Our main reason for visiting Hyder, Alaska was to see more bears. There are two salmon runs in Hyder, which is at the head of the Portland Canal, a 90-mile fjord. Salmon come up the ocean to the fjord and up the Salmon River to Fish Creek to spawn. And the bears frequent the creek to feed on the salmon.
The U.S. Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game manage a viewing platform that was built over the creek, the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area, that allows visitors to watch the bears safely (for both visitors and bears) as the bears feed on the salmon.
We had initially planned to be in Hyder earlier in the season to catch the end of the salmon run but we took our time further north and got there quite late. But we also wanted to visit Hyder to see the Salmon Glacier, the world’s largest road accessible glacier.
We spent the morning walking around Stewart with Angel. It is quite a charming little town, with restored as well as rustic old buildings, and a number of shops and restaurants. The little grocery store there, Harbor Lights, offers great free Wi-Fi which we of course took advantage of.
We walked Angel over a boardwalk that was built over a large wetlands area, a very nice little walk.
Both Stewart and Hyder (they used to be one town) are surrounded by the coastal mountain range and the Cambria Ice Fields and so are quite scenic.
The forecast for the following day was for rain so we left Island Girl at the Visitor Center and drove to Hyder to check out Fish Creek and the Salmon Glacier before the rain. Hyder is a much smaller town and much more rustic, with few businesses.
But the drive through Hyder to Salmon Glacier is spectacular. The gorgeous Salmon River runs alongside of the town, and some of southeastern Alaska’s largest glaciers are found among the surrounding peaks.
Just before reaching the viewing area, we saw a bear running into the forest from the road. This got us excited.
We stopped at the viewing area, bought a pass ($5) and walked along the boardwalks for a bit, but no bears. Lots of dead fish and lots of gulls though. The smell was pretty overwhelming. We decided to continue our drive to the glacier and return in the late afternoon.
Glacier Highway becomes a gravel road and continues through historic trail and mine sites then crosses the international boundary between Alaska and Canada, marked only by a silver colored cairn and a clear cut of the forest through the mountains. The boundary line is cleared every ten years.
The road then climbs along the side of the valley, with spectacular mountains and glaciers and waterfalls cascading down the opposite side of the road from the fjord. The cloudy weather made the autumn colors, which were beginning, stand out more and the green areas were quite vivid as well. It was a spectacular road (another one!).
As we were driving back, we noticed a nice boondocking spot by the river. We had discovered that we could charge our batteries by running the engine and of course we could get 110 power by running the generator. Not ideal, but workable and we loved the idea of being by the river, with lots of eagles flying about and also free camping!
We stopped at the Fish Creek Wildlife Viewing Area again but did not see any bear. Darn.
Going from Hyder back to Stewart we spoke with the Canada customs officer to ask about bringing Island Girl back across the border once we left Hyder. We still had a lot of produce, all purchased in Canada, but wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be confiscated. We even had a receipt for most of it. He told us it would be no problem.
We settled in by the beautiful river and spent two nights there. The next day was quite rainy so we just relaxed and Hector ran out a few times to try to capture some more eagle images.
But the weather was just terrible so we mostly stayed inside with our lovely and very wet view of the river and the surrounding mountains.
The next day, we walked around the little town of Hyder, and visited the two general stores. The first one as you go into the town is mostly a souvenir shop and has a very helpful proprietor. The second one is mostly a fishing and hunting store that smells like 50 people smoked cigarettes there recently. A really rustic spot.
There is no cell signal in Hyder or anywhere for many miles, but we did find Wi-Fi at the library. A bonus was that we could access the Wi-Fi from the parking lot even when the library was closed. So we did a little catching up.
We left our lovely boondocking spot and decided not to hook up until Stewart since we planned to get fuel and dump in the town. I was following Island Girl in the car and decided to take a quick detour to check out an RV park on the side street.
As I approached the customs area to cross back to Stewart, I saw that Island Girl was stopped. I drove on the other lane past Island Girl, and the officer asked me if I was with the RV. She then let me know that the car and the RV were going to be searched. Which was odd since we drove through twice in the car and all they ever asked for were our passports.
The two customs officers then asked me to get out of the car while they searched. We have a storage bin where we carry rain gear, extra layers for cold and some other stuff and they proceeded to take everything out and search. I was a bit apprehensive because we have bear spray in there, which sometimes is considered a weapon but there was no issue. They completed the search and moved on to Island Girl.
They asked Hector to get out of the rig and of course he brought Angel along. So there we were standing by the tiny customs hut under the overhang in the rain. A couple of folks who were on a motorcycle and whom we had met earlier came over to the overhang while they waited in line. The line of cars grew. Keep in mind that this is a tiny town and there is almost never a line here. And there we were facing all of the cars that were waiting.
Then the customs ladies asked Hector to come aboard and asked him some questions. They were most concerned about hidden weapons. They asked several times in different ways about weapons and “what we did for personal protection”. Interestingly, Hector told them he would be happy to open the slides if they wanted him to, and they said no. So they missed two cabinets and five drawers.
Next thing I know Hector comes out of the RV with one of the ladies and goes to the basement and gets the tool box. They board again with the tool box. Now I am really confused. I of course am still worrying that they will confiscate all of our produce.
They did not take anything and told us we were free to go. Our most bizarre experience in three years of crossing the border to and from Canada. I will say this, they put everything back just like they found it and were very nice and courteous (quite talkative too) throughout the search.
Then we hooked back up and left the Alaska part of our summer behind!
Note: Since we are still catching up on posts, we want to let our readers know that Island Girl’s issue was ultimately not a very big deal (more details later).