The Stikine, or Great River in the native Tlingit language, drains nearly 20,000 square miles and flows over 400 miles from its headwaters in British Columbia to Frederick Sound in Alaska. The far northwest of BC offers explorers huge areas of unspoiled wilderness. Forged in fire, carved with ice, coloured with sprawling verdant forests, crystalline blue lakes, and fragile alpine meadows: welcome to the backcountry.
The Stikine River is navigable downriver from the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, continuing down the river from Telegraph Creek all the way to Wrangell, Alaska, for a fortnight’s travel of 280 miles (459 km). The Stikine was first paddled by Indians in dugout canoes seeking an easy route through the formidable Coast Mountain Range. The river was once busy with sternwheelers transporting prospectors and supplies to the rich goldfields of the Yukon and the Canadian Interior. The Cassiar Gold Rush of 1873-1874 is long past, and paddlewheelers have been replaced by canoes, kayaks and powered boats.
The Stikine River area was first explored by Russian fur traders in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, followed by developers of the Collins Overland Telegraph Trail in the 1860’s. This route was abandoned after cable was laid across the Atlantic, linking North America and Europe.
Don’t even think about boating, canoeing or kayaking the Stikine River into the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, a 61-mile (100-km) stretch of impassable waters that charge through canyons 1,000 feet (300 m) deep. It has only once been bested. Be content with the waters that are runable! At last count, the Grand Canyon of the Stikine, located in the Stikine River Provincial Park, was home to more than 360 mountain goats, which use the sheer canyon walls as effective protection from all natural predators.
There is a variety of ways to enjoy the Stikine, and river boating is one of them. River Tour operators based in Telegraph Creek arrange travel on the Stikine River in boats for an afternoon, a single overnight trip, or longer trips of several days to the Lower River and beyond to Wrangell, Alaska. These experienced guides operate under a special use permit from the USDA Forest Service; Tongass National Forest.
Short tours run from Telegraph Creek to the Glenora/Hudson Bay Flats area and back to Telegraph Creek. Water levels permitting, the trip continues two miles above Telegraph Creek to the entrance of the Grand Canyon of the Stikine.
Half-day tours travel 35 miles down river to the confluence of the Chutine River and Jackson’s Landing. Full-day tours navigate 65 miles down river, through the Little Canyon into the heart of the Coast Mountains. This infrequently travelled wilderness is the land of glaciers and braided river channels.
The Dease River from Dease Lake to Liard River used to be one of the most important water highways in the province, and saw its last great use during the construction of the Alaska Hwy. Nowadays, the river is experiencing a bit of a renaissance, as paddlers discover this 162-mile (265-km) waterway. It’s mostly Class I and II, with some Class III rapids. Expect to take about seven days to complete the one-way paddle.
The Stewart-Cassiar Highway 37 is the only road that delivers adventurers to this awe-inspiring wilderness. Sections are still unpaved and services are few, so be prepared for any eventuality. Two roads branch west of Highway 37 and connect with Stewart and Telegraph Creek, respectively. The navigable portion of the Stikine River is reached from the small community of Telegraph Creek. Vehicle access is limited to Highway 37 and logging roads.
Nature, it seems, conspires to keep this region a secret, but for those who are prepared, this remote part of British Columbia offers up unimaginably rich rewards. Getting off the beaten path is a must for explorers; many areas can be reached only by boat, foot, horseback, helicopter, or floatplane. Those seeking solitude can go for days or weeks in some areas without sharing this rugged beauty with anyone else.