Maps
A camper on Highway 3 heads east towards the Canadian Rockies.

Rainforest to Rockies: Crowsnest Highway 3 to the Canadian Rockies

7-10 days, 1035 km (643.12 mi)

This winding journey from Vancouver to Fernie via Crowsnest Highway reveals spectacular scenery and memorable detours for culture buffs and gourmands.

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Rainforest to Rockies follows a road less travelled that connects the forest-fringed city of Vancouver to the rugged mountain town of Fernie. The scenic drive crosses plunging canyons, arid desert, and wine country before reaching the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies. Venture down this gem of a route to connect with Indigenous cultures, sample farm-to-table cuisine, and get a glimpse of fascinating BC history—all set against an incredible naturescape that changes with every turn.

Part 1

Vancouver to Abbotsford

Granville Island | Hubert Kang

Start your journey in Vancouver, where urban chic meets the edge of nature. With an alluring backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and the Coast Mountains, this city of culture leads to love at first sight—and first bite. No stranger to the world stage (and Hollywood films), Vancouver is energized by festivals, eclectic eateries, and visually arresting murals. Spend time in this city of contrasts, where you can hike through old-growth forests, indulge in a MICHELIN-starred meal, and bike and sail—all in one day.

Modern-day Vancouver, located on the shared territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation), and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation), is a mosaic of many diverse cultures. Connect at a deeper level through walking tours, galleries, and storytelling centres throughout the city. The Museum of Anthropology at UBC hosts a collection of 50,000 objects that showcase art and culture from BC and around the globe. (Note: The MOA is temporarily closed and is expected to re-open in June of 2024.)

In the heart of the city lies a tranquil greenspace with the oldest Douglas fir trees in British Columbia. Stanley Park, top tier among global city parks, offers bike trails, oceanside strolls, Indigenous-led walking tours, and more.

Watch the city shrink in your rear-view mirror as you journey inland along the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 1), where the Fraser Valley rolls out the green carpet. Accentuated by patchwork fields and peek-a-boo views of the mighty Fraser River, an abundance of farms, artisans, and wineries spread out across this agricultural heartland.

Part 2

Abbotsford to Hope

Harrison Lake | @diegohrebello

Abbotsford is a turning point on the journey east, where the cityscape fades and farms, fields, and forests reign. Stay a while to enjoy a self-guided farm tour and sip berry wine and local brews with bucolic views. Neighbouring Chilliwack is a launchpad for learning about the culture, history, and stories of the Stó:lō Nation, whose territory extends from Langley to Yale.

Adventure calls as you continue east toward the Harrison River Valley. (Tip: Watch for 60-m Bridal Veil Falls, visible from the highway.) Nestled at the confluence of two rivers and Harrison Lake, the area is best known for healing hot springs, prehistoric sturgeon, and legends of the mysterious Sasquatch, known as sa:sq’ets by the Sts’ailes People. While you’re here, visit the local cheese farm and browse for souvenirs while sipping locally roasted coffee.

Wind your way back to Highway 1, where Hope beckons with fresh-baked pie to fuel you along more than 100 marked hiking trails. Wedged between the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges, this aptly named town is the gateway to the rushing Fraser Canyon and the historic Gold Rush Trail. Admire the town’s signature chainsaw carvings and explore the Othello Tunnels, an engineering marvel set along a fast-moving river. (Access to the Othello Tunnels has been affected by extreme weather. Please check with the local Visitor Centre in advance to determine what is open and accessible.)

Part 3

Hope to Osoyoos

Corcelettes Estate Winery | Similkameen Valley/Darren Robinson

From Hope, head southeast along Crowsnest Highway 3, filled with BC gems, storybook towns, and natural wonders. Surprises are the order of the day, so watch for opportunities to pan for gold, sip Chardonnay on a sun-drenched patio, and much more.

