West Kootenay Route
Explore the West Kootenay and spend enough time to discover exciting adventures along the way – Mountain Ranges, Hot Springs, Ghost Towns, Ferry Crossings.
The West Kootenay Route connects Nakusp and Arrow Lakes, Slocan Valley and Slocan Lake, Kaslo and Kootenay Lake.
Hikers will find amazing trails along the route. If you’re thinking of venturing into the West Kootenay’s Backcountry I suggest investing in a Kootenay Backroad Rockies Map. Kootenay Rockies Backroad Mapbook gives you 51 detailed topographic maps, complete with labelled recreation sites, amenities, highways, backcountry roads, trails and other points of interest.
The West Kootenay Route can be accessed by three different FREE ferry rides:
- Upper Arrow Lake Ferry – 45 km south of Revelstoke on Highway #23, the ferry crosses from Shelter Bay (west side) to Galena Bay (east side) once an hour, on the hour until midnight and returns from Galena Bay to Shelter Bay once an hour on the half hour from 5:30 am to 12:30 am.
- Lower Arrow Lake Ferry – 22 km south of Nakusp on Highway #6 the Lower Arrow Lake Ferry runs every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour from Fauquier 5 am to 10 pm. Every 30 minutes at 15 and 45 minutes past the hour from Needles, 5:15 am to 9:45 pm. On demand 10 pm to 5 am. The crossing takes only 5 minutes.
- The Kootenay Lake Ferry – 35 km east of Nelson, the ferry connects Highway #3A from Balfour on the west side of the lake to Kootenay Bay on the east side, 70 km from Creston on Highway 3A. See schedule.
Lets Our Journey Begin At The Village Of Nakusp
First, pick up maps and travel information at the friendly Nakusp Visitor Centre, adjacent to the museum, downtown at Broadway and 6th Street. Stroll around the nice little town, nestled in a valley with a spectacular view of the surrounding mountain ranges. Check out the lakefront and go for a dip, or visit one of the local hot springs.
The town is known for its Nakusp Hot Springs and resort, a getaway for BC locals. A visit to the hot springs is worthwhile, and the surrounding lets you forget daily problems for a while.
TIP: Nakusp has a whole circle tour of natural, wild Hot Springs. Halfway River Hot Springs offer you a relaxing soak just north of Nakusp. They are tucked away at the bottom of a steep cliff beside Halfway River. Away from hot spring resorts, you can enjoy the soothing mineral water in its own natural setting for FREE.
St. Leon Hot Springs is another wild hot spring just north of Nakusp. It is easily accessible if you want to stay away from the commercial springs in the area
Stay at the Riders Retreat, the only all-inclusive Motorcycle Campground in the world for a special overnight experience. If you’re travelling by motorcycle or bicycle, this is a must.
When you’re ready to leave Nakusp, take Highway 6 up the hill towards New Denver and enjoy the fantastic mountain view in front of you. A distance down the road you arrive at Summit Lake Provincial Park, the turnoff to Summit Lake Ski Hill and Cross country trails.
Following Bonanza Creek, you arrive at the community of Hills and Rosebery on the east side of Slogan Lake before you get to New Denver.
New Denver was founded in 1892 by silver miners on the shores of Slocan Lake. It’s an ideal place for outdoor activities like camping, hiking, fishing, biking, boating and more. It’s also the site of the Silvery Slocan Museum, the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre and the Kohan Garden.
Staying on Highway 6 in New Denver, you will get to Silverton with a population of less than 200. Silverton is British Columbia’s second-smallest municipality. It was a thriving mining town in the 1890s, but when the boom ended the population declined. Today, this charming lakeside village has an Outdoor Mining Museum, a campground, a boat launch and many heritage buildings, as well as food and accommodation.
Highway 6 will continue to Slocan and Winlaw and on to Nelson or via Highway 3A turnoff to Castlegar.
