Nothing says summer in Canada like a road trip. The days are long, the roads are drivable, and the possibility of adventure around every corner is abundant.
I kicked off my summer with a great British Columbian road trip. The final destination: Haida Gwaii. This mystical and remarkably beautiful archipelago of around 150 islands is full of wilderness and history. And it’s (just) a 17-hour drive (and 8-hour ferry ride) away from Vancouver.
That time investment might sound overwhelming to some. For me, the chance to drive through this great big province to revisit some of the places I spent parts of my childhood in was beyond worth it. The opportunity to check out how craft beer has grown and evolved in these smaller communities was an added bonus.
Heading north to Prince George
Our first day of the journey started early as we packed up the car with our bags and camping gear. Leaving the lower mainland by way of the Fraser Valley (with its very own Ale Trail) and Fraser Canyon, we took a turn north at Hope, following the Fraser River along the winding road.
After a brief stop at Chasm Provincial Park and a quick bite in 100 Mile House (home of Jackson’s Social Club & Brewhouse), we kept heading north through Cariboo country, full of birch trees and meadows surrounding ponds and lakes of all sizes. We drove through Williams Lake and kept going through Quesnel, home to Barkerville Brewing Co. and BC’s gold rush capital, before reaching our stop for the night in Prince George.
Prince George to Prince Rupert
Officially on the Northern BC Ale Trail now, we headed to CrossRoads Brewing for a pint and some dinner. The sunny evening brought people, young and old, out to enjoy the patio and share the large live-edge wooden tables inside.
My friend and I each got a pint of their Fast Lane IPA to start. Then we split a delicious roasted beet salad and wood-fired pizza.
We then walked over to Nancy O’s a few blocks away after a hot tip from our server at CrossRoads. The restaurant/lounge has a killer menu at all times of day. It also features more than 60 beers and lots of cocktails. After another drink, we hit the hay in preparation for another 8-hour drive the next day. (But for more beverage options, Prince George is also where Trench Brewing & Distilling is based.)
Swift stop in Smithers
The next morning, we continued the road trip on through lake country, leaving Prince George behind and entering the Bulkley Valley. The trees slowly shifted from deciduous to coniferous as hills grew into mountains covered in Sitka spruce. We stopped for lunch in Smithers, home to Hudson Bay Mountain Resort, Smithers Brewing Company, and Bulkley Valley Brewery. Although we didn’t have a lot of time to enjoy a full brewery visit, we did pop into the local BC Liquor Store. After debating what to try, we picked up Smithers’ Brewing’s Twin Falls Pale Ale and Cloudwaters Witbier. The cans of Cloudwaters featured art from Roy Henry Vickers. The Hazelton sternwheeler heads down the Skeena River in a backdrop of rainy grays and blues on this spring edition of a four-beer seasonal series.
Back on the road, we drove past the Seven Sisters Provincial Park, with their tall peaks beckoning adventurers. The sheer amount of provincial parks we drove past or through was ridiculous and amazing, all at the same time. We kept going through Terrace, home to Sherwood Mountain Brewhouse, before reaching my absolute favourite part of the drive – the stretch from Terrace to Prince Rupert, following the shores of the Skeena River for most of the way.
Warm welcome at Wheelhouse
After we (finally) reached Prince Rupert and ran some quick errands in preparation for the trip over to Haida Gwaii, we decided to treat ourselves with a visit to Wheelhouse Brewing Company. A familiar BC Ale Trail poster greeted us at the door. Views of the cruise-ship dock, Atlin terminal, and sunsets that can’t be beat can be spotted from Wheelhouse too.
We entered the dim-lit concrete and wood room that is reminiscent of a ship’s cabin. People I went to high-school with shared the two busy tables with significant others, friends, and strangers alike. A foosball table in the corner was used as a third table initially, then as a foosball table once more. And the few seats at the bar were full by the time we left too. Even in the hour we spent at Wheelhouse, the impact that a craft brewery has on a small community like this one is palpable.
My friend and I each got a flight, while our other local friend enjoyed a pint of her favourite Wheelhouse brew, the Gillnetter. A few bottles of the Scurvy Dog Spruce Ale and Vitamin Sea seasonal, as well as the Gillnetter and the Flagship Pale Ale, came home with us. (Some even made it all the way back to Victoria, although I’m still not quite sure how…)
Running out of road in Haida Gwaii
The next day, we woke up early again to claim our ferry reservation to Skidegate on Haida Gwaii. We boarded the ferry and set sail on Hecate Strait, reaching Skidegate and the stunning surroundings at 5pm. Although no official brewery is operating on the islands, there are rumours of one in the works.
We spent the next five days exploring the islands, all the way to North Beach and south to Gray Bay. We camped, hiked, learned about the history and culture of the Haida people, and enjoyed a good ol’ fashioned campfire with craft beers from across the Northern Ale Trail in hand.
The long drive home
We took the overnight ferry back to Prince Rupert from Skidegate. Docking at 6am, we enjoyed one final breakfast with our hosts and set off back to Prince George and then south to Vancouver again. The long drive was the perfect opportunity to reflect on the past 10 days.
One of my favourite things about the craft beer revolution has been the impact it’s had on smaller communities throughout the province. While it’s amazing to be so close to both the Victoria Ale Trail and Vancouver’s multiple options (the Vancouver Ale Trail, the North Shore Ale Trail, and nearby Port Moody’s Brewers Row), nothing highlights the power of craft beer like a small town that’s brought together at the local brewery.
This road trip through my own (very large) backyard was the perfect summertime adventure. The journey was well worth it for the destination. The pristine wilderness of Haida Gwaii, mixed with the hospitality of locals, left a lasting impact. The drive through our stunning province, from southwest to northwest and back, is one that leaves its mark as well.
If you’ve got the time to spend on a road trip, spend it seeing these places and top a day of exploration off with a craft beer at a local brewery in hand. I promise you won’t regret it.