25 Pit Stops for a Kootenay Road Trip

25 Pit Stops for a Kootenay Road Trip

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Story by Gina Begin.

The open road is calling to you and, being the adventure-lover you are, you’re all set to lay down tracks in British Columbia. You might be traversing the province from Calgary to Vancouver or focusing on the Kootenays; either way, you’re headed into big country and you’ll need a place (or 25, in this case) to stretch the legs.

In addition to our wineries, hot springs, and breweries, the Kootenays have plenty to pull over for. The following “Kootenay” roadside sights, strolls and culture favourites will help you plan pit stops worth your time. Go ahead and add ‘em to your route’s GPS waypoints.  

You can start anywhere, but to assist you we’ll start in Golden (via the Trans-Canada Highway) and loop through the region clock-wise. 

Golden/Yoho National Park

Takakkaw Falls and Wapta Falls

Both of these falls hold their own in Yoho National Park, and both are accessed with little effort. Of the two walks, Takakkaw is the shortest. As you near its parking lot, the view will have you glued to your window: at 254 metres, Takakkaw one of Canada’s tallest waterfalls. But heads up: If you’re in an RV or towing a trailer, the hairpin turns on the road up are legitimately tight. Not ready to navigate them? Head to Wapta Falls for the largest waterfall along the Kicking Horse River. With its 30-metre height and 150-metre span, visitors have referred to Wapta as a “mini Niagara Falls”. 

Takakkaw Falls, photo by Heidi Korven

World’s Largest Paddle

Are you 24-metres tall? You may have left your paddle behind on the Columbia River.  This 18.5-metre, true-to-scale, Western Red Cedar replica holds the Guinness Book of World Records’ standing for being the largest paddle ever created (by the Columbia Wetlands Outpost).  Snap a pic beside this Highway 95 attraction (in Parson), then continue by foot toward the river via a short nature walk and suspension bridge. 

Radium Hot Springs/Kootenay National Park

Kootenay Valley Viewpoint

Located 16-km east of Radium Hot Springs, this roadside viewpoint provides amazing views of Mitchell and Vermillion mountains ranges and far below is the Kootenay River.  Did you know that this ancient river route continues to Castlegar BC, where it unites with the great Columbia River?

Kootenay Valley Viewpoint, photo by Shannon Harrison

Olive Lake

Olive Lake is a picnic, walking, wildlife viewing, and fishing spot rolled into one pit stop. This tiny lake, true to its name in colour, provides wheelchair accessibility on the 0.5-km interpretive path that circles it. Pick up a permit to fish for brook trout or use the pavilion to lunch under. Finding the turnoff for this lake can be tricky depending on your direction of travel along Highway 93, so plan ahead and keep a vigilant eye out for the sign.  

Radium Hot Springs - Hwy #93/95 Pull Outs

Here you can stretch your legs, or stop for a picnic or catch a glance at the "locals" - the bighorn sheep that call Radium Hot Springs home.  The views up the Columbia River valley are spectacular too!

Fairmont Hot Springs

Hoodoos

These sneak up on you on a windy section of road, so it’s good to know where they’re located. Instead of rubbernecking to get a second glimpse of these unexpected formations, check them out from the trail that’s located off Highway 93/95. Though the beginning is somewhat steep, it only lasts a few minutes before becoming an easy trail at the top of the hoodoos — just make sure to keep an eye on the kids since this trail travels a cliff area! The hour-long round trip hike includes Columbia Valley’s river, lake, and mountain views. 

Fairmont Hot Springs' Hoodoos, photo by Gina Begin

Columbia Lake Rest Stop

A popular stop for families, this picnic area offers beautiful views of Columbia Lake below.  Picnic tables at the top of easy-accessible hill-top is a fantastic stop-over.

Views of Columbia Lake from the rest stop, photo by Shannon Harrison

Cranbrook Area 

Fort Steele Heritage Town

Trade road travel for time travel. North of Cranbrook is a booming mining town — or at least, that’s what it was in its 1800's heyday. Today, Fort Steele is full of historic reenactment. Come for the fresh-baked goods, horse-drawn wagon and steam-engine train rides, watch craftsmen working their trade, and see the printing press buzzing with the latest edition. 

Hosmer

Elk Valley Provincial Park

It’s a tiny stopping place along the Crowsnest Highway, but the views are big. Between Fernie and Sparwood, you’ll find Elk Valley Provincial Park. From the road, it appears to be simple rest stop, and sure, you can use it for that purpose. But those who take the short, grassy (unmarked) footpath will find themselves at the Elk River. From its banks, the Rocky Mountain views expand. Lay out a picnic and watch the river flow; you may even spot a beaver or two.

