The Great Northern Circle Route in Northern BC is full of amazing sights and stops.
For those wanting to go on a bucket-list-worthy road trip this summer but still stay close to home, it’s time you discovered the Great Northern Circle Route in Northern BC.
This spectacularly scenic route puts the natural beauty of Canada on full display: monumental mountains, untouched wilderness, shimmering blue lakes, plus gorgeous flora and fauna surround you as you travel through this immense untamed area.
In Northern BC, beauty is more than skin deep
Many Canadians know that British Columbia is gifted in the natural beauty department but, unless you’ve travelled to its north, you haven’t yet seen the best of it. This is where the province’s dramatic scenery meets outdoor adventure, sporting activities, animal spotting, and heritage sites.
Northern BC begins at the city of Prince George and extends up to the Yukon/Alaska border. This vast region also encompasses the Haida Gwaii archipelago. Hiking, swimming, fly fishing, kayaking — all can be done in this natural playground and in one epic road trip.
This spectacularly scenic route puts the natural beauty of Canada on full display.
Plan your route to adventure
To properly take in the sights and scenery of Northern BC, plan to follow the entire Great Northern Circle Route, covering 3,200 kilometres. You’ll head north from Prince George, through Pine Pass and the Peace River Regional District, along the historic Alaska Highway (#97). Make sure to buckle in as you travel up through the Yukon and down the Stewart-Cassiar Highway (#37), then across the Yellowhead Highway (#16) back to Prince George.
Throughout your journey, you will discover prehistoric worlds, the culture of Indigenous peoples, quaint towns, historic museums, protected parklands, glaciated valleys, misty rainforests, and rugged mountains.
Stops along the way
Your journey doesn’t need to end here. You can always take an additional five to ten days to paddle the gorgeous 120-kilometre route through the Nation Lakes chain of waterways — or maybe that’s next year’s adventure?
Take either air, road, or rail to get to the starting point of your journey, the modern city of Prince George. Called the “basecamp of the north,” this is where you can visit BC’s northernmost winery or a local brewery, the Huble Homestead Historic Site, or the world’s only inland temperate rainforest. You can also get in a game of golf on tamed, manicured grasses before they turn wild, stock up on supplies, and drink your fill of excellent coffee before you hit the road.
Chetwyn and Tumbler Ridge
This section of road will take you through Chetwynd, home to more than 120 wooden chainsaw carvings, which line the streets. Starting out as an idea in 1992 to carve three bears to commemorate the anniversary of the Alaska Highway, the momentum grew to include the annual International Chainsaw Carving Competition, now drawing in carvers from all over the world.
For natural beauty lovers, your next stop should be the Tumbler Ridge Geopark, the only UNESCO Global Geopark in Western Canada. Here, you’ll find falls larger than those in Niagara (don’t miss a jet boat tour for total immersion) and more than 20 trails for every type of hiker, from vigorous alpine treks to meandering strolls. There’s even a car route to follow if that’s more your speed.
This is a good spot to park for the night but, before you do, take a selfie at the historic Mile 0 sign, which marks the beginning of the historic Alaska Highway. This 1,930 km scenic route is open all year, and joins highways to Edmonton and Prince George. Check out the Northern Alberta Railway Station Museum located in a renovated grain elevator and the Walter Wright Pioneer Village.
Fort St. John
If you have a mind to go fishing, just outside Fort St. John is Charlie Lake, an idyllic spot to fish for trout, walleye, or northern pike. After a morning of casting and jigging, you’ve earned a beer at one of the local craft breweries before checking out the North Peace Cultural Centre and the Indigenous Artists’ Market before journeying on. If you can be up before dawn, you should stop to view the sunrise over Pink Mountain on your way to Fort Nelson. Up for a bit of an adventure? Travel along a bumpy logging road to view the scenic Sikanni Chief Falls, where the roar of water comes before you see the falls.
When you arrive at Fort Nelson, you’re at the gateway to the Northern Rockies. Before leaving the town, visit the Fort Nelson Heritage Museum to learn about life during the building of the Alaska Highway. Along the road, Muncho Lake offers some of the most brilliant scenery you’ll ever set your eyes upon, with jade-coloured lakes and a backdrop of towering, craggy mountains. On the way stop by Liard River Hot Springs, an ecological phenomenon with a natural river of hot water.
Watson Lake Sign post Forest
You’ll want to come prepared to make your mark at Sign Post Forest, where there are close to 70,000 license plates, road shields, and homemade signs mounted. After a bit of fun and maybe a selfie or two, the Stewart-Cassiar Highway will lead you to the crystal-clear waters of Tā Ch’ilā Provincial Park. You also may want to take a short detour to visit the Cassiar ghost town, where the chills you feel might not be from the dip you took in the lake.
Jade City to Stewart
This stretch of road is all about the great outdoors — go paddling, canoe to Cascade Falls, take a small plane to the Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park for breathtaking, remote beauty, or go to Mount Edziza Provincial Park for the surreal volcanic landscape. Just north of the town of Stewart, if travel restrictions allow, cross into Alaska and head to the stunning Salmon Glacier. This is the world’s largest vehicle-accessible glacier and something you won’t want to miss.
Stewart to Smithers
Relive history on an interpretive walking trail at the Battle Hill National Historic Site and learn about the rich culture of the Gitxsan people at the ‘Ksan Historical Village before continuing south to Smithers.
Smithers to Fort St. James
For a change of pace, take in the town of Smithers. This is the stop to get into that ski town vibe, with a magnificent mountain backdrop overlooking an alpine-themed streetscape. After a day spent hiking or paddling, head to a local brewery, shop, or café.
The next stop is Burns Lake, known for its 90 kilometres of biking trails, and then — since you’re already in the Lakes District — don’t miss the chance to hop on a float plane and head to a remote, pristine lake that feels like it’s there only for you.
Fort St. James and the return to Prince George
This final leg of your journey takes you to the Fort St. James National Historic Site, a recreation of an 1896 Hudson’s Bay trading post. This area was originally established by explorer Simon Fraser in 1806 as an outpost for the Northwest Company and became known as the ‘Siberia of the fur trade’ due to its harsh winters, but today it’s known for its excellent fishing.
If you have a desire to experience authentic nature at its most pristine, place the Great Northern Circle Route at the top of your bucket list.