Travel from the Canadian Rockies to Vancouver or the other way around and spend time sightseeing while skirting the US border.
A little less than 1000 kilometers lie between the Rockies and Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. Of course, the quickest way is to make it there is by hitting the highways and passing through the bigger cities. In doing so, however, you may just miss these charming places along the US border.
Cranbrook is a little city at the foot of the Kootenay Mountains alongside the Rockies. Take the I95 down to the BC 3 W. This road will be your guideline towards Vancouver.
Boswell Bottle House
On an unobtrusive little road, set on the steep bank of Lake Kootenay, you will find Boswell Bottle House. If death or anything related, makes you squeamish, this might not be for you.
Because what to do with pretty and empty embalming fluid bottles? Well, if you are an undertaker and you have a lot of them, you can use them to build a house, walls around your property and your flowerbeds, a watchtower and an arched bridge.
Mr. Brown did exactly that. For years he, along with colleagues in the business collected the square, empty bottles and starting in 1952, slowly built his property with them.
The air trapped inside the bottles, their straight edges stacked on top of each other and the bottlenecks facing inwards, help insulate the buildings from heat and cold.
It took over 500,000 bottles and several years to finish, but Brown and his wife lived in this whimsical and fairytale surrounding for years.
The main building was constructed in a cloverleaf shape, fluidly flowing to the next. The spaces themselves are on different levels, with steps leading to and from each other following the rock the house was built upon.
A wishing well
The grounds, only open in the summer months, have quaint, twisting, cobbled garden paths lined by colourful, blooming flowerbeds.
The combination of where and how the place is set against the steep rockface overlooking the lake, and the well-groomed gardens, mean that you suddenly find yourself passing underneath the arched bridge. Or realize you walked around the house and now see the wishing well from a different angle.
To add to the fairytale feel, are the garden gnomes that do their jobs around the place, pushing wheelbarrows, tending flowers or enjoying the view.
It may never have been their intention but with the amount of interest the house and gardens got from people driving by, the Browns decided to open it up to the public during summer months. Much like it still is now.
Boswell Bottle House, near Boswell, on the eastern side of Lake Kootenay. $10 adults (free for kids).
The deep gorge created by ice during the Pleistocene and filled with melting water is now known as Lake Kootenay. It is over 100 km /63 mi long and is located 530 m/ 1.736 ft above sea level.
The lake still acts like a basin to waters flowing down from the river itself, the Duncan River and creeks all around.
Kootenay Lake Ferry
Keep the lake to your left and drive up to Kootenay Bay. Here, the longest free ferry ride in the world will take you to Balfour, 8.9 km/ away, on the opposite side of the lake.
Buy some light refreshments or takeaway lunch at the shack sitting at the top of the ramp and enjoy the view. Loading is on a first-come-first-serve basis, the crossing takes 41 minutes and it is breathtakingly beautiful.
City of Ainsworth
Traveling here, on a summer’s day, sun reflecting off the very calm water, it is hard to imagine that a sternwheeler ferry sunk here over a century ago, due to the bad weather. With a depth up to 152 meters/ 496 feet, the wreck is still sitting, upright, at the bottom of this waterfilled canyon.
Castlegar, Grand Forks or any other hotel around this area will make a good overnight stop before the next one in wine country
About 125 km west of Grand Forks, mere kilometers from the US border lies British Columbia’s answer to Californian, Chilean or French wines: Osoyoos.
The route along the BC 3 descends from the Kootenay Mountain area and its green surroundings down to the Osoyoos valley into the low, dry and desert-like Okanagan valley. On its slopes, rows, and rows of vines.
Here, on a perfect geological height, slopes inundated with sunlight and warmth and the right soil mixture grow the Osoyoos’ wines. According to the British Columbian wine website, the terroir is: ‘Soils are very deep sandy glacial fluvial materials overlying granite bedrock’.
Merlot, Shiraz/Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc are the most common red wine varieties, with the white Chardonnay as the outsider.
The perfect soil-combination not only for wine but other fruits as well. Something you see just driving through this yellow valley.
Everywhere along the road, little stands have been set up with freshly picked fruits. You’ll find peaches, plums, cherries, nectarines. Besides the different types of grapes, also berries like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. And lastly, types of apples, pears, and apricots. Apple tart, strawberry shortcake or blueberry scones, anyone?
To truly savour it all, you need to stay here a few days and visit the orchards or go and handpick the fruit yourself. Of course, there are lots of opportunities to do so: wineries, orchards and U-pick sights.
Stuff your bellies and then your freezers with this produce. Then stock your wine racks and cook and bake to your heart’s content with it all.
After a lovely day of tasting wines in the sunshine, you’ll stay in this cute village that looks like it is straight from a Western movie. Well, if you erase the cars from your mental view, you can picture horses, coaches, and people walking here. Then again, that can also be the wine talking, err writing.
There is a lot you can do in this area both in summer and in winter. This area is steeped in historical significance, and the surroundings make for any type of season sport or activity you can think of: swimming, canoeing or jet-skiing. You can go golfing, hiking or cycling, visiting the local museums or any of the produce-related activities as mentioned before.
For your next stop, the ‘BC 3’ will take you to the town of Hope. Just before it, in Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park, take Othello road to Fraser Valley to go and see the Othello Tunnels.
