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Exploring Nass Valley BC – Lava Fields and Nisga’a Villages

Nass Valley BC is a place to experience the wonders of remote northwestern British Columbia. The dramatic landscape together with the Nisga’a culture makes the Nass Valley a unique experience and an amazing road trip. Canada’s most recent lava flow transformed the region into a breathtaking landscape with lava fields, waterfalls, and hot springs.

Backroad maps are the best for travelling in Canada’s backcountry.

Before my first visit to the Nass Valley BC a couple of years ago I never heard of the existence of Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park. But the impressions and experience I was left with after this first trip, I decided to return this summer. Most times, a second visit to an area seems to be even more rewarding. Who would expect to find lava fields in northern British Columbia?

Lava Lake Nass Valley
Lava Lake at Nisga’a Lava Bed Park

Nass Valley and Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park

The Nass Valley BC is home to the self-governed Nisga’a Nation and is a side trip worth taking. Canada’s last volcanic eruption occurred in the Nass Valley over 266 years ago. The vast lava beds serve as a memorial to the 2,000 Nisga’a people who lost their lives and as a reminder of the importance of respect for the natural wonders and the wisdom of the elders.

The park is jointly managed by Nisga’a Nation and BC Parks, the first of its kind in British Columbia.

Nass Valley BC and Park Highlights

  • Walking across lava fields
  • Stopping at High Isgwit Hot Springs, located between Gitwinksihlkw and Laxgalts’ap
  • Visiting four unique Nisga’a villages – Gitlaxt’aamiks, Gitwinksihkw, Laxgalts’ap and Gingolx
  • Checking out exhibits at the Park Visitor Centre
  • Staying at the 16-site vehicle campground (first come first serve)
Drowned forest Nass Valley
Drowned Forest

Tips before you go

Stop by the Visitor Information Centre in Terrace and pick up an Auto Tour of the Nass Valley for a full list of stops and information about the sites to see along the way.

The Terrace Visitor Information Center has a welcoming atmosphere with beautifully handcrafted souvenirs for sale.

I inquired about the condition of the connector to Highway 37. This partly gravel road would take me through Nass Camp to Cranberry Junction on Highway 37, where I was heading after exploring the Nass Valley, and it would shorten my trip. It’s a forestry road and no one could tell me the condition of it.

Bring good shoes for walking the rough terrain in the Lava Beds. The paths are maintained, but lava rock underfoot is crumbly so watch out.

For day trips, fill up your gas tank fully and leave Terrace early to make the most of your visit. Bring your own food and bottled water. For overnight stays, you have the option of camping or otherwise, it’s advised to arrange lodging in advance.

Services

  • There is a service gas bar and grocery outlet in Gitlaxt’aamiks.
  • RV Sani-dump only authorized location is at Nass Camp
  • Emergency RCMP 250 633 2222
  • Road Hazzard Emergency 1 800 6655051
Longhouse Nisgaa Lava Park BC
Longhouse

How to get to Nass Valley BC

The official Auto Tour through Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park starts 70 km, one hour from Terrace, BC.

To get there, turn onto Nisga’a Highway 113 in Terrace. Trees line the highway and only further along the road, the view opens up to see the lakes and the magnificent landscape.

The beautiful curvy Nisga’a Highway 113 takes you along Kitsamkalum Lake and the stunning Amsing Lake backed by snow-covered mountain peaks. This ancient transportation corridor between the two major river systems, the Skeena and Naas, was originally used by Indigenous people, and later by trappers, miners, loggers, homesteaders and telegraph linemen. A public road connected the Kitsumkalum and the Nisga’a territories in 1979.

Further along the highway, you reach the small community of Rosswood with a population of 150. Visit Rosswood General Store for a local shopping experience.

Rosswood General Store Nass Valley BC
Rosswood General Store

Exploring Nass Valley, BC – Lava Fields and Nisga’a Villages

Nass Valley, BC is a place to experience the wonders of the northwest. The dramatic landscape together with the Nisga’a culture makes the Nass Valley a unique experience and an amazing road trip. Canada’s most recent lava flow transformed the region into a breathtaking landscape with lava fields, waterfalls, and hot springs.

