BC RVing: Liard River to Summit Lake

Day 2 of the trip, Thursday, September 10th, was so busy that by the end of it, it took me a while to figure out that it actually had been just one day 🙂 I was going to make 2 or possible even 3 posts about it, but it’s probably easier reading to have it all in one, even though there are 53 photos.

Dawn at our parking spot for the night, a large gravel pullout at Km 749.5, about 15 km (10 miles) south of Liard River Hot Springs. I shot this at 07:47, as we were about to unhook the Tracker and go up the road a bit to take some photos of the thick fog in the Liard River valley far below us.

RV camped along the Alaska Highway in the Fall
The sun peeking over the mountains at 08:08.

A Fall sunrise along the Alaska Highway

Smith River Falls Hike

The fog didn’t really offer the photo ops that I’d hoped for, so I continued on to Smith River Falls, mostly for another article I have in mind. From Km 792.6 of the highway, a narrow, winding gravel road leads 2.5 km (1.5 mi) to a parking area where a trail leads to the falls. A couple of hundred feet before getting to the parking area, this is the view from the road.

Smith River Falls, BC
There used to be an impressive series of stairs to get down to the falls, but they were all destroyed in a forest fire in 2009 and haven’t been rebuilt. It doesn’t show in the photo, but the first drop from the parking lot is very steep.

Smith River Falls, BC
At the bottom of the drop seen above, there are 2 trails to choose from. The one to the right is new since I was last here, so we went that way first. The trail is very rough, but offers a relatively easy route to the river below the falls. The kids never pass up an opportunity to drink cold, natural Northern waters.

Husky drinking below Smith River Falls, BC
The trail continues up the river (either through the brush or along the bank), but at this point, further access is blocked by a cliff – the river is too deep and fast to wade even if I was so inclined on a warm day 🙂

Smith River Falls, BC
Back up to the other trail, the original trail to the base of the fall. Some of the Fall colours on the forest floor are lovely.

Fall colours at Smith River Falls, BC
This view is wonderful, and I thought about ending the hike here. I’ve been down to the base of the falls before, both on the stairs and down the slope without stairs. The first drop was steep, this one is even steeper, and somebody has installed 3 ropes to help.Monty was my big concern, but after some thought I decided that if he had trouble, I could get him up.

Smith River Falls, BC
Superdog and I viewing the reward 🙂

Murray and his husky at Smith River Falls, BC
Again, steepness doesn’t show in photos like this, but the ropes come in very handy, and the climb is long as well as steep. I had to give Monty a hand at one point, but he powered up. A handrail from the stairs still stands, but offers no help.

Climbing a very steep trail at Smith River Falls, BC
The road out. The Milepost says that the road isn’t recommended for large RVs or trailers or in wet weather. While the parking area would be large enough to turn my rig around in (barely), there’s certainly no room for 2 vehicles to pass except at 3 or 4 small spots along the road. We spent a total of an hour, from the time we left the highway to the time we got back to it.

Smith River Falls, BC
We spent a while with the bison on the way back. Monty was particularly intrigued by them this time, perhaps because he was energized by the morning hike.

Bison along the Alaska Highway

Bison along the Alaska Highway
Bison do occasionally get killed by vehicles – virtually all semis that run the Alaska Highway have massive “bison catchers” to protect their front ends. At the end of this fairly recent skid is the remains of a bison, with ravens cleaning up what the Highways people didn’t cart away.

Bison kill on the Alaska Highway
I went in to the old Liard River Lodge property to get some more photos of it, and was very surprised to see its burnt remains. It smelled like the fire had been fairly recently, but when I went back to the hot springs campground office, the woman on duty didn’t know when it was. The lodge closed in the late 1990s. My son and I actually spent a night there when it had already closed – a guy rented us a room anyway. It was in rough shape, to say the least.

Burnt remains of the Liard River Lodge
The Liard River Bridge as seen from the lodge property. This 1,143-foot-long suspension bridge was built in 1943, and is the last remaining suspension bridge on the Alaska Highway.

Liard River Bridge, Alaska Highway
I was starting to feel a bit guilty that I hadn’t even given the kids breakfast before we left – I was only going to be gone a few minutes to get some fog photos! But just one more little side trip, driving down a 4×4 trail to the river under the bridge.

Liard River Bridge, Alaska Highway
At 11:30, we were finally fed and ready to continue the Adventure. All those years of driving tour bus gave me some really useful experience for our new life 🙂

Cleaning an RV windshield along the Alaska Highway
Just 10 minutes down the road, a mountain of gravel that forced a tight corner in the highway is finally being tackled.

Construction of a new section of the Alaska Highway
As well as eliminating that bad corner, that gravel is being put to very good use, on several kilometers of new road just beyond.

Construction of a new section of the Alaska Highway

Construction of a new section of the Alaska Highway

Stone Sheep Trail Hike

Just before 1:00, it was time to go for a walk at Muncho Lake. I decided to have a look at one of the fascinating valleys that pump trillions of tons of gravel down towards the lake. This particularly large one at Km 704.4 has a large pullout with information panels about Stone sheep. The creeks from all of these valleys have been dyked, though most only flow for a few weeks each year.

Canyon and aluvial fan along Muncho Lake, BC
A Cat was rebuilding the dyke below us.

Something about this valley intrigued me, so we crossed to the other side, where I was very surprised to find the remains of several buildings. I initially thought it was a mine, but I found enough to suggest that it was a lumber camp from 1942-43, the original highway construction days.

A lumber camp from 1942-43, the original Alaska Highway construction days
By 1:15, we found a creek that goes underground long before reaching the lake. The kids, of course, were happy for a drink.

