Know Before You Go Camping in British Columbia.  Looking to find winter camping?

Mountains, Lakes & Rivers in the West Kootenays and Boundary Country

The undiscovered Kootenay – Boundary country offers many scenic wonders including mineral hot springs, alpine meadows, snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, beaches, heritage communities, ghost towns from the gold rush era, plenty of arts and wellness culture, and numerous national historic sites commemorating historic development that spans from the 1890s through the gold rush era until the 1930s.

Halcyon Hot Springs

Halcyon Hot Springs overlooking Arrow Lakes | Photo: Gord Rees

Located in the southeast corner of British Columbia, the region is surrounded by the Monashee, Selkirk and Purcell mountains with headwaters of the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers. Head south from Golden in the Canadian Rockies, east from the Okanagan, and west from Crowsnest Pass to the West Kootenay and Boundary Country.

An intricate highway network crosses the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers in many places with large elongated Arrow and Kootenay lakes stretching for miles between the towering mountain ranges.

The mountains in this area attract thunderstorms during summer, and heavy snowfall famous for heli-skiing in winter, which brings snow melt into the many drainages that encompass the Kaslo, Kettle, Granby, Lardeau, Salmo, Shuswap and Duncan Rivers that eventually join the massive Kootenay and Columbia river systems.

This RV trip can be done in ten days, but it is better to extend your trip to at least two weeks to experience the many activities and attractions found in the area. The entire trip is approximately 2,500 km / 1,550 mi including side trips. The combined regions of Kootenay Rockies, Boundary and Okanagan offer many provincial parks, private and municipal campgrounds along this circle tour. Reservations are recommended during July and August. 

Section 1: Vancouver to Vernon

Directions: Head east on the Trans Canada Hwy 1 from Vancouver to Hope then follow Coquihalla Hwy 5 to Merritt. In Merritt take Hwy 97C which joins with Hwy 97 north into Kelowna and through to Vernon.

Estimated Driving Time: This section is close to 500 km / 275 mi. Allow 6 hours. Merritt is a good mid-way stopping point for a break and/or to purchase supplies.

Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in the area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the community required.

Things to Do:

Vernon – Situated in a broad valley and bounded by Okanagan, Kalamalka and Swan Lakes, Vernon has an abundance of fruit orchards, honey and vegetables. Stop by Davison Orchards which also includes tractor rides for the kids and right next door is Planet Bee which not only produces honey but is also a meadery.

O’Keefe Ranch – A National Historic Site, the O’Keefe Ranch is situated on Hwy 97 on the north side of Okanagan Lake. Founded in 1867, you can relive the story of early BC ranching.  Restored buildings include a general store, mansion and Catholic church.  There is also a cowboy museum and you can take a ranch tour on horseback.

Village Cheese Company – Located in Armstrong, north of Vernon on Hwy 97B the Village Cheese Company is worth the visit if you are a cheese lover. Producing award winning artisan cheeses from locally grown ingredients and cheddar curds known as Squeakerz in various flavours, we suggest you stock up on some tasty treats to take with you on your travels! You can also get a delicious icecream here.

Wine tasting – the Okanagan Valley is famous for its world-class wineries so don’t leave the Vernon area without experiencing what there is to offer. There are 8 or so wineries south of Vernon in Lake Country and another 8 north of Vernon in the Armstrong and Shuswap areas.

Vernon, Picture BC

Vernon | Photo: Picture BC

Section 2:  Vernon to Nakusp

Directions: From Vernon, head east on Hwy 6 to the free ferry crossing at Needles which takes you over the Lower Arrow Lake to Fauquier.  Continue north on Hwy 6 to Nakusp.

Driving time: Total travel time is approximately 2 hrs 45 mins (193 km / 118 mi). 135 km / 83 mi from Vernon to the ferry which runs every 30 minutes, with a 25 – 35-minute crossing. Then 58 km / 35 mi from Fauquier to Nakusp.

