Author Topic: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia  (Read 1224 times)

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Offline bobbiedobbs

Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« on: December 11, 2021, 12:50:49 am »
I am thinking of cycling east to west in British Columbia from Prince George to Prince Rupert. Seeking advice/experience on:

Road shoulders/condition - I have heard that shoulders are very narrow or even broken up in places.
Prevailing winds
Difficulty - Only long stretch appears to be between Terrace and Prince Rupert. Grade?
Insects- are black flies/mosquitos a big problem. Bears?
Are there any/many repair shops?
Any other general advice as in is this ride worth doing, would be appreciated!
Going in July or August.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2021, 08:02:59 am »
The section between Prince George and Kitwanga is on the "North Star" route, a 50+ year old unofficial route between Alaska and points south.  Go search the journals at CrazyGuyonaBike.com . 

I have driven the route it but not ridden it.  When driving, I didn't notice anything unusual.  However, since I am planning to ride this road either next year or most probably in 2023 (Alaska to Las Vegas), I have read way too many journals.  I don't remember any noteworthy road/traffic issues (may have some construction but it is usually OK), climbing difficulties (though most have been riding for a month or more already so are fairly strong), bear issues (always use appropriate bear awareness), etc.  You will always have bugs.  There are supposedly a few bike shop along the way but it is always best to head out on a tuned-up bike and have at least basic knowledge on how to change a flat. 

Biggest issue I have read is that the scenery is less interesting but that very well may be because they have had really nice scenery for the past month since heading south from Alaska so the comparison may not be as valid.

Note that you might need to "stealth camp", i.e. camp where there is no campground as the distances between campgrounds can be pretty spread out. A lot of restaurants and other services may allow you to camp for the night though.

Have a great trip!

Offline jamawani

Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #2 on: December 11, 2021, 10:06:22 am »
I've ridden it a few times.
I wouldn't choose it as a destination route, but a good route as part of a larger tour.

The scenery is pleasant on the plateau with many lakes.
Bark beetle kill has been severe - so many forested areas are brown or clear-cut.
Moderate climb out or Prince George with moderate traffic and small shoulders.
Shoulders fizzle out as you head west, but traffic declines, too.

Most of the larger towns have nice municipal campgrounds with nearby services.
Prince George, Smithers, Terrace & Prince Rupert have bike shops - not bad.
(Be aware that Covid may have permanently closed many businesses.)

Scenery improves dramatically from Telkwa west.
But the rainfal increases, too. Blue skies are rare.
K'san Village is off route, but very worthwhile.
Plus, spectacular camping at junction of Bulkley and Skeena Rivers.

From K'san you follow the amazing Skeena to the Pacific.
West of Terrace the river is massive. With towering mountains.
Camping is trickier on this stretch - there is one provincial park.
But you can also stealth camp at highway rest stops.
IF - - - you set up late and leave early.
Be invisible, but RCMP should be understanding.

Prince Rupert is a lovely town - hard-hit economically.
But one of those magical places from another era.
If you can, take ther ferry out to Haida Gwaii.




Offline dfege

Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2021, 01:19:02 am »
I cycled this route in 2011, so things may have changed.  The section along the Skeena is one of the most beautiful rides I have ever done.  There are forested mountains on either side of the river in most sections.  This goes on for miles and miles.  However, the river valley tends to be narrow with barely enough room for a two-lane road, the railroad, and a bicyclist.  The closer you get to Prince Rupert, the more truck traffic you will encounter.  Here is link to my crazyguy journal.   http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/8992

Offline bobbiedobbs

Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #4 on: December 14, 2021, 04:18:51 pm »
Thx, guys. I checked out Dfege's journal, as well as other Crazy Guy journals. The problem section appears to be Prince George to Vanderhoof - too narrow for bikes and a gravel shoulder that is not rideable. One guy calls it a "highway of horror." I hate for that 60 miles or so to kill what sounds like an otherwise scenic trip, particularly if I take the Inside Passage ferry to Port Hardy and continue down Vancouver Island. I checked out VIA but it is not currently accepting bikes- period- on this route. Maybe I can catch a ride from someone for Day 1 (or just bite the bullet). The remainder of the ride sounds great, particularly along the Skeena. John, Alaska to Vegas sounds awesome.

