Backpacking the Iceline Trail, Whaleback, and Little yoho Valley

The Iceline Trail, Whaleback, and Yoho Valley trails make for a great two-four day backpacking circuit in Yoho National Park. Beginning at Takakkaw Falls, we headed up  Yoho Valley. The first of many sights along the trail is Laughing Falls. There’s a backcountry campground here if you wish to explore the area more before you continue. Seeing as it’s only about 3.5 kilometres from the trail head, we continued on.

We trekked up towards Whaleback after stopping at a few more waterfalls. Once we gained more elevation and climbed up the Whaleback, we enjoyed the view of Yoho Valley where we came from, as well as the view to where we would be going the following day, Little Yoho Valley and the Iceline trail. The Whaleback trail descends into the neighbouring valley where we would camp until the next morning. 

With an early start, we left camp at Little Yoho Campground just before sunrise in hopes of having a nice sunrise from the top of the Iceline trail. 

The hike from Little Yoho campground ascends fairly quickly out of the trees and into the rugged alpine. The alpine reveals a number of nearby glaciers and glacial lagoons immediately next to the trail. The trail continues alongside these ancient glaciers for about 7 kilometres before descending down into the valley below. The valley eventually spits you out just east of Takakkaw falls.

Photos and words by Ryan Richardson    

                                       

Backpacking Limestone Lakes in Height of the Rockies

Limestone lakes in Height of the Rockies Provincial park is without a doubt one of the most incredible backcountry venues I have ever had the privilege of experiencing.

Limestone lakes in Height of the Rockies Provincial park is without a doubt one of the most incredible backcountry venues I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. It’s remote and difficult to get to location also keeps the flocks of tourist and backcountry users at bay. For good reason, route finding and proficient gps experience is required. Moreover, it’s prime grizzly country. I experienced my worst bear encounter on this trip.

On day one we followed a trail about 10km to our first cowboy camp. The trail runs parallel along the adjacent river most of the way up the valley. Then second day we ascended above the tree line. There’s an option to navigate around a large ridge line, but w-e opted to gain the ridge and then loose elevation on the other side. We thought the views might be worth it, and we were rewarded for our optimism.

After a full second day of bushwhacking and navigating limestone cliffs, we finally arrived at the stunning lookout above Limestone Lakes.

We spent another two nights at Limestone Lakes. The extra time and lighter packs afforded us the opportunity to explore the area a little more. We spend much of the third day swimming in the lake and enjoying the sun. We lucked out with weather, there was hardly a cloud in the sky the entire trip. The fourth day we hiked back out of the alpine lakes area and descended back into the valley below. We opted to go around the ridge climb, saving our legs for the 25km trek back to our vehicle.

Photos and words by Ryan Richardson.

Thru Hiking the East Coast Trail

A photo essay of my thru hike along the (ECT) East Coast Trail (220km) in Newfoundland.

A photo essay of my thru hike along the (ECT) East Coast Trail (220km) in Newfoundland. I hope these photos transport you to the east coast where myself, my partner, my Mom, and my mom’s best friend Anna attempted to thru hike the length of the ECT.

Three hikers walking past iceberg.

We began our thru hike from the south, starting in Cappahayden. As soon as we arrived to the trailhead we almost immediately spotted Icebergs off in the distance.

Hiker setting up tents near ocean.

We pitched our tents near Cappahayden where we would get a full night’s rest before beginning the our thru hike the next day.

Hiker traveling on trail.

We lucked out on weather the first day. It was reported to be the warmest day of the season so far. We had heard horror stories of how wet and technical this section of trail was. We were happy to be travelling this section with favourable conditions.

Three hikers walk alongside ocean.

The next day a thick fog rolled in off the Atlantic. The fog acted as air conditioning, the temperatures dropped considerably. Most of the views along the coast were left to our imagination. The fog was so thick we could rarely see the ocean.

Two hikers walk through fog.

The following day the cold fog had turned into a cold rain. Much of the trail was exposed to the open ocean making the wind another challenging element.

Three hikers walking in rain.