Needles Ferry, Arrow Lake

Needles Ferry Crossing on Arrow Lake | Photo: Gord Rees

Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in the area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the community required.

Things to Do:

Mabel Lake Provincial Park – if you want a trip off the beaten track, Mabel Lake Provincial Park offers a variety of activities amid stunning mountains and surrounded by sandy beaches. If you like to do a spot of fishing, Mabel Lake is a great place to start. Canoeing, hiking, waterskiing, lots of wildlife are also here. The park is located east on Hwy 6 from Vernon and north of Lumby for 36 km / 22 mi on a paved road.

Nakusp – located on Upper Arrow Lake between the Selkirk and Monashee Mountains this small community and harbour offers wonderful scenic views and is a base from which to experience a variety of outdoor adventures including kayaking, hiking, golfing or just relaxing on the beach. There is also a concentration of osprey nests around Arrow Lakes.

Nakusp Hot Springs – a wonderful place to relax and rejuvenate. The Hot Springs are about 14 km north of the town of Nakusp set amid beautiful forests in the Kuskanax Valley, with stunning vistas of the Selkirk Mountains. Hiking trails from easy to moderate also attract outdoor enthusiasts to come here.

Read these blogs for more information on this area:
Camping in British Columbia’s West Kootenays: Checking out three great campsites
Camping at its best: Revelstoke to Galena Bay, BC

Nakusp Picture BC

Boat Harbour at Nakusp on Arrow Lakes | Photo: Picture BC

Section 3. Nakusp to Revelstoke & New Denver

Directions: North on Hwy 23 from Nakusp to free ferry between Galena and Shelter Bay across Upper Arrow Lake. For a side trip, continue on Hwy 23 to Revelstoke. Return via Hwy 23 from Revelstoke to Nakusp, then Hwy 6 south to New Denver.

Driving Time: Total trip approximately 4 hrs (250 km / 155 mi). Nakusp to the ferry 33 mins (50 km / 30 mi). Ferry crossing approximately 35 mins. Shelter Bay to Revelstoke 32 mins (50 km / 30 mi).  Revelstoke to New Denver 2 hrs 20 mins (150 km / 93 mi).

Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in the area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the community required.

Accessible from Hwy 23 are Blanket Creek Provincial Park with trails, swimming and beautiful Sutherland Falls; and Shelter Bay (Arrow Lakes Provincial Park) with boating opportunities.

Things to Do:

Revelstoke – Situated on the Columbia River in the heart of the Selkirk and Monashee Mountains this historic railroad town celebrates its history at the Revelstoke Railway Museum. Through displays and artifacts the museum tells the story of how the Canadian Pacific Railway shaped Canada’s history. The museum also features a steam engine and solarium car.

Revelstoke, Picture BC

Revelstoke, Photo: Picture BC

Revelstoke Hydro Dam – located on the powerful Columbia River, there are interactive displays and exhibits for all ages at the Revelstoke Hydro Dam Visitor Centre. Learn how water is turned into clean energy and take an elevator ride to the top of the 175 metre / 570 ft dam.

Slocan Lake Boat Tour – take a 2-hour boat trip from New Denver with Slocan Lake Boat Tours, and see osprey nests, pictographs, soaring cliffs, waterfalls and more.

New Denver – home of the Valley Voice newspaper that published the “Silvery Slocan Heritage Tour”.  Known as the El Dorado before it became New Denver when it was forecast that it would become greater than its namesake Denver, Colorado. By 1893 it served silver and lead mines like Alpha and Alamo that added to the general prosperity of the town. The Silvery Slocan Museum showcases the heritage of the region including mining, logging and agriculture.

Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre is a National Historic Site located in the Village of New Denver. This is the only interpretive centre in Canada that focuses on internment under very harsh conditions for 22,000 Japanese-Canadians in the 1940s. Includes original buildings and artifacts. Kohan Peace Garden nestled beside Slocan Lake was built in the late 1980s to honour the thousands of Japanese Canadians who were relocated in 1942.