Sparwood

World’s Largest Truck

This 1974 Terex Titan held the title as the “world’s largest” for 25 years. Even by today’s standards, this motor is a monster. When elevated, the Titan's box reaches 17 metres into the air — taller than a brontosaurus by over 5 metres. The bed itself can hold “two Greyhound buses and 2 pickups … all at once”! Though the Titan was retired from service in 1991, it still holds visitors in awe under its shadow.

Photo courtesy of the Sparwood Chamber of Commerce

Creston Area 

Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area (CVWMA)

Close to 400 species of wildlife make use of this wetland area right off of Highway 3. The CVWMA is part of “... the largest and most important resting and feeding ground for waterfowl in the interior of British Columbia”. This also means it’s an especially great stop for wildlife lovers and photographers. Trails through cattails and cottonwoods range in length from 20-minutes to three hours, so you can choose your trail depending on how badly your legs need a stretch.

Balfour/Kootenay Bay

Kootenay Lake Ferry

If you’re headed to or from Creston by way of Kootenay Lake, the ferry connecting both sides of Highway 3a will be part of your journey. And while this might be a 'forced' pit stop, you’ll feel freedom: this ferry’s 35-minute crossing between Balfour and Kootenay Bay is the longest free scenic ferry ride in the world. Two ships make this passing; try to board the M.V. Osprey 2000 if possible. This larger of the two ferries (the other being the M.V. Balfour) has an on-board cafeteria and an open-air deck where passengers can watch the surrounding mountain views go by. 

Kootenay Lake Ferry Crossing, photo by Dave Heath

Kootenay Pass

Stagleap Provincial Park

This is another pocket park on the list that’s more than meets the eye. Located at the highest all-weather pass in BC and one of the highest paved highways in Canada, Stagleap Provincial Park is a favourite with backcountry skiers. But the sub-alpine setting is good for summer enjoyment, too. Take a walk on the Bridal Lake Shore loop trail, stop for a picnic using the tables near the water, or hike the short Beargrass Trail — views from here can extend into Washington state. You may also catch a glimpse of wildlife: This park protects habitat for both the endangered mountain caribou and Southern Selkirk grizzlies; it’s also home to black bears and rainbow trout.

Nelson

Streetcar to Lakeside Park and Beach

Keeping with the historical nature of Nelson, this restored streetcar from the 1920s carried Nelsonites until the mid-20th century. Today, it runs on a remaining section of track along the west arm of Kootenay Lake. Jump on board for a short ride to Lakeside Park where you can stretch out on the sandy beach next to “B.O.B.” — Nelson’s photogenic “Big Orange Bridge”.  Rent a kayak or canoe for a few hours here, grab lunch at the pavilion, then hop the streetcar again for a ride back or return via the walking path along the shore.

Streetcar #23 in Nelson, photo by Heidi Korven

Kaslo (north of Nelson)

Fletcher Falls

Only a tiny “Fletcher Road” street sign indicates the pullout for this hidden beauty. The easy-to-miss signage may be the reason visitors will often have the place to themselves. A steep — but short — shaded path to the falls is fairytale-esque, especially as you approach the cavernous amphitheatre into which the falls tumble. From the base of Fletcher Falls, a creek flows over the adjoining beach and into Kootenay Lake — follow it and find one heck of a great picnic spot. To find it: As you near Kaslo heading north on Highway 3a, keep an eye out for the sign on your right; it leads to a wide pull-through that doubles as a parking lot. The trailhead is on the north end.

Fletcher Falls near Kaslo, BC, photo by Heidi Korven

Kaslo’s SS Moyie

The beaches around Kaslo always make me stop in my tracks no matter how often I see them. Sky-scraping mountains and cliff bands drop straight into the waters of Kootenay Lake. Within this setting — worthy of a visit on its own — is the SS Moyie, the oldest intact sternwheeler in the world. Built in 1898, it travelled Kootenay Lake for 59 years. After its retirement, the people of Kaslo worked hard to restore the vessel, saving her from the scrapyard with a $1.00 investment. With a bigger investment of volunteer hours, the SS Moyie is now a designated National Historic Site.

