In the far corner of northwestern British Columbia, the blood that flows through the Tat’s veins is the icy cold water of hundreds of streams that feed the Tatshenshini and Alsek River across a broad flood plain beneath the St. Elias Mountains, the highest range in North America with 20 summits cresting above 4,200 metres. Here alone, 14 glaciers, like massive ice-blue caterpillars, point into the valleys that surround the confluence.
There are two established entries into the park along the Haines Hwy (Hwy 3 and 7) from Yukon or Alaska and these provide access for hikers, backpackers, and mountain bikers. There are very few trails in the park for the most part, you have to make it up as you go along. Fortunately, game trails are plentiful.
The Tat supports more than 53 species of mammals, including wolverines, blue (or glacier) bear (thought to be a variation of the black bear and found nowhere else Canada), and grizzlies.
About 200 of the known 400 Dall’s sheep in the province have their range year-round in this area. The park provides an important travel route for waterfowl, with at least 40 bird species known to use the region. These include trumpeter swans, peregrine falcons, great grey owls, and bald eagles.
The Tatshenshini-Alsek watershed is often referred to as the ‘Holy Grail’ of rafting. Though the usual route for rafting expeditions on the Tatshenshini River starts in the Yukon and ends in Alaska, much of the river’s path is through British Columbia’s Coast Mountains. The full 161-mile (260-km) river-rafting trek will take 14 days, though it is possible to do smaller 6- and 8-day trips on the Upper Alsek River. Altogether, there are three routes on the Y-shaped river system that lend themselves to exploration in this World Heritage site. The Tatshenshini and its heftier counterpart, the Alsek, run south through the St. Elias Mountains, home to some of the tallest peaks in Canada, many of which reach elevations of 15,000 feet (4575 m). The two rivers merge just inside the western boundary of Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park, then flow as the Alsek River through Alaska to meet the Pacific at Dry Bay.
There are very few authorised mountain-bike trails in the northwest of BC, and many multi-use trails are too overgrown to make mountain biking any fun. A pleasant surprise for the avid fat-tracker is that, unlike most provincial parks in this region, and indeed, in the province, the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Wilderness Park is open to mountain bikers. There are two main trails for mountain bikers to follow: the Parton River Trail and the Chuck Creek Trail.
The Parton River Trail begins just south of Stanley Creek. A road heads west from Hwy 7 to the trailhead on the Tatshenshini River. If the river is running high, good luck getting across without a raft (probably not a bad idea to have one anyway). There are no bridges here, and this is only the first of two numbing river crossings. Best bring a pair of waders; the water here is cold! The second river crossing quickly follows the first, this time across the Parton River. The trail runs about 18 miles (30 km) to an old airstrip, with a 1-mile (2.5-km) side trail to the Shinney Lakes. The Shinney Lakes Trail to the lakes heads right from the main trail near the 9-mile (15-km) point.
The Chuck Creek Trail begins just past Chuck Creek, beside a big Tatshenshini-Alsek park sign. An old road leads into the park to an old gypsum mine, but the best views of the Samuel Glacier come shortly after fording Clear Creek, at the 4-mile (7-km) point.
Snowmobile use is only allowable in a specified area within the park. The specified area is in the park’s Natural Environment Zone, one of two management zones within the park. The other zone in the park is called the Wilderness Recreation Zone. The objective of the Natural Environment Zone is to provide a limited number of entry points along the Haines Highway where snowmobile use is permitted. Access is restricted largely to valley bottoms and valley ridges in this portion of the park.
Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park is located in the northwestern corner of the province north of Haines on Highway 3.
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