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Two trail runners look tiny against the backdrop of a towering Mt. Edziza,streaked with rust and bone colours.

Geological Wonders of The Great Wilderness

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Mount Edziza Provincial Park | Angela Percival

 

 

There are landscapes in The Great Wilderness that defy imagination—places where cresting a hill or rounding a bend reveals a geological scene of colours, shapes, and textures so remarkable it scarcely seems real. For the more than 50 diverse First Nations that have called this place home since time immemorial, these ever-shifting landscapes are an innate part of their identities. As the original and enduring guardians of the sunset-tinted mountains, rugged lava plains, and sky-scraping glaciers, they possess deep wisdom about living in harmony with the natural world.

For intrepid visitors to The Great Wilderness, this is part of the wonder. Immersing yourself in these mesmerizing northern lands can ignite a profound awareness of how everything is interconnected. You may feel as though you’re returning to a place that’s almost familiar, rather than visiting somewhere new and far away. Taking the time to listen and learn from Indigenous communities only enhances your appreciation of these living lands and waters. These far-flung landscapes are not simply beautiful to behold—they are a sacred connection to Indigenous knowledge, history, and culture.

Mount Edziza Provincial Park | Angela Percival

Be Amazed by Nature’s Colourful Canvases

Vibrant hues of red, yellow, orange, and purple streak across the mountains of the Spectrum Range in remote Mount Edziza Provincial Park and the adjoining Tenh Dẕetle Conservancy, the Ice Mountain Lands, in northwestern BC. Traditional Territory of the Tahltan Nation, these culturally significant landscapes were shaped by long ago volcanic eruptions which left behind obsidian, a volcanic glass used for the cutting blades and projectile points that the Tahltan People quarried and widely traded. Volcanism also created conditions where sulphurous mineral waters painted these rocky hillsides with otherworldly blazes of colour. There’s no vehicle access to this surreal landscape, so most hikers fly in, embarking on a journey that feels uniquely their own.

Farther north, and closer to the Yukon, the spectrum of blues found in Tā Ch’ilā Provincial Park (Boya Lake Provincial Park) evoke the tropical hues of the Maldives, an unexpected sight in the wildlife-rich wetlands northwest of Dease Lake. Created by retreating glaciers that left behind landforms known as esker and kettle deposits, the Kaska Dena people call this important area Tā Ch’ilā, “like a blanket full of holes,” describing how the boreal forest is broken up by small lakes dotted with islands and inlets. In summer, the gin-clear waters adjacent to the Tā Ch’ilā Park campsite are warm enough for swimming, and onsite canoe and kayak rentals make it easy to paddle to a hidden cove and immerse in a wash of colours that range from sapphire to cyan.

Aurora Borealis in Anhluut'ukwsim Lax̱mihl Angwinga'asanskwhl Nisg̱a'a | Jeanine Philippe

Witness The Earth’s Immense Power

Just off Highway 16 near Terrace in northwest BC lies Canada’s youngest and most accessible volcanic landscape. Standing at one of the lookouts in Anhluut’ukwsim Lax̱mihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisg̱a’a (Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park), it’s hard not to feel astonishment when gazing over volcanic plains framed by the snow-capped Hazleton Mountains. Traditionally home to the Nisg̱a’a Nation, the Tseax Cone erupted here around 1700 CE, spilling molten rock that flowed 32 kilometres (20 miles) northward across the valley toward the Nass River.

The eruption left behind imposing heaps of rubble several metres high, destroyed at least two Nisg̱a’a villages, and claimed the lives of 2,000 community members. Jointly managed by the Nisg̱a’a Nation and BC Parks, the park’s hiking trails and interpretive centre give visitors a chance to learn more about Nisg̱a’a Territory’s volcanic history. The territory as a whole can be explored using the Nisg̱a’a Lands Auto Tour, which includes directions to places like Hli Goothl Wilp-Adokshl Nisg̱a’a (the Nisg̱a’a Museum), offering insight into the rich heritage and traditions of the Nisg̱a’a Nation.

 

On the other side of the Great Northern Circle Route (900 km away, just off the Alaska Highway), you’ll again sense Earth’s power when you immerse yourself in the steaming waters of Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park. It’s easy to forget this soothing warmth exists thanks to the Ring of Fire—the seismically and volcanically active land around the Pacific Rim. Recharged by seasonal rain, groundwater is heated and pressurized, then forced up through natural faults into the park’s eight pools, which range in temperature from 42°C to 52°C (107.6°F to 125.6°F).

