One of the highway's key stopoffs, FORT NELSON (pop. 5000), is 381km north of Fort St John. Everything in town, except a small museum devoted to the highway's construction, speaks of a frontier supplies depot, the latest in a long line of trading posts attracted to a site that is fed by four major rivers and stands in the lee of the Rockies. Dour buildings stand in a battered sprawl around a windswept grid and much of life here seems to revolve around exploitation of its huge natural gas deposits – the town has the world's second-largest gas-processing plant and the huge storage tanks to prove it.
The visitor centre is at 5500 50th Ave (daily late May to early Sept, 8am–8pm; Tel:250/774-6400, Web: www.northernrockies.org ). The town's motels are all much the same and you'll be paying the inflated rates which characterize the north. On the town's southern approaches the Bluebell Inn, 3907 50th Ave South (Tel:250/774-6961 or 1-800/663-5267, Web: www.bluebellinn.ca ; Price: $81-100), is better looking than many of the run-of-the-mill places. To camp, make for the Westend Campground (Tel:250/774-2340; $25) on the hwy next to the museum. It has grassy tent sites, pay showers, laundry and store. If you're looking for somewhere to eat and quaff a beer, try the busy Dan's Neighbourhood Pub at 4204 50th Ave North, where there's a good variety of beers to wash down some decent bar food (main courses $10–27).