I am so happy to know that the border between Canada and the United States has opened up for travel. Living in Washington State, I am only a few hours drive to the border with British Columbia (B.C.), so I have had the opportunity to explore the province over the past few years. It is vast, so for this article, I am focusing on towns in Eastern B.C. which I visited on an epic road trip with my son.
We drove through the Okanagan region before connecting with the International Selkirk Loop. This loop is a 280-mile scenic drive that circles the Selkirk Mountains of Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. These towns together make a great road trip crossing the border from Washington to Osoyoos and then returning over the border into Idaho near Bonners Ferry.
This rustic Canadian town sits amidst the Okanagan Desert, the only region like it in Canada. Osoyoos and the surrounding desert are known as the hottest place in Canada. The best place to explore this ecosystem is at the Nk’Mip Desert Cultural Centre where you will learn about the environment as well as the history and culture of the Okanagan people in this region. The interpretive center, which houses the indoor exhibits, is an ecological marvel constructed into a hillside to create a sustainable building with a variety of environmentally friendly features. Outdoors is a 1,600-acre desert conservation area stewarded by the Osoyoos Indian Band. Take a guided trail walk with an interpreter to learn about desert ecology and wildlife. Such a unique experience.
Oliver is considered the “Wine Capital of Canada” with 50 percent of all wine grapes in British Columbia are grown here. You’ll find a variety of options from small family farms to large sprawling estates with the foodie culture to go with it. A fun, family, friendly option is to visit Covert Farms, a fourth-generation, 650-acre regenerative organic farm, vineyard, and winery.
Book a Hands On Harvest Tour. I took this tour on my visit and it was so interesting. You sit in the back of a cherry-red 1952 Mercury truck for a tour of the property. You’ll see the farm and vineyard amidst breathtaking scenery including the famous Okanagan landmark, McIntyre Bluff, as well as the unbelievably photogenic farm animals. At the end of the tour, sit on the outdoor patio and sip wines made from the grapes you sampled in the vineyards. Pair with local charcuterie and artisanal cheeses with farm-fresh veggies.
Located in the heart of the Okanagan Valley on the west bank of Okanagan sits the charming town of Peachland. This is the stop to put a little adventure on your trip. Visit ZipZone Peachland to experience Canada’s highest freestyle zip lines which have six of the highest, longest, and fastest zip lines in Canada. You will cross back and forth over the stunning Deep Creek Gorge on 2.1 kilometers (6,750 feet) of zip lines. The views are gorgeous. This is a pretty physical activity that involves walking on uneven terrain between zip lines and then a short hike up out of the gorge at the end. After your adventure enjoy some time beach time at Swim Bay
This is the largest city in the area and Kelowna makes a perfect base. The Hotel Eldorado at Eldorado Resort is situated on the banks of Okanagan Lake. The hotel dates to 1926 and has a long history of timeless elegance, luxury, and hospitality. Its Old-World charm gives you the feel of the grand dame hotels of yesteryear. Make sure to dine at the restaurant lakeside dining to have an incredible meal while watching the stunning sunsets Okanagan Lake is known for.
Kelowna is a great location to venture out and about. There are over 40 wineries just a short drive away. Take a self-guided Farm To Table Tour which will take you all around the area exploring wineries, farms, distilleries, and farm-to-table restaurants. There are many museums worth visiting to learn the history of the area and that of the Okanagan’s First Nation People. No trip to the area is complete without exploring the Myra Canyon Trestles with a bike rental from Myra Bicycle Rental and Tours which is the only onsite rental company. This was one of my favorite experiences on my trip. A former rail line that seems to just cling to the canyon walls is now a hiking and biking trail. Roundtrip is 24 kilometers and will take you across 18 trestles and through two tunnels. There is very little change to the grade, so it is an easy ride for the over 50 crowd.
5. Christina Lake
This is one of those towns someone must tell you about or you would never know to visit. A year-round destination, Christina Lake is the jewel of the Kootenay Boundary area. It is ideally located to enjoy all the recreational opportunities in the area. Hiking is popular on a variety of trails including the Trans-Canada Trail. It is also known for its dark skies. On clear nights the stars are uninterrupted by city lights. There are no big luxury resorts or hotels, it is more where Canadians go to spend a week or two at the lake renting vacation houses. Think family trips or a weekend getaway. Stay at the Sunflower Inn B & B a lakefront log home that offers three rooms with private baths. Guests can use the private dock and firepit or rent a canoe, standup paddle board, or kayaks to enjoy the lake.
Surrounded by the Selkirk Mountains and overlooking the West Arm of Kootenay Lake, Nelson is a darling small town known as the “Queen City.” What a great combination of heritage and culture with year-round outdoor recreation. There are more than 350 preserved heritage buildings that house a vibrant downtown scene with arts and music most nights of the week.
Baker Street is the main drag with shops, galleries, and restaurants, many with streetside dining. While the surrounding area is filled with outdoor recreation opportunities, you can rent kayaks right in town and head out to explore Kootenay Lake. The natural beauty of the surrounding area combined with the historic charm of downtown create a lovely place to get away for a night of two.
This cute, tiny town is so worth the detour. It wasn’t on my original itinerary but everywhere I went the locals kept mentioning that you need to check out Kaslo. The drive has mountains on one side and the Lake on the other side of the road and is just gorgeous. British Columbia magazine describes it as a vintage silver dollar. We drove up for lunch and explored the town. The views overlooking the lake and mountain are stunning. The town resembles something you’d see in a Western if it took place in a lusher environment. The SS Moyie National Historic Site has the oldest intact passenger sternwheeler in the world. The S.S. Moyie transported people on Kootenay Lake for 59 years. Worth a visit and there is a nice gift shop.
The draw to this hamlet is the Ainsworth Hot Springs. Long revered by the Ktunaxa First Nations people who used the nupika wu’u (Spirit Water) that we know as hot mineral waters for healing and rejuvenating. Guests have visited since the 1930s and today the property is owned by the Yaqan Nukiy, the Lower Kootenay Band of Creston, BC. The hot springs consist of an outdoor pool filled with warm mineral water. You can also swim or walk through a horseshoe-shaped natural cave. The views of the lake and mountains from the pool are just incredible. This is a very relaxing experience. Visit as a day guest or stay overnight.
Pro Tip: I recommend staying overnight. Reservations include access to the hot springs which you can enjoy in the late afternoon or when they open in the morning to enjoy the less crowded times. The food at the Ktunaxa Grill is very good. Executive Chef Cory Chapman and teams create delectable meals using the freshest local ingredients that are non-GMO, and hormone and antibiotic-free. I stayed here a little over halfway through my road trip and it was such a nice break to just relax.
Balfour is the western terminal of the Kootenay Lake Ferry which traverses the lake to Kootenay Bay. This delightful community has lovely beaches and a variety of businesses, many located near the ferry terminal. The Kootenay Lake ferry is the longest free ferry ride in the world. The 35-minute ride is incredibly scenic and known for its stunning views. It is first-come, first-served, so arrive well before your departure time. Park your car in line and then visit some of the local businesses surrounding the ferry terminal.
The ferry will take you to Kootenay Bay and from there you can take Highway 3A on a scenic drive along the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake. You’ll pass by charming small towns and two provincial parks before coming into Creston which is also an up-and-coming wine region. Continue south to cross the border into the United States.
Check out these other charming Canadian small towns: