(Editor’s Note: This piece was written before the COVID-19 crisis. Please adhere to the B.C. government’s travel guidelines and, in addition, check this website for information about current restrictions.)
The Nisga’a Nation is made up of four communities in British Columbia’s rugged Nass Valley.
The Nisga’a Lisims government has set up the Nisga’a Nation Auto Tour, on which drivers can visit the four villages and Lava Bed Park, home to Canada’s most recent volcanic eruption, which was about 270 years ago. The vast lava beds are culturally significant, and are a memorial to the 2,000 Nisga’a people who died as a result of the eruption.
The auto tour is well signed and visitors can hike on designated trails, visit the lava beds, as well as the stunning Nisga’a Museum and other attractions.
We recommend starting your trip by stopping in at the Visitor’s Centre at Lava Bed Memorial Park. Be prepared for rain and typical northern weather, and be very bear aware. This is grizzly country, and you must respect these immense predators.
The following is a lightly edited excerpt from the Nisga’a’s auto tour brochure, which you can download your self by clicking this link.
- T’ooyaksim nlin / Welcome: 70 km from Terrace. Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park, a provincial park run jointly by the Nisga’a and BC Parks. Sii T’ax / Lava Lake: An ancient lake made even larger by the area’s volcanic eruption. Ksi Wil Ksi-Baxhi Mihl / Crater Creek: Among the many features of this area is the aftermath of ‘lava-bombs’ that were hurled 5 kilometres through the air during the eruption.
- Sii T’ax- / Lava Lake: Thousands of years ago a glacier moved through this valley gouging the depression that holds Sii T’ax- (New Lake). During the eruption, molten lava flowed west down the creek bed to the north, damming the stream flowing from this lake, raising the level of water by about 30 metres, enlarging the lake.
- Ksi Wil Ksi-Baxhl Mihl / Crater Creek: This petrified landscape bears witness to the explosive violent force and speed of the fiery, flowing lava — lava bombs from the volcano’s cone flew 5 km through the air. A 600 m, loose, rocky trail leads you from the info shelter to a lookout. Approximately 4 km east, several volcanic eruptions have occurred since glaciers filled these valleys thousands of years ago.
- Dihlaa Nil-Baxhl Aks Sbat-Gan / Drowned Forest: The Tseax River floods here in high water, flooding the forest. Interesting rock formations.
- Ts’itksim Aks / Beaupre Falls: Beautiful view of the falls and the northern boundary of Nisga’a Lands.
- Ts’itksim Aks / Vetter Falls: Well worth the visit as the stream disappears under the lava. This area has Steelhead, and as they are confined to a very short area, they have developed snake-like bodies with large heads, that locals call Phantom Fish.
- Wilp T’aam Lax Sankw’ax / Visitor Centre: Built in the style of a traditional Nisga’a longhouse, you will find interpretive displays, helpful staff, and local crafts and souvenirs for sale.
- Ksi Sii Aks / Tseax River: A place to observe salmon and steelhead spawning. Warning, though: It’s bear country. Refer to the brochure for more details!
- Gitlaxt’aamiks / Nisga’a Village Home of “people of the ponds”: The four pts’aan (totem poles) at the entrance to the Community Centre represent the heritage of the four Nisga’a clans: Ganada (Raven), Laxgibuu (Wolf), Gisk’aast (Killer Whale) and Laxsgiik (Eagle). Across the Nass River, the few remaining houses of the original village remind the Nisga’a of a time when lives were more closely tied to the river.
- Hanli-yaga-ba’ansgum Boot / Boat Launch: Refer to the brochure for details about launching.
- Wil Luu-galksi-mihl Gan / Tree cast: During the eruption, molten lava formed around trees, leaving hollow tubes when the wood burned or rotted away.
- Gitwinksihlkw / Nisga’a Village: This village is known as “place of the lizards”, and according to ancient oral tradition, large lizards once lived here. Home to the famous Bears’ Den pts’aan (totem pole), other majestic pts’aan and Ukws-Ts’agat (the old suspension bridge).
- Anhluut’ukwsim Lax-mihl / Dedication site: (Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park) is jointly managed by Nisga’a Nation and British Columbia Provincial Parks. Walking on the smooth pahoeho lava is permitted here.
- Hlgu Isgwit / Hot Springs: The dwelling place of Sbi Naxnok- (supernatural being/spirit). The sulfur smell of the hot springs is said to be the smell of the spirit. Please respect this site, it is culturally significant and a designated heritage site.
- Laxg – alts’ap / Nisga’a Village: Means “village on village.” Laxg – alts’ap was built on a series of Nisga’a communities that occupied this site for millennia. It is located in the Nass River estuary, the spawning grounds of five species of wild Pacific salmon and oolichan. Generations have relied on the harvest of seafood — traditional smokehouses and drying racks are still in use today.
- Wilp-Adokshl Nisga’a / Nisga’a Museum Hli Goothl Wilp-Adokshl Nisga’a (Nisga’a Museum) is a “Class A” museum — with a design inspired by traditional Nisga’a feast dishes, longhouses and canoes. The museum houses cultural treasures acquired in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
- Lax- Da’oots’ip / Fishery Bay: The main Nisga’a harvesting centre for oolichan (a small ocean smelt fish). Each year, tons of oolichan return to K- ’alii-Aksim Lisims (Nass River) to spawn, are harvested in Fishery Bay and rendered into oil — a historic staple of Nisga’a trade that supplied the Northwest Coast’s famous “Grease Trail.”
- Gingolx / Nisga’a Village Referred to as “place of skulls,” invaders were met by Nisga’a defenders determined to protect and preserve their land, resources and traditional way of life. Today Gingolx is famous for its hospitality — welcoming visitors from around the world — offering some of the best kayaking, boating and sport fishing in North America.
Destination BC is developing a new campaign to promote hyper-local travel where residents are “tourists-in-their own hometown,” while practising the COVID-19 safety protocols as recommended by the B.C. Provincial Health Officer. Many B.C. parks are now open, and national parks were to open as of June 1.
(Check this website for current details on travel.)
There are regular flights to Terrace, which is a 100-kilometre drive from Nisga’a Village Gitlaxt’aamiks (formerly New Aiyansh). Travellers can also take a ferry through British Columbia’s spectacular Inside Passage. It runs from Port Hardy, on Vancouver Island, to Prince Rupert, and you can drive from there to Terrace and on to Gitlaxt’aamiks.
Nisga’a Territory is remote, and the Nisga’a government recommends that you travel with a full tank of fuel and bring food and bottled water as restaurants are limited. However, there is a full service gas station and grocery store in Nisga’a Village Gitlaxt’aamiks (formerly New Aiyansh). We enjoyed Chinese food at a restaurant in Gitlaxt’aamiks.
Accommodation is limited, so arrangements must be made ahead of time. However, we camped at the excellent Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park Visitor Centre Campground. The Nisga’a Lisims Government runs an excellent website. Here’s the link to accommodation and other visitor tips.
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