Offline John Nettles

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Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #5 on: December 14, 2021, 05:55:44 pm »
Bobbie,

Look at what riders say as a whole.  Just because 1 or 2 people thought it sucked, doesn't mean it does.  How many hundreds of riders have ridden it and did not mention anything about it either way?  If it was bad, it would have been mentioned many more times.  Even if it is somewhat bad, the sight lines are good overall, the road is pretty wide (even without shoulders), and it is not hilly with lots of short ups and downs where you can not be seen.  Review Google maps' Streetview to see for yourself. I do think it might be a bit hectic around Prince George itself but then you will be heading out in the morning when everyone else is heading in so traffic should be OK.

If you are concerned about traffic, plan to ride the one day ride on a Monday thru Thursday (non-holiday) as you should have less drivers towing boats, RVs, etc.  Start early and finish early. Always ride defensively, have a bright flashy light, and use a mirror to verify traffic is moving over and/or slowing down.  This is always the case, not just on this route.  But even if you have to bail off the road due to traffic, the shoulders are not bad. 

I personally wouldn't let a 100km stretch make you jump through hoops or avoid the ride. 

Offline bobbiedobbs

Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #6 on: December 14, 2021, 06:02:12 pm »
Thanks, John. I think I needed to hear that. Context. You are right about the majority of posters; I tend to give those screaming the loudest disproportionate influence. I have ridden numerous places with ZERO shoulders and with good riding sense, have lived to tell the story. There are excellent sight lines in this case. I'm going.

Offline John Nettles

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  • I ride for smiles, not miles.
Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2021, 06:11:50 pm »
Thanks, John. I think I needed to hear that. Context....I'm going.
Good. Now if you get hit and die, I am gonna feel real bad so do us all a favor and stay safe and enjoy the ride.  ;)

Offline staehpj1

Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #8 on: December 15, 2021, 07:53:38 am »
Thanks, John. I think I needed to hear that. Context. You are right about the majority of posters; I tend to give those screaming the loudest disproportionate influence. I have ridden numerous places with ZERO shoulders and with good riding sense, have lived to tell the story. There are excellent sight lines in this case. I'm going.
A lot depends on your traffic tolerance when it comes seriously to take some of the cautions you get.  I know that many places I have toured that I got lots of warnings about some sections that just weren't a big deal to me.  Some that folks went to great lengths to avoid were actually enjoyable.

In this case it sounds like it is a fairly short section so you can probably choose the day of week and mayb the time of day that you are on the road to minimize the problem.  In most locations that can make a big difference.

Offline jamawani

Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #9 on: December 15, 2021, 10:33:30 am »
Like I said, I've ridden it - - three times.
I have 100,000 miles of riding experience - bad habit.

Not sure about your experience level.
And that is important so that people can give you appropriate advice.
BC Hwy 16 is not a good route for an inexperienced rider.
Plus, it works a little better west-to-east -
So, the toughest section is last and downhill.

I've ridden up to Alaska/Yukon 6 times.
And you have to do northern BC to get there.
Or the Yellowhead out to Prince Rupert.

I just checked the traffic count data.
Hwy 16 west of PG has 11,000 AADT - that's a lot.
But the highway has been rebuilt with shoulders.
It drops to 8500, then 5500 getting into Vanderhoof.
Plus there are moderate shoulders.

The primary industry on the plateau is logging & lumber production.
You should expect logging trucks and adjust to them.
They are going fast on Hwy 16 - 80kmh/50mph.
The drivers are top-notch, courteous and experienced.
But their job is to get the logs to the mill.

