Week 56: Canada on the Cassiar Highway

Momma bear
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Momma bear

Week 56: Canada on the Cassiar Highway

Vancouver Island continued

What a fantastic and beautiful night! Not a peep, except for… rain! Now that really has been a while since our camper and us have seen and felt rain, and it truly puts a damper on our day and plans. The plan was to head out to the Pacific Rim and make it a day of sand, sea and surf, but with this weather there is really no fun to do that. We do head out to the National Park visitor center for some info and score another tag, but the decision is taken quickly to drive back to the other side and use this rainy day for some necessary evils such as laundry and groceries.

We end the day at a ‘Boondockers Welcome’ location, a place where individuals with room on their property let people like us park their RV there for the night. There are 2 small children so Luc and Bo immediately get to play and spend at least a little bit of time outside now that the rain has gone down to a light drizzle. We really hope it gets dry tomorrow as we have a few nice MTB trails in the neighborhood, but for now we call it a night.

On to Port Hardy

Luckily the next morning is dry(ish) so we continue with our MTB plans and drive to a forest with tracks. While it has been a while since the boys have been on a single track with their bikes, it is really cool to see their progress, especially Bo seems to have made a step in his confidence on bumps and uphills. A lot of the trails are not very well maintained unfortunately, so we end up pushing through tall grass and on parts of it, but it keeps us occupied for a good 2 hours. As we ride a wider trail we run in a fresh pile of bear scat and realize we may have to make a bit more noise as we come down these trails at high speed. Obviously this is music to the ears of Bo and Luc and thus the rest of the ride they ring their bells and shout at the top of their lungs – if there was a bear, we did not see it :-).

Satisfied we pile into the RV again, but the engine does not start… We have had a bit of battery issues in the last day or so, so we take a good read of it and decide to replace the battery now rather than pay the highest price if we get stuck up north. Thankfully we always have an ’emergency’ start connected to our generator, so we would never get stuck anywhere but as we charge all our appliances as well on the car battery it is better to be safe than sorry. We add a few more groceries to the list and drive to the northern end of Vancouver Island; Port Hardy. There really is nothing to do there except empty our tanks and fill our fresh water before taking the ferry the next morning. We park beside the street for the night as it will be a very short one anyways.

The Inside Passage – by ferry

There are 3 ways to get to Alaska; The Alaska Highway and the Cassiar Highway over land through Canada, and the Alaska Marine Highway which is a vast network of ferries taking you all the way up to Alaska from as far south as Seattle. We decided to take the Marine Highway for part of it two do 2 things; 1) Avoid backtracking down along Vancouver Island and up again, 2) Take in the beautiful fjords of the west coasts from the vantage point of the water. This means we take a 16 hour ferry from Port Hardy (Vancouver Island) to Prince Rupert (British Columbia mainland) which is called the ‘Inside Passage’ as it does not take to the open sea, but takes the inside route along the islands.

The ferry is a very comfortable and modern vessel, and with the Covid rules lifted we can come out of our vehicles and enjoy the views from the different decks of the ship. Even the weather is working in our favor with a dry day and even a peek of the sun every now and then. The boat leaves very early (7:30, check in at 5:30 pfew!) but that means that you get to do the journey during daytime and see as much as you can before you get to Prince Rupert around midnight. We find ourselves a comfortable spot by the window and can only conclude that the ferry was worth every penny. Not only is the scenery stellar, the marine wildlife we saw was also spectacular! Humpback whales, killer whales (orka, finally!), seals, dolphins, they all come by as we lounge and relax and let the captain do the ‘driving’ this time.

While not physically tiring, the early rise does wear us down in the evening and so we decide to ‘illegally’ go down into the RV and sleep at the last 15 minute car deck opening interval. As we have been delayed we only get to Prince Rupert well after midnight and manage to park the car at a rest area after a 5 minute drive, meaning this very long day is over at 1am. If considering to go north, try to take at least part of the Marine Highway as it truly is spectacular!

The Cassiar Highway to Hyder, Alaska!

With our leg on the Marine Highway, we automatically run into the Cassiar Highway next, as it is the most western highway going north. It is also the least traveled one, which is music to our ears, so it was a no brainer we would take this road up and take the Alaska Highway on our way back down. While the Alaska border on the Alaskan highway is almost 2000km away, there is a small swat of Alaska reachable after only 200km on the Cassiar with the tiny town of ‘Hyder’. It takes a 65km detour to go there, but has a major highlight called the ‘Fish Creek Bear Observatory’, a place where you can see bears if the salmon is coming up stream in summer.

Getting into the US in Hyder is simple: The only thing there is a 20km road to the Salmon Glacier, nothing else (no authorities, no port, no nothing) so the US does not even bother with border enforcement. The opposite is true for Canada though – google Hyder and Covid to find out the issues border closure gave here- , and so we have to make sure we do our paperwork for the Canada crossing before we even leave the country to come back the next day :-). Anything to see a bear, plus be able to already put the ‘Alaska’ sticker on our state gathering sticker on the back of the RV. We roll in through the hand full of houses straight to the fish creek we have tickets for the next day, and are told that the best time is the evening…. so we kindly ask we could already come this evening maybe?

