Bears, bisons and snow in the Northern Rockies


Dear readers, this past weekend was… memorable (for lack of a better word).

Back in July, a friend and I organized a short trip to a remote, but spectacular area in Northern British Columbia. Our goal was to chill and relax (with face masks on ideally) in Liard Hot Springs.

And if you live in Canada, you may be wondering why “Liard Hot Springs” rings a bell. It’s probably because it’s been on the news all summer:

I know a lot of readers don’t live in Canada, so let me fill you in: for reasons that we’ll never know, two teenagers (18 and 19 years old) killed two people near Liard Hot Springs. Authorities think they are also related to another murder that took place elsewhere in Northern BC.

At first, nobody expected the investigation to get anywhere since the crimes took place in the middle of nowhere (Canada is a big huge country after all) but clues were found and the police were able to track the two suspects across the country. Then, a nationwide manhunt went underway as witnesses reported seeing the teenagers travelling eastbound in Canada. Every Canadian held their breath until the teenagers were found dead, having killed themselves. They were found in Northern Manitoba, some 3,000 km from Liard Hot Springs (their first crime scene).

Anyway, my friend and I had booked our vacation there a few days before the story broke out on the news. So that’s that.

Driving across Yukon

So. Despite this macabre story, we went on our way last weekend and drove from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Muncho Lake, British Columbia. The good thing is that you can’t get lost on the way there: you just drive down the Alaska Highway.

The Alaska Highway is a mythical road for RV owners and road trippers. It’s 2,232 km long. It starts in Dawson Creek, in northern British Columbia, and ends in Fairbanks, Alaska. While the US army only took 8 months to build it at the end of WWII, the paving was only completed in 1992.

The Alaska Highway is marked in red on the map below:

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Our final destination (Muncho Lake) is halfway between Watson Lake and Fort Nelson, some 700 km from Whitehorse. 700 km of mountains, lakes, glaciers and other spectacular sights…

Or not.

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The weather did not cooperate with us on this trip. The gorgeous mountains that we were promised hid behind thick fog all day. It was a very rainy drive.

We didn’t see many mountains, but we did see A BLACK BEAR!

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Don’t worry, we watched the bear sitting in our car. We were 100% safe (and the bear didn’t seem to care about us at all).

A forest like no other

It stopped raining as we drove into Watson Lake, 5 hours from Whitehorse, Yukon. We needed to eat and stretch our legs, so we stopped there for an hour. The highlight of Watson Lake is its famous Signpost Forest.

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In 1942, a US soldier was asked to repair signposts in Watson Lake. After doing so, he also nailed a sign with his hometown on it. Little did he know he would thus start an enduring tradition with tourists from the entire world. As of September 2018, there are now over 88,000 signs in the forest. Unbelievable!

Welcome back to BC!

Soon after leaving Watson Lake, we left Yukon Territory to arrive in the province of British Columbia, my favourite place to be in Canada! (I stand by its slogan with all my heart, as you can imagine.)

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We still had 2-3 hours of driving ahead of us. There was some rain, then even more rain, but every now and then the clouds would clear and show us glimpses of the surrounding mountain ranges.

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We also saw dozens of bisons along the highway! They like to hang out by the road and thy don’t seem afraid of passing vehicles.

Then, some 9 hours after leaving Whitehorse, we finally made it to Liard Hot Springs! It was so rejuvenating to soak in them for an hour or so. It truly is a magical place. There’s nothing like knowing you’re relaxing in the middle of nowhere! What a splendid piece of paradise.

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We were still 45 minutes away from our accommodation for the night, the Northern Rockies Lodge. We hopped back into the car for the last leg of the trip, but couldn’t help stopping once more on the road for a photo stop.

What a day! We were grateful to spend the rest of the night in our cozy cabin at the Lodge (100% would recommend).

We went to bed early that night, already dreaming about our next trip to the hot springs the following day…

Surprise!

Well, we woke up to those views:

On August 18, we got 35 cm of snow over 36 hours. Thankfully, my friend and I brought plenty of warm clothes (we did have a look at the weather report before leaving town), but we didn’t expect this much snow!

Our car came with all-season tires. However, we couldn’t find a snow brush. So we had to brush our car with what we had on hand… or on foot: a pair of flip flops.

Unlike our car (lol), the highway was free of snow. On our way to the hot springs, we stopped once again to capture the magical beauty of this Christmas dream:

We got to the hot springs… but we were bummed out to find out they were closed for the day! Too many trees had fallen down due to heavy snow. To say we were disappointed is an understatement. However, we committed to making the most of our trip in the Northern Rockies, no matter the circumstances. So we did the next best thing: hang out in the sauna back at the Lodge.

I channelled my inner Finnish spirit, of course:

The snow slowly melted away as the hours went by. By the end of the afternoon, we took the car for a short ride and took photos around the lake.

But it’s only when we left the Lodge the following morning that we got to see what we missed all weekend: some of the most STUNNING mountain ranges I’ve seen in a while! The snow made it look all the more spectacular.

And to top it off, we saw another bear! This time it was a cub. The photo below is pretty crappy but it’s proof that we saw 2 bears during our trip!

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Final words

So, for a trip filled with unexpected snow and near a double-homicide crime scene, I’d say this long weekend was a success!

We should have stayed longer, that’s for sure. The Northern Rockies are exceptional. Remote, wild, but where it’s still possible to fuel up your car ($1,80 per litre… ouch!)

I’ll be back one day!