Rewind 138+ years ago to a time when British Columbia was lured into joining Canada with a promise of a transcontinental railway. In 1880, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) signed a contract and construction of this railway line connecting the west to the east began in 1881; with the ‘Last Spike’ being driven in at Craigellachie (west of Revelstoke, BC) at 9:22am on November 7, 1885.
For residents of the Kootenays this rail line and the new ones that followed (including the water-lines, sailed by sternwheelers), supplied our communities with goods and connected passengers to loved ones. This was a huge part of how we travelled within the region.
By the 1920’s, people were increasingly travelling by bus or car and passenger railway travel began to decline until the 1960’s when it was abandoned all together.
Today, these ‘railway lines’ have been transformed into trails and are (mostly) powered by humans, rather than engines. In the Kootenays, you can hike, pedal, roll and ski these trails and enjoy our epic scenery, with an opportunity to see some wildlife while out exploring!
Chief Isadore Trail
39-km: Cranbrook to Wardner
~ Built by CP Railway Line in the late 1900s
~ Trail: Easy
With recent gravel resurfacing the track bed is a pleasant and scenic ride or hike. The trail follows interesting rock bluffs, open grasslands, streams, ponds, marshes, varied forest settings and at times beautiful views of the Canadian Rockies, as well as the Kootenay River. This portion of the trail is part of the Trans Canada Trail.
Columbia & Western Rail Trail
85-km: Castlegar to Christina Lake
~ Built by the Columbia & Western Railway in 1896
~ Trail: Moderate
The Trail rides along the abandon CPR from Castlegar to Midway where it joins the famous Kettle Valley Railway Line in the Thompson Okanagan region of BC. The line was constructed to a magnificent standard, with finely-crafted quarried stone culverts, retaining walls and bridge abutments. Several massive steel trestles span deep ravines and substantial stone retaining walls secure the rail-bed to the precipitous terrain. There is a sequence of short tunnels which culminate at the entrance to the impressive 912-meter Bull Dog Tunnel, where the railway abruptly turns away from the lovely Lower Arrow Lake valley.
Old switchbacks in the vicinity of the tunnel traced out the provisional railway over the mountain spur during tunnel construction. The summit of the grade is at Farron; from here the railway starts its descent to Christina Lake, passing by the Verigin Bomb Monument and under the impressive Paulson highway bridge. It is also part of the Trans Canada Trail.
13-km: New Denver/Rosebery to Sandon/Three Forks
~ Built by the Nakusp & Slocan (N&S) Railway in 1895
~ Trail: Easy
The trail features natural wonders, rock slides, steeper drop-offs, bridges and a cable car. Hook your bike onto the small cable car that crosses Carpenter Creek at the old Alamo mine site, where you can see the remains of the old concentrator. Uphill from the concentrator is a derelict old house.
Galena Trail - Cable car crossing over Carpenter Creek; photo by Kari Medig
Great Northern Rail Line
48-km: Nelson to Salmo
~ Built by the Spokane Falls & Northern Railway in 1893
~ Trail: Easy
Also known as the Salmo-Troup Rail Trail, the trail is perfect for a family outing. This rail to trail track offers easy riding, beaches along the way, trestles and some lovely views of the area.
Easy stroll on the Salmo-Troup Rail Trail between Nelson & Salmo; photo by Kari Medig
53-km: Kaslo to Sandon
~ Built by the Kaslo to Slocan Railway in 1912
~ Trail: Difficult with overgrown sections throughout
The railway climbs steeply (3.35%) out of Kaslo to the first bench and then the pass at Bear Lake. From there the railway stays level as it rounded Payne Bluff above the 'Three Forks' confluence and on to Sandon at Carpenter Creek. Branch lines serve the Cody mines higher up the valley above Sandon.
Nakusp Rail Line
46-km: Nakusp to Summit Lake
~ Built by the Nakusp & Slocan Rail Company in 1893
~ Trail: Easy
Formerly the railway for the Nakusp Line, the Rosebery Railway trail climbs gently from Summit Lake to Nakusp and then descends to Rosebery, where it connects with the Galena Trail. Built along the valley bottom corridor, this route travels through extensive natural habitat for birds, fish, deer, rodents and larger mammals, including bears and moose.
Northstar Rails to Trails
25-km: Cranbrook to Kimberley
~ Built by CPR in 1899
~ Trail: Easy/Moderate
This 100% paved rail line connects Kimberley to Cranbrook. The long flat stretch just south of Kimberley has amazing views of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. You can shorten this trip and eliminate the ‘big climb’ just north of Marysville by starting at the Hwy #95A junction in Marysville. The bridge that crosses the St. Mary River is roughly the halfway point between the cities and is the ‘lowest point’ of the trail. Many people enjoy a great ride from either city with beautiful views and a mixture of up and down hill riding/trekking.
Northstar Rails to Trails, between Cranbrook & Kimberley; photo by Kari Medig
Slocan Valley Rail Trail (SVRT)
50-km: Crescent Valley to Slocan
~ Built by the Nakusp & Slocan Railway in the 1880’s
~ Trail: Easy
Between Crescent Valley and Slocan Lake, there are seven bridges crossing the Slocan River. The bridges are a great connection from the SVRT if you want to expand your ride. Each offers a chance to explore more of the riches of the Slocan Valley.
Slocan Valley Rail Trail between Crescent Valley & Slocan; photo by Kari Medig