For a true outdoor adventure in British Columbia, explore the beautiful Canadian wilderness backcountry on offroad 4×4 vehicles or all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Miles and miles of old logging trails criss-cross the backwoods of the Kootenays and BC Rockies providing great access to the high alpine lakes and ridges of the BC Rocky Mountains.
Offroading in the Kootenays
Bulldog Mountain: Head east from Grand Forks on Crowsnest Highway 3 towards Castlegar. Turn north towards Bulldog Mountain on the old Columbia & Western Railway line that ran from Grand Forks through Farron and on towards Castlegar. About 1.5 kms before the old town site of Farron, there is a memorial commemorating the Farron Explosion in 1924. A bomb planted on a passenger train killed nine passengers including a member of parliament and Peter Verigin, leader of the Doukhobors (immigrants from Russia who settled in the Grand Forks area). In Farron, on the east side of the water tower, is a small trail that heads up to a recreation campsite. Continue to the Bulldog Mountain Railway Tunnel, one of the longest tunnels constructed at that time (almost 1,000 feet ). After the tunnel the railway grade continues onwards towards Castlegar, high above Lower Arrow Lake. There are a couple of washouts on the way that might be suitable for ATVs as well as a few offshoots that could be explored as well.
Grand Forks Area
Burrell Creek West FSR: This starts as a wide logging road that progressively narrows as it turns into a shelf road. In some locations, the road is sloughing away, leaving only a quad-wide section of road surface. As this is a little-travelled road (too narrow for trucks), bring a chainsaw for the inevitable deadfall. The access to the Old McKinley Mine is on this road, but it’s well hidden in the bush and is easy to miss. It eventually meets up with Gloucester – Union Mine FSR, so you can do a large loop if you wish. This road is known as “Union Mine Road” in the Backroad Mapbook, but is actually signed “Burrell Creek West FSR, Elevation 675m”. Lots of black bears in the area.
Gloucester – Union Mine FSR is a logging mainline that continues to the abandoned Union Mine. You can easily spend an hour wandering through the tunnels, so be sure to have flashlights. There are mining and logging branches you can explore. The older branches are overgrown and may no longer look like a “road”. Watch for evidence of old mines and cabins along the way.
Gloucester Creek FSR: This logging road will eventually take you to Needles (and the Needles to Fauquier ferry). Take Gloucester Creek FSR, then T-Bone, then Young Main, then Burrell Creek FSR, then Worthington Creek FSR to Edgewood. There are numerous branches to check out, so carry spare fuel if necessary.
Kootenay Lake – East Area
Crawford Creek Road: Take Hwy 3A south out of Crawford Bay to Crawford Creek Road on your left. Staying to the right on the “no through road” instead of following the mainline to the left will bring you to Crawford-Hooker FSR at the 5.5 km mark. Taking Crawford-Hooker will bring you to a switchback with an overgrown road on the left that winds up the mountain. Back at the mainline, there is a fork to the right. This road switched back up another mountain, and arrived at another fork. The left branch went to a deactivated road in the shadow of a glacier. The right branch travels up over Rose Pass and continues down into the next valley. The road system is very easy for quads. There are lots of side branches, glacial creeks to cool off in, and excellent views of mountain alpines.
Shelter Bay FSR: From Revelstoke, take Hwy 23 south towards the Shelter Bay ferry. Approximately 6 kms before the ferry, turn right onto the Shelter Bay FSR. If you head in a generally southerly direction along the main road, you will parallel Upper Arrow Lake. You can camp at the Eagle Bay campsite, a good user-maintained campsite with outhouses and a boat launch approximately 12 kms to the south. Explore the area and continue up the Paint Lake trail to the Fosthall-Revelstoke Road and Thor . The trail network in this area is extensive, and will take you right down to Lower Arrow Lake on the Needles side via the Whatshan River FSR, or west to Hwy 6 south of Cherryville, via the Keefer Lake FSR.
Three Valley Gap: From Three Valley Gap, take the Three Valley – Mabel Lake FSR south. At approximately 4kms, turn left at the Frog Falls Rec Site and access the South Pass FSR, which follows the power lines over the mountain and switchback down to the Trans-Canada Hwy about 6 kms east of Three Valley Gap. Or take the Three Valley – Mabel Lake FSR further south right down to the roads on the west side of Mabel Lake, or bear left onto Mabel Lake FSR, which takes you down the roads on the east side of Mabel Lake, providing access to the North Shuswap FSR just west of the Monashees.
Valley of the Ghosts
Eagleview: This is a branch off the Sandon to Retallack trail, heading up just before the snowmobile cabin. A hand-written sign was marked “Eagleview”, but it was lying against the bank and may not be there when you visit. The road winds its way up one of the mountains and very quickly gains in elevation. Some sections are steep. You can ride up to the 2,191-metre point, but then encounter a 60-degree straight climb up to the top. Do not attempt to ride this last section as it is all loose shale and is very difficult to even hike up, and if you roll your quad it’s likely a non-survivable accident. But do hike up to the top (2,203 metres), as it is carpeted with alpine wildflowers and provides a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains.
