was a great location for sightseeing in Stewart & Hyder, nothing depresses me more than being in a campground so dark and damp that I need lights on in the daytime. Double ugh.

Our primordial campsite at Rainey Creek. It was fairly sketchy getting in there, too.

Sometimes you just have to give in and let go and that's what I did. I found what I thought was the sunniest spot in all of Rainey Creek Campground and by sunny I mean dark and depressing. But never mind that, we had glaciers and bears and a ton of quirky stuff to see. Then we had two days of rain. Have y'all ever seen the movie Insomnia with Al Pacino? It was partially filmed in Stewart/Hyder and Pacino's character went crazy here. So, yeah.

In spite of all that, we really did enjoy visiting the area. The drive from the Cassiar Highway to the small communities of Stewart, B.C and Hyder, AK is among the prettiest we'd seen all summer. The scenery is reminiscent of that on the way from Glennallen to Valdez, towering, lush mountains with multiple waterfalls spilling hundreds of feet over the edge. And then we saw Bear Glacier. Wow!

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Bear Glacier, the first of the epic views on Highway 37A to Stewart.

From all that I had read about Stewart and Hyder, they were described as dying little communities. I totally disagree. We rolled into Stewart to find well cared-for homes with lush, green lawns, beautiful flowers, clean streets, friendly folks and all the amenities one might need while visiting. Hyder is a little more on the dilapidated side, but their population has grown to include enough kids that the high school reopened. Prior to this, the kids went to school in Stewart.

Early morning fog in Stewart.

Downtown Stewart

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Did we mention that Hyder has a distinctly Twin Peaks vibe?

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The border crossing between Hyder (the friendliest ghost town in Alaska) and Stewart, BC.

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Hyder’s post office! How cute is this place?

It's an odd arrangement with these two towns, one being in Canada, the other in Alaska. There is no border check going into Alaska (Hyder), but passports are required to re-enter Canada (Stewart). Recently, The New York Times wrote a fun article about these two communities and it is well-worth a read.

Aside from the general quirkiness of the two communities, most people come here for two reasons: bears and glaciers. More specifically, Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site and the Salmon Glacier. I think people come to Fish Creek expecting to see the quintessential Alaskan scene with bears standing their ground in the middle of the rushing creek, swiping at the feisty salmon as they make their way upstream to spawn. No, this isn't like that. You're likely to see a bear if you have loads of patience and are prepared to sit around at the crack of dawn or late evening and wait, maybe for hours. Personally, I think it's the same three or four bears that show up on occasion, as the regulars out on the boardwalk have names for them all. For my money, you have a better chance of seeing a bear while driving there than at the site. That said, if you've never seen a creek full of spawning, dead and dying salmon, it's worth the trip just to see that spectacle.

Watching for bears early one morning (spoiler: we didn’t see any).

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When there are no bears to be seen, there’s always a beautiful landscape…(as seen from the creek).

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More morning gorgeousness at Fish Creek…

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Dead and dying salmon along Fish Creek.

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Although relatively consistent, actual bear sightings require a big commitment and lots of patience.

Rules are pretty strict about staying within fenced-off areas for obvious reasons.

And you might as well stop there, because it's on the way to the Salmon Glacier, which is quite frankly the most spectacular glacier we saw during our entire trip. It is one of the few glaciers you can drive right up to, get out of your car and see it spread out before you in all it's magnificent glory. Simply stunning!

The first day we attempted to see Salmon Glacier was a no-go. We had zero visibility.

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Even though we didn’t get to see the glacier on that day, the scenery was beautiful, nonetheless.

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Steven went on a solo visit to the glacier on the first clear day.

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We both went on the last day to get our new banner shot. Here we are waiting for the rising sun to light us up!

There is one more "must-do" stop in Hyder and that is The Bus, a fabulous little eatery run by Diana and her family. We sat outside with a couple from Germany and enjoyed their company and a glass of wine while waiting for our halibut fish & chips. If you've come this far and have somehow not managed to fill your freezer with freshly caught halibut, Diana sells what her husband catches (and that she doesn't use at The Bus) filleted, cryo-packed and frozen for a mere $18 per pound (as of this writing). That, my friends, is a hell of a deal!