Read these blogs that includes information on this area:
Exploring History in new Denver, BC
Discovering Camping in BC in the Fall Season

Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre

Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre in New Denver | Photo: Gord Rees

Section 4.  New Denver to Balfour

Directions: Take Hwy 31A over the mountain pass to Kaslo. Turn south onto Hwy 31 at Kaslo to Balfour.

Driving Time: 1 hr 15 mins (83km / 52 mi).

Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in the area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the community required.

Things to Do:

S.S. Moyie National Historic Site – the oldest passenger sternwheeler in the world is located on the edge of Kootenay Lake in Kaslo and highlights the history of its 59-year history plying the waters of Kootenay Lake. Every room in the S.S. Moyie takes you back to the heydays of mining prosperity in the Kootenay region.

SS Moyie, Kootenay Lake

SS Moyie Stern Wheeler Museum in Kaslo | Photo: Gord Rees

Ainsworth Hot Springs – located off Hwy 31, the Hot Springs are 30 minutes north of Balfour. Hike into Cody Caves on an underground tour through caverns and stalagmites and relax in the warm therapeutic waters while overlooking Kootenay Lake.

Sandon – a ghost town located about 20 mins east of new Denver off Hwy 31A. It has a small store for a snack break and antiques showcasing its silver mining history. Sandon was a city of 5,000 with 29 hotels and saloons in 1890. There is also a steam train relic, museum and interpretive centre. Various hiking trails can be accessed from here including Idaho Peak with a 12 km / 8 mi hike through alpine meadows to a lookout with mountain views.

Kootenay Lake

The Sandy Beach on Kootenay Lake in Kootenay Lake Provincial Park | Photo: Gord Rees

Section 5. Balfour to Creston

Directions: Take Hwy 3A to the free ferry from Balfour to Kootenay Bay. Head south on Hwy 3A to Hwy 3 travelling through small lakeside villages on Kootenay Lake to Creston.

Driving Time: 2 hours (90 km / 55 mi) includes the longest free ferry ride in the world of approximately 35 minutes.

At Balfour Ferry

Hippy Shopping Centre at Balfour Bay Ferry Terminal | Photo: Gord Rees

Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in the area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the community required.

Things to Do:

Crawford Bay – an artisan community with interesting crafts. Includes: Kootenay Forge with a working blacksmith shop making accessories for the home; Barefoot Handweaving offers a look at ‘dancing treadles in bare feet’! North Woven Broom Company showcases broom-makers creating corn brooms using antique machinery.

Creston – where the Kootenay River re-enters BC flowing into Kootenay Lake. Known as “Valley of the Swans” that lies in a vast fertile valley with an abundance of alfalfa, fruit farming and dairy farms. Extraordinary Eskimo carvings are displayed in front of two stately grain elevators on a street corner.

Grain Elevators with Carvings, Creston

Two Grain Elevators Converted to a Gallery in Creston | Photo: Gord Rees

Columbia Brewery – located in Creston, Columbia Brewery is home of the famous Kokanee Glacial Fresh Beer and other well-known brands. Tours and tasting room are available.

Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area – world-renowned wetlands site of 17,000 acres that is home to Canada’s densest population of osprey and 300+ species of birds and other wildlife. An interpretive centre provides educational displays and a one-hour guided canoe trip is available as is a walking tour. Trail maps are available.

Creston Valley Wildlife Area

Wetland Marshes with Canoeing in the Creston Valley Wildlife Area | Photo: Gord Rees

Section 6. Creston to Castlegar

Directions: Head west toward the Creston Flats on Hwy 3. Cross the Kootenay River and climb the SaImo-Creston Hwy to the summit in Kootenay Pass. Continue the long descent to Salmo, turn on to Hwy 6 north to Nelson then south via Hwy 6 and Hwy 3A to Castlegar.

Driving Time: 2 hrs (170 km / 105 mi).

Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in the area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the community required.

