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Spirit, Soul & Vibe

The Kootenay Rockies are home to some of the most picturesque landscapes in Canada, if not the world. This region stretches from Mica Creek to Rossland along the western edge, and from Field to Fernie along the east. Within the area are four separate mountain ranges and an array of subsequent microclimates, earning this region the title of “Canada’s Mountain Playground.” There are four national parks and greater than 70 provincial parks to explore, meaning that visitors couldn’t cover this region from valley to summit in less than a few lifetimes. Quaint mountain communities are populated by laid back folks whose passion for the outdoors is apparent as soon as travelers set foot in town. Humble homes and even more modest locals are flanked on all sides by terrain that truly deserves the use of the expression “breathtaking.”

Join Wade Simmons, Thomas Vanderham, Geoff Gulevich and more for a look at the many mountain ranges and communities that make up the Kootenay Rockies. Ride. Rinse. Repeat!

While the riding across the entire province of British Columbia is incredible, the quantity of alpine riding and hiking within this region is unmatched. If snowcapped mountains, huge terrain, glaciers, and rivers are the priority, the Kootenay Rockies are the ticket. Towns like Revelstoke, Golden, Nelson, Rossland, Fernie, and Invermere are world-class, widely accepted outdoor meccas. Words can’t express how much we agree, but we’ll do our best to stoke the fire as we reflect on our most recent trips to the area. 


On The Way

Guests arriving from the Thompson Okanagan will traverse the Monashee Mountains as they cross into the Kootenay Rockies region. Rather than simply passing through, take the time to visit Gladstone Provincial Park and Christina Lake. Whether choosing a relaxing day at the lake (one of the warmest around) or heading to hike Mount Gladstone, this park is worth the stop and breaks the drive up nicely. This stop is especially enjoyable for riders with young families – the beaches, walking trails, and parks are very kid friendly. 

Upon arrival or on a mid-trip rest day, the Rossland Museum is an interesting way to gain an appreciation for the community’s past as the hills are dotted by a mining legacy: shaft entrances, mining roads, and rusting relics are everywhere. Mine tours were previously the highlight of each visit, but they were put on hold a few years ago. Regardless, the museum remains a cool spot. 

Where To Ride

Rossland’s origins may have been resource driven, but industry has largely shifted to the town trails and Rossland has now become an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. The community is situated in the southwest of the region and has held the title of “Canada’s Mountain Bike Capital” for eons (and debatably still does). What we enjoy most about the riding in Rossland is that there are so many point-to-point, full-day rides. There are trails on every hillside, and even after eight consecutive days we left town wishing we had more time. 

For a quick introduction to Rossland check out the Monte Christo – Kootenay Columbia (KC) trails. The Kootenay Columbia Trail Society is largely to thank for this easily looped network. Moderately graded climbs can be slowly ascended using the middle ring (are front derailleurs still a thing?) or hammered depending on the intentions of the ride. Descents are much the same: they don’t drop straight down the hillside, but instead wind, have plenty of well-articulated corners, and pump their way along making great use of terrain. KC can be a bit of a maze, but just about every option is a good one, and riders might be better off just rolling from one trail into the next rather than debating at every trailhead. From the 4,052 foot summit, our favorite trail, KC Ridge, is a rocky descent overlooking town. We were lucky enough to follow a local on our first lap and were surprised by the aesthetics and quality of the trail. First, the view of Rossland in the upper portion of the trail is borderline distracting, and second, the relatively tight corners have catch berms in all the right places. An added bonus for the fun factor is that KC Ridge always seems to have a layer of dust and marbles in the corners that makes things even more entertaining. 

Local ripper and Pro shredder, Mike Hopkins, shows off some Rossland goods in this fun video.

Red Mountain Resort is just across the street from KC and can be combined for a single mega ride or ridden exclusively. With so many options at each location we chose the latter. Two separate climbs access some of Rossland’s best descents. Paydirt is one such option. The trail is broken into smaller sections by mountain roads, each of which seems to take on a unique character. Our favorite part is actually also the easiest. Very supportive berms allow riders to absolutely rail into relatively short tabletops. A skilled pilot can choose to overshoot many of them, landing directly into the great turns we already mentioned. Intermediate riders will grin ear to ear, gain confidence, and likely air the forgiving jumps. Redhead is our number two in this area. Riders can bounce into and out of the corners at whatever speed is comfortable, and there doesn’t seem to be any signs of overuse in spite of this being a popular trail. Learn from our mistakes: there are a few blind rollers… don’t assume there isn’t a corner on the other side.

