We left our hearts in the Kootenays. It should be obvious to all reading this that we’re not opposed to extended road trips, but in most cases taking an extended period of time off of work just isn’t an option. In instances like this, where we only had eight days available, it meant that we could spend no more than one or two nights in each town while hitting the highlights, trying to see as much as we can as quickly as we can. So, we set off on a road trip through the Kootenay Rockies. We’ll relax when we get home.
We started in Kimberley. This is the where you can find the beginning of the Gray Creek Pass, a 90km stretch of gravel road (dare I say, shortcut), that connects Kimberley and Crawford Bay. We filled our little pickup with fuel in Kimberly and followed St. Mary’s Lake Road to Gray Creek Forestry Service Road.
The pass itself reaches 2072m (6800ft) before some steep switchbacks drop towards Kootenay Lake. We took a few hours to crawl along and gawk at the scenery before finishing the day with ice cream on the beach as we waited for the ferry to Balfour. Although biased, we’d recommend making the trip during autumn when the leaves start changing colours. Next time I’m bringing my fly rod, as there seemed to be plenty of rivers where anglers were having good luck!
Our slightly roundabout route brought us to Rossland next, a quaint little town of about 4000 people that built its tourism economy on skiing and mountain biking in the local mountains. Since we were there well in advance of snow, we found some bikes and hit the trails.
Let’s not beat around the bush, we don’t really have skills on mountain bikes (not yet at least!). We rented a couple bikes from Revolution Cycles downtown and pedalled right out of the shop, through town, and into the woods. There were plenty of green and blue level trails in the surrounding hills to keep us novice riders busy and countless others to look forward to once we improve our biking game.
One of the best parts of having bike trails close to the town of Rossland is the proximity to delicious lunch options! As soon as it was time for a break we rolled down to Clancey’s Cafe for a couple of these monster burgers… and a quick stop at the Alpine Grind.
A view down Columbia Avenue really shows the changing colours of the fall season. Before long, it was time to head north to Nelson.
Nelson, Nelson, Nelson. Ash’s family is from this beauty of a town so she told me plenty of stories about driving across the Big Orange Bridge, swimming in Kootaney Lake, and hiking in Kokanee Glacier Park. When Ash finally brought me here, almost a decade ago, Nelson stole my heart immediately. This was the first time during our trip that we were somewhere familiar, and it felt good.
We rolled into town from Rossland late at night and knew we’d be happy campers at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park.
Our friends Chase and Peter told us to go to The Village Bakery for their famous cinnamon buns, so we listened. After waking up in Nelson we packed up camp, drove east to catch a cable ferry (yes we took a ferry just for cinnamon buns) and then drove to Proctor just in time for these bad boys to come out of the oven. Without a doubt, worth the drive.
From the flagpole we were rewarded with a view of BOB (the Big Orange Bridge), Kootenay Lake, and Nelson.
We had an early morning wake up call to make our way up to Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park for our second hike in the Nelson area. Even on the drive to the trailhead we were starting to get glimpses of the mountain peaks through the trees and were getting excited to start our alpine hike!
The weather gods (does Ra, the sun god do work in BC as well?) smiled down on us with clear skies for our hike in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. After passing Kokanee Lake we had the trail all to ourselves except for a few chipmunks and marmots. Considering how many times I stopped abruptly wide eyed and jaw dropped just to look around it’s a good thing there weren’t any other hikers tailing us on the trail. They would have been running into us constantly. John Muir is quoted a lot on Instagram and with good reason as far as I’m concerned. Most of the time, but especially on days like this, I really appreciate his views on the great outdoors. “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
The Kokanee Glacier Cabin is open year round. Hiking in during the summer and spending $25 per night per person sounds like a deal to me! Booking can be done through The Alpine Club of Canada. This is definitely on our list for next year. We could easily see ourselves spending a few nights scrambling in the backcountry during the day and lounging in luxury at the cabin during the night. There are plenty of beds, who wants to join us for a few days of hiking in the Selkirk Mountains?
The cabin was finished in 2003 and dedicated to those who had lost their lives in this park. One of those people was Michel Trudeau (only 23 years old) who died in a avalanche five years prior. The Trudeau family helped raise money for the cabin so that there would be shelter from the weather for all future hikers and skiers in the park. After spending time at Kokanee and recognizing its beauty, Sacha, Michel’s brother said, “He died in the right place. We should all be so lucky.”
On our way back down the trail we heard a trumpet. Yes, you read that correctly. In the photo below you can catch a sneak peek of the man who played for us as we hiked along the lake.
We didn’t run into any big fuzzy friends on the trail to the Kokanee Glacier cabin, but we saw plenty of the small fuzzy variety.
After a long hike it’s always worthwhile to indulge in a little treat so we stopped at Empire Coffee for lattes and muffins.
Caffeinated and fed, it was the perfect time to wander the streets and meander through the shops.
Did somebody say, “Beer and tacos”? Cantina Del Centro made for a perfect final stop in Nelson before heading out of town. (Okay, we of course had to stop at Oso Negro for coffee before starting the drive the following morning!).
Our next stop was Fort Steele. In the 1890s, during the boom of the gold rush Fort Steele was on its way to becoming the “heart of the Kootenays.” When the newly constructed Canadian Pacific railway bypassed the town (a station in Cranbrook instead) the population decreased rapidly. In 1967 Fort Steele was designated as a historic site, restored, and reopened in 1969 as the Fort Steele Heritage Town.
We continued down the road and took a lunch break while scoping out the golden larch trees in Norbury Lake Provincial Park.
It seemed like everyone who knew we were going to Fernie told us to go to Big Bang Bagels. We love recommendations like that and were not disappointed! Before leaving, we stocked up on extra bagels and put a container of their garlic herb cream cheese in the fridge for Big Bang Bagels on the road. Delicious!
After carb loading up at Big Bang Bagels, we meandered up to the trailhead of Spineback Ridge. I’m still dumbfounded that views like this can found so close to town. The trail starts at Island Lake Lodge (the lodge actually owns and maintains the entire area and allows public use). We were literally the only people on the 7km long trail.
Remember when we purchased some bagels to go? All we needed to do was toast them on our Argentinian toaster surrounded by the morning fog the next morning!
Chilly -2C mornings in the tent were quickly forgotten once we dipped into the steaming pool at Radium Hot Springs.
After a long soak in the Radium hot springs we motored north along the Rocky Mountains towards Golden on Highway 95. Add a good playlist to a beauty drive like this and you’ll never want it to end.
We arrived late in Revelstoke that evening and took a walk amongst the giant cedar trees on the Giant Cedars Boardwalk Trail, before finding a camping spot high above the city.
Foggy fall mornings to die for. As you can tell is standard for us on a mini vacation, the first thing we did was stop at Modern Bakeshop and Cafe for delicious coffee drinks.
Mt. Revelstoke National Park is located in the Selkirk Mountains and is very easily accessed from the city of Revelstoke. We accessed the trails by driving up the Meadows in the Sky Parkway. You can stroll through forests of cedar, fir, hemlock, and spruce as well as sub-alpine meadows without having to put in too much effort.
So as we said in the beginning… we left our hearts in the Kootenays. Especially in autumn, with the leaves changing colour, warm drinks in our hands, delicious food in our bellies, and legs well worn from daily hikes in the mountains. Is it time to go back yet?
Planning a trip to the Kootenay Rockies?
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