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.
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 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
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
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.
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.
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 Valley Wildlife Management Area
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.
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
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.
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)
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.
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
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 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.
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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