Idaho Peak Road: This is an unmaintained 12-km road starting at the ghost town of Sandon and winding up passed old mines to two parking areas. Idaho Peak (2,280m) is approximately 2 kms from the parking areas (hiking only). There is an unrestricted 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains (elevation gain: 146m). There is a fire lookout at the top, easily visible from the surrounding areas. Idaho Peak is well-known for its wildflowers, and is a popular destination for hikers.
Payne Road: Payne Road starts right across Carpenter Creek from the ghost town of Sandon, and passes through what was formerly the Sunnyside area of Sandon (the high-end residences that received sunlight earlier in the season). It is marked as a “trail” at the start of the road, complete with a hiking guide, but in reality it is a logging road and the logging road radio frequency is posted. The “trail” follows the old K&S Railway bed, but take the logging road that leads up the mountain. Payne Mine’s No. 8 Portal is a great place for taking a break and cooling down, as cold air constantly blows out from the opening. There are numerous ATV trails that switchback up to other Payne Mine . These are steep, high-altitude trails.
Sandon to Retallack: The overgrown route leading from the ghost town of Sandon to the ghost town of Retallack is a steep climb; it passes through Cody then switchbacks high up the mountain above Sandon, and leads to several abandoned mines. The switchbacks are tight; some are 3-point turns with a 4×4 vehicle. The road passes next to a small glacier near the top (2,214m), and starts winding down into the next valley towards Retallack. At the top of the trail, there are several paths to explore, and you can see Sandon far below.
Mount Buchanan: Turn left at the flashing red light in Kaslo. Proceed up the hill and turn left at the flashing red light onto Hwy 31A to New Denver. Set odometer to 0 and drive approximately 10 kms. Watch for the entrance to Mt. Buchanan FSR on the right. Park in the parking area just after the entrance. Proceed up the service road and bear right at the first junction. Bear left at the next junction and follow the signs for Buchanan Lookout.
Empire Cabin: Follow the directions for Mount Buchanan. Park and proceed up the service road and bear left at the first junction. Bear left at the next main road junction.
Meadow Mountain: Turn left at the flashing red light in Kaslo. Proceed up the hill and turn right onto Hwy 31A (North Marine Drive) toward Meadow Creek. Set the odometer to 0 and travel 39.5 to Meadow Creek Road (just before Drifter´s Restaurant). Turn left on Meadow Creek Road. Go 2.9 km and bear right on Deception Creek Road (the other fork goes to Spawning Channel). Cross over a wooden bridge and turn left onto Meadow Mountain Road 700 metres after the bridge. You can park either at the junction or shortly after turning left onto Meadow Mountain Road. Look for a large storage building on the left and park on the right side of the road. Follow Meadow Mountain Road for approximately 11 km and turn right onto a narrower road – marked as Meadow Mountain Road. If you continue straight, you will end up at a large turnaround with gorgeous views of surrounding mountains. Continue 11 kms up Meadow Mountain Road to a picnic area where outhouses are available. After leaving the picnic area, proceed up the steep grade and bear right at the first junction. Follow the road to the end.
Lavina Lookout: Distance 48.35 km from Rocky Ledges to the parking area. Turn left at the flashing red light in Kaslo onto A Avenue. Near the top of the hill turn right onto North Marine Drive (Hwy 31) toward Meadow Creek and set your odometer to 0. At 28 km you will pass the village of Lardeau. At 34.5 kms turn right on Argenta Road toward Argenta and Johnson´s Landing. Cross the Lardeau River and proceed for approximately 1 km on a dirt road. At the three-way junction turn left toward Glacier Creek Provincial Park. Proceed approximately 7 kms and watch for the Lavina Forest Service Road marker on your right. Turn right onto Lavina FSR and continue until you reach a large parking area. Unload your ATV here and follow the road to the Fire Lookout at the top. This road is very steep in areas with lots of switchbacks. Elevation is 2,240 meters (7,280 feet). GPS coordinates at the parking lot are: N 50.279807 / W 116.915245.
Jumbo Pass/Monica Meadows: Both destinations can be done in one day. Follow the directions for Lavina Lookout. Go passed Lavina FSR and park at the Glacier Creek Campground to unload the ATV. Continue straight on the road and pass through Rainbow´s End Ranch. Watch for free ranging animals. Cross a bridged tributary of Glacier Creek, 4 km passed the ranch. After 2 km passed the bridge there is a fork in the road. Go straight. Do not take MacBeth Icefield trailhead. At 14 km after the fork you arrive at a signed junction. Turn right and go towards Jumbo Pass, or turn left toward Monica Meadows. Either direction leads to the trailheads where you can park and then hike. If you follow the road to Jumbo Pass you can also go farther, passed the trailhead along an overgrown two-lane dirt road to a small turnaround with great views.
