The largest city of the Rocky Mountain region, and the sunniest place in British Columbia, Cranbrook is located in the Columbia Valley, offering 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. For those seeking an oasis of civility in the rough Rockies, there is shopping galore, boutiques and cafés, an arts centre, several heritage centres and an abundance of other attractions to entertain visitors.
Cranbrook’s history is rather colourful, and filled with interesting characters. It is said, however, that the railway made this city. There is virtually no other reason for its existence, as it is neither on a major lake nor on an easily navigable river.
Prior to the entire rail goings on, the Cranbrook region was inhabited for over ten thousand years by the Ktunaxa (pronounced “Too nah hah”) Native people. They followed retreating glaciers into the Cranbrook area from the great lakes to the south. As the land evolved and changed, they passed down many legends and stories. The Hoodoos, for example, are said to be the bones of Yawo’nek (pronounced “Yehwoonik”), a great water monster whose bones were thrown up onto the banks of the river. The area now called Cranbrook was called “The Pine Tree in the Centre” in the Ktunaxa language.
David Thompson, an early explorer, was the first white man to explore the Kootenay River in the early 1800s. He established trade with the Ktunaxa, who sustained themselves in the hunting, fishing and gathering lifestyle of their ancestors.
Fur traders, missionaries and prospectors soon arrived in the area, calling it “Joseph’s Prairie”, because the chief of the band was called Joseph. It was renamed Cranbrook by the city’s founder who named it after his ancestral home of Cranbrook in Kent, England.
Location: Cranbrook is located near the junction of Highway 95A and Crowsnest Highway 3 in the BC Rockies, 20 miles (32 km) southeast of Kimberley.
Heritage Buildings: Take a self-guided tour of restored heritage buildings, which include City Hall, Imperial Bank building, Mount Baker Hotel, Tower House, the Corey Home, Colonel Baker’s home and the Fire Hall.
Outdoor Activities: For those seeking outdoor recreational activities activities, the Cranbrook area has it all; from world-class golf to backcountry hiking and camping to swimming in some of the warmest lakes in Canada, plus every winter activity imaginable.
A little south of the city is a “must see” for bird watchers: the 249-hectare Elizabeth Lake Wildlife Sanctuary, a marshland that attracts all manner of migratory birds and waterfowl as they pass through the Elk Valley corridor. The wildlife area also provides prime habitat for muskrats, turtles, reptiles, elk, moose and white-tailed deer.
A trip up the St. Mary River valley to St. Mary Lake and over Grey Creek pass to Kootenay Lake makes a good day trip. After the lake, the road is gravel and passable in summer conditions only. A four-wheel drive vehicle is not necessary. A round trip over the pass, and back via Creston, is a terrific way to see the backcountry.
The Canadian Museum of Rail Travel houses a fine collection of beautifully restored classic railcars and locomotives, including the Canadian Pacific’s 1929 Trans Canada Limited, vintage parlour cars and the richly inlaid Argyle dining car. The romantic history of Canadian railroading comes alive in this fascinating museum.
The Kootenay Trout Hatchery rears up to 3 million trout fingerlings each year. Lakes throughout the province are stocked with these rainbow, brook and cutthroat trout, to enhance recreational fishing opportunities. In addition, white sturgeon are reared at the hatchery as part of a conservation program. Walk through an extensive interpretative area featuring aquariums, educational models and interactive displays. Guided tours are offered during the summer.
Travel 2 km out of Cranbrook toward Kimberley to see examples of local wildlife on display at the working Aasland Taxidermy Museum. Visitors are welcome to see the displays or watch the taxidermists at work.
A visit to the Gilnockie Creek Ecological Reserve is well worth doing. This circle trip for the adventurous motorist or cyclist, goes past Moyie Lake, then south on narrow back roads to Gilnockie Creek and finally follows Bloom Creek and Gold Creek back to Cranbrook. The 2800-hectare reserve contains some of the oldest larch and fir trees in the region. This area supports elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer and moose. Don’t forget a map though!
Golf: Cranbrook offers a number of golf course options, played in abundant sunshine: The championship 18-hole Cranbrook Golf Club on 2nd Street South is a mature parkland layout that plays from 5,200 to 6,800 yards, offering challenge and enjoyment to golfers at all levels. Each hole of the mature course is beautifully framed in tall evergreens, affording a quiet dignity that feels quite special and invites you to play. Wildstone Golf Course is a new (2011) 18-hole course designed by Gary Player, a “must play” for anyone golfing in the area. This course is set on the rolling highlands above Cranbrook and features stunning views of the Rocky Mountains. Another gem located 5 minutes north of Cranbrook off of Highway 95a is Shadow Mountain, which offers a challenging 18 hole golf adventure across a diverse landscape and unforgettable scenery. This picturesque course in the quiet shadow of the Rockies plays from 5015 yards to 7405 yards. The 18-hole golf course at St. Eugene Mission on Mission Road winds its way through open links land and rolling woodlands, with spectacular views of the St. Mary’s River and Fisher Peak, and on the opposite side of the valley, the Purcell Mountains are etched against the sky. It plays from 5,398 yards to 7,007 yards from the championship tees. Way-Lyn Ranch Golf Course is a challenging 18-hole executive golf course located in the beautiful Saint Mary’s River Valley, on Highway 95A between Cranbrook and Kimberley. Golfers enjoy an inspiring view of the Purcell Mountain Range to the west, and the majestic Rockies to the east. The family-oriented executive Par-3 Mission Hills Golf Course on Theatre Road features 18 holes nestled in mature ponderosa pines, with spectacular vistas of the surrounding Rocky Mountains. Three more superb golf courses are just down the road: Bootleg Gap Golf Course, Kimberley Golf Club, and Trickle Creek Golf Resort>, all within a 30 minute drive. Golf Vacations in British Columbia.