Malde Creek is our favorite spot in town for gravity-fueled laps, both self-propelled and shuttled. The trails in this area are a raw, higher speed, a little more fall-line, and in our opinion a lot more fun. There are a number of options, but Whiskey, Cherry Poppins, and Crown Point are must rides. Cherry Poppins is the most technical of the three, but is still within reason for intermediate riders willing to take a second look at a few sections. The trail is quite rocky, but seems to get smoother the faster you go. Once riders hit a certain speed, new lines become options and the trail can be linked as a series of small, optional gaps with rough sections in between, rather than just monster trucking throughout. Cherry Bomb is an optional drop for those who like a good old fashioned BC ladder drop, but at less than 10 feet, a modern trail bike is plenty capable.

Seven Summits is a Rossland must-ride. - Photo by Erin Collins

We can’t chat about riding in Rossland without mentioning the Seven Summits trail. This nearly 20 mile point-to-point climbs and descends nearly 5,000 feet and traverses from ridge to ridge throughout. The trail itself has been widely photographed, blogged, and applauded. Rather than repeating what most already know, we’d like to suggest add-ons and options. At the southern terminus of the trail, Dewdney is a three and a half mile intermediate descent that adds a significant amount of shredding to an already amazing ride. Furthermore, those with a little gas left in the tank can carry on to climb Dukhobor Draw and Tamarack in order to descend another Rossland must-ride: SMD. Supermegadeath isn’t as gnarly as the name implies, though there are a few slabs and jumps to keep riders on their toes. While the features are fun, the length of the trail is what is most memorable for us, and when combined with Seven Summits riders will have two very memorable descents packed into one huge ride. While some might say it is sacrilege to cut the Seven Summits short, our most memorable ride of the year was Plewman Trail, Larch Ridge, BS, Lower Monticola, and eventually descending to the Columbia River. Thirty miles covered, 5,600 feet of gain, and 7,900 feet of loss made for one of the best days we’ve had in the saddle, ever. From rocky alpine to freeride sand chutes, we smile just thinking about it. 


Where To Stay

Even though it's a ten minute drive from town, Nancy Greene Provincial Park is a great spot to set up camp. It's a quiet park with a great subalpine lake for trout fishing, paddling or just splashing around. Many of Rossland’s locals make their way to the lake for day use too. In town, the Lions Community Campground is the best option for accommodation. Drakes, Doukhabor, and dirt jumps are all very close and riders shouldn’t need to drive anywhere once they’re settled. Folks looking to stay in the heart of downtown Rossland can check out the Prestige Mountain Resort, located right on the main drag of Rossland’s cute downtown sector. 

Where To Eat

Just about every morning we weren’t cooking for ourselves, we chose the Alpine Grind to start our day. Whether we were after a coffee, smoothie, baked goods, or a light lunch, they had us covered. Not to mention they didn’t give us a hard time for spending entire mornings working on Vital MTB projects and stealing (borrowing?) Wi-Fi. Being that it is a small town one wouldn’t expect a wide variety of culinary options, but it has everything required whether travelers are getting a quick bite or sitting down for a five course meal. We came across our favorite spot by happenstance, rolling through town lightheaded and approaching full bonk. What we discovered is one of the best Thai restaurants we’ve ever been to. In a converted historic home, the family owned Mook Thai is an unassuming eatery that serves excellent, authentic food at a reasonable price. If we were locals, you would probably find us here pretty frequently. 


On The Way

Originally a mining and railway town, Revelstoke has undergone quite a transition since it was founded in the late nineteenth century. In the mid-twentieth century the introduction of the Trans-Canada Highway brought tourists through town and tourism slowly started to grow. Fast forward a few decades and #therealstoke is a legitimate contender for all-season mountain town of the year. 

