“There be dragons here.” Even 21st century maps of Northern British Columbia might as well include this old-time designation—here’s a vast landscape (about 500,000 square kilometers, the size of Spain) that’s bisected by just two main roads and holds fewer people than most Vancouver neighborhoods. Bears outnumber both residents and visitors; there are way more snowy peaks than traffic lights; the 300-mile coastline is a fjord-strewn wilderness, and the interior presents a seemingly endless canvas of big-shoulder mountains, powerful rivers, trackless forests and beautiful lakes bouncing light to a limitless sky.
While it sounds ceaselessly wild and remote, there is much here for travelers to see and do. One of the great North American road journeys, the Alaska Highway, still calls adventurers even though it is now entirely paved and reasonably well serviced. Its more westerly cousin, the Cassiar Highway, hints at what travel here was like a half-century ago, with few towns or facilities along the way. On either road, hardly a mile passes without wild mountain vistas, and wildlife sightings are daily occurrences.
Almost every mile offers backcountry adventures, too. Quiet campgrounds lie beside sparkling lakes; wilderness trails beckon for a half-day or a month; glaciers spill down from rugged ranges; almost every lake and stream holds wild fish whose hatcheries are quiet backwaters, not industrial plants. BC’s northwesternmost corner, the Atlin Lake region, is the gateway to the Tatshenshini-Alsek, a World Heritage wilderness river trek.
Wild as it is, traveling here can seem pretty luxurious when you stop at Liard River Hot Springs campground, midway up the Alaska Highway on its Yukon-bound run, and spend a twilit evening relaxing in the park’s vast natural soaking pool. Travelers, truckers and Northern residents heading south all converge here, in a lush forest where the call of woodland owls still reigns.
It’s a region that still has more use for the term broad land than broadband.