Huskies drinking from a creek along Muncho Lake
This hike had been a great choice. The valley has plenty of variety, some interesting history, and some awesome cliffs!

Spectacular cliffs in a valley along Muncho Lake

Spectacular cliffs in a canyon along Muncho Lake
There’s even a coal seam!

Coal seam in a canyon along Muncho Lake
This is where the stream goes underground, never to be seen again.

Stream going underground before reaching Muncho Lake
There are several very impressive hoodoos – a.k.a. erosion pillars, fairy chimneys, etc). This one is about 30 meters high (100 feet).

Hoodoo, or erosion pillar, along Muncho Lake

Alaska Highway to Summit Lake

Just before 2:00, we were back on the road. The original highway was built above these cliffs along Muncho Lake, and is a very good hiking trail now (fairly recently signed as the Old Alaska Highway Trail).

Alaska Highway along Muncho Lake, BC
My co-pilot. He spends a lot of time cuddled up beside me, and no amount of encouragement will get him to lay down.

My husky Monty - my RV co-pilot
Peterson Hill at about Km 685 offers some wonderful views for southbound traffic.

Mountain view at Peterson Hill on the Alaska Highway
The first caribou of the trip – I had expected to see more this time of year. These two were not at all interested in getting off the road as I inched towards them

Caribou on the Alaska Highway
I always enjoy seeing the very few farms along this part of the highway. This one at the Racing River has recently opened a horse-friendly B&B.

The mountain behind the Racing River Bridge was particularly nicely lit up with Fall colours.

Fall colours at the Racing River Bridge, Alaska Highway
We reached Summit Lake just after 3:30 and decided to call it quits for the day. I love this area, and nothing in Fort Nelson gave me any cause to continue. For $18, I got site #11 in the BC Parks campground, right on the lake. There may be pull-though sites elsewhere in the 28-site campground, but since I was unhooking to go exploring anyway, it didn’t matter.

RV with toad at Summit Lake campground.
Our first destination in the Tracker was Summit Lake Lodge, which has been closed for almost 25 years – I vaguely remember it being open the first year or two that I ran the highway (1990-91).

Summit Lake Lodge, Alaska Highway

Summit Lake Lodge, Alaska Highway
I had planned on driving up to the microwave tower above Summit Lake – there was no gate the last time I looked at it 🙁 It’s a 12-km, 4-hour hike, far more than we were up to this late in the day.

Gate across Summit Tower Road in Stone Mountain Park, BC
There are several hikes that look good nearby, so we headed north again, along the lake.

Summit Lake, Alaska Highway

Erosion Pillar Trail Hike

Erosion Pillar Trail at Km 601.5 looked interesting, though I quickly realized that with the Tracker we could have driven most of it. It’s only 1 km return, though – a nice easy walk unless you climb up beside and/or above the main erosion pillar (“hoodoo”).

Erosion Pillar Trail, Stone Mountain Park, Alaska Highway
When the road ends, the short trail through the forest is very pleasant.

Erosion Pillar Trail, Stone Mountain Park, Alaska Highway
The hoodoo is quite impressive – Bella is standing at the lower left on the very steep and loose trail.

Hoodoo at Erosion Pillar Trail, Stone Mountain Park, Alaska Highway
The view from near the top of the hoodoo.

Hoodoo at Erosion Pillar Trail, Stone Mountain Park, Alaska Highway

“The Cut” Trail Hike

The trail that I really wanted to see was the “Cut” Trail, a section of the original highway far above this dramatic section of the current road at about Km 604.

The Cut on the Alaska Highway
Looking north from about Km 603, with the new highway on the left, the old one on the right. The old road has been cut with a ditch, but some vehicles with very high clearance have gotten across it. The entire trail is 6 km long but I only planned to walk the first kilometer or so to a viewpoint above the new highway.

The Cut Trail, Alaska Highway
It’s a very nice walk.

The Cut Trail, Alaska Highway
Seeing this, all I could think of was what it would do to the highway below at peak flow, as it looks like it ends in a waterfall. When I went down later, it actually drops a manageable distance from the road and just flows through a culvert.

Dry creek on the Cut Trail, Alaska Highway
The only artifact I saw along the trail intrigued Bella in both directions of the walk. I didn’t check to see what attracted her.

Tire along the Cut Trail, Alaska Highway
This is the view that I came for, looking north on the highway to the MacDonald River valley. The entire hike only took us half an hour.

View from The Cut Trail, Alaska Highway
This is the hoodoo we had hiked up to an hour before, seen from the highway.

Hoodoo along the Alaska Highway, accessed by the Erosion Pillar Trail
A wonderful palette of colour just below Summit Lake.

Fall colours near Summit Lake on the Alaska Highway

We got back to the campground at 6:00, and I was a bit surprised to see the only other RV there had parked in the site right beside mine. I was much more surprised to find that it belonged to friends from Whitehorse! I didn’t know that they were travelling, and I hadn’t planned to stop here, so it was a pretty amazing coincidence.

Monty, Bella and I were all exhausted from what had turned into an extremely busy day. I fed Molly dinner, and we were all in bed by 6:30 🙂

I got everybody up at midnight, though, and we all had dinner and a couple of hours of quiet family time before going back to bed until a more reasonable hour. Stopping short had added another hour and a half to the next day’s drive to Dawson Creek, but as well as all the exploring we’d done, seeing Sue and Steve was great.


BC RVing: Liard River to Summit Lake — 1 Comment

  1. always appreciate your curiosity and the tie-ins you make (and seek out) with the local history and your own experiences from prior trips. Good stuff!