Instead of Highway 6, you take Highway 31A towards Kaslo instead, a 40 km drive. Highway 31A takes you through British Columbia’s famed Valley of the Ghosts.
Side Trip To The Ghost Town Of Sandon
13 km east of New Denver on Highway 31A, take the turnoff to Sandon and venture for 13 km on a gravel road that takes you to Sandon, British Columbia’s legendary ghost city. Experience the silver rush of the 1000s while exploring amazing historical treasures.
The ghosty highlights include the City Hall and Interpretive Centre, Silversmith Power and Light Generating Station, Museum and lots more. Stop in at the Prospector’s Pick gift shop and cafe and meet the friendly owners, Hal and Vida. Camping is offered, if you dare to spend a night in a ghost town.
Don’t miss the adventure drive to Idaho Peak, high above Sandon and Slocan Lake. The spectacular views make it worthwhile. The road is not suitable for large vehicles, check at Prospector’s Pick about road conditions before you head out. If you don’t want to drive the gravel road yourself, there is a shuttle service available.
Two km from Sandon lies Cody, another ghost town from times gone by. The 1890 era village of over 150 residents had hotels, businesses and it was the “end of the line” for the Kaslo and Slocan Railway. Today, only a few buildings remain from the once-thriving community.
Get information at the Prospector’s Pick before heading out. The gravel road has many twists and turns, is pretty rough and I kind of got lost on the way.
Back on Highway 31A, the road is windy all the way with mountains in front and in the back until you arrive in Kaslo. No surprise why Highway 31A is considered one of the top rides in North America for motorcyclists.
Watch out for Retallack, another tiny ghost town located about halfway between New Denver and Kaslo on Highway 31A. The only remains are two old mine buildings on the left side of Highway; a house foundation nearby and a crumbling rail bridge on the other side of Highway 31A. A few people still live scattered around the area. And as you can see in the picture, a new resident moved in and is renovating.
Before you get to Kaslo you see the turnoff to Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.
Kaslo is one of British Columbia’s prettiest villages, also known as the Queen City of the Kootenays and is situated in a protected cove on Kootenay Lake.
Explore the restored historical buildings, stroll along the beach, visit the National Historic Site, the SS Moyie, the world’s oldest intact passenger sternwheeler of its kind. The SS Moyie was the last operating sternwheeler in western North America.
Kaslo has many cafes and restaurants to choose from. Surrounded by mountains and parks, this small village offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor adventure.
Leaving Kaslo, take Highway 31 South towards Balfour.
On The Road To Ainsworth Hot Springs
3,2 km before you arrive in Ainsworth you will pass the turnoff to the Cody Cave, the best-known cave system in British Columbia. Take care to drive the narrow access road, get informed and prepared before heading out.
The historic village of Ainsworth is located 36 km south of Kaslo and is the oldest surviving community on Kootenay Lake. It’s another ghost town with only a few original buildings remain.
Ainsworth is home to the Ainsworth Hot Springs which now is a popular tourist attraction. If you’re looking for an interesting, developed hot spring experience, those hot springs are for you. At the hot springs, you will find a large warm pool and a small hot pool fed by an arched cave. The water in the small pool and cave is naturally brown/yellow but it’s perfectly safe.
You can wade through the water and sit in a low-lit, dripping steamy cave, much like a natural steam bath. Next to the small hot pool is a cold pool fed by a man-made waterfall.
Toad Rock Motorcycle Campground is another unique place to spend a night, even if you are not travelling by motorcycle. Like many cool places in the Kootenay, the campground shut’s down for the season sometime in September.
From Ainsworth to Nelson it’s about 78 km on Highway 31 south. Leaving Ainsworth the road follows the Kootenay Lake. Belfour is the ferry terminal for the trip across the lake, popular with anglers.
19 km before you arrive in Nelson you get to the access road to Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park which boasts several glaciers and high-altitude lakes. The wilderness park is popular with local hikers and anglers and you should be properly equipped to visit. The popular 2.5 km round-trip hike to Kokanee Lake on a well-marked trail might just be what you’re looking for. Driving 16 km on Kokane Glacier Road will take you to the trailhead.