Healy Creek: At the four-way flashing light in Kaslo set the odometer to 0 and turn left. Proceed up the hill and turn right onto Hwy 31A (North Marine Drive) toward Meadow Creek. Go straight through Meadow Creek, passed Drifters restaurant. At the fork in the road stay left toward Trout Lake (do not take Duncan Dam road). Follow the unpaved road toward Trout Lake. When the odometer reads 72.2 km, watch for a road on the right (it will be shortly after the 47-km marker on the road). Turn right onto the road and immediately cross over a small bridge. Park and unload your ATV after the bridge. Set the ATV odometer to 0. At 7.2 km stay to the left. At 9.1 km stay left. At 10.8 km stay right. At 12.6 km stay right. At 13.8 km stay left, and at 25.2 km stay left. Follow the road to the top of Healy Creek.
America Creek: Follow the directions for Healy Creek. Go passed the entrance to Healy Creek and keep going until you cross a bridge over the Lardeau River. Right on the other side of the bridge is a small camping area and a viewing platform for the spawning channel. Park on the left of the road and unload the ATV. Proceed a short distance farther up the road and watch for the first road on the right, which goes to America Creek. Follow the road all the way to the top.
Idaho Peak: At the flashing red light in Kaslo turn left onto A Avenue. Proceed up the hill to the flashing red light and turn left onto Hwy 31A. Drive approximately 39 km to Sandon and turn left at the Sandon junction. Follow the Sandon road for 6 km into Sandon. You can usually find a place to park and unload at the junction before turning right and crossing the bridge over Carpenter Creek to where the main historical buildings are located. Once you have unloaded, drive passed the main buildings and bear right just passed old train care to head up the Forest Service road to Idaho Peak. This is a very well maintained road. There are two parking areas at the top. For the first parking area turn left at the junction at the top, or proceed straight for the second parking area. Both have footpaths leading to the Look Out Tower, but the hike from the second parking lot is a bit farther.
Offroading in the BC Rockies
Gorman Lake: Gorman Lake is a beautiful alpine lake situated in a deep bowl. ATVing at Gorman Lake is for experienced riders in the high alpine elevation (maximum 9,000 feet). Bikes and motor vehicles are restricted from using the area in the snow-free months. Gorman Lake Rec Site has 3 campsites. Access to Gorman Lake is via the Dogtooth Forest Service Road. Head north on this road to 16.5 km then east up the Gorman Lake Forest Road for another 4.2 km.
Beaverfoot Forest Service Road: Drive east from Golden to the 50 km point on the Trans-Canada Highway and unload. There are hundreds of kilometres of broad valley logging roads for easy exploration. The Wapta Falls Recreation site has 2 campsites located at approximately 9 km from the Trans Canada Highway on the Beaverfoot FSR. The Marion Lake Rec site, 23 km off the Beaverfoot FSR, is a small semi open site with 5 campsites situated about 300 meters from Marion Lake.
Other trails for dirt biking, 4x4ing and ATVing in the Golden area include Blaeberry River, Bobbie Burns, Old Big Bend Highway, Hope Creek, Hospital Creek, Lang Creek, Mount 7, Parson-Nicholson Trail, Quartz Creek, Silent Pass, Spillimacheen River, McMurdo to Silent Pass, Susan Lake, West Bench, and Glenogle Creek Trail.
Invermere and Radium Hot Springs Area
Bruce Creek ATV Loop: Accessed from Wilmer on the Bruce Creek FSR and the Law Creek FSR. Ride up Bruce Creek and Paradise Mine trail to Mount Nelson then link up with the Springs Trail and descend down to Panorama Mountain Resort.
Skookumchuck Lookout: From Hwy 93/95 take the Skookumchuck Pulpmill road (Farstad Way) out of Skookumchuck. Turn west before entering the mill. The paved road becomes gravel and leads to the Torrent FSR. Turn left onto Tamarack Lake Road and continue passed Tamarack Lake Rec site to the Skookumchuck Lookout.
Combined River Rafting and ATV Adventures
Explore the oldest mountains in the Canadian Rockies, cross the thrilling Kicking Horse River and experience the breathtaking Wapta Falls, all on the comfort of a 4×4 All-Terrain vehicle (ATV). And just when you think the excitement is over, enjoy the rest of the day whitewater rafting down the Kicking Horse River.
While many outdoor recreational adventures in BC can be enjoyed on your own, or in private groups, many activities are best enjoyed under the care and guidance of experienced tour operators. Casual visitors to British Columbia are seldom able to venture into the backroads and experience the real wilderness. That’s where offroad tour operators play a valuable role, offering full or half day all-terrain excursions, backcountry wilderness trips, and scenic mountain tours designed for all skill levels.
Note that some of the areas listed require a key to unlock the access gate. Most of these gated areas restrict access to people who have paid a forestry tenure fee to the BC government to secure a key. Local tour operators will have access to these areas.
If you venture out on your own, be aware that many of the gravel roads are active logging roads, so exercise caution, especially during the week.