Before my first visit to the Nass Valley, BC a couple of years ago I never heard of the existence of Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Provincial Park. But, because of the impressions and experience I was left with after this first trip, I decided to return this summer. Most times, a second visit to an area seems to be even more rewarding.

Who would expect to find lava fields in northern British Columbia?

Auto Route through the Nass Valley, BC

70 km / 1 hr from Terrace to Stop 1 – Welcome

The driving route through the Nisga’sa Memorial Lava Bed Park is called the Auto Tour Route / Point of Interest and starts at the park entrance. Follow the self-guided route through the park and the Nisga’a Nation. All points of interest are signposted with both Native and English names and numbered along the way with information signs. For simplicity, I only write the English names in this post.

1 – Welcome

25 km / 20 min to Park Visitor Centre

Welcome to the Nisga’a Nation and Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park. This is the first provincial park jointly managed by a First Nation and BC Parks and it is included in the landmark treaty between the Canadian Government and the Nisga’a Nation.

Wellcome to Lava Bed Park
Welcome to the Nisga’a Nation

2 – Lava Lake

Lawa Lake is a good place to stop for a picnic and a swim in the lake. When I was there, a large group of locals were gathering at the beach and swimming in the lake. There is an outhouse near the parking lot.

Lava Lake Nass Valley British Columbia
Lava Lake, Nisga’a Provincial Park

3 – Crater Creek

Take the short, rocky trail from the info shelter to the lookout and appreciate the petrified landscape.

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Crater Creek

4 – Drowned Forest

A short path at the next stop takes you down to the Tseax River which flows over the land during high water levels. You will notice the rock formation shaped like honeycomb, caused by the ebb and flow of the water.

Downed Forest Nass Valley BC
Dawned Forest at Nisga’a Lava Bed Park

5 – Beaupro Falls

A 5 minute walk along a forest trail takes you to a lookout with a great view of the falls. High trees are lining the path.

Beaupro Falls, Nass Valley

6 – Vetter Falls

Vetter Falls are the most beautiful waterfalls at Nisga’a Lava Field Park. The water that flows over these falls into Vetter Creek is overflow from the Tseax River. The stream disappears back under the lava downstream and traps fish turning them into Phantom Fish, as the locals call them. Look out for deformed Steelhead in the ponds.

Vetter Falls, Nass Valley BC
Vetter Falls Nass Valley BC

7 – Vetter Fall Lodge

Vetter Fall Lodge is a beautiful log building surrounded by coastal temperate rainforest It is located near Vetter Falls and the village of Gitlax̱t’aamiks and close to Nisga’a Visitor Centre. The Lodge offers B&B-style accommodation and is owned by the Nisg̱a’a Nation.

8 – Park Visitor Centre

5 km / 7 min to Nisga’a Village of Gitlaxt’aamiks

Built in the style of a traditional Nisga’a Longhouse the museum is a must-see inside as well. It offers interpretive displays about the Nisga’a people, the culture and history. This is also where you get information about the park, facilities, and villages. Purchase some local arts and crafts to remember the beautiful Nass Valley.

Park Visitor Centre
Park Visitor Centre, Nass Valley BC

9 – Tseax River

The Tseax River is the perfect place to observe salmon in their natural habitat. This is also a place, where grizzlies and black bears would hang around. Check fishing regulations if you’re an angler and throw fish entrails into fast flowing water.

Tseax River, Nass Valley
Tseax River, Nass Valley

10 – Gitlaxt’aamiks / Nisga’a Village

12 km to Nisga’a Village of Gitwinksihlkw

Check out the four totem poles at the entrance to the Community Centre. A few old houses across the river are the remains of the original village. Read more

11 – Boat Launch

Park your vehicle in the designated lot only. and check fishing regulations if you’re planning to cast a line.

