The Columbia Valley: Adventure Lives Here (Part I)
The Columbia Valley, East Kootenay region sits in the wild south-eastern corner of BC; its numerous valleys and rivers nestled into the Rocky Mountain Trench and bordered by the Rockies themselves (to the north and east), and the Purcell range (to the west).
Apart from the incredible and complex geography, the first thing a visitor will notice is that reaching the East Kootenays demands some commitment. Requiring over four hours behind the wheel from Calgary, and nine from Vancouver, this area isn’t for the city-slicker daytripper. However, for those with a little more time, a sense of adventure, a love of the outdoors, or a desire to take the road less travelled, the road trip to this mountain playground pays off handsomely.
You come here for adventure, for the majesty of the outdoors, and for the people who make you feel like one of them as soon as you put your smartphone away and start living!
Nowadays the railwaymen, miners, gold rush prospectors and wilderness trappers that settled this region in the early 1900s have been replaced by a new breed of humble, friendly Kootenay men and women. The modern East Kootenay locals don’t define themselves by their day job like city-folk do – they are mountain bikers, skiers, hikers, kayakers, climbers, and fishermen first.
You don’t visit the East Kootenays for the architecture, or for manicured boulevards and white tablecloth dining. You come here for adventure, for the majesty of the outdoors, and for the people who make you feel like one of them as soon as you put your smartphone away and start living!
PART I: CRANBROOK
Cranbrook got its start when the Canadian Pacific Railway came through town – as Canadian a story as you’ll ever hear, repeated hundreds of times across this fair land. Routing the Crowsnest Pass Line of the railroad through the area brought miners, foresters, their families, and all the services and trades that have gone on to make Cranbrook the Kootenay’s largest urban centre.
Mountains define this region, so getting up close and personal with them should be at the top of any visitor’s ‘to do’ list. The Lakit Lookout hike is generally accepted as a “must-do” in the area as it provides a majestic view of the Wild Horse and Kootenay River Valleys from a mild, family friendly trail. From trailhead to lookout the hike takes about 1 hour.
Photo Credit: Denny Kerr
For something a little more adventurous the towering Fisher Peak is the area’s iconic hike. At times very steep, the intermediate to advanced trail takes hikers past ponds and basins, through alpine meadows packed with wildflowers, and ultimately to the peak for spectacular views and a registration book where your successful summit is recorded for all to see. Allow approximately 4.5 hours to reach the peak.
Both of these hikes – and most in the area – require a capable truck or SUV to access the trailhead. (You’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy.) For all the local knowledge required, including gear and directions, stop in at High Country Sports on 10th Ave in Cranbrook.
Photos courtesy of the Heid Out
After you’ve scaled peaks, spending all day in the thin mountain air you’ll need to refuel. The Heid Out Restaurant and Brewhouse in Cranbrook is the local favourite and a staple of the culinary scene in Cranbrook for 20 years. With the Fisher Peak Brewery in-house, you can toast your summit with a range of craft beer carrying the same name! Heidi Romich is the long-time owner of the Heid Out and she describes the eclectic mix of European, South American, and SE Asian cuisine as, “gourmet fine to gastro-pub fare, all made from scratch.” Have the local’s favourite Jaeger “Hunter” Schnitzel accompanied by an ice-cold Fisher Peak Pilsner.
Photos courtesy of the Heid Out