From the pools, the water feeds a system of warm-water swamps that nurture a lush boreal forest filled with a unique vegetative community that includes carnivorous plants and 14 different species of wild orchids. Located at Kilometre 765 (Historical Mile 496) of the Alaska Highway, the Provincial Park’s campground is separated from the hot springs by 700 metres (765 yards) of boardwalk. It’s not uncommon to spot moose, bison, and even wolves in the area.

The Shipyard/Titanic trail in Tumbler Ridge | Jesaja Class

Marvel at Ancient Footprints

Traverse the vast landscapes of The Great Wilderness to the northeastern side of British Columbia, where you can journey through the land’s 600-million-year story during a visit to the Tumbler Ridge UNESCO Global Geopark. The internationally acclaimed site combines geology, paleontology, and human history and features highlights such as tyrannosaur tracks, a museum boasting a 12,400-year-old bison skull, and the magnificent Kinuseo Falls.

Shaped by ancient mountain-building, the land comprising the Geopark crumpled and folded over time, forming the rugged foothills of the Northern Rocky Mountains. Later, these nascent mountains became home to dinosaurs, mammoths, and other huge animals, which, according to local First Nations’ oral history, may have co-existed with the region’s first human occupants.

Mineral-rich and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, it was the discovery of dinosaur trackways that propelled community members in this remote resource town to band together and achieve their Geopark designation. Today, visitors can delve into a landscape of plunging waterfalls, lush forests, and wind-scrubbed escarpments while gaining a deeper understanding of the forces that created them.

Salmon Glacier along the Stewart-Cassiar Highway | Grant Harder

Wonder on a Grand Scale

The Salmon Glacier, located near Stewart, BC, and Hyder, Alaska, is known for being the world’s largest road-accessible glacier, a remnant of the ancient Cordilleran Ice Sheet. Visitors can take a tour bus or use a Self Guided Auto Tour to navigate the unpaved road as it climbs over 1,200 metres (3,937 feet) in elevation. Viewpoints include the toe of the glacier, where rocky terminal moraines and small blue ponds known as kettles give a sense of glacial movement. Reaching the summit, there’s a panoramic view of the ancient icy expanse, winding like a river into the distance.

Travel 1,000 km across the province and the mountains again rise to scrape the clouds with the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. Prominent Mount Robson, known as Yuh-hai-has-kun by the Texqakallt Nation, translates to “mountain of the spiral road” due to its layers of limestone, dolomite, shale, and quartzite. Rising 3,954 metres (12,972 feet) this imposing massif has long attracted hikers and climbers and looms over the lakes, rivers, and forests that make up its namesake provincial park. Visitors can also get a close-up view of its icy flanks by taking a helicopter tour, which departs from the nearby town of Valemount. Mount Robson Provincial Park and six other connected parks make up the Canadian Rocky Mountains World Heritage Site, one of the world’s largest protected areas.

The list of geological wonders of The Great Wilderness doesn’t end here; in many ways, this is just the beginning. Expansive and majestic, these landscapes are not just revered for their raw beauty; they’re also repositories of Indigenous histories, origins, and spiritual beliefs. They offer a profound opportunity to reflect on our place in the world and to consider how we can forge sustainable, reciprocal relationships with the land, water, and all living beings.

By connecting with these natural wonders and the cultures that have stewarded them for millennia, we can deepen our understanding of our role in these vast lands and our responsibility to protect them for future generations.

GETTING HERE

The scale of The Great Wilderness can sometimes be hard to grasp. There are several gateways into these awe-inspiring lands. Starting on the West Coast of British Columbia, Prince Rupert is a Pacific Ocean port city accessible by both highway and BC Ferries. From here, you can travel north towards the Yukon and Alaska borders, or east towards the town of Terrace and northwestern BC. Further inland, the outdoor-oriented city of Prince George is a prime base camp to the north, connecting to both Stewart-Cassiar Highway and Route 16. Those travelling into the Northern Rockies or to Tumbler Ridge can begin their trip at Dawson Creek (Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway), or further north in Fort St. John with frequent flights into the North Peace Regional Airport.

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