When I was a kid, my mother drove from Oregon to Alaska in three and a half days with my two sisters and me in the back seat. We did it twice. When I started out for home as an adult in my Sienna with three kids, I thought I would take it slow and do it in five days. Instead it took close to two weeks and I’m glad we took the time to enjoy ourselves and explore as we went. It turned out to be cheaper to fly to Oregon, buy a Sienna and drive it home than buying one in Alaska and I was happy to have any excuse for a road trip. After spending a month visiting friends and family we set out with a well packed back seat and a good supply of movies for the DVD player. We didn’t make it far the first night. We were a little past the halfway point between Portland and Seattle along I5 when I started thinking about a hotel. The Great Wolf Lodge came into sight and the boys started yelling to stop. It was unplanned but a great surprise. We only had an hour to play at the water park before they closed and another hour in the morning before we left. With hours of driving ahead of us it was a great way to tire the kids out and leave them happy with the memories of the slides.
Crossing the Border
Our Second night heading north we only made it as far as the Burlington KOA. It was getting dark when we arrived and though it was pricey we pitched our tent for the night. If we had had more time it would have been worth it to use the pool and bikes but we left first thing in the morning and were unable to even use the nice kids park because staff said it would bother other guests. The next day we crossed over into Canada and since my situation was unique with a new vehicle filled with camping gear and a temporary licence, they had lots of questions for us. The agent walked around the vehicle looking at all our gear in each door wanting to know where it came from and why I had so much. In the end he shook his head at me and waved us through. I was shocked at how quickly the driving changed from melo to crazy as we entered rush hour Canadian traffic. I saw Semi’s zipping around through traffic in ways I never thought possible and a very cautious side of me emerged. We drove all day and as dusk started to fall I found a campground outside of Clinton along hwy 97 called Willow Springs Campground. It was a nice place to stumble upon because of the cozy feel of the place and the little lake and paddle boats that we used that morning before we left. With long stretches of driving with kids its important to stop when playgrounds appear. We also made stops anytime we passed cool climbing rocks or dirt formations to carve. These small moments make travel fun and memorable for families.
Chetwynd to Liard
We pushed through to Chetwynd BC after an all day drive and thank goodness the road had just opened after being closed for two weeks due to flooding. It was a scary decent down the mountain next to all the destruction in the dark. Chetwynd was very exciting for my kids because of all the chainsaw carvings. When we left the hotel the next morning we drove all over looking at them. There are around 120 carvings through out the town and the annual Chetwynd International Chainsaw Carving Championship is held the 2nd weekend of June every year. After stocking up on coffee and snacks we headed north with Liard Hot Springs as our next focused stop. After driving 6 hours the kids were ready to stop and so we pulled into a rough nondescript campground in the middle of nowhere and had a fun evening making friends with the family next to us. We shared a fire and laughter and stories while the kids came and went then finished with some firework fun and s’mores before bed. I wish I had exchanged emails because we had a really nice night with this family from Fort Nelson.
Our next day was a bit magical. We drove for hours past forest and tundra and swarms of butterflies. I had never seen so many butterflies in all my life and durring one of our stops my boys started catching them and putting them in the minivan. In 15 minutes they must have captured 40 or more and they begged to let them stay till the next stop. I agreed despite being slightly creeped out by so many fluttering wings in my van. I will never forget that hour of boyish laughter, my yelps as they landed on me and the sunshine illuminating so many butterflies on my dashboard. When we pulled into the next town and opened the doors, the butterflies went fluttering away and I enjoyed reclaiming my van. When we set the tent up that evening, the kids were overjoyed to discover one remaining butterfly. They snuck it into the tent but I made them let it go after I took this picture. We had taken some amazing picture of the car filled with them but when we arrived at Liard that night while I was checking in, the Ipad vanished from the front seat of the van when the kids left the doors open by the springs. It was a sad discovery to have lost so many photos of the first half of the trip. But that is life. We made some good memories and before us stretched 5 days of the most wonderful time at the hot springs.
Liard Hot Springs
Liard Hot Springs are located in the wilderness along the Alaska Hwy, so if you intend on staying awhile make sure to stock up on food, fuel, cash and wine before hand. We stocked up on supplies at Fort Nelson, 4 hours south of the springs. I purchased a yearly family pass for $20, giving us unlimited access the whole visit. It costs $26 a night to camp at the Liard campground when there is space. We camped across the hwy for less. The Liard Lodge and RV park is directly across the hwy and there are a few tent sites tucked away at the edge. We spent a very cozy week walking back and forth with only a few Buffalo issues when they were blocking the road. Liard was the highlight of our trip. It is an amazing kid friendly destination and remarkable cheap in comparison to other family friendly spots. During the 5 days we spent a little less than $200 on food, lodging and the springs.
Liard Hot Springs is located 10 minutes up a well built boardwalk through a swamp and forest. There are unheated male and female changing rooms and an upper and lower spring connected by a man made waterfall. The upper spring is incredibly hot and we watched a few brave souls attempt to place a rock on the wall surrounding the source at the far end. Not all were successful. It takes getting close to boiling point to accomplish this. Our family mostly hung out in the lower spring with its comfortable waters and kid filled jumping area. I brought life jackets for Rex and Wren and they had a wonderful time paddling about. Roland spent the week leaping from the log that spanned the spring.