Living as close as we do to British Columbia and the unthinkably uncrowded Kootenay region, with its lifetime’s worth of outdoor adventure potential, dramatic scenery and idyllic, enlightened mountain towns, there’s no excuse for not having a current passport or an enhanced, Canadian-border-crossing approved Washington State driver’s license. Border crossings are a breeze these days, and the reward for the few extra minutes spent answering usually polite questions from border agents is the stuff outdoor junkies in more urbanized corners of the U.S. dream of: empty, epic trails; enormous parks and wilderness areas; lunker native fish; intact ecosystems; and sprawling, wild rivers and lakes. While other more well-known BC adventure towns get plenty of press, these two Kootenay communities have often flown below the radar of adventure-seeking Americans, and after spending some time in each of them this past year, we left wondering why as we were already planning our return trips. (OTM)

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Climbing in Cranbrook, B.C. Photo: Aaron Theisen

Cranbrook, B.C.—The Sunshine Capital of British Columbia

Set within a broad valley in the rain shadow of the Kootenay Rockies, at the halfway point between Spokane and Calgary, Cranbrook long served as a transportation hub for trains, planes, fur traders and fruit growers. Today, Cranbrook has begun the transition from way station to destination. The city has leveraged its central location on the Powder Highway and its status as the sunshine capital of British Columbia to attract recreationists year-round for cycling and skiing at nearby Kimberley and Fernie Alpine Resorts.

Simply put, Cranbrook is the best outdoors town you’ve never heard about. But the pros have. Professional rock climber Gord McArthur, currently ranked 13th in the world, lives in Cranbrook, and the area is quietly revered in kayaking circles for its world-class whitewater; many of the sports top pros train here. Just Liquid Sports, the town’s purveyor of all things paddling-related, is owned by a professional SUPer who also holds several kayaking first-descent accolades on world-class waterfalls. But it’s not all experts-only recreation; on the contrary, the common phrase used by local athletes to describe Cranbrook’s outdoor activities is “something for everyone.”

Case in point: the Cranbrook Community Forest. A true community project, with citizen input and sidewalk access from the north end of downtown, the Cranbrook Community Forest boasts 200 kilometers of single- and double-track trails through a low-elevation parkland of vanilla-scented ponderosa pine and a plethora of prairie flowers: balsamroot, lupine, shooting star and prairie crocus. It’s the sort of forest where cyclists can peel off two hours of after-work singletrack laps and stroller-pushing parents can tote napping toddlers. Add to that the Cranbrook-to-Kimberley bike path, and a forthcoming 40k rails-to-trails route from Cranbrook to the community of Wardner, and there’s plenty for the casual adventurer. Cranbrooktourism.ca (Aaron Theisen)

Somewhere down there is Kaslo, B.C. Photo: Derrick Knowles

Somewhere down there is Kaslo, B.C. Photo: Derrick Knowles

Kaslo, B.C.—A Magical Mountain Village on Kootenay Lake

If you have yet to venture further north of Nelson than Ainsworth Hot Springs, you owe yourself a few more miles on your next Kootenay road trip. Another half hour up the road from Ainsworth, the mountain village of Kaslo sits along the shores of sparkling Kootenay Lake between the green-walled peaks of the Purcell and Selkirk Mountains. The town is quiet, peaceful and welcoming and has a lost-in-time, magical feel about it. And once you get dialed into the edge-of-town trails and paddling potential out on the lake, whether it’s from a historic hotel room or community campground tent site, you may wish you too could lose track of time and tack a few more days onto your trip.

The trails, both the sanctioned ones highlighted in the local tourism handouts and the miles of off-the-map singletrack, are one of the community’s greatest assets. The well-used path that follows the lakeshore away from downtown past the campground and along and up the Kaslo River is a great introduction to the community’s natural beauty and a gateway to the growing network of mountain biking, hiking and running trails in the forest above town.

Back down on the water, stand up paddleboarding and kayaking in the bay, or, if the wind and weather are cooperating, out on the wide, blue waters of Kootenay Lake, will be the highlight of your visit. Kaslo Kayaking rents boards, kayaks and paddling gear and offers tours out to more far-flung destinations along the wild east shore of the lake, which you may not want to try on your own given the lake’s penchant for blowing up into white-capped waves when the wind picks up.

New this year, Kaslo Kayaking has launched an Adventure Centre (at 344 Front Street) where you can rent paddling gear and book paddling trips and other guided outings, including white water rafting, mountain biking and fishing tours. They also sell outdoor recreation gear, clothing and equipment you may have forgotten at home or destroyed out on the trail or lost in the lake. Nelsonkootenaylake.com. (Derrick Knowles) //