Do you like traveling off-the-beaten-path? If you’re planning an Alaska Highway road trip, don’t miss driving the Cassiar Highway in northern British Columbia for isolation, scenery and an in-the-middle-of-nowhere vibe. The 450 miles of rugged beauty journeys through northern British Columbia from the Skeena River bridge on the Yellowhead Highway to just west of Watson Lake on the Alaska Highway.
When Alan and I were creating our Alaska Highway road trip itinerary, we looked for alternate routes rather than driving the highway end to end. That’s how we came up with the idea of traveling to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island to catch a ride on the Prince Rupert Ferry to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. After a good night’s rest, we’d drive the Yellowhead Highway to the Kitwanga Junction for the turn off onto Cassiar Highway, which is also known as the BC Highway 37 or Stewart-Cassiar Highway.
A fun side trip on the Cassiar Highway
Following advice we read in The Milepost, Alan and I take the side trip on Highway 37A that runs through a fjord, with close-up views of Bear Glacier, to Stewart, B.C and accommodations at Ripley Creek Inn. From here it’s a very short drive to Hyder, Alaska, and the fantastic wildlife watching at Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site. On two visits, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, we see a grizzly bear and a wolf.
What to expect when driving the Cassiar Highway
The real driving on the Cassiar Highway begins after returning from Stewart and Hyder to Highway 37. But we aren’t alone. Alan and I happen to be traveling the Cassiar during construction of a major power transmission line. This off-the-grid wilderness is being powered up to accommodate mining and other industrial activities. You can read about the threat to the region in this article at Rivers Without Borders.
During the first portion of the drive, we pass numerous roads being cut into the wilderness and staging areas filled with metal towers scattered about the ground looking like giant erector sets that have toppled over. Emergency vehicles are parked alongside the road every few miles. This is one busy road.
When we stop for gas and something to eat at Bell 2 Lodge, I ask about the project. A clerk tells me, “It’s been going on for 2 years and has really changed the landscape.”
Boomer Travel Tip: When driving the Cassiar Highway, fuel up at every gas station, because they are few and far between.
After leaving the construction area behind, which research tells me is now complete, the road finally meets our expectations of quiet beauty. And we begin to see wildlife, including three bears within a few miles of each other.
Boomer Travel Tip: Here’s an account of what driving the Cassiar Highway looks like now that the power lines have been installed.
Where to stay on a Cassiar Highway road trip
As you can imagine, lodging along a remote highway such as the Cassiar is basic. And there aren’t that many places to stay. This is one time when RV travel or camping offers more choices—but not many. The cute chalets at Bell 2 Lodge look enticing but it has only been a few hours since leaving the Ripley Creek Inn in Stewart. So we continue on to our reservations at Tatogga Lake Resort near Iskut.
When Alan drives the SUV into the muddy parking lot at the antler-decorated Tatogga Lake Resort, we suspect a quirky night awaits us. Inside the lobby, a menagerie of hunting trophy’s hang on the wall. There’s even a moose standing near the fireplace.
Accommodations at Tatogga Lake Resort include cabins—some requiring a trip to the outhouse—RV spaces, campsites and a motel. The cast of characters definitely makes up for the basic motel room where Alan and I spend the night.
Dinner at the “resort” is served family style. But the fun part is the conversations with other guests as we sit in the lounge trying to log onto the free Internet. Professional kayakers from around the world trade working at Tatogga Lake Resort in exchange for the opportunity to hone their whitewater skills on the Stikine River. Sitting in the lounge, we hear accents from Australia, Spain, and New Zealand. And watching over the shoulder of a videographer editing a whitewater kayaking video convinces us that many portions of the Stikine require great skill.
If you’re curious to learn more about the Stikine, this Matador article describes kayaking the Stikine and the challenges the headwaters region faces from industrial development. Don’t miss watching the video. I wonder if it was the same one I saw being created in the lounge at Tatogga Lake Resort?
Located between Mount Edziza Provincial Park and Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park, Tatogga Lake Resort makes a fine headquarters for outdoor adventure along the Cassiar Highway. Although we don’t have time to participate on this road trip, Alan and I would like to return for a floatplane tour over the volcanic cones of Mount Edziza or along the Grand Canyon of the Stikine. And a guided wildlife-watching hike in Spatsizi Park, considered the Serengetti of the North due to prolific wildlife, is on the list, too.
Where to eat while driving the Cassiar Highway
My best dining advice for the Cassiar Highway is to bring your own food and cooking facilities, uh, RV. And like the tips for finding gas, if you pass by a business that serves food, stop and enjoy a bite because it can be many miles until the next eatery.
As I mentioned earlier, we ate lunch at Bell 2 Lodge and then dinner at Tatogga Lake Resort. After the one-night stay at Tatogga, we depart early, stopping at Rumor’s Café in Dease Lake (no longer in business) for breakfast.
Boomer Travel Tip: For an adventurous drive, take the Telegraph Creek Road junction at Dease Lake for 71 miles on a very steep, windy road to historic Telegraph Creek. The round-trip journey takes at least a day. Next time we’re doing it!
After Dease Lake, driving the Cassiar Highway meets our expectations as the road narrows, has no center line, or shoulders. Now this is driving in the wilderness! As our SUV crests a hill, lakes shimmer in the morning sun, while autumn wildflowers color the shore a rusty red. Of course we stop at Jade City to check out the quirky Cassiar Mountain Jade Store. Twenty to fifty hardy souls (depending on which source that you believe) make Jade City their year-round home.
By mid-afternoon, Alan and I trade the rugged Cassiar for a first look at the Alaska Highway. At the junction, we turn west on the Alaska Highway and head for Teslin.
Driving the Cassiar Highway is definitely a boomer adventure that Alan and I will be repeating. For next time, not only will we drive Telegraph Cove Road and take a flightseeing plane from Tatooga Lodge, we’ll also spend more time at some of the beautiful parks along the Cassiar Highway, including Meziadin Lake, Kinaskan Lake and Boya Lake Provincial Parks