Castlegar (west of Nelson)

Doukhobor Discovery Centre

Near the junction of Highway 3 and 3a is a cultural tribute to early 20th century West Kootenay history. The Doukhobors, exiled from their Russian homeland, were known as both pacifists and controversial demonstrators, depending on which of the religion’s factions are referenced. After initially welcoming them to the area, locals began viewing the Doukhobors with suspicion due to the controversial acts of the more defiant faction. As the newcomers fell out of favour, many of the buildings and artifacts within their BC communes were destroyed or scattered. This restored Doukhobor village, with over 1,600 artifacts and 10 buildings, is an attempt to keep the history — and stories — of a faithful people who once were, intact. 

Slocan Lake

Slocan Viewpoint

The epic views of Slocan Lake from this pull-out along Highway #6 is a most see!

Slocan Lake viewpoint from Highway 6, photo by Heidi Korven

New Denver

Sandon Mining Town 

If you enjoy touring ghost towns, Sandon’s your place. In the late 19th century, Sandon was a booming mining town, home to 5,000 people and 29 hotels, 28 saloons, a whopping 85 “houses of ill-repute” (ahem: brothels), theatres, and the first hydroelectric utility in British Columbia. But after major disasters struck, its reputation as the “Monte Carlo of North America” faded into history. Many buildings still stand, some with tattered curtains in their windows and interiors of peeling painted, but the quiet is eerie. Though visitors may not see a soul, they will feel a human presence. This might be due to the handful of people who moved to the site to restore the ruins and gather mining artifacts. Or maybe residents of the past still inhabit this tract of land. [Cue creepy music] Either way, this ghost town is a fascinating stop between Kaslo and New Denver.


Ione Rest Stop

Tucked away off Highway #6, just 19-km north of Nakusp is the Ione Rest Stop.  Here you'll find a secluded waterfall not seen from the highway and great place to stretch your legs or enjoy a quiet picnic. 

Ione Rest Stop (waterfalls), photo by Heidi Korven

Revelstoke

Revelstoke National Park - Giant Cedars Boardwalk Trail and Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk

If you need a little perspective on life, walk amongst giants — in this case the old-growth cedars and giant skunk cabbages of Revelstoke National Park. Both boardwalk strolls are right off the Trans-Canada Highway and both make visitors feel like they’re kilometres away. 

The Giant Cedars Boardwalk loops you through trees that took root during the days of Christopher Columbus. Choose this walk to experience Kootenay old-growth and its overwhelming scale. 

The Skunk Cabbage Boardwalk is similar: when the plants are in bloom, you might be overpowered, but by their smell and that’s part of the draw. When they aren’t in bloom, their massive size still impresses. This boardwalk also gives visitors a chance to examine a valley bottom wetland, categorized as the rarest environment in the Columbia Mountains. The wetland is home to the greatest diversity of plants and animals, serving as BC's first research grounds for nesting songbirds — many which migrate from tropical climes.

Smokey the Bear

Continuing on the ‘giant’ theme is Revelstoke’s giant “Smokey Bear” statue that resides on the turnoff for Boulder Mountain along the Trans-Canada Highway. He also marks the spot for a campground bearing his name, so if you’re looking for a convenient place to get some sleep after all these pit stops, keep an eye out for this guy.

Golden/Glacier National Park 

Rockgarden Trail 

If you and your road trip crew are in need of a quick but adventurous trail, this is the one. The Rockgarden Trail takes about thirty minutes to do round trip (with time for glacial views factored in). The young and young-at-heart will appreciate the non-mandatory (but fun) opportunities for scrambling over boulders. Though the trail has a short steep section, overall, the path is accessible for most people. Make sure you have proper footwear; it’s a rugged trail and slippery in wet weather.  

In addition to all of the awesome spots noted about, there are so many other great pull-outs, rest-stops and attractions that offer amazing views, wildlife viewing opportunities and attractions.

Cover/top photo by Gina Begin from the Elk Valley Provincial Park. 

Gina Begin - Although she’s a Florida girl, exploration called her away after the final bell of her high school career. On a quest to reach the distant adventures of North America, she lived in her car, traveling to ski the backcountry of Alaska, sleep under the northern lights in the Yukon Territory, ice climb Colorado's frozen canyons, photograph Nova Scotia’s coves, backpack in southern US wildernesses and munch on sugared tamarindo in the jungles of Mexico. But after three years living on the road and seeing the many wonders this continent had to offer, she chose the place she knew would fit an explorer looking for a lifetime of wild wonder: British Columbia. Dual citizenship in hand, she settled along the Powder Highway in the Selkirks and is making her home between four walls and deeply wooded mountains.

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Tags: Canadian Rockies Columbia Mountains Explore Canada ExploreBC The Kootenays