Revelstoke, being the mountain town it is, has a plethora of hiking, climbing, and mountaineering options. The mountains here are a little more forgiving than the Coast or Rockies, meaning that less experienced outdoors-people can get into the hills more easily. This doesn’t mean that inexperienced folks should wander aimlessly, but it does mean that it is a great place to get into the mountains, regardless of skillset. Mount Revelstoke National Park is relatively small in terms of hectares, but what it lacks in quantity is made up for by quality. There are numerous well-travelled alpine options, our favorite being a hike past Eva and Miller Lakes up to Jade Lake. Vistors with more time and experience can also begin a number of amazing alpine traverses from this area. Hikers wanting to get off the beaten path a little bit can check McCrae Peak – a straightforward alpine summit – or a number of other amazing spots in the area. 

Rollercoaster junkies can check out the Pipe Mountain Coaster at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. This slope side rollercoaster is a riot. According to the owner of the crown himself, the 57 second Strava KOM is legit… any takers? 

Where To Ride

When we head to Revelstoke we have two key priorities: alpine trails and Boulder Mountain. While most communities have zero alpine trails, Revelstoke seems to have one running down every hillside. Frisby Ridge, Sale Mountain, and Keystone Standard Basin are the three most common options and are all located a short drive north of town.

Ready for some quality time in the saddle? The alpine views in Revelstoke never disappoint. Join Roxy Minnile and Sid Slotegraff for a very scenic pedal.

While Frisby and Keystone are out-and-backs, Sale Mountain (a.k.a. Martha Creek) can be shuttled. All three options are incredible, but for the sake of this article we’ve chosen to focus on Frisby Ridge (Note: Frisby is temporarily closed until July 2017). This purpose built six mile gem meanders into the alpine through clearcuts and pristine forest before turning around at a small lake and heading back down. Frisby Ridge is the perfect option for intermediate riders with solid fitness. Alpine riding tends to be boney and steep, but like most of the trails in the area this one flows. The Revelstoke Cycling Association deserves high praise not only for completing such an amazing project, but for their ongoing maintenance and development of other alpine options. Need a bonus shred? Ultimate Frisby starts just as Frisby Ridge ends and is a more technical descent leading towards the adjacent Boulder Mountain network.

Simply incredible. Frisby Ridge is well worth a ride. - Photo by Robb Thompson

Keystone Standard Basin is just as amazing as Frisby, but a little more technical. Sale Mountain is either a gravel road climb or shuttle. It is the most fall-line option of the three and a rolling alpine start gives way to warp-speed sections through the forest. Regardless of the chosen option (definitely ride all three), don’t forget to have a swim in Lake Revelstoke for recovery so it can all be done again the next day.

Looking for something a little more adventurous? Mount Cartier is a 7,000 foot hike-a-bike (or arrange a heli with Wandering Wheels). It isn’t often that we get an opportunity to ride several thousand feet of singletrack without interruption and we’ve never regretted the hike into the alpine once things are pointed back in the right direction. 

Pedaling up the Boulder Mountain access road might be a lot of work, but within a few feet of our first experience we knew this area was special. Similar to Mount Prevost on Vancouver Island, this area is a gravity rider’s paradise. There are sections with berms, tabletops and man-made bridges, but most of these trails cater to riders who love to go fast and bounce from one natural compression into the next. Boondocker, Bike Club, and Tall Timber are the type of trails that will have folks riding until their wheels fall off. Boondocker is a mostly natural, steep descent with just a few tweaks here and there that allow speed to be held from top to bottom. Some steep trails require brake dragging in order to remain in control, but those on Boulder Mountain seem to have a catch berm right when it is needed, letting riders get a little more loose. The trails here are well-built, technical, and drop big elevation… near perfect.

So good! Garett Buehler styles his way down 'Logging Leftovers,' a local favorite on Boulder Mountain.

On the more cross country side, Mount MacPherson has a vast network of flowing trails. More than 25 miles of singletrack connected by logging roads means that there is a limitless combination of loops for riders of every ability and fitness level. “Smiles for miles” seems like the appropriate expression to describe riding here. We found that even the climbs were built in such a way that we could carry our speed into and out of them, meaning that we always felt like we were flowing along rather than grinding uphill. The intermediate riding at Mount MacPherson is perfect for groups looking for all-day meandering flow. 


