“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
Writer Henry Miller knew what he was talking about. When you step into the unknown, even the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The journey itself is an integral part of travel and however you find your way to Prince Rupert, it’s guaranteed to be an experience that will indelibly etch itself into your memory.
Prince Rupert is a port town and getting out on the ocean is a must. Arriving in the city by ferry is memorable, to say the least; this place is meant to be seen from the water. A great way to connect a visit to Prince Rupert with a wider itinerary is by sailing up the Inside Passage on BC Ferries. The Inside Passage connects Vancouver Island with the North Coast via a long series of inland channels, passing by the villages of Shearwater, Bella Bella, and Klemtu. The rest is virtually untouched coastal wilderness. For fifteen hours, as the boat slowly makes its way north, you’ll try—but fail—to keep your jaw from hitting the floor as you drink in the view of islands, inlets, channels, mountains, waterfalls, and forests. No guarantees of course, but it’s pretty likely you’ll see whales en route—humpback and orca are common and the captain typically announces a sighting over the loudspeaker. Add in stunning lighthouses, tiny historic settlements, and abandoned canneries slowly slipping into the sea, and you get one amazing sightseeing tour. Hopping on the ferry is also a way of relinquishing responsibility for a short time. Just kick back, relax, and watch the world go by.
There’s something inherently romantic about travelling by train. It’s a strange combination of freedom—trains offer the ability to move around while still inexorably drawing closer to your ultimate destination—and a resignation of freedom. On a train, you surrender control of your situation; from the time you clamber on board to the time you arrive, you are in the hands of the conductor. It’s a liberating feeling. Once settled in, you can move around and interact with fellow passengers, chat with knowledgeable staff, or lose yourself in your thoughts to the backdrop of ever-changing scenery. Chugging along on the tracks with Via Rail is a laid back way to get to Prince Rupert. A lot of people who have made the journey say it’s one of the world’s most scenic rail trips; given the world has plenty of options for epic train travel, that’s saying a lot. The route journeys west from the national park town of Jasper, through the Robson Valley, following the Fraser River into Prince George, veering north through Burns Lake, Smithers, and New Hazelton, before finally tracking west along the Skeena River through Terrace to Prince Rupert.
On the road, you are in complete control of your itinerary. Random stops are the most rewarding: seeing a signpost for some tiny park and swerving into it spontaneously. It’s the not knowing that makes a moment like this so exciting. Is this going to be a boring roadside rest stop or is it going to be a glimpse into a spectacular landscape? But get this: there’s no such thing as boring in northern BC. It’s almost as if the entire landscape was transplanted straight out of one of those inspirational calendars—everywhere you look there’s something mind-bogglingly scenic to see. While there’s only one road into Prince Rupert—the Yellowhead Highway—there are plenty of options for piecing together an awesome trip that takes in more than just the beautiful stretch of the Skeena River between Terrace and the end of the road.
You’ll pass through Smithers on your way to the coast and spending a day here is definitely worth it. The little mountain town always has something going on, whether it’s art, music, the farmer’s market, or just the bustle of people on Main Street. The town sits in the shadow of Hudson Bay Mountain, a massif that consists of four distinct peaks and includes Kathlyn Glacier, visible from the highway and accessed by a steep trail at Twin Falls Recreation Site. Across the valley are the imperious Babine Mountains, a provincial park crisscrossed by trails—a great spot for day hikes. Running through the centre of the valley is the Bulkley River, where in the summer and fall you’ll find countless anglers casting into the currents.
The Nass Valley, north of Terrace, makes for a memorable detour from the path to Prince Rupert. (Remember Robert Frost? “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”) Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park is the site of a recent (around 250 year-old) volcanic eruption. The eruption claimed thousands of lives and destroyed two First Nations villages. Now, the park is jointly managed by the Nisga’a First Nation and BC Parks, and uniquely combines cultural heritage with natural history. The landscape is awesome, in the true sense of the word. Its contorted lava beds, still mostly devoid of vegetation, are straight out of another world and the mountains that rim the valley are jagged snow-capped peaks that look more like a painting than the real thing.
Once you get to Prince Rupert, you have lots of options for moving around town. There’s public transit—city buses that regularly run around town and even out to Port Edward, site of the North Pacific Cannery. You can rent a car (a good idea if you want to explore a bit further afield, say down the Skeena River). There are also plenty of taxis that operate in Prince Rupert but for much of the sights, shopping, and dining, you can easily just head out on your own two feet.