Things to Do:

Nelson – a town of heritage buildings, and arts & culture, the community of Nelson is known as the “Number One Small Town Arts Community in Canada”. A good place to uncover both the history and arts is at the Touchstones Museum of Art & Culture located in a heritage building designed by the famous Francis Rattenbury. Whilst there take a self-guided tour of the town to see some of the 350 restored heritage buildings located there.

Nelson, Picture BC

Nelson Retains  its Historic Charm with Numerous Heritage Buildings, Photo: Picture BC

Bonnington Falls Dam – several hydro dams provide interesting view-points along the Kootenay River between Nelson and Castlegar. The river drops some 117 metres / 385 ft from Nelson, starting with Bonnington Falls Dam built in 1916 to supply mines and smelters in the region.

Lower Bonnington Falls Dam on the Kootenay River

Lower Bonnington Dam on the Kootenay River between Nelson and Castlegar | Photo: Gord Rees

Castlegar Sculpturewalk – this popular annual summer event showcases sculptures by international artists. You can enjoy these amazing creations located throughout the community via a self-guided Sculpturewalk tour (maps available) and vote on your favourite. The one receiving the highest number of votes is purchased by the town for their permanent display.

Doukhobor Discovery Centre – through interactive displays, hundreds of artifacts and guided tours, the Discovery Centre in Castlegar showcases traditional life of the Doukhobors between 1908 – 1938.

Brilliant Suspension Bridge – is a National Historic Site near Castlegar and was built by hand in 1913 by the Doukhobors who settled in the area. When a new bridge was built the Brilliant bridge fell into disarray but with sponsorship and volunteers it was rebuilt and reopened to foot traffic in 2010. The bridge is the focal point in Brilliant Bridge Regional Park and includes an observation tower.

Trail – a side trip south from Castlegar to Trail via Hwy 22 takes you to the Teck Interpretive Centre  which showcases Teck Cominco’s metallurgical history in BC. Visitors will see smelting and refining in one of the world’s largest zinc and lead operations, plus hands-on exhibits and a challenging computer-generated game that highlights products used every day. Whilst in Trail go on the Rock Walls Walking Adventure along Lasagne Loop or Spaghettini Shuffle, to name just two, and see the work that the local stonemasons created between the 1920s and 1960s. Following your walk enjoy a delicious Italian meal in town.

Victoria Street Bridge, Columbia River, Trail

Victoria Street Bridge on the Columbia River at Trail | Photo: Gord Rees

Section 7:  Castlegar to Rock Creek 

Directions: Follow Hwy 3 west to Rock Creek via Christina Lake and Grand Forks.

Driving Time: 2 hours (170 km / 105 mi).

Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in the area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the community required.

Things to Do:

Grand Forks – named for the fork at the junction of the Kettle and Granby Rivers, this small community is popular for its beaches, swimming and other water activities. Hiking and biking trails, now located on old rail beds that today form part of the Trans Canada Trail, can be accessed from downtown. Grand Forks owes its existence to the largest copper smelter in the British Commonwealth in the 1900s and to the large Doukhobor community which is still in existence. Maps are available for a self-guided historical walking tour of the town.

Kettle River at junction Granby River in Grand Forks

Kettle River at the Junction with the Granby River in Grand Forks | Photo: Gord Rees

Christina Lake – with a long beach and beautiful lake, Christina Lake is popular for swimming and water sports. At the south end of the lake Christina Lake Provincial Park has perhaps the most accessible beach. There are also excellent fishing opportunities and, depending on the time of year, you can catch rainbow trout and large- and small-mouth bass.

Cascade Falls – accessed via the Cascade Gorge Trail which has been developed along the original Kettle Valley railbed in Christina Lake. The 5 km / 3 mi easy hike offers some excellent viewpoints and stops along the way, The falls can be accessed via a path from the trail.

Greenwood – the small community of Greenwood showcases its mining heritage throughout the colourful buildings in town. Taking a self-guided tour of these buildings and a peek into the museum, courthouse and jail, will provide a look back at the area’s history from its copper mining days to the Japanese internment during WW11.

