When you think of British Columbia, you probably don’t think about lava beds. That type of landscape is more associated with places like Hawaii, maybe Alaska. However, some 250 years ago a volcano erupted in the populated area of the now Nisga’a Lands. Today the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park (or formally known as Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a) is located an hour North of Terrace, BC. This short detour north of Terrace is well worth the visit.
Earlier this September, my family took a visit to the Coast. With the smoke from the Wildfires drifting into the City of Prince George we decided to escape to the North West Coast to explore, eat, and visit with family. We even went on a whale watching tour.
I had heard of the Lava Beds in passing. From acquaintances and friends, but not much else. With nothing more than a sense of adventure, we scheduled it into our trip and visited out on Friday morning. It turned out to be the most perfect of days blending my love of culture, history, and geography into one. My only regret is not being able to do it all. Having kids and travelling with toddlers and babies means I need to let that go. I will for sure visit the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park again. There is so much more to see.
Before You Visit
The Northwest Coast of BC is sparsely populated and with few settlements. You will want to be prepared for an adventure before you leave Terrace; fill your gas tank, pack snacks and drinks, and be ready to explore WITHOUT cell reception.
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 brief informational blurbs about the sites to see along the way. This handy map is a must have the journey. Forgot it? There’s an informational centre past the lava beds at the junction of Highway 113.
Bring good shoes. Walking the trails in the Lava Beds is rough terrain. The paths are maintained, lava rock underfoot is crumbly, and difficult to walk on. I wore my hiking boots, and we swapped the toddler into a pair of Keens shoes to help his grip!
Exploring Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park with Toddlers
There are many stops to explore the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park and while stopping at each one might be feasible without children, with the kids it’s best to choose a few.
Unbuckling and unloading children is exhausting and the less you have to play that game the more energy you’ll save for exploring.
The trails we choose were very easy for our toddler to explore. We opted to take on just two sites within the Lava Bed Park – Crater Creek & Tree Cast. Crater Creek was a bit long for our weary travellers, but he managed just fine. He stayed on the trail. Tree Cast was a good length, but the gaps and edges in the lava made some areas a little difficult. Most of the stops along the auto tour would be suitable for adventurous toddlers as they involve getting out of the car and running around! I’ll walk you thru the stops we made.
Traveling the Auto Tour with Kids
The hardest part about travelling and exploring with toddlers is trying to coordinate a nap.
Either you wait until nap and travel during the nap, or you travel back during a nap.
There isn’t a right answer.
I also find that travel days make everything wonky. We ended up just leaving in the morning, and the toddler was awake for the drive there. We made it to the lava beds, explored and then both babies were ready for a nap. However, we had only visited one of the many stops!
So, now what?
It’s an hour drive from the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park to the coastal Nisga’a village of Gingolx. We drove and admired the scenery and potential stops along the way while the kids napped in the back seat.
Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park
The lava bed texture changes throughout the valley. At the beginning it is crumbly, and closer to the Nass River it begins to look like sheets of cement that have been broken by an earth quack.
The first stopped we made was at a Crater Creek.
Crater Creek isn’t the first site, but the first one we made. Hike a gradual incline of 600 metres to a lookout over the lava closest to the cone of the volcano (To hike into the volcano cone you’ll have to arrange for a guided 4-hour tour. This might not be a good adventure with young toddlers/preschoolers, and more ideal for older kids or easily transported babies).
The path thru the lava rock is easily identifiable with a few signs to explain the landscape along the way. Underfoot, lava rock crumbles, and the visitors who have come before have begun to crumble and makes the walk a little loose. Wear good shoes, and stay on the path. After some distance, you’ll climb up a small hill to a look out. This is a good stop for a snack and drink. There is no bench, and the lava rock was wet, slippery and uncomfortable, but I made due with the situation.
Because of the toddler pace, and the meander of our hike, Crater Creek took us about an hour from start to finish. We enjoyed looking, taking photos, and just being in awe of the topography.
The second stop was Tree Cast.
We only made another stop in the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park at Tree Cast because the description sounded intriguing. This site seems a little anticlimactic, but it is interesting. A short hike will take you to a sign which talks about a cast of a tree made of the lava. I can’t remember all the science behind it, but go and see it yourself. 😉
Located closer to the Nass River and just before the village of Gitwinksihlkw, the lava fields topography has changed and looks different than the lava rock located closer to the actual volcano. Here it appears more like slabs of cement that has broken and crushed.
It is a relatively easy walk out to the tree fossil. The path is vague, but head away from the highway, and eventually, an informational sign appears, and you know you are in the right direction. Cracks and uneven walking surfaces are prevalent in this area. With our toddler, we keep him motivated by swinging him over cracks and encouraging him to jump over the gaps with a “1-2-3-GO!”
Tree Cast is a much shorter adventure and probably only consumed about 30 minutes of our time. Again, it isn’t much a serious hike, but more exploring as we stopped and looked at the lava fields and admired the strange little trees trying to make it in the beds of lava rock.
And that was all…
I would love to take a guided tour, but based on the information on the Nisg’a Lisims Government website we figured it would be best suited for when we don’t have kids, or maybe when we have teenagers. My relatives had visited the Tseax Cone prior and said it was neat. It is a 3km hike which does make it one f the longest hiking trails in the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park.
You can check the websites linked below for more great ideas for visiting the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park. If you’ve been telling me what you loved most of the landscape, trails, and regional culture.
For More Information on Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park
Nisga’a Lisims Government (and to book a tour)
Stay posted, in the coming weeks, I’ll share our adventures to the Nisga’a Villages and the beautiful Nisga’a Museum (well worth the visit).