Nestled in the southern end of the Columbia River Valley is the community of Canal Flats, located just off Highway 93/95 that links Cranbrook in the south of the valley with Golden, about 140 miles (239 km) to the north.
Canal Flats sits 1 kilometre from the southern end of the 16-kilometre long Columbia Lake, the source of the Columbia River that flows north to Kinbasket Lake before turning south to finally empty into the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, Oregon, a journey of 1,225 miles (1,960 kms). Columbia Lake lies squeezed between two walls of rock; the Purcell Mountains to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east.
In pre-Contact native America and the early years of western exploration, the Kootenay Valley was a major transportation corridor. Due to curiosity of geology, the headwaters of the vast Columbia River are separated from the south-flowing Kootenay River by a low, 1.2-mile wide (2-km) berm of land called Canal Flats. The Kootenay River then meanders down into the US before flowing back north into Canada to join the Columbia River at Castlegar, BC.
Canal Flats was originally named McGillivray’s Portage by David Thompson, who passed through the area in 1808. Not far from the Canal Flats Provincial Park are the remains of a canal, completed in 1889, which connected Columbia Lake with the nearby Kootenay River, hence the name Canal Flats given to the post office in 1913.
The canal was part of a scheme by English/Austrian entrepreneur William Adolph Baillie-Grohman in the 1880s to breach Canal Flats and divert water from the upper Kootenay River into the Columbia system, thereby sufficiently lowering the level of Kootenay Lake to reclaim the 48,000-acre rich alluvial plain in the Creston area and open up a north-south navigational system from Golden to Montana. The scheme was abandoned under pressure from the Canadian Pacific Railways, concerned about its Columbia River Crossings, and from Settlers around Golden who feared that their farmlands would be flooded.
Baillie-Grohman had to settle for building a canal and lock system between the two rivers, completed in 1889. Only two ships ever passed through the canal; in 1895 the vessel Gwendoline successfully navigated the canal from the Kootenay River to the Columbia River, followed in 1902 by the North Star.
The canal builder owned the first store and post office in the community as well as the first steam sawmill in the valley, the start of the lumber industry that has put Canal Flats on the map.
Canal Flats is the gateway to several backcountry provincial parks, including Whiteswan and Top of the World, and is an entrance to the Kootenay River Road.
Hoodoos: Watch for spectacular the Dutch Creek Hoodoos south of Fairmont along Highway 93/95. These natural pillars form in semiarid areas when hard rock surfaces protect the lower layers of soil and rock from erosion by rainwash. The best time to see the hoodoos is during a sunny mid-evening in the summer.
Aerial Tour: Non-skiers and adventure buffs can take an exciting 20-minute Heli-Sightseeing tour that will thrill all ages. Fly to Goat Ridge to view the Delphine Glacier, site of Walt Disney’s Alive movie, past precipitous rock faces and tumbling icefalls. Disembark and take in the breathtaking scenery.
The Columbia Valley boasts one of the longest wetland systems in North America. Over 265 species of birds have been recorded in a 150-km stretch of the Columbia Valley Wetlands from Canal Flats to Spillimacheen. Flanked by grasslands, forest, alpine meadows and rocky crags, the area provides wonderful scenery and supports an abundance of wildlife.
Winter Activities: From Fairmont Hot Springs Ski Resort skiers can head out to the Fairmont Ski Hills for downhill skiing and snowboarding on the 300-metre vertical rise serviced by a T-bar and rope tow. Twenty kilometres of groomed trails are available for cross-country skiing. Night skiing is available for four nights each week.
Golf: Every hole of the Th’Flats Golf Course on Dunn Street in the heart of Canal Flats presents a different challenge on this beautifully maintained executive 9-hole public course (walkable, 2,076 yards, par 30). Nearby Fairmont is a world-class four season resort, featuring two championship golf courses. There’s something special about these courses. Could it be the way they wind through the mature pine and spruce trees, or maybe it’s the terrific vistas of the Columbia Valley that challenge you to focus on the view instead of the ball? The challenging Coy’s Par 3 golf course is located south of Fairmont off Highway 93/95 at Columere Park. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
Whitewater rafting is one of the most popular guided adventure vacations in BC. Throughout the province, you’ll find extreme waterways in beautiful wilderness settings, offering stomach-churning thrills. Of course, many rivers run slower, allowing you a more leisurely experience. To experience the power of this whitewater, contact one of the local outfitters. See Premier Listings below.
