The Rocky Mountain Trench, known as the Columbia Valley, is surmounted by the BC Rocky Mountains on the east and the Bugaboos on the west. Both are impressively high and rugged ranges.
The Columbia Valley cradles two of the more important rivers on the North American continent – the Columbia River and the Kootenay River. Here at the headwaters, they roll by untouched by man, unless you consider the dip of a kayak paddle, or the fly of the fisherman, to be touching. The Kootenay River, which originates high in the Rocky Mountains in Kootenay National Park, is fed by dozens of creeks and several rivers as it rolls southward.
The Columbia River, with its headwaters in Columbia Lake, rolls through the southern part of the valley northward for more than 200 kms before bending southward and heading west to the Pacific Ocean at Astoria in Oregon, 2,000 km from its source. The broad waterway is an important stopover on the semiannual migration route for wildlife and a joy to travel in any season.
The large, lush Columbia River wetlands, a fertile wintering ground for elk, deer, moose and many other creatures, span over 180 kilometres and are the longest continuous running wetlands remaining on the continent. Each year, during the first week of May, the valley celebrates the return of about 250 species of birds during the educational and entertaining Wings Over the Rockies Bird Festival. Birdwatchers couldn’t wish to be in a better place at a better time.
Location: The Columbia River Valley incorporates the region of the BC Rockies accessed by Highway 93 and 95, between Cranbrook at the south and Golden in the north, a distance of 155 miles (248 km).
The following towns are located in or near the Columbia River Valley (North to South):
Bracketed by Glacier National Park to the west and Yoho National Park to the east, Golden is right in the heart of some of the most pristine wilderness in the Canadian Rockies. At the confluence of the Kicking Horse and Columbia Rivers, Golden may be the perfect jump-off point for extreme outdoor adventure: hiking, river rafting, horseback riding, heli-skiing, hang gliding, ice-climbing, and downhill skiing and snowboarding at Kicking Horse Mountain Ski Resort.
The small hamlet of Parson southeast of Golden in the BC Rockies provides a wonderful and panoramic view westward over the Columbia Valley and the Purcell Mountains.
Spillimacheen, just north of Brisco at the conflux of the Bugaboo, Spillimacheen and Columbia rivers, is another gateway to the backcountry areas of the Purcell Mountain Range in the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east.
Brisco is the gateway to Bugaboo Provincial Park in the rugged Purcell Mountain Range, featuring 20 wilderness campsites and some of the best hiking and mountaineering in BC. The park encompasses extensive ice fields, the largest glaciers in the Purcells, and spectacular granite spires, some of which exceed 3,000 metres in elevation.
The little hamlet of Edgewater is one of the older communities in the Columbia Valley. Originally established as a farming community just before World War l, today it is a quiet residential community with a gas station, general store, Royal Canadian Legion and a campground.
Radium Hot Springs
The thriving community of Radium Hot Springs is a great support system for the area’s popular hot springs, offering fine dining, quaint little shops, grocery stores, gas stations, golfing, skiing and a fine selection of accommodation – a wonderful therapy for tired travellers!
Invermere is a thriving tourist centre nestled in the valley between the Rocky and Purcell Mountain ranges just outside Kootenay National Park. Situated along the sandy shores of Windermere Lake, this community offers visitors a full spectrum of outdoor activities.
Located on the eastern shores of Windermere Lake, this charming town of high style and low-key rhythm is fast becoming a favourite spot for fishing, boardsailing, hang-gliding, swimming and golf.
In a province of great ski resorts, no place in British Columbia is as underrated or overlooked as Panorama Mountain Ski Resort. Because of it’s remote location in the Purcell Mountains, it’s more than a resort. Panorama is its own village, and more of a mountainous retreat, a sprawling establishment that contains a ski area, condos, a hotel, lots of restaurants and nightspots, and great outdoor recreation.
Fairmont Hot Springs
Perched on a bench above the river on the east side of the Columbia Valley, Fairmont Hot Springs is a great resort experience, offering two championship golf courses, the largest and most popular hot spring pool complex in Canada, and Fairmont Hot Springs Ski Resort.
Nestled in the southern end of the Columbia River Valley, Canal Flats is located at the southern end of Columbia Lake, the source of the Columbia River. Columbia Lake lies squeezed between two walls of rock; the Purcell Mountains to the west and the Rocky Mountains to the east.
Skookumchuk is located where the Lussier and Skookumchuk Rivers enter the Kootenay River, south of Columbia Lake in the Kootenay River Valley. Skookumchuk has long been popular as a stopping ground for travellers moving between the Columbia Valley and Cranbrook.
Boasting the warmest lake in the Rocky Mountains, Wasa is a quiet cottage community in the Kootenay River Valley. The village features most tourism amenities and is a growing recreational area.
Fort Steele is a Heritage Town, where visitors can travel back in time to the 1890s and enjoy daily re-enactments of the town’s past history and heritage year-round, with full programming from mid-June to Labour Day. Fort Steele is the best example of an historic 19th-century fort, a reminder of how the west was settled by Europeans.
The highest city in Canada, Kimberley is the classic mining town of the Rockies region. There are plenty of cafés and boutiques for urbanites, and hiking, camping and two golf courses for those who prefer the great outdoors, and Kimberley Alpine Ski Resort for skiers and snowboarders.
Cranbrook offers the best of city and country. The vistas of snowcapped mountain peaks, lush green valleys and crystal clear lakes are sure to take your breath away, and an abundance of other attractions are available to entertain visitors.
Highway 93/95 links Cranbrook at the south end of the Columbia River Valley with Golden, about 230 km to the north. A steady stream of travellers pass through the region, but few are fortunate enough to make a home in this blessed setting. The land will sustain agriculture only at its southern end, leaving vast tracts of wilderness for the enjoyment of those who love the outdoors.
Situated on the west side of the Continental Divide, the Kootenay National Park blankets over 140,000 hectares, extending across the valleys of the Vermilion and Kootenay Rivers, touching on the Columbia Valley at Radium Hot Springs and straddling the Main and Western Ranges of the Rockies, with some of these peaks rising to 11,000 feet. The park is unique in that it is the only Canadian National Park featuring both glaciers and cactus. Glacial erosions have left fascinating patterns everywhere – cirques, morraines, hanging valleys and more. Great hiking awaits the visitor to the park, and wildlife is much in evidence; Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, mountain goats, elk, black bears, and grizzlies that frequent the avalanche slopes in the spring, digging for tender lily bulbs.
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.