It was never the wind that slowed us down though, just the trail itself. The trail was a small single track hardly wide enough to fit our packs through in places. The trail was almost always slightly slanted towards to ocean, and it was never straight or level. It was some of the most challenging terrain I had ever walked on.

We were never given any trail names. I suppose because we never saw any hikers on the trails.

Hikers in cabin eating food.

A local introduced himself as we walked through his town and invited us to stay at his cabin along the trail. East coast hospitality is unlike anywhere else. You can expect most locals to invite you into their home for tea, water, and even dinner. As if that isn’t kind enough, we had locals offer up their home, and even buy us a case of beer.

Hiker next to dirty trail shoes.

Our gear finally had the opportunity to dry out before we hit the trail again.

Hikers walking up muddy trail.

I wish I could say the sun made an appearance again so soon. However, the rain continued and the trails became more and more difficult to navigate.

Hikers walking through bushes.

Finally, the fog burnt up in the sun’s rays. It was never as beautiful as our first day on the trail again. However, after almost four days of rain we felt as if we were on a beach in Mexico.

Hikers alongside ocean.

The ECT traveled out into the ocean along capes that would poke out into the ocean. We would walk along these capes until they eventually led back into little inlets where towns and villages were located. Nearly 75% of the trail was entirely wilderness.

Hiker walking near small village.

The villages were home to as few as a dozen people. I couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful these little inlets would look under a fresh dusting of snow in the winter.

Two hikers walking away from small village.

Hailey and I were leaving directly to Iceland from Newfoundland. Our legs began giving out, our back and shoulders were in agony. The anticipation of hopping on a plane to thru hike across the entire country of Iceland was beginning to worry us.

Hiker walking at sunset near ocean.

After thru hiking 170 km, all four of us decided to end our hike. With 50 km to go before reach St. Johns. We felt as though we could physically finish the ECT thru hike. However, we knew the cost be too high, there’s no way we could begin our thru hike in Iceland in such rough shape only a few days later.

Hiker walks alongside ocean and island.

Thru hiking the ECT is truly one of the greatest experiences of my life. Like so many places, it’s the adventure that draws us, but it’s the people and the culture that brings as back again and again. I can’t wait until I’m back in Newfoundland.

How to Stay Motivated While Walking a Marathon a Day for Two Weeks Straight

Ryan and I are athletic, but we are NOT professional athletes. We have never competed in any kind of organized race including marathons, ultramarathons, nor a 10 k. So what compelled us to average a marathon per day for 14 days straight?

Desperation.

Seriously. We did not willingly choose to take on such a daunting objective. We had a goal and chose to adapt to our situation rather than have an out and calling it quits. What I’m referring to is our 420 KM Iceland expedition that ended up tacking on over 100 KM extra. Using Google Earth as our only reference, we mapped out our entire route thinking we only had a maximum of 300 KM to walk. To our surprise, and dismay, that route turned out to be incredibly off base. Hitting our pre-planned daily pinpoint targets was nearly impossible. What was supposed to take only one day often quickly turned into a two day haul, sometimes even three days.

We really did not want to ration food so we made the decision that we would just walk for longer each day. Our days went from 10 hours to 15 hours real fast. We were hauling as hard as we could and putting every ounce of what we had left in us into each step. Just when the days would start to feel long, weather greeted us and always had something in store. Sometimes we would experience all four seasons in the span of 2 hours. Mother Nature would roar her brains out and shower golfball sized hail stones down on us. It really felt like she was trying to get the best of us.

It is by no means a stretch of the imagination when I say that our Iceland expedition was the most mentally and physically tough challenge we had ever experienced.

Getting Through

So, how did we keep it together when we just wanted our joints to stop crying and the pain to end? How did we keep walking after getting cold rashes on our legs from sub zero glacial rivers or blisters on our feet bigger than our toes?

…OREOS.

No, literally oreos! Ryan and I relied on the cookies so much that we created a little acronym about how we were able to get this expedition done.

(Side story, we came across a few mountain huts along the way that sold Oreos so we would seriously eat them as some of our meals so we could preserve all of the food that we could).

Alright, enough cookie talk.

OREOS stands for Objective, Resilience, Empower, Optimism, Strength. These five words truly did allow us to complete our mission and kept our heads up when times got tough ( which was all of the time).