About 45 minutes from Hope, E.C. Manning Park is a year-round destination for hikers, campers, Nordic skiers, and dark-sky photographers. Beyond the park, the Similkameen Valley is a true gem, where Cascade peaks tower over lush green forest.

Carved by the Similkameen River, this fertile valley with its bounty of farms and orchards is known as the Organic Farming Capital of Canada. Here, you can satisfy your thirst for adventure, fine wine, and fine food. Nearly 20 vineyards are sprinkled between Cawston and Keremeos, which also happens to be the Fruit Stand Capital of Canada.

The Kettle Valley Rail Trail, a network of hiking and biking trails created from disused railway lines, stretches from the Kootenays to the Cascades and is part of the famous Trans Canada Trail. Roll or stroll along networks pathways that look out over canyons, mountain passes, and rushing rivers.

As you venture toward Osoyoos, ochre-coloured bluffs and glittering lakes dot the landscape, peppered by another constellation of vineyards.

Part 4

Osoyoos to Castlegar

Spirit Ridge Resort | @ebspaj7

Osoyoos is home to Canada’s semi-arid desert, a unique ecosystem highlighted at Desert Centre. At the Indigenous-run NK’Mip Desert Cultural Centre, learn about the culture and lived experiences of the Osoyoos Indian Band, visit a replica Indigenous village, and participate in a presentation that brings you up close and personal with rattlesnakes.

Venture off the highway and into small communities that highlight the struggles, stories, and unique histories of Indigenous Peoples and diverse settlers. Greenwood is an old mining town with ornate heritage buildings that also served as the site of a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War. Midway is home to Mile 0 of the Kettle Valley Railway; you can wander the high streets lined with historic buildings here.

As this spectacular ribbon of highway gradually gains elevation, the desert becomes ranchlands and rivers en route to Christina Lake, rumoured to be Canada’s warmest due to the hot springs in its depths.

Continue upwards to the Selkirk Mountains and the scenic town of Castlegar at the confluence of the Columbia and Kootenay rivers. Surrounded by rugged nature, Castlegar is a family-friendly hub for outdoor activities, parks including Syringa Provincial Park, and heritage sites highlighting the community’s Doukhobor roots.

Part 5

Castlegar to Fernie

Island Lake Lodge, Fernie | Kari Medig

You are now deep into the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges en route to the Rockies, an area for vast wilderness parks and a natural mineral hot springs network. Take a detour within a detour along Highway 3A to the quintessentially Kootenays town of Nelson. Nestled on the shores of Kootenay Lake and surrounded by mountains, this historic town boasts more than 350 designated heritage buildings and is buzzing with artistic energy and indie shops. Nelson is serious about three things: Outdoor adventure, food, and great coffee. Which makes this an essential stop at any time of year.

Back on Highway 3, visit the collection of wineries near Creston and stop at St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino near Cranbrook, which is nestled between the Purcells and the Canadian Rockies ranges. Owned by the Ktunaxa Nation, this former residential school site is now a luxury resort. The property offers interpretive experiences that highlight colonization’s harmful impacts and honour Indigenous culture’s resilience and richness.

As you approach your final destination of Fernie in the Canadian Rockies, towering peaks, river valleys, and vast forests at every turn make for a captivating drive. Located in the province’s southeast corner, this former railway and coal mining town is now a haven for adventurists. Reach new summits at Fernie Alpine Resort, and hike or ride 100-plus trails in the spring, summer, and fall. Year-round, enjoy colourful street art, regional food and craft beer, and friendly and interesting locals. The perfect way to end your off-the-beaten-path BC adventure.

Return home having experienced some of British Columbia’s very best. You’ll not often get to explore Vancouver’s lush rainforest and ocean, steep canyons, fertile valleys, arid deserts, warm lakes and cool mountain towns, and see the snow-capped pinnacles of the Canadian Rockies in one trip.

 

Header image: Driving the Crowsnest Highway | Kari Medig

Driving Directions

Part 1 - Vancouver
  • 6.25 km
  • 12 min
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