The Canadian Rocky Mountains are the perfect place to escape the daily grind and truly relax in nature, whatever that looks like for you. High-octane adventure? Check. Charming mountain towns? Check. Incredible scenery? Check. Follow this route to discover the beauty of BC’s Rocky Mountain Trench, and all of the activities, outdoor play, and small-town charm to be found along the way.
Note: This road trip was updated specifically for the unique travel circumstances of 2021. Information is accurate at the time of publication; we recommend you contact businesses directly to confirm availability and familiarize yourself with their COVID policies.
If you’re coming from Vancouver or the Lower Mainland, your trip begins by following the Trans Canada Highway 1 east towards Hope. From there, continue east on the Crowsnest Highway 3 through E.C. Manning Provincial Park, Osoyoos, Grand Forks, Castlegar, and Creston before heading north on Highway 95 towards Cranbrook. Then it’s just a little further on Highway 93 east before the final stretch of Highway 3 north to Fernie.
Start your journey in Fernie, an hour’s drive from the Canadian Rockies International Airport in Cranbrook. Fernie is a quintessential mountain town with heritage buildings, friendly locals, gorgeous mountain vistas, and plenty of options for outdoor adventure.
Fernie Alpine Resort offers about 25 kilometres of hiking trails, as well as one of western Canada’s largest networks of lift-access mountain bike trails. For something a little more low key, consider a four-kilometre return hike to pretty Fairy Creek Falls, a great spot to indulge your senses. Be sure to fit in a round of golf and a trout fishing excursion while you’re there.
Cranbrook and Kimberley, nestled between the Purcell and Rocky mountains, are home to stellar hiking and biking trails. The local waterways that weave their way through the valleys are ideal for fishing, boating, swimming, and paddling. Visit during the summer months to enjoy warm weather (Cranbrook is one of the sunniest places in BC), or come in late September to mid-October to enjoy the fall colours—the larch trees change to a golden hue in October.
This is the land of golf and there are seven nearby courses to choose from. Stay and golf at the St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino. While you’re here, don’t miss the Ktunaxa Interpretive Centre, where you can learn about the history and living culture of the Ktunaxa people.
Next, drive 30 minutes northwest to spend a day or two in Kimberley—you can also bike there along the paved Northstar Rails-to-Trails (which is wheelchair accessible). This alpine resort community is home to Kimberley Nature Park, the biggest municipal park in BC. Options range from short, easy loops to more strenuous trails with a significant elevation gain. In the summer months, stop in at Kimberley’s Underground Mining Railway for a little history. In Kimberley, the St. Mary River is a favourite for whitewater rafting, and is considered to be one of North America’s top spots to fly-fish for rainbow, cutthroat, and bull trout.
Continue northeast and follow Highway 93/95 toward Fairmont Hot Springs.
As of July 2021, only registered overnight guests can experience the natural mineral pools of the Fairmont Hot Springs, so book a stay at the resort. From there, you can head into the mountains to hike, bike, and soar through the trees on a zipline; or, take to the water in a canoe or kayak. But the most popular thing to do here is in the name. Whether you take advantage of the 9 golf courses in the Columbia Valley or hit the slopes in winter, you’ll want to end each day soaking in the healing waters of the hot springs. Ahhh.
And if Fairmont leaves you wanting more, never fear. Continue north on Highway 93/95, and Radium Hot Springs is the yin to Fairmont’s yang.
Surrounded by the towering rock faces of Sinclair Canyon, Radium Hot Springs is a ruggedly beautiful spot located on the cusp of Kootenay National Park. Radium is best known for its red cliffs, mineral-rich hot springs, and bighorn sheep, though there are also many fun and unexpected adventures to be had in and around the village.
With Kootenay National Park having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2020, there is plenty of recent and ancient history to celebrate. Add some historical context with a hike to the Stanley Glacier, which is home to fossils dating back 500 million years. Other popular hikes include: Marble Canyon to Paint Pots, the Juniper-Sinclair Canyon trails, and the Kindersley-Sinclair Loop (groups of four or more are required).
In and around Radium Hot Springs there is much to explore. You can go river rafting, Segway touring, and golfing via the Columbia Valley Golf Trail. Meanwhile, the stretch of Columbia River between Radium Hot Springs and nearby Invermere is perfect for exploring the wetland ecosystem by paddleboard, canoe, or kayak with Columbia River Paddle.
When you’re ready to move on, continue north on Highway 95 to Golden.
Golden sits alongside the Columbia River (North America’s largest wetland) and the infamous Kicking Horse River, so it’s no wonder whitewater rafting is one of the popular activities here. The Columbia in particular is a favourite for paddling, fishing, and incredible bird watching. Come in the spring or fall to see 15,000 migrating waterfowl.
Nearby Yoho National Park is home to wonders ranging from 500 million-year-old fossil beds to powerful waterfalls, including Takakkaw Falls. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is a hub of adventure, boasting alpine hiking, a bike park with more than 50 kilometres of trails, a Via Ferrata experience, and a grizzly bear refuge. End your trip on a high note with lunch at Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, the country’s highest-elevation dining experience at 2,347 metres—reservations are required.
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