West Kootenay Circle Tour

Story by Patrick Gibson// Photos by Patrick Gibson
August 1 2012
Image on top of the mountains

In a land of rivers, lakes and mountains, the Kootenays provide some of the best riding in British Columbia.

The wind was certainly picking up as I headed west out of Cochrane, Alberta, but most of the menacing cloud formations looked like they were passing to the south of me. I was hoping for a sunny and dry run through to Revelstoke, British Columbia. The fastest route through to Canmore and the edge of the Rocky Mountains is the four-lane Trans-Canada Highway, but this morning I wasn’t interested in flat, four-lane cruising, and more in two-lane, twisty and lightly travelled. I found it on the 1A highway that runs from Cochrane to Canmore across the Stoney Native Reservation, a narrow ribbon of fair-quality asphalt that jukes and jives its way along the Bow River all the way to Canmore. It’s the type of road that was made for my ’09 Concours with its new set of Pirelli sport-touring tires.

Through Canmore, I headed for the east gates of Banff National Park with the goal of riding straight through to Revelstoke. The hopes of a dry trip quickly evaporated, as shortly past the turnoff to the Banff town site I encountered the first of many rainstorms that I was hoping to evade. The sun did appear as I was nearing the recently completed high-level bridge that takes the Trans-Canada Highway from one side of Kicking Horse Canyon to the other, just east of Golden.

Image of bikes parked The remainder of the trip, up and over the summit of Rogers Pass and down into Revelstoke, was cool and mostly wet. Rogers Pass is one of my favourite rides, and when the sun is shining the trip can be magical, but it’s no fun in the rain.

Saturday morning was overcast with a light drizzle in Revelstoke, so I decided to poke around in the downtown core a little. Even though the weather wasn’t the nicest, the downtown was pretty busy and the Saturday-morning farmer’s market was in full swing.

Revelstoke is a long-established community in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, located at the junction of the main rail line through the mountains and the Columbia River, and now, the Trans-Canada Highway. No matter which mode of travel has been used in past years, Revelstoke has played a part.

Leaving Revelstoke and heading west, you immediately cross the Columbia River, and within 200 metres you come to the intersection of Highway 1 and Highway 23. A left turn at this junction sends you south into the heart of the West Kootenays. Highway 23 climbs sharply from the valley floor all the way to the first ferry crossing at Shelter Bay. This road is made for sportbikes and sport tourers, and without keeping an eye on the speedometer while throttling through many consecutive sweepers, it’s easy to find yourself in excess of the posted speed limit. The weather got nicer the further south I went, and by the time I got to Nakusp at the intersection of 23 and Highway 6, the sun was shining. Nakusp is a picturesque little town of 1,800 people sitting at the foot of the Selkirk Mountains on the east shore of the Arrow Lakes. It was established in the late 1800s during a mining boom in the Slocan Valley. Today, it is a quaint little settlement well off the beaten path, enjoying a steady stream of travellers during the summer months. For a motorcyclist, Highway 6 south from Nakusp, which runs down the east side of Slocan Lake to New Denver, and then Highway 31A east over to Kaslo, has to provide some of the most exciting riding in British Columbia. If your goal is to eliminate chicken strips on your tires, the road climbs and drops a number of times and has more than its share of sweepers and tight technical turns, If you just like to get your money’s worth out of your rubber, Highway 6 and 31A will fill the bill. The only cautionary note is that the road to Kaslo is often dirty with light debris that has fallen from logging trucks, and care is needed in some of the tight corners.

Heading south from Kalso on Highway 31, I arrived at Balfour. Traffic was light as I arrived at the ferry and waited to cross over to Kootenay Bay. Highway 3A from the ferry to Creston is also a motorcyclist’s dream – if this road isn’t twisting from side to side, then it’s pitching up and down. Tight technical turns or fast sweepers, there’s no end to either one until you get to Creston. The only thing that takes the fun out of this road is getting stuck in a line of RV traffic, as the passing opportunities are few and far between. Being the first off the ferry usually guarantees a smooth run to Creston, but being last off, you might as well take a 20-minute break and let the traffic get well ahead of you before you set off. The Mountain Park Resort campsite is only five minutes east of Creston on Highway 3, the Crowsnest. They welcome bikers and go out of their way to make sure you’re settled in and have everything you need for a comfortable evening, including Wi-Fi, so you can sit in your campsite as I did and browse the Internet on your laptop. The ride from Creston east to Cranbrook on Highway 3 was quick and uneventful, and upon arriving in Cranbrook, I decided to leave the strip along Highway 3 and venture into the downtown core. Never having been here before, I was amazed at the number of brick heritage buildings and the huge Rotary Park, which takes up a complete block – it was a big green oasis in the middle of the city. I left the downtown core wondering why it had taken me this long to discover it. My impression of Cranbrook is permanently changed for the better. Kimberley is only a short, 25-minute jaunt to the west of Cranbrook on Highway 95A. It’s one of many mining towns that dotted the East Kootenays in the late 1800s but one of the few still in existence today. Kimberley’s main street has been converted to a beautiful pedestrian walkway complete with built-in raised flowerbeds and lots of places for passersby to stop, sit and enjoy the ambiance of everything this replicated Bavarian town has to offer.


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