Objective

Not only does objective refer to the actual mission of the trip, it refers to knowing your ‘why’ and always keeping it in the back of your mind. I learned this practice from my mentor, ultra-marathoner, Leanne Richardson. Leanne always knows her why and uses it as the fuel to keep going when times get hard out on the course.

In our case, our ‘why’ was Iceland’s Highlands. It was the very environment that we were walking through. It was the ground beneath each step we took, remembering how vulnerable it is to human threat. There is nothing that compels you to protect a place more than reminding yourself you are just a passenger voyaging through a potential once- upon- a- time wilderness oasis.

We had a job to do. Not only were we walking to raise awareness, we were also filming ourselves doing it to assist the Highlands Project to create noise so their government will listen. When times got tough we no longer had to get through for ourselves, we had to keep moving for the planet.

Resilience

If I had to pick one word to sum up our expedition it would be this one. We pretty much had every obstacle thrown in our way. Going from 25 km walking days to over 50 km, injuries and unpreventable blisters, learning that there was no way to get our food supply to our pre planned drops, the list goes on. We had so many hurdles and set backs that could have prevented us from continuing.

Crossing rapidly moving glacial rivers at 2:00 AM during a rainstorm and having to camp out for 3 days to combat injuries so we could finish the last 80 km were two of my biggest obstacles. These were moments where that inner voice of self doubt came out and broke me down. It called me unspeakable names and made me question myself and my actions.

I heard and listened to the voice, but then I would get a spark of my true self and remind myself how badly I wanted to accomplish this. I knew there was no way out. I told myself that I would live off of plain Lays chips for 7 days straight if that meant we could have enough food to finish our expedition.

There was no way we were giving up.

Empower

I am so thankful to have had my partner, Ryan, with me on this expedition. I truly have an appreciation for people who are able to do these kinds of things solo. It helped having the person I love with me and we were really able to get each other through. Ryan didn’t even know how much he helped me until the expedition was over and done.

I was able to get through because of his belief in me which made me believe in myself. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced ‘imposter syndrome’ but I felt like I suffered from it often during the trip. When the journey got difficult, I would say things like “I’m not an athlete!”, or “how can someone like me be doing something as crazy as this?”. Ryan would always respond positively with comments like “well, you did an ultramarathon yesterday, did you not?”

I would laugh and shake my head in disbelief but it was truly those comments that reassured me that someone like me CAN dream big and accomplish their goal.

Even if you don’t have a partner to empower or who can empower you, saying nice things to yourself while you’re out on your journey makes a huge difference. Treat yourself like you would treat a friend. Would you ever tell your friend that they are weak and out of their mind for attempting such a wild objective? Most likely you would not. You are allowed to experience self doubt but remember to pick yourself up and keep moving even if it’s at a slower pace.

Optimism

Optimism is a funny one. This word can make or break your expedition because if you have too little of it, it’s a game ender but if you have too much of it, things can get dangerous. A healthy balance of optimism and realism is the key ingredient to a successful expedition recipe.

Being too optimistic can lead people to put themselves in dangerous situations because they didn’t properly assess the risk. Knowing the risks, your capabilities, and being prepared will combat this.

Ryan and I are naturally optimistic people so there was never a moment where we didn’t think we had a chance of crossing the island. I appreciated this characteristic after the fact because I know how damaging negative talk and disbelief can be. If you don’t believe you will be successful, you most likely won’t be.

Strength

For this expedition specifically, it really came down to our mental strength. I personally believe that mental strength is trainable and it is something you can work on and get better at. For me, mental strength was the combination of OREO. Knowing our objective, being resilient, empowering one another, and being unapologetically optimistic truly built the foundation.

Mental strength is difficult to train without putting yourself in uncomfortable situations to achieve a goal. You know you’re mentally strong when you feel like the world is working against you but you don’t let that stop you from getting the job done.

I hope you can take this acronym and apply it to your own journeys. If there is anything I have learned from our Iceland expedition, it’s that you are so much more capable than you think you are. Whether you want to run a marathon or achieve a first ascent, you have the power within you to accomplish whatever it is you put your mind to.

