A Ghost Town, Grizzlies, and the Best Fish and Chips Anywhere

Patrolling Hyder, Alaska’s Fish Creek like she owns it, 600-pound Monica fattens up on a freshly subdued chum salmon.

With a population of fewer than 100 residents, Hyder, Alaska, bills itself as “The Friendliest Ghost Town in Alaska.” The town is one of those gems that is far enough off the beaten path to still be something of a secret, known mainly to the relatively few people who travel the Cassiar Highway in western British Columbia. Many of these travelers are on their way to or from Alaska, and not even all of these travelers are aware of what Hyder offers.

A prize for any grizzly, this beautifully marked chum salmon makes its way up the air-clear water of Fish Creek. 

In addition to rare opportunities to watch and photograph grizzlies up close from a safe vantage point (an elevated viewing deck runs along a short portion of Fish Creek), Hyder boasts what is surely one of the world’s most unusual destination restaurants. We’ve written about the Seafood Express in a previous post. Established in 1998, the school bus Jim and Diana Simpson converted into a restaurant continues to turn out the very best fish and chips we’ve ever had. Even when the salmon and bears aren’t in, the restaurant alone makes taking the turnoff to Hyder worthwhile. Jim, a fisherman by trade, supplies the fresh salmon, halibut, shrimp and prawns Diana magically transforms into perfectly crispy, golden-brown, airily light creations that seem to disappear in one’s mouth. Complimented by a bottle of Alaskan Amber Ale, lingering over a meal there is the perfect way to relax after a morning of nature watching while Rufous Hummingbirds trill musically from the nearby spruce and fir forest.

A female common merganser (Mergus merganser) leads her brood of chicks (next photo) down Fish Creek’s crystalline currents.

Merganser chicks scurry to keep up with their mother. This type of duck typically nests in tree cavities near water. They feed on small fish, insects and (I’m guessing) salmon eggs when they can find them.

Since 1998, the Seafood Express has been serving up gourmet-quality fish and chips

The viewing platform on Fish Creek provides one of the very few places in North America where people can routinely and safely view wild grizzlies from a fairly close distance. The platform is manned by knowledgable U. S. Forest Service Rangers. The best viewing is from late July through September.

A trip to Alaska through British Columbia by car, camper or motorhome is a trip of a lifetime. If your route takes you along the Cassiar Highway, Hyder should be a “must visit” destination!

For more, click here to see our iReport on CNN.

The Bus in Hyder: The Best Fish & Chips Anywhere

Barbra and Maia waiting for orders of fried halibut and fried shrimp at The Bus in Hyder, Alaska

We blogged about Hyder before (A Ghost Town and a Grizzly, February 5, 2011). It’s an interesting  town of 87 inhabitants, definitely worth the side trip if you find yourself traveling the Cassiar Highway in northern British Columbia. Go there when the chum salmon are running in late July and August, and you’ll have an excellent opportunity to view grizzlies up close from a deck overlooking Fish Creek.

A hip little shop on main street, Boundary Gallery and Gifts run by Caroline Steward, features dulcimers beautifully crafted from Sitka Spruce as well as some of the best fudge we’ve ever had. There’s a hotel, a post office, a small, sparsely-stocked grocery store, a couple of RV parks and a boat launch on Portland Canal, which isn’t a canal at all but is a narrow, 71-mile long fjord separating Southeastern Alaska from British Columbia. It’s the kind of place that takes you back in time. None of the streets are paved. The residents are friendly and the ones we’ve met have been happy to while a way a piece of the day talking. Maybe the quiet, natural beauty of the place brings out easy-going attitudes. Part of the movie Insomnia (Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank) was filmed here in 2001.

If you do go to Hyder, the one place you shouldn’t miss is The Bus. Diana and Jim Simpson came up with the idea to permanently park a school bus on one of the side streets in town and convert it into a kitchen. Jim’s the fisherman. Diana’s the cook. The catch of the day generally features fresh halibut and Alaska’s incredibly delicious shrimp along with salmon and other shellfish. Traveling from place to place, we’ve come across really good deep fried fish from time to time. Heck, I make pretty good deep fry myself. I don’t know exactly what Diana does, but the fare at The Bus is in a class by itself. It’s been our good fortune to dine there on two separate occasions, two different summers. Both times, our plates of fried halibut, shrimp and French fries disappeared fast and left us talking with amazement for some time afterwards. Diana also keeps icy cold Alaska Amber Ale and Alaska Summer Ale on hand – the perfect compliments to enjoying the food while Rufus Hummingbirds call back and forth from the tops of spruce trees.