British Columbia The Great Northern Circle Route

This is a circle route car trip that takes you through the untamed wilderness and geological wonders of BC's magnificent North Country. The distance is 2,632 kms or 1635 miles and you should schedule from 7 to 14 days, depending on how long you want to stop over in various places en route.The Great Northern Circle Route starts in the north central British Columbia city of Prince George. This is a vibrant modern city and has a lot of interesting sights for the visitor. The city has over 120 parks as well as plenty of indoor attractions for the rainy days.

There is the Fraser-Fort George Regional Museum, which offers hands-on experiences of cultural, scientific and natural history. There is Aboriginal art at the Native Art Gallery, a vintage railway collection at the Railway and Forestry Museum and the Huble Homestead, a fully restored early 1900s homestead and trading post.Driving north on Hwy 97 out of Prince George you'll travel through Pine Pass, where you can stop at Bijoux Falls. You can take a detour in Chetwynd onto Hwy 29 to stop at the visitor center at the WAC Bennett Dam, one of the world's largest earth filled structures. Here too is the town of Hudson Hope where the first dinosaur tracks were found in North America.

There's a local museum with dinosaur fossils and a footprint collection.Follow Hwy 29 north to Fort St. John to spend the night. This stretch of highway runs parallel to the spectacular Peace River for more than 70 kms. The next morning head north on Hwy 97 again on the famous Alaska Highway. Pause for a look at 14 km long Charlie Lake, known throughout the area for its great fishing.

Here you can catch trout, Arctic grayling, walleye and northern pike. Farther on you'll pass Pink Mountain and on to Fort Nelson. Alongside the highway you may see the occasional deer, moose and black bear.Fort Nelson might be your overnight stop.

This is a friendly northern town founded on the fur trade and it has a museum showcasing the construction of the Alaska Highway during WWII. If you have camping gear or if you are driving an RV, you might want to travel on a further 200 kms to Muncho Lake Provincial Park for a couple of days stop.This is in a vast area of wilderness, known as the "Serengeti of the North" so you want to top up your fuel tanks before leaving Fort Nelson. There is a fair amount of traffic on the road, even in the winter, but not that many gas stations or restaurants. Muncho Lake is a beautiful jade green lake hidden away in a valley surrounded by mountains; some with layers of rock that look like a folded sandwich.

North of Muncho Lake is Liard River, a highway rest stop where you can soak in the refreshing pools of the Liard Hot Springs.The next stopover might be in Watson Lake, where you have just crossed into the fabled Yukon Territory of the turn of the last century Gold Rush fame. There's not much here, but there is accommodation and places to eat. You'll want to take a look at the famous Sign Post Forest here, with over 42,000 license plates, road shields and homemade signs that tell you how far it is to some of the most far-flung points of the world.You leave Hwy 97 and the Alaska Highway now and head south on Hwy 37, known as the Stewart Cassiar Highway.

While the entire Great Northern Circle route is easily traveled by RVs, some of the side routes off the Stewart Cassiar are not recommended, especially for large RVs. If you're pulling a "dinghy" then you are in luck, it will come in handy along this route. One such side itrip is from Dease Lake to Telegraph Lake.

This road follows along the edge of the Stikine River and in places is steep and narrow. The "Grand Canyon of the Stikine" is an 80 km (50 miles) stretch of impassable waters charging through canyons 300 m (1000 ft) deep before flowing down to Telegraph Creek. There's a guided riverboat tour from here through the Coast Mountains to the Pacific Ocean at Wrangell, Alaska, then returning by charter plane. Telegraph Creek was one of the access points to the Yukon gold fields. It also has the dubious claim of posting some of the province's coldest temperatures in winter, minus 72 degrees F is one example.

Back on Hwy 37 and south to Meziadin Junction, where you can take another short detour on 37A to the small town of Stewart on the BC/Alaska border, A few miles past Stewart is Hyder which sits at the head of Portland Canal, one of the longest natural canals in North America. Here you can tour the Salmon Glacier, or climb the viewing platform in Hyder to watch black bears and grizzlies fishing for salmon.Once back on Hwy 37, you will be heading south again and joining up with Hwy 16, then starting east toward Prince George.

The first stop of interest would be the 'Ksan Historical Village, featuring native totems, longhouses and a museum. Before reaching the small city of Smithers, you'll be passing the raging rapids of Moricetown Canyon and listening to the thunder of the cascading Twin Falls, fed by melting glacial waters from the Hudson Bay Mountain glaciers.Smithers might make a good stopover for a few of days where you could make side trips to Terrace, Kitimat and Prince Rupert. Next town east on Hwy 16 is Burns Lake, which calls itself the "Gateway to the Lakes District", with more than 300 lakes, nearly all with good fishing. Farther along in Vanderhoof, you can take a detour north on Hwy 27 to Fort St.

James on Stuart Lake. This Hudson Bay fur trading post was established in 1806 by Simon Fraser. Today the post has been reconstructed to create a trading post circa 1896. Original log buildings have been restored to exemplify a working post.South to Vanderhoof and return to Prince George, the original jumping off point of this tour.

The Great Northern Circle Tour is a once-in-a-lifetime driving odyssey through some of the great wilderness areas of northern British Columbia; truly a never-to-be forgotten drive.

.Michael Russell.Your Independent guide to Canada Vacation.

By: Michael Russell

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