The twin towns of Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia , lie at the head of the long narrow Portland Canal that separates Canada and the United States. The area’s remoteness has kept it one of the relatively undiscovered gems of the entire Pacific Northwest coast.
The town of Stewart (pop. 800) lies at the mouth of the Bear River, while tiny Hyder (pop. 90) is two miles down the road next to the mouth of the Salmon River. They are as different as two towns could possibly be.
Stewart is the “real” town, with a hospital, churches, schools, a museum, a pharmacy, a bank, and the other necessities of life; it bills itself as Canada’s northernmost ice-free port. In contrast, Hyder, “the friendliest ghost town in Alaska,” makes the most of its flaky reputation.
Between the two settlements lies an international boundary that seems of little importance; border checks are only made when reentering Canada, and locals get waved through. Residents send their kids to school in British Columbia . Everyone uses Canadian currency and the Canadian phone system (area code 250). You can, however, mail letters from a post office in either country, saving postage and the hassles of shipping parcels internationally.
Hyder is officially on Alaska time, but everyone except the postmaster sets their watches one hour later, to Pacific standard time.
Canada Day (July 1) and Independence Day (July 4) provide the opportunity for a four-day party in Stewart and Hyder. International Days, as it’s called, features parades, pancake breakfasts, crafts, and culminates in a fireworks display in Hyder as darkness falls on the 4th.
There is no ferry service to Hyder, but Taquan Air Service (250/636-9150 or 907/225-8800, www.taquanair.com ) flies every Monday and Thursday from Ketchikan . This is also the only time mail goes in or out of the Hyder post office.
Most people arrive via the extraordinary 41-mile drive down Highway 37A from Meziadin Junction into Stewart, passing beautiful lakes, majestic glaciers, high waterfalls, spectacular mountain peaks, the narrow Bear River Canyon, and finally the mountain-rimmed, water-trimmed towns. Seaport Limousine (250/636-2622, www.seaportnorthwest.com ) has vans between Terrace, British Columbia , and Stewart, as well as guided tours of the area, including to Fish Creek and Salmon Glacier.