The Perfect Backcountry Sleeping System for Couples- NEMO Equipment TANGO DUO SLIM Review

Tired of restless nights camping in the backcountry arguing with your partner because of your bad sleeping setup? We were too.

There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep under the stars in the backcountry after a strenuous day of hiking. A solid eight hour REM cycle, breathing in fresh alpine air comfortably snuggled up next to your partner sounds like pure wilderness bliss. In a perfect world, we would sleep soundly every time we crawl into a tent, however, in reality, for many of us our nights outside are often restless. Uneven ground, deflating air mattresses, selfish partners hogging 2/3’s of the space, and ceaseless shivers are the common elements that keep interrupting our long awaited snooze.

My partner and I are all too familiar with such discomforts. We’ve spent several tenting occasions wide awake and irritated with one another due to bad sleeping setups, resulting in absolute exhaustion for our next day of hiking. If you and your partner are anything like us, you want to look forward to to a good night’s sleep in the outdoors together, rather than dread the idea of it.

What if I told you that you can achieve a solid night’s rest whilst cuddling your partner in backcountry heaven?

Please say goodbye to restless nights and arguments. We have perfected sleeping outdoors and I promise you that we are about to improve your camping and trekking trips forever.

I introduce to you the NEMO Equipment TANGO DUO SLIM (Tango Duo Slim 30F/-1C & Slipcover 2P 20 – Regular … to be exact). We bought this bad boy to do the  Laugavegur Trail in Iceland and it has been absolute game changer for our adventures. The Tango Duo Slim is essentially a two person sleeping quilt that is pretty much the weight of a one person ultralight sleeping bag. It weighs 2 lbs, 9 oz making it an incredibly lightweight option for trekking or camping activities. The minimum temperature is 30 degrees F/ -1 degree celsius and has 700 fill power down with DownTek. It is comfy as hell and fits two 20 x 72 inch sleeping pads.

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To really perfect our sleeping set up, we also purchased two of Nemo’s Astro Lite Sleeping Pads.  The pad is ultra lightweight and super plushy. It’s 3.5 inches thick and thank goodness does not curl like other sleeping pads often do. The pad is 1 lb, 3 oz  so times that by two and add the 2.9 lbs for the sleeping quilt and the whole set up is 5.5 lbs.  For us, the purchase of all three items has been invaluable to our wilderness activities and has proven to be worth every single penny. We have saved so much weight in our packs and have the most comfortable sleeps outside together.  The pads are incredibly durable easy to pack for a long outing into the woods.

Oh and for any of you wondering, to evenly divvy up the weight between our two packs, one of us will carry the entire sleeping system while the other carries our “kitchen” and food supplies.

To acknowledge any doubts you may be having…

When I first looked into the tango duo slim, I was hesitant about straying away from the traditional “sleeping bag” and going with a quilt. My skepticism about the warmth of the quilt versus a mummy bag proved itself wrong as the sleeping pads get you off of the cold ground and insulate you from underneath, using your own body heat to keep you warm.

That being said, there is major value still in sleeping bags and there is a time and a place, like winter expeditions. But for three season hiking and trekking trips, I wouldn’t ever feel the need to stray away from my perfectly warm and cozy quilt.

Enjoy your outdoor cuddles!

 

*For the Tango Duo Slim click here

*For the Astro Lite Sleeping Pad click here

*All photographs by Life Outside Studio

You’d Never Guess Where This Gigantic Fjord Is…

There are 2130 fjords worldwide, how ever there are only 38 that are greater than 100 kilometres long. The Fjord-du-Saguenay measures 103 kilometres in length, making it one of the largest in the world.

 

 


A fjord is essentially a long narrow inlet with steep cliffs on either side. They’re created by glaciers, and are generally found closer to the poles. Many arctic and antarctic coastal countries such as Alaska, Norway, Greenland, and New Zealand, have hundreds and thousands of fjords along their shores. Northern Canada also has many gigantic fjords, what’s unique about this fjord in Quebec is how south in latitude it is. At 48 degrees North, the Saguenay fjord is one of the most southerly fjords in the northern hemisphere.

