I consider myself a pretty strong rider. But, despite their best efforts, the trio of Canadian cyclists who have volunteered to show me the highlights of road biking in the West Kootenay region of southern B.C. area are casually kicking my ass.
The small alpine community of Rossland is one of the highest-elevation towns in Canada, and, although it’s better known for world-class mountain biking, its road-cycling aficionados have plenty to celebrate: low-traffic roads, a nice mix of mellow valley and strenuous mountain pavement and phenomenal scenery in the heart of the Canadian Kootenays. My Canadian hosts were too polite to point it out, but the same terrain that breeds fearless freeriders also shapes steel-calved climbers. These three rides showcase the best this beautiful region only a few hours north of Spokane has to offer the skinny-tire-and-spandex crowd.
Waneta / Columbia Gardens
Local cycling clubs revere this network of cycling routes along the Columbia and Pend Oreille Rivers. But the scenic and mostly flat riding suits beginners too. Starting in the tiny community of Waneta east of Trail along the border, trace the contours of the Columbia River along the virtually flat Waneta highway. Strong climbers should continue out to Seven Mile Dam southeast of Waneta, where a 1.5-mile granny-gear ascent rewards riders with spectacular scenery along the Pend Oreille River. Or, for a rolling route through idyllic farmland, follow Columbia Gardens Road out toward Fruitvale. Combine the two for a showcase of the west Kootenays’ best riding. Come autumn, larch enliven the steep hillsides above the river while the reds and oranges of orchard trees grace Columbia Gardens Road.
Nancy Greene Lake
Locals looking to escape the summertime heat of the valleys head to tiny Nancy Greene Provincial Park 17 miles north of Rossland. The namesake lake at the centerpiece of the park makes for a great dip at the midpoint of a moderately difficult 34-mile out-and-back. From Rossland, cycle north out of town on wide-shouldered Highway 3B, the steep forested flanks of the Rossland Range (Seven Summits Trail country) on your left and a sweeping panorama of the Columbia River valley between Trail and Castlegar. The climbing isn’t steep but it is steady up to the crest of 5,000-foot Strawberry Pass. From there it’s a quick descent to the subalpine setting of the provincial park. Pack a swimsuit and picnic lunch.
Silvery Slocan Route
On cyclists’ life-lists should be the 280-mile International Selkirk Loop. The loop, which encompasses southern British Columbia, northeast Washington and northern Idaho, boasts valley-bottom riding past glacier-carved lakes and the lofty peaks of the Selkirks, with a hefty dose of history on the side. Riders looking for a shorter itinerary can sample the Silvery Slocan portion of the loop on an 80-mile roundtrip from Slocan Park to New Denver. From Slocan Junction between Castlegar and Nelson, ride winding Highway 6 along the slow-meandering Slocan River, shaded with cottonwoods and surrounded by small farms. Pass through the funky artists’ enclave of Winlaw and climb above Slocan Lake on the eastern edge of Valhalla Provincial Park’s lofty peaks. Descend to Sandon and New Denver, with their rich mining history and small-town charm on the shores of Slocan Lake. Narrow, winding pavement demands concentration, so plan for plenty of stops to properly enjoy the views, some of the best in the Kootenays.