These tunnels were dug, or actually, the rock was blown up to make way for a train track that connected the southern Vancouver area to the Kootenay mountains. A short and easy trail (3.5 km/ little over 2 mi) goes through the 4 tunnels on what is now the Kettle Valley Railway Trail.
This area with the raging Coquihalla River pushing through the gorges the tunnels were cut through too, resembles another railway track. One that is equally known for its steep (and stunning) setting: the Flamsbana in Norway. The stark darkness alternates with bright and crystal-clear sunlight. The latter reflecting off of the river roaring around massive rocks.
It certainly makes for beautiful views and a way to stretch your legs before your last stop.
Here are a few things for you to go and do or see in this bustling city.
On an island underneath the city’s bridges and amid the sports harbour you’ll find this indoor public market. (Window) shop from produce to meat but also jewelry, handmade hats, books, and art. The market is open 7 days a week from 9 in the morning until 7 o’clock at night, and you can easily spend half a day here. Browsing, tasting, trying and having a meal or a coffee.
Feel like a bit of a walk from here? You’re in the right place. Keep the water to your right, and follow the coastline around Burrard Civic Marina. Then continue on to pass by both the Museum of Vancouver and Vancouver Maritime Museum. After about 20-30 minutes you’ll find yourself on Kitsilano Beach. Relax, have a drink or a meal at the restaurant overlooking the bay. Take Cornwall Avenue back for the quick return downtown.
Gastown Steam Clock
On Water Street in the original heart of the city go see this Steam Punk clockwork, even if it was built decades later. The clock was meant as a monument to the area where steam pipes run underneath the streets from the nearby plant.
It was built in 1977 and is only one of about 6 steam clocks worldwide. Since it is very hard to provide a steady flow of steam to be able to keep time, the clock itself runs on electricity. Every half and whole hour, however, the steam does blow the whistles and clouds of heated mist escape the lovely timepiece.
Vancouver’s city green – Stanley Park
Stanley Park is the beating heart of the city. Also, it’s so big that traffic travels right through over the Lions Gate Bridge. Concerts take place here, there is an aquarium, and a little train to sit on with the little ones and you can walk for hours on its trails.
The park was named for Lord Stanley, the Governor-General who had been newly appointed when the park became a public park. It’s located at a big expanse that overlooks the waterway into Vancouver Harbour itself. As such, it was first intended as a defense post against anyone trying to make it into the city.
Besides the fact that there is more than enough to do in and around the forested park, simply sit and watch the ‘sea castles’ loaded with stacks of containers pass underneath the Lions Gate Bridge.
Along the outer rim, a wall was built to protect the banks from the tides and waves. A 30 km pathway follows the wall all around the outcropping. As you can imagine, from here you have a great view of the city, nature, and the ocean. Because of that view, however, it is also is heavily traveled.
In fact, it’s so heavy, that for a while both cyclists and pedestrians were butting heads over who had (first) right to this path.
So, at first, the road was widened, thus doubling the space. Though this solved the issue partly, it didn’t entirely. Another measure in place since allows cyclists to only travel counterclockwise.
Sea-to-Sky Highway Vancouver to Whistler
After the cityscape, time to head for the hills, well, mountains really. Take the Sea-to-Sky Highway towards Vancouver’s Alps and winter sports area.
Route 99 takes you from Vancouver, along the coast up with views of Bowen Island up to 670 m /2,200 ft. Depending on the time of the year, this 163 km route can get very congested due to tourists in general but also people from Vancouver going up for a weekend of skiing or hiking.
Many people will remember Whistler for the Winter Olympics that took place here in 2010. Hence, the Olympic rings at the bottom of the ski slope. The village here is bustling and there are numerous things to do. Restaurants, shops, and bars galore. If you just come here for the day, walking around the centre is enough to keep you occupied.
Since it so beautiful, consider adding a few days stay in one of the many hotels to explore. If you plan to though, do make sure to book well in advance because it’s a popular and therefore a busy area.
Here are some things to think of doing:
- Hike: Whistler Valley Trail among many others;
- Cycle: there are 3 bike parks and trails to follow over and through the mountains;
- Ski, regular or even heli-skiing from their drop-off points in pristine snow;
- Swim: in and around Alta Lake;
- Visit museums, look for artisan treasure or take part in a scavenger hunt with the kids;
- Take the Peak-to-Peak Gondola – connecting the Blackcombe peak to the Whistler peak (4.4 km) long;
- discover the indigenous histories and customs along the Sea-to-Sky Highway and the Whistler surroundings
- Taste and try the Whistler Beer
Did you know…
- that Whistler was named for the sound marmots make?
- That the summits oboe, flute, and piccolo were named for the pitch of these instruments and correlate with the heights of the summits? Therefore, ‘Oboe’ is at the lowest height and piccolo the highest.
Too much choice
This part of Canada, honestly, is so beautiful and so varied, it’s hard to give you a good sense of all there is to see. Combine this route with the Canadian Rockies one and you have a well-rounded 7-10 day holiday.
What on this trip along the US border would you want to do first? Or, with this much to choose from, what would be the first thing to drop and in favour of what else?
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