After all these weeks of COVID-19 lockdown, the travel bug has started to bite. As local travel opens up again, outdoor activities and expansive green spaces with little foot traffic are an ideal way to continue to practice physical distancing while nurturing the desire for adventure. The Kootenay Rocky Mountains — all within hours from where I live — offer majestic scenery and thrilling adventures.
This region in British Columbia’s southeast corner is filled with mountain ranges, lakes, waterfalls, and cool little towns. Here are some of the action-filled getaways that are on my list for this summer.
Whitewater Rafting in Revelstoke
Revelstoke has a ton of outdoor adventure opportunities, like hiking and mountain biking. But, really, Revelstoke is the place to go whitewater rafting. The “raft run”, a stretch of the nearby glacier-fed Illecillewaet River that squeezes through box canyons, has rapids ranging from getting-thrown-in-the-air Class 3-plus adventures to gentler Class 2-3 rapids.
Revelstoke normally has a couple of local whitewater outfitters, Apex Rafting and Wild Blue Yonder, but because of the pandemic, only Wild Blue Yonder is booking trips this summer (to meet the COVID-19-related health regulations, you will need a group of four to book). The company is offering two trips: a relaxed experience where you will gently float the Columbia River and a wild-rapids ride, with big splashy waves and team-paddling manoeuvres.
The town has all kinds of accommodation options, from budget at the Journey’s Perch, a charming, rustic guesthouse in a converted church, to the Explorers Society, a boutique hotel in a renovated 1911 heritage building. To keep your outdoor social distancing theme going, eat and drink at one of Revelstoke’s patio restaurants — like Dose Coffee with its seasonal breakfast menu (Green Pea Pancakes, anyone?).
Enjoy Wildlife Sightings in Cranbrook
Only an hour north of the United States border, Cranbrook is located at the south end of the Columbia Valley, on a plateau where the Purcell and Rocky Mountain ranges meet. The area is a mix of forest and grassland, allowing for diversity of animals. There’s wildlife aplenty in this area, and, if your timing is right, you’re likely to see osprey, bald eagles, bears, elk, deer and bighorn sheep.
Right on the edge of the city is a 5.9-hectare wildlife sanctuary and wetland, Elizabeth Lake Bird Sanctuary (for prime viewing, stay overnight on the edge of the sanctuary at the Elizabeth Lake Lodge) where you can spot permanent and migrating birds and water-loving animals (the western painted turtles are my favourite). Bird-watching blinds are located at different spots around the lake.
At the Cranbrook Community Forest, a 2,000-hectare crown land comprised of a sensitive ecosystem of forests, grassland and lakes, you can wander over 100 kilometres (65 miles) of trails with excellent opportunities to view birds, wildlife, and wildflowers. Among the rare bird species to look out for are the Northern Hawk Owl, Northern Oriole, and Nashville Warbler.
Good choices for some apres-birdwatching grub are Kootenay Soul Food (farm-to-table goodness) or Fire & Oak, steak, pizza and pasta served in a venue with large French doors that open out on to the street.
Sky-high Hiking Adventures in Fernie
It seems around every corner in Fernie, there’s another trailhead, the perfect way to get those amazing views of the Rocky Mountains and alpine meadows. There’s an option for every ability (and time frame) from half-day hikes to challenging full-day and multi-day hikes.
A half-day hike with a great over-look view of town is the Mount Fernie trail. At the Fernie Alpine Resort, there is chairlift-accessible hiking, so if you want to go easy on yourself and just hike down, or have a head start on trails up from the chairlift drop-off, this is the way to go.
Just outside Fernie at Island Lake Lodge, you will find 7,000 acres of pristine Rocky Mountain wilderness. Trails range from 30-minute hikes to overnight backpacking trips, but for a hike with dramatic viewpoints try the new Goldilocks Trail, which you can do in about five hours. Afterwards, catching a cocktail on the patio at the beautiful Lodge will be my reward.
Normally, I would be stopping in for a vodka shot at the Ice Bar at Lizard Creek Lodge, but unfortunately, it’s closed because of COVID-19 restrictions. I’m not worried, though, because there are lots of options in town for take-out and patio dining (like the Lunchbox, which has a killer curry bowl).
Mountain Biking and Golf in Rossland
Rossland’s not called the Mountain Biking Capital of Canada for nothing — it actually have a full-time paid trails crew. Take your pick from over 200 kilometres (130 miles) of well-marked trails, ranging from leisurely old railway beds to double-black-diamond-gnarly. For up-to-date info on trail conditions and to pick up a free trail map, stop at Revolution Cycles & Service.
Depending on how energetic I’m feeling, I might tackle the 29-kilometre (19.5 miles) award-winning Seven Summits Trail, one of four IMBA Epic Trails in Canada. Fast riders can do the trail in less than three hours, but the average recreational rider (like me) takes six to eight hours.
Then, to change things up, the next day, opt for a golf game on one of the five courses within an hour’s drive. I’m going to opt for the mountain-side Redstone Resort, the only Les Furber Signature course in Canada.
The Josie, located at at the ski resort, is an amazing place to stay. It is scheduled to re-open in fall. The property’s on-site restaurant, Velvet Restaurant and Lounge, is ready to serve and I’m going to try a locally inspired cocktail or something tasty off of the French-influenced seasonal menu. The restaurant offers the chance to peer on mountain landscapes from either its patio or 360-degree-view bar.
The Prestige Mountain Resort in town puts guests in the middle of the Rossland mountain-town action — which you are sure to learn more about from the locals when you stop for a hand-crafted beer at the Rossland Beer Company, just down the street.
Stand-up Paddleboarding in Nelson
Nelson is a pretty little town that’s big on fun. It’s easy to fill your days touring art galleries and sipping a pint at craft breweries (this city of 10,000 has three craft breweries within its city limits). Outdoor adventure options include sun-filled days gliding across the Kootenay Lake on a paddleboard. Check out Nelson Paddleboard & Kayak Rentals ($60 gets you a full-day board rental), located at Prestige Lakeside Resort (also the place to stay for a room with a view of the lake). As the fifth-largest lake in BC, Kootenay Lake has an endless supply of secluded beaches where you can stop for a swim and enjoy your lunch.
Did you know that SUP-ing is a great core workout? Back and ab muscles are constantly at work to maintain your balance, so at the end of your day, you’ll be ready for some caloric intake. Just walk through town to find copious dining spots from innovative ramen at Red Light Ramen, to an upscale dining experience on the patio at the All Seasons Cafe.
As beautiful British Columbia slowly and carefully loosens its restrictions, travel looks different, but the natural surroundings are timeless and the fun activities on land and in water have not ceased at all.