If you’re dreaming of a road trip, the West Kootenays should be on your bucket list. With spectacular scenery, quiet roads, and all kinds of amazing amenities and recreational opportunities spread throughout eight unique communities, it’s best discovered at a leisurely pace. From hot springs to craft breweries, ski resorts to celebrated artisans, and vibrant towns to far out wilderness, each community offers an incredible diversity of experiences while still sharing a common Kootenay culture.
Known for its wonderful blend of culture, heritage, foodie scene and mountain activities, Nelson is the hub of the region. Its historic downtown is packed with boutique shops, tasty eateries, and colourful murals and public art. The backdrop is just as impressive. Set in a naturally forested amphitheater, the hilly city overlooks Kootenay Lake, and provides sweeping views of the surroundings. Centrally located and with the widest selection of accommodations and restaurants, Nelson is an ideal base for exploring the area.
Castlegar is a special place. Located in the valley where the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers meet, this is fertile ground for all things fun. There is a thriving artistic scene here, which makes sense given that this is the “Sculpture Capital of Canada.” There is a unique cultural heritage thanks to the Russian Doukhobors who settled here over a century ago. And there is more than enough outdoor recreation to keep every kind of enthusiast busy for a lifetime.
Just an hour to the west of Nelson and about 25 mins from Castlegar are the closely connected communities of Trail and Rossland. Straddling one of the only free-flowing sections of the mighty Columbia River, Trail features a compact downtown core best explored on foot. The newly opened Riverfront Centre includes a museum, gallery, archives, museum and visitor centre, and is conveniently located a short walk from the scenic pedestrian bridge. Trail’s rich Italian and sporting history is proudly evident from the restaurants, art and statues in town.
Perched over 500 metres high above Trail is the alpine town of Rossland. It’s one of the few communities in Canada that can lay claim to being built on top of a mountain, providing unparalleled access to Red Mountain Ski Resort and tons of hiking, biking and Nordic ski trails. Rossland’s historic main street has been beautifully preserved, and features striking brick buildings, monuments, trendy restaurants and shops. The impressive alpine setting is impossible to miss, particularly in the winter when it transforms into a picture-perfect ski town.
Two routes connect Trail and Rossland with Kootenay Lake, including the main highway along the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers (3B) and the quieter road via Salmo (3) which leads to the turnoff for Whitewater Ski Resort. The highway numbers on this Kootenay journey fluctuate from 6 to 31, 3A and 3B, but all lead to a memorable road trip.
From Nelson, follow the 3A east as it hugs the West Arm of Kootenay Lake to Balfour, and the Kootenay Lake Ferry landing. The small community is home to multiple artists, a highly regarded golf course, and a smattering of shops and eateries.
Bending north from Balfour, the road offers expansive views of Kootenay Lake and the Purcell Mountains to the east. Don’t miss some breathtaking adventure at Kokanee Mountain Zipline, and a dip in the therapeutic warm waters at Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort, owned and operated by the Yaqan Nukiy of the Lower Kootenay Band. The resort also offers comfortable accommodations and creative meals in a tranquil setting, while nearby Cody Caves offers the thrill of descending into an underground world.
A short drive north leads to the charming town of Kaslo on highway 31. Home to two National Historic Sites, including the SS Moyie sternwheeler, the waterfront community beautifully balances heritage with a stunning setting and outdoor pursuits. Paddling, hiking, biking, and cat & heli-skiing are some of the adventures that await. Or relax and wander the colourful main street and waterfront pathways in this idyllic town. You’ll find small communities north of Kaslo are home to extensive wildlife and wilderness.
No road trip to the West Kootenays would be complete without taking the ferry between Balfour and Kootenay Bay. The world’s longest free ferry crosses the widest stretch of Kootenay Lake and provides a one of a kind vantage point to appreciate the mountainous surroundings. If you’re coming from the west, it’s also the gateway to Crawford Bay and the East Shore. You’ll find a colourful community of artisans, championship golfing, unrivalled waterfront campgrounds, parks, resorts and more from Riondel to Wynndel.
Despite the rural and remote setting in southeastern BC, the West Kootenays offer a tremendous amount of variety, services, and activities. The close proximity of each community, shared values around sustainability and diverse landscapes creates a distinctive feel that is quietly celebrated in the region. Discover this special part of the world for yourself on a road trip unlike any other. #kootenayroadtrip