My dad, Dan, had been to all 50 states except Alaska. Seeing this as an opening, I pestered him to the point of exasperation. Somehow during those conversations, I convinced him to take the classic road trip to Alaska. That happened in March, a little more than three months before the planned departure. While my dad and I planned, my sister Hannah and partner Stacia saw the opportunity of a lifetime and decided to come along. On June 18th, three days after Stacia graduated from the U of O MBA program and two weeks after Hannah and my dad departed from Washington DC, the group left Portland, Oregon for Alaska. The plan for the trip is a multipurpose blend of sightseeing, motorcycling, climbing, and backpacking. All of these toys are packed into a Toyota Tacoma and 12ft cargo trailer.
We spent our first day driving up to the Olympic Peninsula along the Oregon/Washington coast. Our first camp was made south of Hoodsport, WA in Potlatch State Park. Here we made our first meals as a group and had our first trials with trailering in reverse.
The next day, Hannah and I climbed Mt. Ellinor, earning perfect clear views of Mt. Olympus and the rest of the national park. Stacia stayed behind for a job interview, while my dad got out on the bike. We all met again at Heart of the Hills Campground near Port Angeles. This part of the park contains huge old growth trees that are indicative of the temperate rainforests.
In the morning, we woke up early to catch the international ferry to Victoria, British Columbia. We spent the morning in town, running errands to Mountain Equipment Cooperative, Island BMW and the local Chinatown market for lychee and rambutan. However, we were soon on the road again headed towards the west side of Vancouver Island. On the way, we stopped to see some falls, more old growth forest and the funky Goats on the Roof grocery store.
The west side of Vancouver Island is only accessible by a few roads. We chose to spend the night at Green Point Campground in the Pacific Rim National Park and Preserve. This immaculate park contains old-growth rainforest, surfing beaches, and rocky coastline. We drove into the town of Tofino for some great seafood at the Ice House Oyster Bar.
While you could spend weeks or months exploring Vancouver Island, we only had time for two days. We spent our second day driving to the town of Comox. On the way, we stopped in the town of Ucluelet for more Oysters and enjoyed the great motorcycle road (route 4) that bisects the island. Our camp for the night was at Kin Beach Provincial Park, where we enjoyed great views of the Canadian Coastal Mountains across the sound.
Instead of taking the ferry directly back the Vancouver, we elected to take a series of three ferries along the sunshine coast. The roads in between passed through multiple small isolated towns including Powell River, Madeira Park, and Sechelt. After the final ferry, we drove the first 25 miles of the Sea to Sky Highway up to Squamish.
Taking a break from the road, Stacia and I spent the morning climbing a rock face named the Apron and then met up with Hannah for some single pitching. Squamish is definitely on the list for a return trip!
Unfortunately, our drive through Canada was jam-packed with driving, leaving little time to explore the areas we stopped in, so the next day we were back on the Sea to Sky Highway. This day of driving was one of the most diverse yet, first rising up into the mountains around Whistler, then slowing changing from mountain tundra to the dry river valleys near Lillooet. My dad and I rode the bikes, while Hannah and Stacia attempted to keep up while pulling the trailer. That night we made it to Quesnel and with rain, we elected for a cheap motel.
The next two days were spent covering ground on the way to the Cassiar Highway. On the way, we overnighted in a pristine city campground in Smithers, BC. This part of Canada became increasingly remote with towns growing farther apart and animal sightings every few miles.
There are two main arteries through northern BC into the Yukon. One is the traditional Alcan Highway, built during WWII to protect Alaska. The other is the Cassiar Highway which stays farther west and is named for the gold rush during the late-1800’s. We decided to take the Cassiar, mostly on a whim, but also with a desire to see the “friendliest ghost town in America,” Hyder, Alaska. On the way, we stopped in a few first nation towns to admire totem poles and small museums. The surrounding mountains were furry with diverse species of trees.
Hyder is somewhat of a geographic fluke as the line between the US and Canada was drawn directly down the middle of a channel that cuts hundreds of miles inland. On the north of this channel sits Hyder, Alaska, cut off from the rest of the US by coastal mountains and only accessible to the rest of the world, through its neighbor Stewart, BC. The drive into this area had great views including the bear glacier. We spent the evening being Hyderized in the Hyder (drinking grain alcohol) and the morning driving up to Salmon Glacier. We found it interesting that any crime in the town would not be addressed for an hour and a half until the police fly over the mountains into Hyder.
The next two days were more long days on the road. Driving north up the Cassiar, we saw 7 black bears and spent the night on Dease Lake watching the sunset around 11:30pm over the water. The Cassiar highway ends soon after entering the Yukon when it hits the Alcan Highway. We pushed on a little further down the Alcan to reach Whitehorse for a much-needed break from driving.