Friday, October 23, 2015

Northern British Columbia Circle Tour

If you are heading north to Alaska, the northern portion of the Great Northern Circle Tour of British Columbia begins in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. From there you continue on Highway 97 (Alaska Highway) to Watson Lake via Fort St. John. Our online map software gave us a travel time of just under 12 hours. Based on our experience I would say that sounds about right.

The southern portion of the Great Northern Circle Tour of British Columbia loop also begins at Dawson Creek if you are headed north. From there, take Highway 97 South into Prince George.

The Yellowhead Highway 16 W is what you want to take from Prince George to Smithers. From that point you hop onto Highway 37 and keep going until you get to Watson Lake.

If you're going to tour British Columbia on this route, disregard the projected travel time of 19 hours that online maps give you for this route. We were much closer to a driving time of 20 hours. The terrain and wildlife slowed us down. Taking time out for photos added several more hours. 

Hubby and I drove home via the southern route in 2009, and then we did took northern portion in 2015. We looked at a northern British Columbia map several times on our journey. I read what Milepost had to say and spoke with tourism staff. However, research done on the road is almost always incomplete.

I see now that to tour British Columbia effectively, I should have delved into the information before leaving home. It wouldn't have changed the driving time, but we might have spent less time driving in circles to find what we needed.

Take Dawson Creek for example. We spent so much time trying to find the visitor center that I wrote about it. Fortunately for us the Surveyor Statue is in the center of the road, close to the famous "Mile 0" sign. People can spend so much time searching for "Mile 0" that they miss the surveyor. It's a point of on the Northern British Columbia Circle tour that you don't want to miss. The statue points North, in honor of the men and women who built the Alaska Highway. Clothing is representative of the time period.


Fort St. John
Pick up supplies here, travel onward for gas. When someone suggested driving past Fort St. John and tanking up at Pink Mountain, they weren't kidding. In 2015, gas prices were nearly .25 less per gallon at Pink Mountain. Restocking most of our supplies in Fort St. John and getting gas at Pink Mountain was the way to go. Go to the sports complex to see the new visitor centre.

Watson Lake
This is a good place to pick up supplies and grab a bite to eat. The Watson Lake show stopper is the Sign Post Forest. Watch our You Tube video to see Hubby add our plate to the over 10,000 others. Borrow a hammer and nails from the tourist shack and then head on over to Kathy's Kitchen for lunch.

Cassiar Highway 37
This route took us three days and two overnight stops. There is too much wildlife to speed and there are more photo opportunities than you can dream about.It's beautiful and it's desolate. There's one big tip that you need to know. Don't pass a gas station. 

Don't even think about it. Drive on the top half of your tank. Services are about 100 miles apart, but they aren't always open. The Bell II Lodge cut the pumps off at 10:00 pm when we were there in 2009. We could register for a campsite there, but couldn't get the bathroom passcode until the place opened. On this part of the Northern British Columbia Circle Tour, Hubby and I spent the night (along with several other RVs) at the rest area up the road. Learn from our fail at Bell II.

Smithers
This is the largest town on the southern route. Get information from the visitre center on Highway 16. Grocery stores, gas, resaturants and fast food are easy to find. People are friendly. Glacier Bay RV Park is just outside of Smithers and remains one of the nicest that we've ever stayed in.

I think that bears on the Cassiar Highway 37 must outnumber humans by a million to one. That's probably an exaggeration, but it seemed like the truth. They ran across the road in front of us several times. We saw one or two at nearly every photo stop. You'll be thankful for that telephoto lens. 

The southern portion of the Great Northern British Columbia Circle Tour is an amazing road trip, but not if you have a deadline to meet. Travel straight through on the Alaska Highway if you're in a rush. This portion is about the journey, not the destination.