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The trail systems surrounding both sides of the fjord are world-class. There are multiple accessible summits of nearby mountains, like the one pictured here, near the top of Montagne Blanche with 550 metres of elevation gain.

The park also offers some long distance hiking trails range from 27 kilometres in length to 41 kilometres. The trails are outfitted with primitive huts along the way, making the hike a little bit more enjoyable by eliminating the need lug around a tent.

There are also tons of backcountry camping spots located around various trails in the park. One camp is located just metres from a small sand beach, right along the water.

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The highlight for me was being able to enjoy the beach and the smell of ocean spray after a long run along the top of the mountains adjacent to the ocean. The proximity of the trails to the water made running in the summer heat, a little more bearable and even refreshing.

The landscape was also very unique to the area, it reminded me of Vancouver Island… with lush greens, cascading waterfalls and a wide variety of plant life.

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With many of the world’s most beautiful geographic attractions, there are often large crowds near by. Fortunately how ever, Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay was extremely quiet, and it was very easy to find trails and views where you could enjoy some solitude among nature.

Luckily, Canada has countless gems that haven’t yet been spoiled by tourism, and commercialism. This park certainly earns its’ spot among a long list of beautiful outdoor destinations in this incredible country.

Pictures by Life Outside Studio

 

This Mountain Oasis is Only 25 Minutes from Quebec City

What if we told you that right outside of Quebec City, there’s 670 km² of  pure wilderness.

Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier is 50 km from the city and is located in a massive valley in the Laurentian Mountains with the stunning Jacques-Cartier River flowing through the park.

When we think of Quebec, our first thoughts are generally of the vibrant artistic culture in Montreal, the historic cobblestone roads of Old Quebec, and of course, poutine. For us outdoor folks, the typical hustle and bustle of the city streets filled with visitors from far and wide does not usually appeal to us, so Quebec isn’t instinctually a place we look into for our next epic outdoor adventure.

What if we told you that right outside of Quebec City, there’s 670 km² of  pure wilderness?

Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier is 50 km from the city and is located in a massive valley in the Laurentian Mountains with the stunning Jacques-Cartier River flowing through the park.
Whatever your preferred outdoor activity is, the park is the perfect location for a quick escape to the mountains to get your nature fill.

How to make the most of your getaway to Jacques-Cartier National Park

 

Camp under the Milky Way and watch shooting stars dance across the dark sky

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The park has an abundance of campsites for you to pitch your tent, hookup your hammock, and chill out after a long day of activities. Some of the campsites are located right next to the water, others are privately tucked away in the trees. Bring a headlamp as the only lighting will be from the millions of the stars above you.  If you’re visiting the park, the sky gets incredibly dark so you definitely do not want to miss out on the opportunities to brush up on your astrophotography or simply enjoy star gazing.

Hike up the rugged Laurentian Mountains and see the beautiful Jacques-Cartier Valley from above.

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With over 100 km’s of trail throughout the park, there are amazing opportunities to experience the wilderness on foot.

We hiked the Le Scotora trail which is a 16 km trip up and down and is rated ‘hard’ on All Trails. The hike took us four hours with multiple stops for photographs and snacks. The views of the park were limited along the way, however, the trail offered stunning scenery especially,  the creek that flows alongside the trail. At the top, there is an established viewing area where you can see the entire valley below and appreciate the surrounding mountains.

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Cool off in the Jacques-Cartier River

 

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The Jacques-Cartier River is 161 km long and runs right through the stunning glacial valley, Vallée de la Jacques-Cartier. Whether you just finished the Le Scotora trail, or you feel like spending the afternoon taking a dip, there are tons of gorgeous spots along the river to hangout and get your swim on.  There are also endless opportunities for water activities such as paddle boarding, kayaking, and canoeing. One of the highlights of the park is canoeing down the river, you can rent watercrafts at the discovery centre!

 

Check out Sepaq to learn more about the park and book your camping reservations!

 

*Images by Life Outside Studio

 

You’re More Likely to Run into a Grizzly than Another Human in this Town

If you’re looking for a summer adventure that’s off the grid, away from the crowds, and has you literally clinging onto the edge of your seat, a trip to Stewart, BC and Hyder Alaska will rejuvenate your wild spirit.

