How to Experience Fall in BC’s Northeast Region
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Fall in BC’s Northeast region is fleeting, but no less spectacular. The late Autumn sun sets the region’s rolling fields of wheat ablaze in a brilliant flash of gold while stands of quaking aspen explode in their final burst of glory before the seasons turn, turning shades of deep, golden yellow.
Here’s how to experience fall in BC’s Northeast, from where to witness fall colours to festivals and events to take in.
Reasons to Visit the Northeast in Fall
Fall is a striking time of year to visit the Northeast and not just for the foliage alone. Autumn typically means less traffic on roads and routes like the Alaska Highway and fewer crowds at popular spots like Liard River Hot Springs. Fall is prime for wildlife viewing when caribou, moose and bears can be spotted grazing along the area’s highway corridors, fattening up before the cold winter sets in. Harvest season is also in full swing and with that comes festivals and events like the Dawson Creek Exhibition and Stampede and Fort St. John’s North Peace Fall Fair.
When to See Fall Colours & What Type of Foliage to Spot
Fall is short in the Northeast. The season typically lasts four to six weeks in length so make sure to plan ahead for the best chance at seeing the region’s autumnal hues. The best window for taking in fall colours is between late August and September with their peak lasting between three to four weeks.
What kind of foliage will you spot? Anywhere deciduous trees are found — and in the Northeast that means aspen, birch, alder and balsam poplar — you’ll find fall colours. But it’s not just trees where fall casts its glow — the hay bales and wheat fields around Dawson Creek and Fort St. John offer a dramatic golden backdrop to this corner of the Northeast.
Where to See Fall Foliage in the Northeast
The region’s gentle rolling plains make for broad sweeping views of fall colours as far as the eye (or camera) can see, but don’t rule out its hilly terrain either. Hiking trails to scenic viewpoints offer ample vantage points for taking in the fall colours from new heights.
Check out some popular spots to take in fall foliage in the Northeast below!
Tumbler Ridge Geopark
Located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, this UNESCO Global Geopark offers more than 50 hiking trails, cascading waterfalls, unique rock formations, dinosaur tracks, alpine meadows and lakes, canyons, caves — and in fall, scenic viewpoints for taking in the season’s colours. A popular vantage point is Bergeron Cliffs where hikers can find panoramic views of the Murray River Valley, Tumbler Ridge and the Heart Ranges of the Rocky Mountains spill out below in a stunning patchwork of yellow and green. For a shorter, easier hike try the Tumbler Point Trail, an easy out-and-back trail of 4-kilometres offering its own sweeping views of the Flatbed and Murray River valleys, or the Murray Canyon Overlook, a 5.5-kilometre (return) that winds through pine and spruce forest mixed with aspen. Viewpoints and strategically-placed benches offer the chance to sit and take in the stunning scenery around you.
Provincial Parks are great places to take in the season’s colours. Gwillim Lake Provincial Park is situated in the Hart Foothills, between Tumbler Ridge and Chetwynd, and is home to a diverse array of both coniferous and deciduous tree species. Along the lakeshore, you’ll find lodgepole pine, white spruce, trembling aspen, paper birch and balsam poplar intermixed with low wetlands of black spruce, willow and alder.
Peace River Corridor Provincial Park, East Pine Provincial Park, and Milligan Hills Provincial Park are popular provincial parks to visit in Autumn when stands of balsam poplar, white spruce and trembling aspen start to turn.
Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park
Deserving of its own mention, the Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park is arguably one of the most scenic — and relaxing — places to take in the turning of the seasons. Set in a boreal spruce forest, these stunning natural hot springs have an unusually warm microclimate and feature 14 species of orchids and other tropical-like plants. It’s this mix of flora that make the hot springs such a unique place to take in the season’s kaleidoscope of colours. Spend an afternoon soaking in steamy hot pools surrounded by lush vegetation and the distant calls of wildlife.
Regional Parks & Points of Interest
The mighty Peace River flows from the Northern Rocky Mountains into northern Alberta and is best viewed from Fort St. John’s Peace River Lookout Park. A fall visit will reward you with sweeping views of the river and beautiful displays of fall foliage.
Morfee Mountain, located a short 20-minute drive from downtown Mackenzie, offers excellent views of Mackenzie and Williston Lake dressed in yellows and greens while Chetwynd’s Old Baldy Hill offers an easy and scenic panorama of the town and valley.
