When most people think about outdoor recreation in BC their minds quickly drift to Squamish, Whistler or Banff. These iconic places have stoked the imagination of climbers, skiers, hikers and trail runners for decades, drawing people from all over the planet to their lush forests, perfect rock and big-mountain landscapes.
Yet, there are numerous options for outdoor adventures in BC and – hear me out – at least one that is a better adventure destination than the aforementioned trio.
Tucked in the southeastern corner of British Columbia is the Kootenay Region, named after the Kutenai First Nation people. The region runs from the Canadian Rockies in the east, across the Purcell and Selkirk Mountains, Columbia River Valley, all the way to the Arrow Lakes region in the west and as far north as Revelstoke and Golden, near Rogers Pass. Many of the small towns in the Kootenays were settled in the late 1800s as mining establishments, and stayed that way for decades. First as silver, and more recently with coal and other deposits. Most of these towns have a couple thousand residents at most – a small, interconnected network known for its kindness and community feel.
I stumbled upon the Kootenay region late last year and have been back twice already. It’s become my go-to adventure location in all of BC, if not Canada. The reason is simple: it has all the grandeur and expansive backcountry, with a fraction of the people. The options are bottomless, the access to world-class trails start at your front door, and in the winter the powder is as light champagne. Frankly, every time I return to the Kootenays I’m shocked that it’s not a world-renowned outdoor playground. It will be soon enough, I suppose.
I visited most recently this September, to ride single track around Fernie, Kimberley, and Cranbrook, in what locals call the West Kootenays. Each of these three towns have hundreds of miles of trail – sprawling mazes that can keep you entertained for weeks straight. We enjoyed a week of crisp fall weather; here’s how you can experience the same thing, too.
On our first day we drove into Fernie, a small town encircled by the Rocky Mountains with a blossoming reputation for skiing, fly fishing and mountain biking. After a quick stop at Ski Base, a local ski and bike shop, and a coffee from Big Bang Bagels, we were on our way.
We spent the late morning riding the Montane loop just outside of town, a fun hour and a half lap with stunning views of the nearby mountains. In the afternoon we upped the ante and dropped into technical runs on the Fernie Mountain Bike Park. Thrilling and fast, we snuck in a pair of laps before calling it a day. That night we feasted at the Brickhouse and crashed in luxury at Lizard Creek Lodge and Snow Creek Cabins, both adjacent to the bike park.
We found ourselves up early the next morning, and on the road for less than an hour to Cranbrook. There we met up with Tristen Chernove, CEO of the Cranbrook airport, community board member and a Canadian road and track biking champion. He led us on a tour of the cross country trails around Isadore Canyon, just outside of town.
Blown away by the smooth banked turns, creative trail design and stunning views, we lost track of time and didn’t have lunch until 3 p.m., at a local gem called Soul Food. We snuck in a second lap on the other side of Isadore after lunch, then headed to the Heidout Brewery for dinner and a tour of their beer-making operation. Stuffed full with delicious food, we retreated to Elizabeth Lake Lodge but before calling it a night enjoyed a rowdy 18 holes at their mini putt course, quite possibly the hardest mini putt in the world.
For our final day we headed to Kimberley, a quick 20 minutes away. Our single track finale was entirely within the Bootleg trails, which are pure bliss. Seamlessly crafted trails with big turns, jumps, and perfect flow. These trails are great for any level rider.
At the end of our three-day adventure, I drove away already scheming my return trip to the Kootenays. It’s a truly magical place.
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