The Unexpected: Stewart, BC & Hyder, Alaska

There’ve been a few places, since living in the Toaster, that have totally caught us off-guard. It’s the kind of unexpectedness where a breath gets caught on its way in. The sort of surprise that compels us to stop the truck immediately. And once we’re driving again, my head is on a swivel trying to see everything.

Coast Mountain Range

There’s a perk to not thoroughly researching and planning – and that’s the element of surprise. Real surprise. Where there’s not even a smidgen of expectation or anticipation. That’s how it was for us when we turned onto Stewart-Hyder Access Road (Highway 37A) in British Columbia. To us, it was just going to be another highway.

Stewart-Hyder Access Road

The highway led us through Bear Creek Canyon and alongside the Coast Mountain range. This was by far one of the most stunning areas. We drove through on a gray rainy afternoon. The steep mountains were shrouded in clouds, but despite that, endless cascading waterfalls that ran from peaks and glaciers of all sizes were visible. Imagine every direction you turn to find another glacier peeking out and another waterfall pouring over the side of a mountain. I’ve never been somewhere with so many waterfalls and glaciers in a single area.

This place is what mountains of China and New Zealand would look like if combined.

One of the many glaciers and waterfalls.

My photos don't even remotely do any justice to the scenery, partially thanks to the lack of skills, a tripod, and patience. Oh, did I mention it was raining?

Glacier
We wanted to paddle out to Bear Glacier but it was raining too hard on our way to Stewart and when we left.

We wanted to paddle out to Bear Glacier but it was raining too hard on our way to Stewart and when we left.

 
More waterfalls and glaciers.
 
View from Salmon River.

Stewart, BC and Hyder, Alaska is a ~40 mile one way detour from the Cassiar Highway, which is what we turned onto after leaving the Yukon and veering away from the Alaska Highway. These are two small port communities (Hyder had a population of 87 in 2010) with a few restaurants, hotels, one grocery store, and a lot of abandoned buildings. We decided to come here for the grizzly bears and Salmon Glacier.

Stacey and Joe of The Wandering Heffalump had told us about the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site when we saw them in Whitehorse. They had first visited early in the summer and had seen several grizzlies stuffing their faces with salmon at close range. The platform runs along Fish Creek where chum and pink salmon swim upstream to start their spawning process. Since we had zero luck seeing a single grizzly the entire summer in the Yukon (as in not even the ass of a grizzly running away from us), we thought we’d head to Hyder to check it out.

But it turned out it just wasn’t our summer to see a grizzly. We found out that the grizzlies had a great salmon season early-on, which isn’t typical, so they were full by the time we arrived at the end of August. Instead we saw a ton of dead salmon with their bellies ripped open laying in the creek. Seagulls were all around, feeding off the remains. There’s a fish ladder installed in the side creek next to the parking lot. We spent time there watching the salmon swim upstream, cheering them on when they made it up a section of the ladder, and feeling their defeat when the current swept them back down. Poor bastards.

Fish Creek wildlife observation platform
Dead salmon in Fish Creek.
This salmon is amazing - it had a big chunk taken out of it (that's the white on it) but it was still swimming around fine!

This salmon is amazing - it had a big chunk taken out of it (that's the white on it) but it was still swimming around fine!

 
Fish Creek, Hyder, Alaska
 

About 16 miles north of Hyder, back on the British Columbia side, is Salmon Glacier. The Granduc Road, is the only road - a dusty mining road - that leads to this fifth largest glacier in Canada. There’s a large parking lot/viewing area high above Salmon Glacier. This is one of the most accessible glaciers that we’ve come across during our summer in Canada. You literally drive up above it, get out of the car and take it all in. But don't let that turn you off - the view is simply breathtaking.

Salmon Glacier is the shape of an upside down Y. With its right arm a lot shorter than its left. It’s indescribable how huge the glacier is.

 
The main corridor.

The main corridor.

 
Jerud and me at Salmond Glacier.
 
This is the left arm of the glacier and its toe.

This is the left arm of the glacier and its toe.

 
The toe of Salmon Glacier is also the start of the Salmon River.

The toe of Salmon Glacier is also the start of the Salmon River.

At the northern end of Salmon Glacier (the right arm) is Summit Lake, which is filled with ice blocks.

At the northern end of Salmon Glacier (the right arm) is Summit Lake, which is filled with ice blocks.

Close up of the glacier.
Crevasses
More crevasses
And more crevasses
Salmon Glacier valley

Salmon Glacier valley

We would've spent more days in this area had it not been for the terrible weather. I can only imagine how incredible the hiking would've been.

TIPS

  • Have your passport ready, border patrol will check it when you leave Hyder, Alaska to re-enter into Stewart, BC but not vice versa.
  • Download the Salmon Glacier Auto Brochure to read as you drive to the glacier.
  • The Granduc Road is the only road from Stewart or Hyder to Salmon Glacier. It's a two lane dirt road with a lot of work truck traffic. They don't recommend large RVs to drive on it, because the road can get narrow. We left the Toaster behind, but if necessary we'd drive the Toaster on that road. That being said - we drive the Toaster a lot of places most people won't.
  • There is a large parking area at Salmon Glacier, but it can get busy. If it does, it'll be harder to turn a large rig around.
  • We boondocked at 55.972586, -130.062166 on Tongass National Forest land while we were there. There's no cell signal here, but it's close to the Fish Creek viewing platform and it's a very large space. One evening it was us, the Wandering Heffalump, a travel trailer and there was still enough space for several more rigs to fit.

We visited this area from August 30 - September 1, 2016.


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