Don’t miss the Pouce Coupe Train Trestle. Built in 1930 and made entirely of wood, this popular roadside attraction is a must-visit in any season but a visit in fall is an added bonus thanks to its deciduous trees. It’s a great spot to pull over, stretch your legs and snap a photo.
A stroll along Rim Rocks Trail in Dawson Creek’s Bear Mountain Wind Parks will bring you to 34 towering windmills that help power this region and a craggy cliff for taking in an expansive view of golden treetops below.
Wetlands & Nature Preserves
Don’t rule out wetlands when it comes to fall colours. Deciduous trees like alder, balsam poplar and aspen mix with low-level flora and fauna and provide ample opportunities for both fall colour spotting and wildlife viewing. In Dawson Creek, the waterfowl refuge at McQueen’s Slough offers bird lovers a chance to see fall migration and colours via a network of boardwalks that don’t compromise the integrity of the natural habitat.
Bullmoose Marshes, located in Tumbler Ridge, has wheelchair-accessible and kid-friendly trails that snake around the marshland providing a variety of viewpoints to take in the area’s flora and fauna.
Swing by the Mackenzie Nature Observation where you can also take in the fall migration “bird banding” — an important technique used for studying and identifying different species of birds and their migratory patterns.
The aspen forest at Jamieson Woods Nature Preserve in Hudson’s Hope is perfect for fall foliage spotting. Walk (or horseback) its easy trails and take in spectacular splashes of colour around you. Be on the lookout for wildlife; this woodland setting is home to numerous types of birds.
The Northeast BC Country Circle Tour, which links the communities of Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Chetwynd and Tumbler Ridge, covers 520-kilometres of rolling plains and golden wheat fields over two to three days. Take in the area’s lakes and rivers and drive scenic stretches of highway decorated in the season’s signature colours.
Pine Pass, in the Hart Ranges of the Northern Rockies of British Columbia, connects the Peace Country of the province’s Northeastern Interior, is aptly named for its pine trees. While these coniferous species don’t change with the seasons, the route’s high elevation means you’re bound to see a light dusting of snow covering these green giants.
A good fall drive also calls for exploring back and side roads, preferably with no particular sense of where you’re going. Turn down a well-graded FSR (forest service road) and explore the backcountry around Mackenzie, Tumbler Ridge, Pouce Coupe, Dawson Creek, Hudson’s Hope, Fort St. John and Taylor where you’ll find more photo ops than people.
Fall Festivals and Events
The Dawson Creek Exhibition and Stampede (August) kicks off slightly earlier than the true start of fall in the Peace but deserves a mention regardless. The stampede has been in operation for 100 years and is a celebration of the area’s agricultural and farming roots. Since 1922, this six-day annual fall fair and exhibition, which takes place in mid-August, offers chuckwagon racing, a rodeo competition, agriculture fairs, live music, firework displays, food, two parades, and more.
The North Peace Fall Fair (August) in Fort St. John is another must-visit on Autumn’s calendar. This down-home country fair offers up everything from livestock exhibitions to arts and crafts to vendors selling locally made treats and produce.
Taylor’s annual Fall Harvest Festival (September) is a quaint community event where you can sample the harvest bounty and stock up on locally made goods. For a further taste of fall, swing by farmers markets throughout the Peace to meet the region’s producers and marvel at the in-season produce. It’s not fall without an Oktoberfest (September) and in Dawson Creek the Kiwanis Community Band hosts a rousing one each year, complete with German food, traditional games, steins of beers, and of course prizes for best-dressed lederhosen.
How to Get to Northeast BC
Direct flights are available into Fort St. John and Dawson Creek from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. Vehicle rentals are available from local airports; make sure to reserve in advance.
By road, there are multiple points of entry to Northeast BC. From Vancouver and the Okanagan, expect a two-day drive via Highway 1 and 97. Coming from Edmonton and Grande Prairie? Highway 43 is an easy one-day straight shot; from Calgary, Highways 2 and 22 will connect you to the main artery heading west in a longer but scenic route.
Highway 16 in Northern BC will connect you to Prince George, then onto Highway 97 north. Make sure you have all-season tires and check road conditions before you embark.
What To Know Before You Go
Some operators and accommodators close for the season in mid-September. Make sure to check availability in advance. The weather at this time of year is unpredictable and changes rapidly; pack seasonally appropriate clothing.