Paddlers can put in at Columbia Lake for an easy and peaceful 3 to 5 day paddle down the meandering headwaters of the Columbia River. Wildlife is abundant, and camping is available on the frequent gravel flats of the river.
Fishing: The Columbia Valley offers a wide range of fishing opportunities, from small glacier fed creeks and rivers to pristine mountain lakes. Abundant fish populations of Whiteswan Lake and Alces Lake, both wholly in Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park, led to the establishment of this semi-wilderness park. Both lakes are managed for high-yield fisheries. Rainbow trout have been stocked in the lakes since 1961, with annual releases of about 30,000 fingerlings. Steps taken to make the fishery self-supporting include improvements to the spawning channel, prohibiting motorboats on Alces Lake, and restricting angling to fly-fishing only. Boat ramps are located at Whiteswan Lake beside the Packrat Point and Home Basin Campgrounds. Car-top boats can be launched at the Alces Lake Campground. To find the park, head 12 miles (20 km) east of Hwy 93/95, south of Canal Flats on a rough road. Windermere Lake in Invermere (18 km north of Fairmont) has good trout fishing. You’ll find a boat launch at James Chabot Provincial Park.
Biking: For an easy, scenic ride, West Side Road is perfect. It’s more than 16 miles (26 km) of paved road running along the west side of Windermere Lake. The road starts just north of Columbia Lake on Hwy 93/95, just south of Fairmont Hot Springs, and heads north to Invermere. Take Toby Creek Road west out of Invermere to explore the Panorama Resort trails.
When you’re swimming in Canal Flats Provincial Park, you’re swimming in Columbia Lake, the source of the great Columbia River. The park sits on the south side of the lake, a short 2 miles (3 km) north of Canal Flats on Hwy 93/95.
Windsurfing can be an especially elevating experience when it takes place between the towering peaks of the Rockies and the serrated ridges of the Purcells. Windermere Lake north of Canal Flats is the place to go for this serene activity. Launch from the wide, sandy beach in James Chabot Provincial Park in Invermere where strong winds arise with regularity on summer afternoons. Windsurfers can also breeze along on Columbia Lake, getting a head start on the same waters that eventually flow through the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, one of the preeminent windsurfing spots on the continent.
Thunder Hill Provincial Park is a small, tucked-away roadside campground with spectacular views of Columbia Lake and the undulating terrain of the Rocky Mountain Trench. In the past, Kootenay Indians camped near the site and named it for the stormy natural phenomenon they experienced. Nearby are the remnants of the Thunder Hill mine tramway. Thunder Hill Park is located 6 km north of Canal Flats off Hwy 93/95.
Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park is a favourite destination for anglers. Campsites are spread out among four locations in the park, primarily at Alces Lake Campground, Packrat Point Campground, and Inlet Creek Campground, all easily accessed from the Whiteswan Forest Road. More sites are located at Homebasin Campground, reached via the Moscow Creek Forest Road, which branches away from Whiteswan Forest Road at the northwest corner of Whiteswan Lake. To reach the park, go south from Canal Flats on Hwy 93/95 and go east on Whiteswan Forest Road for about 12 miles (20 km) east.
Top of the World Provincial Park is accessible via Ram Creek Forest Service Road, but the access is rough, steep, and the road is often poorly maintained. Easier access to the park is available through Whiteswan Provincial Park.
North of Canal Flats is Fairmont Hot Springs, perched on a bench above the Columbia River on the east side of the Columbia Valley. Fairmont Hot Springs is a great resort experience in the magnificent setting of the stunning Canadian Rocky Mountains. The largest and most popular hot spring pool complex in Canada, with nearly 1,000 square metres of pools, the internationally renowned Fairmont springs soothe visitors year-round with the curative powers of the 35 to 45 deg C waters.
South of Canal Flats is the community of Skookumchuck, meaning Strong Water or Turbulent Water in the Chinook language. Skookumchuk is located where the Lussier and Skookumchuk Rivers enter the Kootenay River, south of Columbia Lake. Skookumchuk has long been popular as a stopping ground for travellers moving between the Columbia Valley and Cranbrook, with a coffee shop, gas station and a scenic picnic area with a host of friendly ducks waiting to be fed.
Circle Tours: See the best of the area on the Okanagan and Kootenay Rockies Circle Tour or the Kootenay Rockies Hot Springs Circle Tour. Travel the sunny interior of British Columbia, north through the Okanagan to Sicamous, following Highway 1 into the mountains of the BC Rockies. From Golden, head south through the Columbia Valley to Creston, and west through Boundary Country and the Southern Okanagan to complete the loop. Circle Tours in British Columbia.