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 to stretch the legs.
Travelling along Highway 31A between Kaslo and New Denver, photo by Emanuel Smedbøl
In addition to our national parks, provincial parks, 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 themm 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?
Wapta Falls in Yoho National Park, photo by Heidi Korven
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’.
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. 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
Campground - Lookout
On route to the
campground is a small pull-out and if you climb the short path, you’ll be
rewarded with epic views of the community of Radium Hot Springs, the Columbia River valley and
the Purcell Mountains. There are picnic tables
available – a great spot for a secluded picnic lunch.
Fairmont Hot Springs
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.
The Hoodoos on Highway 93/95, photo by Andrew Penner
Just off the
Highway 93/95 is a rest stop with picnic tables that look out onto Columbia
Lake, just south of the Hoodoos and Fairmont Hot Springs. Restrooms are available
and a short trail for exploring (or dog-walking).
Fort Steele Heritage Town
travel for time travel. North of Cranbrook is a booming mining town — or
at least, that’s what it was in its 1800s 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.
This attraction is pet-friendly too.
Fort Steele Heritage Town, photo by Andrew Penner
On the west
side of Cranbrook is a small rest area that overlooks Elizabeth Lake in
Cranbrook. If you wish to take a dip a
short drive to Jimsmith Lake Provincial Park offers a swimming area and day-use
facilities for a refreshing break.
Kootenay-Columbia Discovery Centre
Close to 400
species of wildlife make use of this wetland area right off of Highway 3. The discovery
centre 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.
Kootenay-Columbia Discover Centre in Creston, photo by Jeff Banman
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.
on Highway 23, Galena Bay to Shelter Bay (Nelson to Revelstoke) and on Highway
6, Fauquier to Needles (Nakusp to Vernon) are also great pit-stops along your
Galena Bay/Shelter Bay Ferry, photo by Dave Heath
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 British Columbia and one of the highest paved highways in
Canada, Stagleap Provincial Park is a favourite with backcountry skiers. But
the subalpine 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.
historic street is the backdrop for several Hollywood films including one
memorable Steve Martin classic: Roxanne. Baker Street is also the hub for
people watching in Nelson. Study the various humans milling about and, after a
few moments, you’ll understand why Nelson is renowned for the eclecticism of
its citizens. While here, check out the artist collectives, varied culinary
options, cafes competing for best cup, and buskers with actual talent. And
note: Come as you are. Even the ritziest restaurant on Baker Street won’t mind
a disheveled driver who’s been stuck in the car for days.
Streetcar to Lakeside Park and Beach
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 along the Kootenay Lake shoreline, photo by Heidi Korven
Kaslo (north of Nelson)
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 amphitheater into which the falls
Fletcher Falls near Kaslo, photo by Heidi Korven
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.
beaches around Kaslo always make me stop in my tracks no matter how often I see
them. Skyscraping 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.
SS Moyie in Kaslo, photo by Phil Best
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.
Sandon Museum, photo by David Gluns
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.
Nakusp Boardwalk & Beach
beach is a short walk from the community’s shops and restaurants. Surround by
green spaces and gardens, the area offers shaded trees & picnic
tables. And just a short distance away
is their downtown park (equipped with washroom facilities, gazebo, tennis
courts, a skatepark and children’s playground).
They even have a dog-friendly beach area.
These small falls cannot be seen from the highway, but are well worth the stop
to get out and stretch your legs during your road trip (to/from) Revelstoke and/or
Nakusp. Just one of the hidden
waterfalls in the region.
Ione Falls near Nakusp, photo by Heidi Korven
Mt. 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 Mt. Revelstoke National Park. Both boardwalk strolls
are right off the Trans-Canada Highway (Hwy 1) 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.
Giant Cedars Boardwalk in Mt. Revelstoke National Park, photo by Ryan Creary
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 B.C.’s first research grounds for
nesting songbirds — many which migrate from tropical climes.
Golden | Glacier
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
Other note-worthy pit-stops on 'Side-Trips'
- Heading east on Highway 3 stop to check out the Terex Truck in Sparwood - it is the world's largest tandem axle dump truck and could carry 350 tonnes during its operation in one of the area's coal mines.
Terex Titan Truck in Sparwood, photo by Don Weixl
- In Castlegar (south-east of Nelson on Highway 3A) be sure to explore their downtown centre and walk the streets to admire their SculptureWalk (a rotating exhibition of sculptures by local and international artisans). And if you wish to do more exploring a hike around Zuckerberg Island is an ideal option.
Suspension Bridge to Zuckerberg Island in Castlegar, photo by Dave Heath
4 Reasons to Drive BC's Hidden Route - Slocan Valley
Cool Ways to Travel in the Kootenays
Getting into Hot Water: Kootenay Hot Springs
Quirky Attractions Only Found in the Kootenays
New Places to Stay the Kootenays
Wet Your Whistle: Along a Kootenay Road Trip
Words by Gina Bégin. Top/cover photo by Ryan Creary at Giant Cedars Boardwalk in Mt. Revelstoke National Park.
Gina Bégin - 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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