Where To Stay

Martha Creek Provincial Park is perfectly situated for groups planning on riding Sale Mountain and Keystone Standard Basin. It is also a great spot for fishing, hanging at the lake, and paddling about. Williamson’s Lake Campground is on the outskirts of town, with a few trails scattered nearby, and has a small lake with a beach. This is likely the best option for families – there is something on site for the whole gang. For larger groups, we have had great success renting properties directly from homeowners. Depending on the property and group size, this option can be more affordable than a hotel and often includes a garage. A directory of additional accommodation options is available here.

Where To Eat

The Taco Club started as a modest food truck and now also has a permanent home downtown. Their enchiladas are delicious and the sampler flights of tequila are a fun treat too. We also had great meals at Kawakubo and the Woolsey Creek Bistro whenever we were looking to expand our horizons beyond a dish served with avocado and salsa. After dinner, head to The Cabin for a cocktail and five-pin bowling. Whether spectating, tossing a gutter ball, or throwing a pinpoint strike, a couple of rounds (oh, and bowling) here will surely add to the following day’s trailside banter. 

Additional Stops To Consider

To us, the Kootenay Rockies is like an iceberg. No matter how much time we spend in this region, we always leave feeling like we’ve only seen the tip (of said iceberg) and we’re always brainstorming our next foray into the area. It’s no wonder why so many mountain bikers, skiers, and climbers have relocated to this region. The fact that amazing places like Retallack, Nelson, Golden, Fernie, and Invermere are all deserving of their own articles is once again a testament to the depth of incredible places in British Columbia:

  • Nelson - This city has it all, from gentle railway grades and peaceful country to "steep, rocky technical tracks and enough stunts, ladders and big drops to keep you coming back and calling out for more. The Nelson and Kootenay Lake region is also home to Ainsworth Hot Springs, white water rafting, hiking, paddling, caving, skiing, golfing, fishing, ziplining, festivals, markets and more!"
  • Golden - Riders who remember the incredibly steep Psychosis race on Mount 7 will already be aware of Golden's ability to build and maintain some wild trails. "With over 100km of single track cross country trails on the Mountain Shadows, Moonraker and CBT Mainline trail systems, there is something for everyone from easy-to-ride smooth flowing trails to gnarly downhill. Ride the trail systems independently, or connect all three for an epic ride. With easy access from downtown, there will be a beer and food from at pubs, restaurants and cafes waiting at the end of the day. For more downhill riding head over to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. After a cushy gondola ride up, get ready for an epic 10 km long downhill."
  • Fernie - "Fernie is synonymous with mountain biking. Loops of single track leave from and return to downtown Fernie, making the ease of access here second to none. Push yourself on the steeps or enjoy family time on Fernie’s community trail network. Whatever your choice of trail, Fernie has you covered. Fernie Alpine Resort also has one of the largest lift-accessed trail networks in Western Canada."
  • Invermere - "The Columbia Valley is home to a diverse mix of communities. Invermere and Radium Hot Springs are the main centres and offer a wide range of visitor services and activities. Only 3 hours drive from Calgary, Alberta you will find hundreds of kilometers of world class trails. Discover smooth single track through valley forests, epic descents from alpine peaks, challenging technical downhill trails, relaxed recreational routes and exciting bike park maintained trails. There is something for everyone, from enthusiastic recreational riders to seasoned pros! Tight and technical or forest fun - find your flow."

The close proximity of four mountain ranges means that regardless of the riding destination, the Kootenay Rockies region guarantees plenty of elevation, rugged terrain, and welcoming people. An additional bonus is that every town seems to cherish the amazing landscape – advocacy groups in each community are working hard to ensure that trails, access, and the outdoor experiences are maintained if not improved. The Kootenay Rockies’ passion for mountain biking is not only obvious, it's highly contagious. We’ve got a fever…

See More

Rad Rides, Eats & More is a Vital MTB series meant to provide you with intimate local knowledge of excellent mountain bike destinations. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks as Vital's BC local contributor, Joel Harwood, dives deep into the woods and explores the many mountains of six British Columbia regions in partnership with Mountain Biking BC and Super, Natural British Columbia.

Title image by Joel Harwood of Eva Lake Cabin in Mount Revelstoke National Park


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