Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Salmon Glacier Road, British Columbia

salmon glacier road
There are perhaps a million miles of dirt and gravel road crisscrossing the State of Alaska. All you have to do is pick one and you'll likely end up with an experience you'll remember forever.

With that being said, a motorcyclist could never have a bad time riding their bike across The Last Frontier.

Salmon Glacier Road offers spectacular views of Salmon Glacier, one of the largest glaciers in all of North America, along with beautiful vistas of Salmon River and Fish Creek, and if you manage to get there in July, bears chomping up salmon.

During my ride into Alaska back in June & July of 2010, I stopped into the town of Hyder, AK, located along the southern tip of the Alaska Panhandle, about a 100 miles north of Prince Rupert, BC. Boasting a population of 87 (according to the 2010 census), Hyder is largely a village that attracts motorcyclists making their way up the famed Stewart-Cassiar Highway.

When one enters into Hyder, you get the sense you're entering some kind of lawless town, absent of police, where anything and everything goes. And guess what? That's absolutely what it is.

Except in the three days and two nights I spent there, I didn't encounter any violence. Quite the contrary, everyone was as friendly as they could be. After all, I was their target demographic, a motorcyclist, with plenty of money to spend, and a blog with which I could tell the rest of the world.

I pitched my tent in the back of the Sealaska Inn, what apparently is the town's social gathering, where locals bought me free beer and challenged me to games of pool. A karaoke jockey sang out country songs from the 1970s as I sat at a bar chatting with a few other riders who also happened to be there. The few of the locals invited me to stay for the Summer Solstice party, which I understood to be quite a rave, featuring a full sized roasted pig, home brewed beer, plenty of marijuana, and watermelon trucked in from North Carolina. Yeah, there's actually an old guy who trucks it in each year just to party with these folks.

But Hyder's main attraction is Salmon Glacier, a massive formation of ancient ice that sits about 20 miles north of town, just over the Canadian border in British Columbia.

During the warmer months, the glacial ice begins to melt, causing the Salmon River to surge as much as four feet, allowing salmon to swim up from Portland Canal.

To get there, you take a gravel road that starts in Hyder and follows the river north into the Alaska Boundary Range, a range of mountains at the northern portion of the greater Coastal Mountains that run all the way up the coast of British Columbia. This road is known as "Hyder Road" within the town limits, and then becomes "Salmon Glacier Road" once you leave town. On Google Maps, it's denoted as "NF-88".

I took this road riding my Honda ST1300. Over gravel and dirt, with its street tires (Michelin Pilot Road 2), the ST handled pretty well despite a few pockets of mushy gravel, hard-packed washboard, and occasional drifts in the tighter S-turns. It probably would have been safer on an adventure bike with appropriate tread, but in Alaska it's almost impossible to remain entirely on pavement.

Along the way, just at the edge of Hyder town limits, stop at the Fish Creek Spawning Beds. It's actually a bear viewing area. In the month of July, just as the salmon are running up stream, black bear and grizzly bear walk into the Salmon River to feast. The National Forest Service built a viewing deck where you can safely watch the bears. Unfortunately, I didn't see any salmon or bears.

You'll also find plenty of waterfalls along the side of the road, which you could easily strip down naked and bask in the modest Summer temperatures. There's hardly anyone else traveling up this road, and if they are, it's all motorcycle riders.

salmon glacier road

salmon river alaskasalmon glacier

salmon glacier

salmon glacier by motorcyclejuniper shrub

At the summit, there's a viewpoint for Salmon Glacier. There's about a 15-degree F temperature drop here. The scenery is stunning.

The absolute quiet, except for an occasional breeze rustling past my ears, combined with the sight of a gigantic formation of ice tens of thousands of years old, might make one feel as if they've ascended to some mythological shrine of a Greek God high upon Mt. Olympus. It seems to remind you of how far you've traveled and gives you a sense of accomplishment.

And that's a big part of what riding to Alaska is anyway, an accomplishment.

All in all, I spent two nights in Hyder. I couldn't stay for the Summer Solstice party, and I really wish I could. My schedule just wouldn't allow it.

1 comment:

  1. This is amazing, I was there last July. On the way back from Alaska, coming down the Stewart-Cassiar I took the detour to Hyder. Now if I ever find the time to continue my blog eventually I will get to it. I'm only on day 14 of 34 days on the road.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)