Fire and Ice on the Cassiar Highway

by Robert Bush: October 1, 2023

Forty-two nights on the road.  From Bend, up to Tok in the Yukon, southwest on the Haines Highway  to the town of Haines and Skagway, and then back to the Alaska Highway and down the Cassiar Highway.

Our trip is drawing to a close.  I will write two more of these emails.  This first one will describe the drive from our last stop in Haines to the Cassiar Highway.

There were plenty of signs that it was time to head home.

When we started, we couldn’t see the northern lights because it never really got dark at night.  It was very light until ten or eleven at night and then again by four in the morning.  Suddenly, we realized it was very dark by 8:30 at night.  Many of the campsites we stayed at were scheduled to close by September 30.  The nights were dipping into the low 30s.  The days were shorter by 5 minutes each day.

With the dark skies came the chance of seeing the northern lights.  When we left Haines and returned to the Whitehorse area, the aurora appeared. The picture of the aurora above was taken near Whitehorse.  The clouds are lit by the nearly full moon.




Here is another hint that it may be time to head south.  Snow.  This is all freshly fallen snow on the mountains along the Cassiar Highway.  The yellow alders, birches and aspens along the side of the road also show that autumn has definitely arrived.


Canada has been plagued with many wildfires this year.  This one  along the Cassiar Highway has resulted in the periodic closure of the highway.  Days before we arrived, the road was closed.  We were lucky to get through with an escort pilot car.  As of September 12 (the day I am writing this), it is closed again.  The fire has burned since May.



We have seen a lot of lakes and rivers on our trip.  British Columbia alone has 20.000 lakes.  It seemed like most of the time we were passing by a lake or a river.  The rivers were often turquoise blue from glacial run off.  Many of the lakes were huge.  Many were quite beautiful.  Some stood out.  Boya Lake – pictured above and below – was the location of one of our campsites along the Cassiar Highway and was one of our favorites.

It takes a bit of patience to try to get photos of the northern lights.  When the KP index is high, that means that solar storms have caused a disturbance in the earth’s magnetic field that could result in the appearance of the aurora.  The aurora could happen at any time during the night – which means you have to wake up regularly, go outside in the cold, and check.  On this night at Boya Lake, the effort was worth it.  There was mist rising off the lake, lit by the moon, and he lake reflected the green of the aurora.


Even without the aurora, the moon lit mist on the lake was fabulous

The Cassiar Highway is a narrow road with no shoulders that winds 450 miles through  and ends with small gold rush era towns of Stewart and Hyde.  Both of these towns are mining towns.  There were up to 10,000 people living there during the gold rush days of 1917 and 1918.  The two towns have less than 500 people now – and the towns have the feel of semi-ghost towns.  But they are a big tourist draw because of access to the Salmon Glacier and the Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site.  

Here are a few images of buildings in these semi-ghost towns.





The grizzly bears show up here because there are salmon. Every river and stream in the area was filled with various types of salmon. They are all coming to spawn and they will either be eaten by a bear or die. The streams get filled with dead fish. When the rains come, the fish get washed down to the sea.



To get to this view of the Salmon Glacier, you first have to traverse the Cassiar Highway.  Then you cross the international border from Stewart in British Columbia to Hyder which is in the United States. Then you drive up a very rough, potholed 23 mile dirt road.  It is worth the effort.


Hyder can only be reached by first going to Stewart.  There are no other roads to it.  Why, you might ask, is it part of the United States at all.  The answer is probably somewhat related to the fact that it is an area that has one of the richest deposits of gold in the world.  In driving up to the glacier, you pass an area of active mining.  Although it has only been active for a few years, it has already resulted in a huge path of destruction.

Within a few miles of each other on the dirt road to the Salmon Glacier, you can see this mine and this magnificent view of the mountains of the  Boundary Range, with a river of glacial run off below. Quite a contrast.




In the first of these emails, I posed the question:  “Will this be a great and wonderful adventure, or just a really long drive?”   In the next – and last – of these emails, I will tell you my conclusions, along with the highlights and lowlights of the trip, things that surprised us, and some of the people we met along the way and who we traveled with.  Stay tuned – and thanks for listening!!