 

 

A year ago, I never would have thought that I would find myself driving through the most untouched parts of British Columbia, heading towards Alaska. We decided to detour from our destination, the Yukon, and visit Stewart, BC, and Hyder, Alaska along the Stewart- Cassiar highway. Stewart is nestled in Northwestern British Columbia and sits across from Misty Fjords National Park in Alaska. Located at the end of the Portland Canal, Stewart is surrounded by dense wilderness, giant peaks, and glistening glaciers.

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Ultimately, Stewart BC is an outdoor enthusiasts heaven, but the landscape isn’t the only thing that makes this town so unique. Stewart is border buddies with Hyder- Alaska’s easternmost town. With a population of 87 residents in 2010, the town is isolated from the rest of the United States. The small border town does not have anyone patrolling it’s entry, nor does it have any law enforcement at all; it is completely self-governing.

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We met a man named Wes, the owner of the General Store in Hyder, who resembled a character right out of an old western movie. We asked him what happens if there are any issues in the town,

he chuckled and said ‘call me’ and shifted his eyes over to his Smith & Wesson gun.

Wes told us all about the large grizzly population that exists in the area and how they roam freely around the town. He explained that generally the encounters are harmless but it’s best to have a gun loaded with rubber bullets to scare the animals off.  We proceeded to ask him if we would be okay to tent in the area as there are more grizzly bears than people. He paused, looked us right in the eyes and turned the most cliche line into the most fitting response and answers with “it’s all about the adventure”. We took his response as a thumbs up and we ended up sleeping more soundly than ever that night.

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If the town’s themselves don’t already encourage you start gearing up and packing your adventure bags than the pure and untouched landscape certainly will.

There are two glaciers that are absolute must sees when visiting Stewart and Hyder.

The first one is Bear Glacier. We thought that our drive from Smithers to Stewart BC was amazing until we turned a corner and an overwhelming and breathtaking glacier unveiled itself. The drive went from amazing to outstandingly impressive right then and there.

There was not a sign to indicate its’ name and tell us how big it was.  Picture the busy parking lot and line ups at glaciers such as Athabasca glacier in Alberta and scratch it from your mind. The area had no other vehicles in sight so we got to have the intimidating glacier all to ourselves. Bear glacier is nothing like you have ever seen anywhere in the Canadian Rockies. We stopped and had lunch and enjoyed the glacier for a few hours before continuing on towards Stewart.

I promised you a seat clinger so here it is.  

Salmon glacier is located in British Columbia but you can access it by the Granduc road from Hyder Alaska. The Granduc road is an old mining road that’s 37 kilometres long and takes you to the fifth largest glacier in Canada, Salmon glacier.  The prerequisite for this bumpy ride is a 4×4 vehicle and a tough stomach. The road has no guard rails and ascends about 2000 m on the edge of the valley towards the glacier. To your left will be millions of acres of the Tongass National Forest which is only accessible by vehicle through Hyder, Alaska.  The road is maintained to a certain extent but was too snowy at this time of year for us to continue to the summit viewpoint.

There are several opportunities to experience the glacier before this point though. Salmon Glacier is absolutely stunning. The quiet and vast landscape certainly reminds you that you are a visitor and the open space in the valley below is incredibly humbling.  

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Either on your way to Salmon glacier or on your way back, it is absolutely worth it to stop at the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area. You know those classic images of grizzly bears chomping on salmon in the water? Yeah, this is exactly where those photos are taken. There’s a boardwalk built for visitors to walk around the creek and watch from above as these magnificent creatures feast on pink salmon. Depending on the time of year you visit, your chances of seeing the grizzlies will be higher during spawning season. Though there is a barrier, it is always important to be cognizant of the fact that the bears are wild and unpredictable. We went in June, so we were a shy bit early for spawning season.

Stewart and Hyder is a truly unique story of one town in two countries. There is so much wilderness to experience from both towns and it is hands down worth the trek to see these bizarre yet intriguing towns first hand.

Just don’t forget to pack your bear spray.