Adventuring into the Heart of the Kootenay Rockies

There was a boost to our step this morning as we packed up our clothes and got Izzy ready for her adventure into the Kootenay Rockies. We’d slowly been scratching off the “to do’s” on our list over the last few days: cleaning, replacing the stereo, fixing the horn, headlights and fan. The list continues to grow but we’ve made good progress. We’d decided to head to the BC interior from Kelowna to Nelson and back making a loop through the Kootenay’s over 6 days.`

In an effort to skip the Friday downtown traffic we took Westside Rd along Lake Okanagan towards Vernon. We had a spectacular view of the lake the entire drive but it was extremely windy with roller coaster style hills and dips throughout. It was well worth the little extra drive time to take the alternative route.  We were even stopped by a pair of big horn sheep on route who were chilling out in the middle of the road. From Vernon we followed Hwy 6 out of town and had a few moments of torrential rain along the stunning mountain valley road. The drive kept up with the turns and hills, same as it had started, all the way to our destination near Cherryville. We were searching the back roads for an unmarked free boondocking site along the Shuswap river and drove past it initially before realizing and circling back to spot it. The cellular signal in the BC “outback” was non existent so we rifled through a library of roadmaps for reference. The road was a bit rough and laden with pot holes, we took it slow and got personal with some branches along the sides. It was a relief to see the Cherryville Recreation Site sign standing at the end of the road and immediately picked out a pedestal site along the fast flowing, rapid river.

The site was a perfect fit, once we added some leveling blocks.  The sun was out basking in the bright blue skies and the puffy white clouds were kissing the mountain tops encircling us. We took a walk around the area and found a wicked rocky beach to chill out on and watch the water rush by while we snapped some photos.

The next morning was gorgeous, though we slept in while Monty roamed the site from daybreak. The sounds of the rushing river, playful birds and gentile breeze through the trees has become our morning symphony.  We enjoyed our oatmeal and coffee at our picnic table immersed in the tranquility of the areas natural splendor. We leisurely cleaned up, did the dishes and packed our parts before waving farewell to our riverside dream camp for the twists and turns of the mountain roads.

We headed southeast in a white knuckle drive, slowly up to a summit before barreling down to our ferry across Arrow Lake at Fauquier. We arrived at the ferry while it was still across the lake which gave us the opportunity to check out the massive cables controlling it’s crossing and get some ferry footage from a hilltop lookout. No longer than 20 minutes from our arrival we boarded and began our crossing with 20 other cars and campers to boot. The ferry moved surprisingly quickly and gave us fabulous views up and down the lake nestled between the mountains. We dismounted the deck in an organized fashion and cruised the highway to Nakusp, our stopover for the night.

It was still early afternoon when we arrived in town so we stopped at the information booth for the low down on Nakusp. The girl at the booth, though young, was incredibly knowledgeable and helpful as she pointed us towards the town campground and told us about a walking path along the lake. A few blocks over our campsite was waiting under a few tall pines with a window of sunlight on the solar panels. It didn’t take long for us to park and make up some lunch, aided by anxiousness to explore the town. Nothing in this town is further than a few blocks so we wandered down to the beach and dunked our ankles into the icy water of Arrow Lake. The sand felt nice between our toes as we walked down the beach under the heat of the afternoon sun.

From there we strolled the three blocks of downtown then turned back lakeside for the view. There was a beautiful path along the lake as our info provider had mentioned so we followed it back staring out across the lake to the mountains beyond while admiring the perfectly placed gardens along the route. We snapped an album of scenery and selfie pics before coming full circle to the beach and eventually back to the campsite to chill.

There was a welcomed WiFi hot spot at the campground office and thankfully so as we’d been without cell signal for days, a mixed blessing perhaps. Monty wandered the campground heckled by crows as we enjoyed the scenery and watched him from afar while studying our map books for the route onward to Kaslo. 

We’d been aiming to get an earlier crack at the day rather than our usual hitting the road by 11 routine, unfortunately this morning was not a step in the right direction. The caveat to our sluggish morning however, was that we got accomplished some cleanup of both ourselves and Izzy and boy did we need it. The facilities at the small town campsite were quite impressive considering the office was a tent and the attendant was somewhere between absent and hippy… a little of both we supposed. After our coffees, showers and topping up our fresh water tanks we were back on the hill climb up and out of Nakusp. Highway 6 to New Denver shared the commonalities of the rest of the valley drive consisting of a narrow, winding, hilly road hugging a vertical mountain to one side and a sheer cliff drop to a gorgeous body of water on the other. It’s difficult not to stare helplessly into your own beautiful death below.  Fortunately we kept our eyes on the road and the scenery ahead.

We cruised slowly in and out of low gears with a line of traffic following frustrated behind for the 46km stretch to New Denver.  From there we made a turn onto and as usual UP! HWY 31A for another 46km to Kaslo. Along the route we picked out Retallack Cedar Trail, a fern filled prehistoric style short loop trek among some enormous red cedars, for a break and to stretch the legs. It was a lot of fun wandering the 20 minute circle taking silly photos and enjoying the peaceful soundtrack of nature all to ourselves.  Our walk followed the same river that had been flanking us during the better part of our drive, the breathtaking, glacier blue Kaslo River.

The town of Kaslo sits at the bottom of a steep decline, all the way down to Kootenay Lake where we fueled up and found a sweet parking spot along the beachfront to make some lunch. Monty was stir crazy at that point from missing the cedar trail trek so we took him out to the beach and sat on some mammoth driftwood trees while eating our munchies. After enticing Monty back into the shade covered camper we walked the 1 block over to the tourist info center to use the WiFi then trekked another block into historical downtown Kaslo, a cute collection of turn of the century buildings filled with closed on Sunday shops and delis. Being only out for a stroll anyway we didn’t mind the majority of businesses being closed and, regardless, rather enjoyed the look of the few blocks of sleepy town. We walked both sides of the strip and took a bench stop to admire the view of the lake with the mountain backdrop in the distance. The water was looking rather inviting and we might have jumped in if not for the shocked squeals of the other swimmers on water contact, we assumed it was glacier fed.

Our original idea was to stay the night in Kaslo but the look of the campground and our proximity to Nelson at that point made us change plans and we continued down the highway toward Nelson.  We had found a free campsite advertised on one of our go to references and though we programmed it into the GPS we were either unable to locate it or it wasn’t worth finding. Eventually we rolled into Nelson, a day ahead of schedule but there’s worse places to end up for sure.

The town of 10k people is known for it’s laid back culture full of small shops and cafe’s and minimal fast food. We were excited to get there as it was the main reason for venturing out on the Kootenay loop in the first place though the first few days alone had been well worth the trip. Crossing the bridge over Kootenay Lake and into the heart of town was smooth however the GPS decided we should take the goat path in our 25ft wagon which made for some interesting and heart stopping maneuvering into the city campground.

The entire city is built on a hillside, with a remarkable view out over the lake and the campground was no exception….. except the only space available was incredibly tight and priced above budget, though it was in the heart of town. We tapped our toes, hemmed and hawed while googling and phoning around for other options. The only other availability was up yet another long climb of a hill at Granite Ridge Golf Course and though it was further out of town it was half the price and we assumed would better accommodate us.

Climbing and climbing we pulled in to the course and staked one of the five spots on the menu. Being the only people there, we had the space to relax and the WiFi to get things done. Though we had found a spot for the night we weren’t totally sold on how manageable it would be to explore the town from here given the fact we had only bicycles, the way back was all uphill and biking that route in the 35 deg C blazing sun while pregnant wasn’t the smartest decision. We elected to call back to the city campground which we’d stopped at initially and tomorrow being a Monday they had much better site available with a much lower price tag that we snapped up.  Taking full advantage of the WiFi and lonely picnic table behind our site, we spent the rest of our evening catching up and wandering with Monty before moving inside the RV to study the roadmaps of Nelson and the Highway West.

Diane Dee

Diane is a lover of all things travel. She and her young family wanted to explore North America from the comfort of their own home so they bought an RV. After fully rehabbing a 1994 Safari Trek, they set out to explore both Canada and the USA.

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