12 – Tree Cast

A 5 minute walk leads to a unique feature of tree cast, caused by lava during the eruption and the rotting or burning of trees after time went by. Stay on the designated trail and use the stairs.

13 – Gitwinksihlkw / Nisga’a Village

This is home to the famous totem poles and the old suspension bridge. Read More

39 km / 40 min to Nisga’a Village of Laxgalts’ap

Entrance to Gitwinksihlkw Village

14 – Dedication Site

The park was dedicated on April 30, 1992.

15 – Hot Springs

The sulphur smell of the hot springs is said to be the smell of the spirit. This is a culturally significant and designated heritage site. The hot springs were open to the public when I visited two years earlier. This time around they were closed to the public.

16- Laxgalts’ap / Nasga’a Village

28 km to Nisga’a Village of Gingolx

The second Nasga’a Village on the driving tour is located in the Nass River Estuary, known as a worldclass fishing destination. The village of Laxgalts’ap is also home to the Nisga’a Museum. Read more

17- Nisga’a Museum

This beautiful museum boasts a stunning display related to Nisga’a culture and the treaty. Plan to spend enough time inside and learn about the treaties, traditions, and fishing culture of the Nisga’a people.

Nisga'a Museum
An impressive museum with cultural treasures

18- Fishery Bay

This is a main Nisga’a harvesting place for Oolichan, a small ocean smelt fish. Each year, tons of the fish return to Nass River to spawn. Harvested fish are made into precious oil,

19- Gingolx / Nasga’a Village

The last village in the Nass Valley is Gingolx, one of my favourites on this journey. This small fishing village is located at the mouth of the Nass River and the Pacific Ocean with a waterfront marked with beautiful mountain ranges and the ocean.

Stop at the local coffee shop or look for the famous fish and chips restaurant in Gingolx. Read more

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The road to Gingox

Four Nass Valley BC Communities

Just outside Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park are four small communities, all accessible by road from the park. Here you will find basic services like grocery stores, restaurants, gift shops, gas stations and health services.

Village of Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh)

Gitlaxt’aamiks, population approximately 1,800, is the first community you will get to on the Auto Tour Route through the beautiful Nass Valley BC. Located at the edge of the Memorial Lava Bed Park Gitlaxt’aamiks it’s the perfect location for exploring Nisga’a Lands.

Gitlaxt’aamiks is home to the Nisga’a House of Laws, the legislative assembly of the Nisga’a Lisms Government. The four totem poles (Eagle, Wolf, Raven and Killer Whale at the entrance of this beautiful community represent the four ethnic groups of the Nisga’a Nation. The few houses across the river are reminders of the original village.

Gitlaxt’aamiks Highlights

  • Nisga’a Lisims Government Legislature, information and tours
  • Unity Pts’aan (60 ‘ totem pole, the first totem pole raised in the Nass Valley in a century
  • Village smokehouses
  • Holy Trinity Church
  • Hike up to a viewpoint along a nature trail

Village of Gitwinksihlkw (Canyon City)

39 to Nisca’a village of Laxcalts’Ap

Gitwinksihlkw is known as “place of the lizards” and has a population of approximately 207 residents. I remembered the Nisga’a village of Gitwinksihlkw well from my first visit to its suspension bridge across the Nass River. On the north bank of the Nass River Gitwinksihlkw is situated in one of British Columbia’s most dramatic settings. For years, the village was accessible only by the suspension footbridge.

Today, a modern vehicle bridge with four totem poles (Eagle, Wolf, Raven and Killer Whale gives easy access to this beautiful community.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Suspension-Bridge.jpg
Old Suspension Bridge at Gitwinksihlkw

Girwinksihlkw Highlights

  • Stop at the village entrance bridge for the four impressive totem poles
  • Walk across Ukws-Ts’agat, the old suspension footbridge
  • Stop in at the Village Government Office for info and tours
  • Visit the Salvation Army Church
  • Check out the fish wheels
  • Hike up to a viewpoint

Village of Laxgalts’ap (Greenville)

28 km to Nisca’a Village of Gincolx

Laxgalts’ap, with a population of approximately 248, means “village on village”. It was built on a series of Nisga’a communities that occupied this site for millennia. Today, the population is approximately

Located in the Nass River Estuary, a world-class fishing destination Laxgalts’ap is home to the Nisga’a Museum. Here you will find one of the finest collections of cultural treasures and Northwest Coast aboriginal art. The museum’s architecture was inspired by traditional Nisga’a longhouses, feast dishes and canoes.

