Northern British Columbia Information
Northern British Columbia: Heading north from Vancouver, past the Sunshine Coast and travelling beyond the Cariboo and Chilcotin Coast areas, the awe-struck traveller is brought into the vast, largely untouched wilderness region of Northern British Columbia. This huge tract of rugged land and coast stretches east to west with over 1000 kilometres (650 miles), from the Pacific west coast, bordering part of the Alaskan coastline to the west, the Yukon and Northwest Territories in the north, through to the northern reaches of the Rocky Mountains and Alberta to the east. Consisting of more than half the province – bigger than California, Japan, and twice the size of the United Kingdom – Northern BC’s 500,000 square kilometres (193,051 square miles) offers an abundance of forests, lakes, and rivers to explore. With less than 500,000 residents, this region is still considered one of the least densely populated areas in the North American continent.
The northwest coast region and the northeast have each carved out their own distinct identity. The climate in this broad region is cold and snowy in winter, warm in summer, and of course rainfall along the coast is very common, hence the ideal location to find The Great Bear Rainforest. Here is where jagged mountains, roaring waterfalls, quiet lakes, and verdant valleys can be found supporting an abundance of wildlife, from birds to marine mammals to grizzly bears, often in protected sanctuaries for natural habitat. Revel in the chance to see the dancing night lights of the Aurora Borealis.
- See also Holiday Suggestions & Travel Ideas for Northern BC.
Among the first inhabited areas in the hemisphere, Northern B.C. and Haida Gwaii retain strong links to First Nations culture and history. Due to its relative inaccessibility, the North has remained less influenced by waves of European traders and settlers, although the Gold Rush altered the face of the territory in many ways – socially, ethnically, and economically. Today, visitors are able to explore the rich cultures which have been maintained since time immemorial, as well as testaments to migrations and influences of times gone by through many regional and industry-specific museums.
The Northeast region which covers about a quarter of the province has two districts – Peace River and the Northern Rockies. The cities and towns of this region are connected by the east-west Yellowhead Highway (#16) and the north-south Alaska Highway (#97), and provide access to one of the most resource-rich areas in British Columbia.
This region is steeped in First Nations’ history, fur-trade and gold rush lore, boom-and-bust remnants, paleontological finds, burgeoning mega-projects, and challenging outdoor pursuits, including hiking, rock-climbing, fishing, wildlife-viewing, mountain-biking, and Nordic skiing.
Prince George is a major hub and staging point for access to "The North". The city (population about 80,000) provides all the amenities of a urban centre along with a laid-back, rugged northern atmosphere. Service centres for the industries that drive the regional economy, mostly mining and exploration, agriculture, and now tourism (since the decline of the softwood lumber industry), include Dawson Creek (population 11,500) a town with a rich pioneer and World War II history, and Fort St.John (population 18,000) growing quickly due to its natural resources and entrepreneurial spirit.
The Northwest region with its vast area of mountains and valleys, rainforests and rivers, opens a world of exploration to the adventurous traveller. The coastal region is connected by BC ferries, while the main highways of the Yellowhead Highway (#16), goes more or less east-west from Prince George (Northeast region). The Stewart-Cassiar Highway (#37) is a north-south oriented route connecting near The Hazeltons area and running 727km/450 miles to and from the Yukon.
Prince Rupert, an expanding deep-sea port city for the resource industry and cruise ship activity, is the largest centre in the region with a population 15,000; Terrace (population 10,000) a service hub is considered home of the Kermode bear (also known as Spirit Bear), and gateway to the First Nations of the Nass Valley and the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park; and Kitimat (population 9,000) is the planned industrial centre situated on an arm of the Douglas Channel, with access to great fresh- and salt-water fishing and tours of the Princess Royal Island. Visit the smaller coastal communities of Port Edward, with its historic cannery and the North Pacific Fishing Village, and quaint Stewart that borders the Alaskan ghost town of Hyder and is great for checking out glaciers, bears, and spectacular scenery.
Stop by communities such The Hazeltons with the towns of New Hazelton, Hazelton, and South Hazelton that offer glimpses into the historic heartland of the region, including the ’Ksan Historical Village and heritage buildings from the steam-driven sternwheeler of days of the past.
The Nechako section, while the biggest area, is also the least populated with its small communities still fairly remote and unique. Meaning "Big River" in the local Carrier First Nation language, the Nechako offers world-class outdoor wilderness recreation to explore. Thousands of long lakes that attract caribou, moose, grizzly and black bears, as well as world migratory and breeding centres for numerous birds such as Barrow's goldeneye, greater yellow-legs and the long-billed curlew reward the dedicated traveller. Driving west along Highway #16 from Prince George in the Northeast region, one passes the three largest communities in the Nechako section: Vanderhoof (population of nearly 5,000) is literally the geographical centre of British Columbia, Houston (population of about 4,000) a town that touts the World’s Largest Fly Rod, and boasts of matchless steelhead fishing, and Smithers (population of 5,400), set in the Bulkley Valley with an appealing alpine backdrop provided by the Hudson Bay Mountain, has lots of hiking and biking trails to enjoy, fly-fishing, and all kinds of outdoor activities year-round as well as a community of arts and music.
Click here to return to the British Columbia regional overview page.
Map: See street photos by zooming in and using Google’s Street View by dragging the yellow man icon from left hand side bar onto streets highlighted in blue.
Photo credits: Close up of a bighorn sheep courtesy Tourism British Columbia; Heritage buildings on the main street in downtown Stewart courtesy Tourism BC/JF Bergeron; The Exploration Place Science Centre & Museum in Prince George courtesy Tourism BC/JF Bergeron; Kermode bear, also known as Spirit Bear, walking along fallen tree in river on Princess Royal Island courtesy TourismBC/Clare Levy; Hikers looking up at a large cedar tree in the Ancient Forest near Prince George courtesy Northern BC Tourism
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