Nelson, known as the Queen City is reason enough to visit the Kootenay’s. This small city with a big personality is situated on the West Arm of Kootenay Lake in the heart of the Selkirk Mountains. The waterfront is lined with parks and beaches.
The uniqueness of Nelson has a lot to do with its people, a funky mix of hippies, artisans, rugged individuals. Walk down Baker Street to get the Nelson feel. Definitely, put Nelson on your itinerary if you are travelling in this region.
Nelson has hundreds of well-preserved heritage buildings, a huge number of good restaurants and coffee shops and no shortage of sidewalk cafes. You’ll find many craft stores and outdoor recreation businesses in the area. Looking for Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s? You won’t find them in Nelson. Nelson has a Walmart, but it’s pretty much built out of sight.
Leaving Nelson you follow Highway 6 to Salmo, which used to be just a whistle-stop on the Nelson/Fort Shepherd Railway before growing into a town. Salmo is located at the junction of Highway 6 and Highway 3.
Spend some time in the little town, check out the murals made from local stone illustrating Salmo’s early history. Cross the Salmo River on the new 6th Street covered bridge, make a call from the oddest phone booth in the world. Salmo also has a weekly market, a museum across from the historic Salmo hotel. Stop in for a pint, talk to the locals and learn about the old Dewdney Trail and the mining and logging history of Salmo.
If you continue on Highway 6 south you will get to the US border and across into Washington State. Before you hit the border you can turn onto Highway 3 East to Creston.
I took Highway 3 west instead and turned onto 3B to Fruitdale. Fruitdale was a railway stop for the Great Northern Railroad and was well-known for being the best fruit-growing area in the West Kootenay. Today, Fruitvale is mainly a residential area for employees working in the industries in and around the area.
Some of British Columbia’s great parks are close by, popular for hiking, mountain biking, canoeing, fishing, and wilderness camping. Plenty of backcountry roads and trails call for quad and dirtbike excursions, such as the 65 km Fruitdale to Rossland wilderness trail.
Check out Champion Provincial Park north of town, a gem of a place mainly visited by locals.
From Fruitvale to industrial Trail it is a 15-minute drive. Look out for the Highway 3B turnoff to Trail. If you continue on Highway 3 you will get to Castlegar, known for having the closest large airport to Nelson and a very large pulp Mill.
In Trail, Columbia Gardens Vineyard and Winery offer guided tours and offer wine samples at the tasting bar. At the Trail Interpretive Centre, a tour of the world’s largest lead/zinc smelter begins with engaging hands-on exhibits.
Trail’s hard rock history began with the gold rush into the mountains above it. A smelter was constructed at Trail Creek Landing in 1896 to process the ore coming from the Rossland mines and evolved into a successful worldwide resource company and a major employer for the area.
Trail has an excellent hiking and cycling trail system and an abundance of outdoor activities and camping are available.
On Highway 3B to Rossland, you will pass junction Highway 22 to Castlegar. Rossland is located about 10 km west of Trail, and the two places are a world apart.
Rossland is set in an ancient volcanic valley deep in the Southern Monashee mountains in the Kootenay Rockies region. The town has a history of mining which left the hills full of old trails and abandoned rail lines, which makes it one of the best places for mountain biking with easily accessible trails. Rossland is an outdoor mecca with lots of outdoor activities, uncrowded and unspoilt. Many historic buildings and trees line the wide street.
The Rossland Visitor Centre is located in the Museum building at the junction of Highway 22 and Highway 3B.
A great place in summer for biking, Red Mountain Ski Resort attracts plenty of ski bums in winter.
Hwy 3B brings you through awesome alpine scenery before rejoining Hwy 3, 28 km northwest of Rossland. Another 170 km west will take you to increasingly dry terrain to Osoyoos.