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Beyond the Map in The Great Wilderness:
A Deeper Connection To Land and Life

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Monkman Provincial Park, near Tumbler Ridge UNESCO Global Geopark | Mike Seehagel

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In our digitally connected and developed world, it can feel as if little mystery remains on Earth, and even fewer places where we can experience true awe—to feel that we are part of something bigger.

But there is still a place where awe is an everyday occurrence: The Great Wilderness, a vast expanse with the power to connect us to land and life on a deep and meaningful scale. Indigenous Peoples, who’ve lived here since time immemorial, gain wisdom from the beating heart of these lands and waters; their cultures pulsing with a reverence for nature and a commitment to its stewardship.

Stretching from the remote northwest corner of British Columbia on the border of Alaska and the Yukon all the way to Alberta, a journey through The Great Wilderness can take visitors east across the whole of the province, or south down the long backbone of BC’s remote Coast Mountains. It’s a bastion of immense land so large it would take a lifetime of journeys to fully explore—which is part of what makes experiences here so impactful.

Muskwa-Kechika Management Area | Andrew Strain

Mesmerizing Landscapes

The Great Wilderness is home to an astonishing diversity of landscapes, each with such individual characteristics and a rich human history that these ecosystems often seem like living beings. Start in the far north in Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains the largest non-polar icefield in the world. This unique area, currently being studied by archaeologists, has been stewarded by Indigenous Peoples, including the Tlingit. Their commitment to conserving the land is embodied through their Land Guardians, who uphold the Tlingit tradition of respect for yakgwahéiyagu, or the” living spirit inside all things.” 

Here, the mighty Tatshenshini and Alsek rivers converge, their waters fed by the icy streams of the continent’s highest mountain range. More than a dozen glaciers flow slow and shining from high peaks to valley floors. Elusive wolverines and Stone’s sheep the colour of winter walk the great stony heights, and to the background music of baritone calls from great grey owls, the mysterious glacier bear—found nowhere else on Earth—moves quietly through ancient forests.

For the traveller seeking a truly rugged experience, this is a landscape of wonder at its most pure. 

 

South of Tatshenshini-Alsek, just off the sawtooth flanks of the Coast Range in Tahltan Nation territory, witness the staggering power of nature at Mount Edziza Provincial Park, a rust-and-bone mountain with an enormous volcanic crater some 10,000 years old. The mountain is located in the Tenh Dẕetle Conservancy, which translates to “ice mountain” in the Tahltan language.

Contrast Edziza’s starkness with the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area across the Northern Rockies, a lush land of rivers and mountains so rich in biodiversity that it’s been described as the “Serengeti of the North.” A stronghold for lynx and wolves, caribou, and bald eagles, the Muskwa-Kechika supports the largest predator-prey system on the continent.      

Touch the vastness of geologic time at Tumbler Ridge, a UNESCO Global Geopark through which the preserved tracks of dinosaurs travel river-cut valleys under glacier-draped peaks. Or wonder at the strength of gravity as 70-metre (230-feet) Kinuseo Falls—taller than Niagara Falls—splits over towering rock in a constant, roaring cascade. And then feel as if you’re defying that same gravity as you walk in the soaring heights of Mount Robson Provincial Park, the Canadian Rockies’ highest peak combing the clouds at nearly 4,000 metres (13,100 feet). 

A sign with Nisga'a artwork leads to a beautiful wooden building with floor to ceiling windows looks out over the Nisga'a Lava Beds Provincial Park.
Hli Goothl Wilp-Adokshl Nisga’a (Nisga'a Museum) | Mike Seehagel

Cultural Experiences

At towns and villages, outposts, and cultural sites scattered amongst the seemingly boundlessness between, the stories that tie people to this place are waiting to be heard—and there are many opportunities to listen and learn. 

At ‘Ksan Historical Village, home to the Gitxsan at the confluence of the Bulkley and Skeena rivers, be welcomed into traditional longhouses to hear the stories of “the people of the river of the mist.”

Or travel west to Anhluut’ukwsim Lax̱mihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisg̱a’a (Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park), which infuses Indigenous culture and stewardship into the interpretation of natural wonders. The oral stories of the Nisg̱a’a people define the otherworldly landscape: legend has it that the volcano, which erupted around 1700 CE, exploded in anger after a group of children disrespected the life-giving salmon. This park is also the first to be managed jointly between a First Nation and BC Parks, and four surrounding Nisg̱a’a villages offer amenities to visitors. 

The Great Wilderness waits for those who want to go beyond the planned itineraries of guidebooks—those who know the most enticing opportunities for awe are often spontaneous.

Camping under the Northern Lights off the Alaska Highway | Andrew Strain

Travelling and Staying

 Travellers journey to the spectacular isolation of these places via the winding two lanes of the Alaska Highway, one of numerous roadways that traverse this colossal landscape, where spotting grizzly bears and moose can happen more frequently than spotting other cars.  Bush plane, helicopter, boat, bike, and your own two feet are equally adventurous alternatives. This is a landscape best experienced from the tranquility of  a wilderness lodge, or from the intimacy of a tent placed in an improbable, beautiful spot. 

Often its only away from bustling and heavily populated hubs that the human-made veil between us and the natural world begins magnificently to dissolve. Such moments of awe, abundant in The Great Wilderness, leave us suspecting we’ve transcended the boundaries of the normal and even redefined our own sense of self and the world around us. 

Because nowhere else like this exists. 

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