From Vanderhoof to Burns Lake AADT drops further.
3500 down to 2500, but the shouder mostly disappears.
(Plus there are deep rumble strips .)
West of Burns Lake there is even less traffic -
With the exception of Houston, Smithers & Terrace.

Because of logging trucks, I'm not sure about best times to ride.
Summer traffic is heavier than winter - but March biking isn't pleasant.
Weekend traffic may include more RVs and boats,
but logging trucks are mostly a weekday operation when mills are running.
Some independents may run on Saturdays but nor many.
If the mill lot gates are locked, they can't drop off their loads.

Sunday mornings - almost everywhere - is the best time for low traffic.
Friday afternoons and Sunday afternoons are the worst for weekender traffic.
In general, mid morning to early afternoon avoids weekday rush hour traffic.
Even in rural areas, people commute to places like Prince George.
Towards in the morning, away in the evening.

<<<>>>

There are very few through roads the further north you go.
Hwy 16 is the most northerly east-to-west route in North America.
So there will be some traffic - a bit more than I usually like.
(And certainly more west of Prince George.)

As I said above, the towns and lakes on the plateau are very pleasant.
And as you head further west the scenery is outstanding.
(Provided you don't have lots of rain.)
Sadly, I have never had clear skies on the lower Skeena section.
My hope is that you do.

Pic - Logging Truck Turning onto Hwy 16

Offline staehpj1

Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #10 on: December 15, 2021, 11:02:46 am »
As usual Jamawani is the voice of experience.

FWIW, I'd take my chances sharing the road with a pro in a hurry driving a logging truck over someone driving an RV.  Even when/if they pass fast and close I tend to not worry too much.  If there are a lot of rental RVS, they are worse.  I trust them far less.  Not sure about there, but in some places it seems they rent them to folks who shouldn't be driving a pickup truck.  US national parks tend to be like that.  The good news is that the day and time of day to avoid RV traffic is relatively easy to predict.

Jama's last paragraph covers that.  I will say that often I have found that some of the time my experience has been different in some touristy areas.  I am thinking of places with lots of campers, tent campers and RVs.  Early sunday morning has typically been good with little tourist traffic.  I generally find I can knock out a few hours before much RV traffic hits the road.  Then after a late morning mid day rush, I have not found the heavy traffic he mentions in many places to continue into the late afternoon on sunday.  Often the weeked traffic may be already cleared out by then depending on the location.  I found that to sometimes be a good time to get some miles in especially in places like in some US national parks and found them to be almost abandoned by then in some cases.

Offline bobbiedobbs

Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #11 on: December 16, 2021, 04:29:34 am »
Thanks both of you, both for the facts (traffic levels, topography) and advice re TOD, to which I need to give greater consideration. I agree it is in part a matter of comfort level. I have some long-distance experience (plus live in Philadelphia where I am quite used to sharing the road, though in an urban context), but not as much as either of you. Interesting observation about RVs vs the professional drivers. Biking up US 83, which is a principal N-S US corridor, I recall feeling uncomfortable with 18-wheelers but came to realize these folks knew what they were doing. The danger was more my overcompensating and riding off the shoulder.

As to rain, this trip will make up for my most recent trip through Death Valley National Park, which gets an average two inches of rain a year. 

I am kind of set on east to west, perhaps despite my better judgement. I like to save the best (Skeena River plus the Inside Passage Ferry) for last. Hard to get pumped for the Vanderhoof-Prince George ending. I may regret that re winds but they sound manageable.

Offline jamawani

Re: Riding Yellowhead Highway in British Columbia
« Reply #12 on: December 16, 2021, 06:47:31 pm »
I like to save the best (Skeena River plus the Inside Passage Ferry) for last.

Good point. And true.

Of course, you won't be able to ride the lovely "Queen of the North" any more.
https://www.wikiwand.com/en/MV_Queen_of_the_North
She's at the bottom of the Inside Passage.

The "Northern Expedition" has none of the grace & beauty of the "Queen".
I've ridden most of the BC and Alaska ferries.
The "Queen" was tops.