Laxgalts’ap Highlights

  • Stop in at the Village Government office for info and tours.
  • Spend time at the beautiful Nisga’a Museum
  • Check out a first-class carving shed and observe local carvers
  • Visit St. Andrews Anglican Church
  • Go for a hike and follow a natural trail in this remote part of British Columbia.

Village of Gingolx (Kincolith) Northern British Columbia

170 km / 2.5 hours to Terrace

The village, with a population of approximately 400 is referred to as the “place of sculls”. Gingolx left a memorable impression when I visited the first time and it didn’t disappoint this time around either. The stunning coastline on the way to Gingolx and the little village is definitely worth the drive.

It is another 30-something km from the museum to the Gingolx community but it’s worth the extra time. The drive to Gingolx is astounding. The road takes you up and down steep grades curving along the edge of the lake with rock walls on the other side of the road.

Gingolx is located in a dramatic coastal setting with friendly locals and is known as the seafood capital of the Nass. It is also a popular place for kayaking, boating and sport fishing.

According to history, when invaders to the village first arrived, they were met by Nisga’s defenders determined to protect and preserve the land, resources and the traditional way of life.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Ginglox-water-front.jpg
Gingolx along the oceanfront

Cingolx Highlights

  • Stroll along the panoramic ocean and look out for eagles
  • Visit the cultural longhouse
  • Check out tribal smokehouses
  • Stop at the Village Government office for info and tours
  • Visit Cingolx Christ Church
  • Hike up to a viewpoint
  • Stop in for a meal at the seafood restaurant close to the waterfront

End of the day

I was pretty tired when I got back to Terrace. Earlier in the day I was planning to take the connector gravel road from Nass Camp in the Naas Valley Cranberry Junction to Highway 39. It’s a forestry road and no one could tell me in what condition it was. This would have shortened the trip. Therefore I decided to return to Terrace for another night as my gas gage was getting low and I hadn’t refilled the jerry cans yet.

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Vacant nostalgia

Related links

Nisga’a Lava Bed Memorial ParkUltimate Road Trip Planner for the Wilderness
Epic Road Trips in CanadaUltimate Camping Guide for Canada

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Yrene Dee

Yrene lives in the Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada, and is the founder of BackcountryCanadaTravel.com. She was born in Switzerland, lived and worked on different continents and has travelled the world. Yes, that's me, an Entrepreneur, wilderness nut and animal lover who prefers off-the-beaten-track places. I write about things I love. Mostely.

2 Comments

  1. Jesse Bonney

    What a great piece. I hitched around North America in the 1970s. Back then we didn’t have all this great information. You never knew what was around the bend up ahead.

    When the wonderlust struck us back then we just went out to the highway and stuck on our thumb out.

    I still remember the first time I hitched thru the Canadian Rockies even after 50 years the experience leaves me speechless.

    And after being stuck outside of Kamloops for hours a young kid brought me a bag of sandwiches his mom had made. Kindness was shown all across Canada and it still warms my soul.

    I hope the feelings of freedom and the anticipation of something and someone new just around that bend still prevails. Keep on Truckin

    • Yrene Dee

      Thank so much, Jesse for your story. I also experienced hitchhiking and backpacking in the 1970’s. Just like you say, it was a different experience back then and travelling was not as common as it is today. Me too, I have so many memories from that time. It is different now, but I never lost the feeling of freedom when on the road. There are always new adventures waiting around the corner. All the best to you!

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