A visit to Old Town on upper Perry Creek is a nice drive. There are a few old buildings left, and the waterfalls are definitely worth a visit. The base of the falls was called the Jewellry Box in 1867, and a 5-foot hole drilled through rock by early settlers can still be seen there. The old Perry Creek water wheel is now at Fort Steele.
The Dewdney Trail was the first all-Canadian route across southern BC, completed in 1865, from Hope to Wild Horse Creek. The original trail followed the east side of Moyie Lake, through Peavine Meadows and Cranbrook to the Wild Horse gold diggings and Fisherville. Parts of this trail can still be found around Fisherville and Moyie. Now a heritage site, Fisherville was the first town in the East Kootenays and once boasted six general stores, four saloons, numerous restaurants, and hundreds of gold miners’ shacks and tents.
Jimsmith Lake Provincial Park, south of Cranbrook, is a popular park for year-round outdoor recreation, nature study and wildlife viewing.
Moyie Lake Provincial Park, at the north end of scenic Moyie Lake, encompasses lightly forested landscape, a small pond, and several trails. Moyie Lake is the spot if you enjoy cool, secluded picnics beside a welcoming lake on a hot summer day.
Norbury Lake Provincial Park is situated off the beaten path in the broad, rolling valley of the Rocky Mountain Trench. The park encompasses two lakes – Norbury and Peckham’s – and offers spectacular views of the Steeples in the Hughes Range.
Hiking: Hikers can head to the Cranbrook Community Forest and South Star Recreation Trails. For a vertical challenge, the trails continue to Fisher Peak (2,900 metres/9,514 ft), the highest peak in the southern Rockies.
Mountain Biking: Cranbrook’s network of trails offer endless varied terrain that are ideal for biking. Take your mountain bike to the Cranbrook Community Forest and the South Star Recreation Trails (18.6 miles/30 kms long).
Skiing: Whether you’re looking for night skiing, recently groomed runs, mogols, tree skiing, a half-pipe, or an untouched fresh powder run, Kimberley Alpine Ski Resort has it all. The resort’s challenging runs and friendly local ambience draw skiers and snowboarders of all abilities. A little farther, and to the east of Cranbrook is Fernie Alpine Resort.
Gold Panning: Since the Kootenay Gold Rush of 1864, gold panners and miners have sought after elusive nuggets – just a glimmer in the pan! Today, gold panning is a great way to see the country and enjoy the outdoors, dreaming of the possibilities. Wild Horse Creek, across from Fort Steele, and any of the feeder creeks are excellent placer creeks, as well as Findlay Creek, Moyie River, Negro Creek, Palmer Bar Creek and Perry Creek. Gold is where you find it – sometimes looking and dreaming are half the fun.
Sam Steele Days is an annual festival in Cranbrook, held over the third weekend in June. A glimpse of the past and a taste for today is celebrated throughout the weekend in a carnival atmosphere.
Cranbrook Pro Rodeo in mid August features top cowboys and cowgirls from all over North America. Held annually at the Wycliffe Exhibition Grounds, 8 miles north of Cranbrook on the Kimberley Highway.
Hot Springs: Natural Hot Springs in the area include Fairmont Hot Springs and Lussier Hot Springs. Less accessible are the Dewar Creek Hot Springs, and Ram Creek Hot Springs, which are accessed from Skookumchuk via Premier Lake Premier Lake Road and Sheep Creek Road North. A snowmobile or cross-country skis are required to reach the Ram Creek pools in winter.
For a memorable visit to the western frontier of yesteryear, visit nearby Fort Steele Heritage Town, an historic 19th-century fort. Perched on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains since it’s gold rush beginnings in 1864, the village has gone from boomtown to regional centre to ghost town to one of the most important heritage attractions of its kind in British Columbia.
Stroll through Cominco Gardens in Kimberley, where 45,000 flowers burst into bloom each year around the Victorian Gazebo, Memorial Rose Garden and Prairie Garden.
In nearby Marysville, stroll down the Mark Creek nature trail leading to the beautiful 100 foot high Marysville Waterfalls, a delightful photo spot waiting for a visitor to happen.
Northwest of Cranbrook is Kimberley, which features a charming collection of Bavarian-styled buildings, cafes and shops surround The Platzl pedestrian mall, the downtown centre’s focal point. During summer, European music is broadcast from the bandstand, supported by a wandering minstrel accordionist.
To the east of Cranbrook is the mountain community of Fernie, tucked away in a narrow valley in the rugged Canadian Rocky Mountains. From its boom town status to its reputation as the Whiskey Gap during the prohibition era of the 1920s, Fernie has inherited a unique and colourful history.
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.