This past weekend, I got the chance to explore B.C’s Columbia Valley. The region just west of Alberta’s border that features towns like Radium, Invermere, Panorama and Windermere. Here are some of my favourite photos and travel tips.
Getting there: Columbia Valley is shockingly close to Calgary. From downtown Calgary, it’s about a 262 km drive, which if you drive like a normal person, gets you there in under three hours. Simply take the highway out past Banff, then head south on Highway 93 (The Icefield Parkway.)
Pit stop: If you need to take a break, I’m still recommending that you refuel both your car and your stomach at The Junction House in Dead Man’s Flats. Otherwise, just before you head south on Highway 93, turn east first and pop in to the Castle Junction area along the Bow Valley Parkway. This is your last place to pick up anything or visit the washroom before Radium, so it’s worth the little detour.
Along the way: One of the best parts of visiting the Columbia Valley are all the amazing little stops along the way. So while the drive may take three hours, I would allow for some more time because as the road twists and turns in and out of valleys, you don’t want to pass up things like the scenic Marble Canyon, the Sir George Simpson Monument and Olive Lake.
One of my favourite things to do in the area, happens to also be really easy on the wallet, actually that’s a theme you’ll notice about this post and Columbia Valley itself, there’s lots of free things to do. If you want to get a great view of the valley, I definitely recommend the summer chair lift at the base of the Panorama Mountain Resort. It’ll take you up to the halfway point of the Purcell Mountains. It’s a smooth ride that allows you to take in the Rocky Mountains and the sound of Toby Creek’s rumbling waters.
It’s trips like these that remind me that I’m a bit of an old soul, which I’m totally okay with. Sometimes, I’m perfectly happy to wander the old streets of small towns like Invermere and Radium, talking in the sites and finding good deals in the shops. The shops offer a glimpse into what life may have been like a few decades, although their contents have been updated. I was surprised there wasn’t more development in terms of businesses along the lake, but perhaps that is done on purpose. When I was there, the Toby Theatre was closed for the season, but I’ve heard it’s a really cute retro theatre, so I definitely want to come back and check it out.
For me, the highlight of the entire trip was driving around looking for animals. It actually kind felt like we were on Jurassic Park, only things ended not going so awry. I had heard that animals were easy to spot in the Columbia Valley region, but I honestly didn’t expect to see as many as we saw. On the way down, we spotted five black bears a moose and countless deer. Throughout our stay, we saw mountain sheep, more deer and felt really lucky to spot a turkey vulture, something I didn’t even know existed. On the way back to Calgary, we saw five more bears, all just hanging around the side of the road, enjoying the season’s fresh offerings of dandelions.
Now, I know the mere thought of being close to a bear will terrify my mother and likelyother moms out there, but to get an up close and personal experience with these amazing creatures doesn’t even involve you getting out of your car. Columbia Valley offers up so many vantage points to see the animals in their natural habit, you’ll spend hours watching them from the safe comforts of your car.
Get wet! (more pictures pending the development of the film from my underwater camera.)
It might surprise you that I’m a huge fan of white water rafting. I don’t know what it is exactly, but the rush of the whole experience is something that I’ve always found addictive, so I was excited when we signed up for a trip to raft down Toby Creek with Kootney River Runners. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough people who signed up for the that particular run, so we got moved to the Kootney River trip, which is basically the difference between being forced to wear a helmet and not wear a helmet. The Kootney River trip was really great, because it’s always nice to be on the water and in the sun, but it was just a little too tame for my liking. The highlight of the tour was definitely our guide Ian, who is probably the most informed guide that we could have asked for. From rock formations, to abandoned cabins, facts about animals and interesting tidbits about the history of the river, what the ride lacked in terrifying fear, Ian made up for in an informative and fun trip. I’m already planning on going back, but next time I want to take on the white water!
Where to stay:
For this particular trip, we got to stay at the relatively new Copper Point Resort, which is just on the edge of the edge of the town of Invermere. It is also attached to the Copper Point Golf Course. Some of my favourite thing about our room was the fully functional and modern kitchen, which is always good for late night snacks or hosting little parties in your room. The patio is also big enough to fit a table and seats four. There was also two fireplaces and two bathrooms, not bad for a room with only one bed! Of course, all of that pales in comparison to the fact that the bathroom mirror had a television. A TELEVISION! The photo of me discovering this is genuine, I was totally shocked and happily played with it all weekend. The added bonus of being able to watch TV while enjoying the best hotel shower I’ve ever experienced made this hotel stay very memorable. Another perk that I enjoyed on the chilly weekend was the free underground parking. If I can provide one travel tip, unless you’re looking for a family friendly experience, ask for an east-facing room to avoid the “playful” sounds of the pool and golf course grooming.