The Bus in Hyder. Well worth a visit!

We had a fun time chatting with Diana, the owner.

The food was delicious!

We spent four days in Stewart/Hyder waiting out the rain so we could see the Salmon Glacier. But if the weather is cooperating, I'd say you can do it all in three. So even though I really did enjoy myself, when Departure Day rolled around I was more than ready to hit the road!

Nanaimo bars, Linda’s favorite! We found a pretty good batch at the local grocery store in Stewart.

We must’ve dragged in some little biting gnats while at Rainey Creek. Linda got over 60 bites!

We thought we would avoid any damage to our rig but not so. Just outside Prince George a little red corvette flew by us and kicked up a rock. We thought it would be an easy fix, but sadly, it is not even fixable. Drat!

We knew at this point our inner lemmings had taken over, that is, go until we fall off a cliff or reach Bellingham, whichever comes first. While plans called for a slow meander back to the border, we knew in our hearts we were about to make a beeline for Washington, and that's exactly what we did. After a quick overnight in the Safeway parking lot in Smithers, and another at the Williams Lake Visitor's Center, we crossed back into the U.S. with no problems and enjoyed dinner with Zac that evening in Bellingham. It was great to be home!

NEXT UP: Fall plans!


  1. I'm so jealous you got to eat at the Bus. Diana was sick the day we were there and so the Bus was closed. Isn't it funny that at $18 a pound for Halibut you now know it's a great deal, lol.

    1. Diana is such a sweet person. The food was great and we enjoyed sitting with and talking with other customers. We decided in a couple of years when we're back in the PNW, we'll buzz up to Hyder and get a freezer full of halibut!

    2. Wow! That must be some great fish to drive 1000 miles. I think I'd rather go to Pike Place :-)

    3. Yeah, but there's other stuff to do along the way! :)

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    1. Thanks! It was gorgeous at the glaciers, but I love the moody mountain views as well.

  3. Nice post. Felt like I was there with you. That campsite was something else for sure. You looked like you were lost in the jungle. !!

    1. Thanks! In spite of the forest camping, the glaciers are well worth the side trip if you're planning to drive the Cassiar when you leave AK.

  4. Welcome home!! And thank you so much for sharing your amazing journey through your fun and insightful posts and your fabulous photography. It's been a blast riding along with you, and you've given us a lot of helpful info for when take off on our own journey to Alaska. Love your new header photo overlooking beautiful Salmon Glacier. Where are you headed this fall/winter?

    1. We're heading off to work at Amazon! We can't wait for you to take on Alaska, it will be fun to follow along as you experience it for yourself!

  5. What an epic trip you two had! This looks like a wonderful "last stop" with the spectacular views and that glacier. Could definitely have done without the bites and the hit to the brand new windshield though - buuuummer!! Love the shots of the cloudy mountains, makes the place look so magical. Glad you're home safe, and that the trip was such a grand adventure.

    1. I've never had no-see-um bites like that before, it was kind of shocking. Those little suckers hurt! And itch! OMG!

  6. Stewart/Hyder and the Salmon Glacier were the highlight of our return trip. Love the picture you guys took!

    1. Ours, too, but I'm not so sure we'd drive the Cassiar again as a return route. Still, good to get it checked off the bucket list!

  7. Just finished spending a couple of hours reading your blog entries for your Alaska trip. Great writing and wonderful photos.

    I believe you mentioned us in your blog entry about Teklanika CG at Denali. I believe were were the MH in the CG with the Toad because we carry Sharon's electric scooter in the truck.

    We had a wonderful trip, somewhat different, but in some ways similar to yours.

    You mentioned the drive across TOTW Hwy. It took us 5 days to go from Tok to Dawson City. We did a day trip to Eagle,AK and 2 nights boondocking on TOTW Hwy, waiting out the fog (or low clouds) so we could enjoy the views on the Hwy.

    If you are interested I have a blog of our trip:

    It is a good life,

    Al & Sharon

    1. How great to hear from you! It was a great summer in Alaska, right? I went over to check on Sharon one day while you were gone for a while and she was doing fine. I just love that you are making this lifestyle work for you both and that our National Parks are so accommodating. Thanks so much for making a comment! I will check out your blog.