Christina Lake

Christina Lake is one of the Warmest Swimming Lakes in BC | Photo: Gord Rees

Section 8:   Rock Creek to Princeton

Directions: Continue west on Hwy 3 (Crowsnest Hwy) toward Keremeos climbing over Anarchist Summit and down into Osoyoos and on to Princeton.

Driving Time: 2 hrs (165 km / 102 mi).

Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in the area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the community required.

Things to Do:

Rock Creek – the small community of Rock Creek in Boundary Country was part of the Gold Rush era in the late 1850s when gold was found in the creek and Kettle River. Today visitors come here to try their hand at gold panning as well as to experience other outdoor activities. The Kettle River Recreation Area offers excellent opportunities for swimming, kayaking, fishing and camping. The old Kettle Valley Railway railbed runs through the park which is now part of the Trans Canada Trail and popular with cyclists and walkers alike.

Kettle River near Rock Creek

Pullout after Tubing on the Kettle River near Rock Creek | Photo: Gord Rees

Osoyoos – sitting in the Okanagan fruit belt on the fringe of the Great Basin Desert, the Osoyoos Desert Centre is comprised of a 67-acre nature area that includes an interpretive centre. A boardwalk will take you on a self-guided or guided tour of the area where you will see unusual flora and fauna. The hot summers and fertile soil produce outstanding grapes and excellent award-winning wines. Osoyoos is on the southern end of ‘wine country’ with dozens of wineries located all the way north through the Okanagan Valley. Sipping is a natural part of visiting here.

Keremeos – known as the ‘Fruit Capital of Canada’ it’s no wonder when you take a drive through the main street of this small town and see the abundance of fruit stands – stop and buy some! Other local produce is on offer as well so this is a great opportunity to get some snacks to make a delicious picnic.  The Keremeos Grist Mill & Gardens, a Heritage Site, will interest all the family including seeing an oeprating 1877 waterwheel-powered flour mill. Then enjoy some buttery scones made with the same flour in the Tea Room made right on site.

Keremeos Grist Mill, Picture BC

Keremeos Grist Mill, Photo: Picture BC

Hedley – is a very small community that is definitely worth a stop. Its claim to fame is the Mascot Mine perched on the mountain side that mined for gold, silver and copper in the early 1900s.

Princeton – named in honour of the Prince of Wales’ (later King Edwad V11) visit in 1860 to Canada. Princeton is a great place to stop for lunch or to stay a day or two. There are several restaurants in this small town that offer a variety of tasty foods from Greek to Japanese and everything in between. Bike the Kettle Valley Rail Trail along the Tulameen River and stop on the award-winning pedestrian “Bridge of Dreams”. Try a little gold-panning or do some kayaking.

Princeton, Picture BC

Princeton, Photo: Picture BC

Section 9. Princeton to Vancouver

Directions: Leaving Princeton, climb the Crowsnest Hwy 3 out of the town, known for several sharp switchbacks to Alison Pass, finally descending into the Fraser Valley on Hwy 1 and on to Vancouver.

Driving Time: 3 hrs 10 mins (285 km / 177 mi).

Where to Camp: For campgrounds and parks available in the area go to Camping & RV in BC and search under the community required.

Things to Do:

Hope – surrounded by snow-capped mountains, lush forests and rivers, Hope offers lots to do for the outdoor enthusiast. In nearby Coquihalla Provincial Park are the Othello Tunnels that were built over steep chasms and through granite rock to carry the railway travelling from the coast to the interior. Today, you can walk through the 5 tunnels and experience the stunning views and rock formations.

Harrison Hot Springs – a destination resort nestled in the mountains at the edge of Harrison Lake. Harrison Hot Springs has a sandy beach and safe swimming area that offers an abundance of water sports from paddling to boat tours. Enjoy walking, hiking or biking one of the several trails and relax in a spa afterwards.

Harrison Hot Springs, Picture BC

Harrison Hot Springs, Photo: Picture BC

Published: August 28, 2017
Last Updated: June 20, 2023