The ranger is very kind and lets us in after we have had dinner, to give it our first shot, but after 1,5 hour we call it a day. Wildlife is never forced we learn again, and what the bear did the last three days he may not do again a fourth! We find a great spot in the woods to sleep and come back the next morning. As we arrive we hear there was a lot of activity this morning already very early until about one hour ago… great! Not really sure what that means to our chances of seeing a bear, but we have breakfast at the parking lot and then take another stab at it. Right as we are contemplating next steps almost 2hrs later – with already the magnificent view of 2 bald eagles flying by under our bellies – , there is movement downstream, and we get rewarded with a big grizzly making its way up the creek for a search for lunch (or is it brunch?).

This is clearly bigger than the black bear we have seen in the US, and it is absolutely beautiful to see it roam the creek while a group of 10 people hold their breaths up on the viewing boardwalk! Completely satisfied with this experience we thank the rangers and drive towards the border for our formalities – still nothing to declare- back into Canada for our drive further north.

Meeting friends on the side of the Cassiar

The Cassiar is known for its little traffic and many opportunities to see wildlife and we are certainly not disappointed. That same day we see a moose as you would expect to see one; relaxing in a beautiful pond, snacking on the grass and weed in there. Further down however is the best reason to hit the breaks; BEAR!!! And not just one, but a beautiful black bear with three (!!!) cubs right by the side of the road! Not phased at all by this massive white thing stopping besides the family, they continue to munch on the wildflowers besides the road and the little one even keenly gets on its hind legs to see better. In terms of wildlife this day is very hard to beat :-).

Next reason to stop however is a very good one as well – we get to meet our friend Jordan AGAIN on this trip! While he lives in Juneau and we were supposed to see him there, he actually is moving to Hawaii (poor him ;-)) and is thus driving south to put his car on a ferry. The perfect opportunity for us to meet up and spend a night together under the stars. Together with his friend Christina we pull out the grill again for some tasty burgers and create an indoor smore. It is really great to be able to have a night with friends, we are starting to miss home a bit after such a fun time spent!

As we give up on fighting the mosquitoes (even Christina’s dome does not save us), we head into our comfortable RV as the cold starts to set in. In the morning mom again proves who is the toughest on this trip as she is the only one to take a refreshing dip in the lake we stayed at; Bob Quinn lake. After this there is a well-deserved pancake breakfast made by Sven which we all enjoy together inside the RV – mosquitoes have woken up already – and with a final hurrah with a paper plane contest (won by Luc ;-)) we say our goodbyes to each other. Who knows where we will run into Jordan next, but we will try to see Christina again when we head back to the ‘lower 48’s’.

Boyla Lake – Yukon here we come!

We continue our drive along the Cassiar highway nortbound and have another stop at stunner Boyla Lake. With water the color of a tropical beach, it is a very surreal spot to come to, and should be a great place to swim and relax but the weather is not great. With Sven trying to give his back a rest, mom and the boys head out for a hike along the lake edge. The end destination is a beautiful beaver dam, where we are greeted by two hard working beavers who are carrying their branches out to another dam they are building.

As we walk back we get a surprise visit of a BLACK BEAR on our trail! It is thankfully a solitary one, no cubs in sight, so we should be okay to deter it, but of course we did not bring the bear spray on this short hike (the bear spray we got from Jordan and Christina the day before :-)). So we repeat the rules of bear encounters to each other, get close together, put our arms up and make noise. At first the bear seems to come towards us, but in the end it gives up and runs off… PHEW! Good lesson for the boys not to run off in the woods – we have told them several times, but nothing like an actual encounter to get the message across – and for all of us to really stay bear aware. The black bear is the smallest one, so better to practice on this one versus a grizzly…

With that experience under our belts, Bo and Sven prove to be pretty cool too as they do take a plunge into Boyla lake before dinner, and with that refreshment we roll into the night to get a few more kilometers on the meter. That means we drive into Yukon, the territory that is renowned for its gold rushes and true cowboy spirit. It is also the northernmost territory we will visit in Canada so it really feels like we are getting somewhere.

The Alaska Highway to Whitehorse

A few miles into Yukon we hit the end of the Cassiar highway as it ends at the Alaska Highway crossing. This legendary highway, built 80 years ago by American and Canadian soldiers, is truly the big connector between Alaska and the rest of North America. This is also the part of the highway we will have to do twice, as the alternative – the Dempster highway – to come back down is not RV suitable with loads of unpaved and horrible roads. So we roll through the beautiful landscape on our way to Whitehorse and enjoy the scenery.

As we arrive nicely on time, we find a spot in Wolf Creek campground, a state park operated campground with beautiful big sites, a creek along our site and free firewood which we have to use of course later in the evening. Right off the park lies a mountain bike trail through the woods the boys go and discover (with bear spray this time) making the afternoon a really relaxed one. We even get some sun out! After a good smore we call it a night, on to our new adventures the following day!

Next week: Gold rush time – the Yukon and ‘true’ Alaska

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