Waterfalls, wildlife, wilderness: highlights of our eleven-day, 150-kilometre canoe trip down the length of Lake Revelstoke, British Columbia. Then on to the lakeside mountain towns of Revelstoke, Kaslo, and Nelson, to experience the local lifestyle and take a 50-kilometre bike ride on the Slocan Valley Rail Trail. As of June 28, we have been retired for twenty years!
The road to nowhere
One endangered mountain caribou, one mule deer, two black bears – and that was just on the three-hour drive along Highway 23N to Mica Dam, where the road abruptly ends. Amy, our outfitter, yields to the wildlife, provides stories and advice, and stops for a photo op at Goldstream Falls before dropping us, our gear, and one of her rental canoes at a wetland access road between Mica Dam and Mica Creek, the living quarters for Dam personnel.
Before covid, the Revelstoke Paddlesport Association sponsored an annual race on this Lake Revelstoke route. Between the snow-capped Selkirk and Monashee mountains, paddlers covered 125 kilometres from Mica Creek to the Five Mile boat launch in three days. Us, we are not in a hurry. We paddle 150 kilometres in eleven days, and most of those days we are alone on the lake.
Wet and wild
Death Rapids, whirlpools, and other dangerous water features: these disappeared when the Columbia River was widened and tamed by the Revelstoke and Mica Dams. Lake Revelstoke remains a wild place, though, especially in the northern half and especially on the west side, where there is no vehicle access.
The west side is where we see six moose on Tuesday, day three of our expedition. First, it’s a mama moose with her singleton calf, then in the next cove a gangly yearling, then another mama with wobbly newborns twins. We glide by at a very respectful distance, hence our photos are very fuzzy.
June is a great month for moose-viewing, but this June – let’s call it Juneuary – the weather includes that dreaded combination of rain, wind, and cold temperatures that make canoe-camping a challenge. “I’d like to hone my survival skills,” says Doug, when asked his goal for this expedition. Erecting a backcountry tarp is a manly art, and Doug has plenty of opportunities to practice – sometimes three attempts per day – as the wind shifts and escalates to tarp-shredding speeds.
Waterfalls galore. After a winter of epic snowfall, it’s run-off time, and we are always within sight of at least one noisy, unnamed waterfall, rushing down the lush, green mountainsides. Often, it’s stereo waterfalls, and sometimes three or more in surround sound.
Camping is allowed on Crown Land, which includes most of both shorelines of Lake Revelstoke. Beaches are pleasant campsites, but water levels fluctuate unpredictably due to run-off, rain, and dam releases. Pitching a tent on a skinny beachfront is a somewhat risky choice.
The Elk Road
The east shoreline has an unusual option: occasional highway remnants, sections of the old Big Bend Highway, the original Trans-Canada Highway alignment before re-routing through Rogers Pass. Most of the old road was submerged when the dams were built, but the unsubmerged sections make convenient, level places to camp. Many of the highway remnants have piles of elk evidence, so we call them our Elk Road campsites.
Not quite a carnival
One logging truck cable ferry is the only human activity we see during week one of this trip, but as we approach the southern portion of the lake, we expect some action. John Roskelley, in his book documenting his paddling trip on all 1200 miles of the Columbia River, mentions tubers, ski boats, and jet skis giving “a noisy, carnival-like atmosphere.”
Crown Land camping is possible at the lake’s southern end, but we decide to check out the developed road-accessible public campgrounds: Carnes Creek Recreation Site, Wadey Recreation Site, and Martha Creek Provincial Park. It’s not carnival season yet. We find quiet, well-maintained campgrounds, with gracious hosts, especially the couple from Carnes Creek, who stop at Wadey to check that we have made it safely after a day of high winds.
Five Mile boat launch, our take-out point, is the only slightly-busy spot. Locals arehere to watch their dogs swim, to launch paddleboards and kayaks, and to hang out in the most northerly lakeside spot with cell phone service. Amy is there to welcome us with enthusiasm and to transport us back to civilization. Amy has a busy summer ahead, with outdoor adventures for all ages. Don’t those summer programs for kids look like fun?
A two-person tent is the ultimate tiny home; sitting on your mummy bag, everything is within arm’s reach. After two weeks of tenting, we decide to try two different hard-sided tiny homes: a MicrOcube and a camping cabin.
At first the MicrOcube looks out of place in the middle of the woodsy Snowforest campground at Mount Revelstoke National Park, and it has a few strange, designer features, like a door that is very technical (difficult) to lock. The MicrOcube is super-cosy, though, boasting ten square metres (100 square feet) of space, with a pull-out double bed, lighting, and two chairs. The shower building and outdoor sinks are nearby.
At Revelstoke Campground (formerly a KOA), the Basic Camping Cabin is more rustic (that means more spiders) than the MicrOCube, but the Cabin is larger and has a covered porch, handy for cooking in the rain. In Nelson, we move up a notch by taking a renovated suite at Kokanee Glacier Resort, giving us our own little kitchen and bathroom.
John arranges the perfect day for us: sunny skies, rental e-bikes, shuttle to the Slocan trailhead, and pick up at South Slocan five hours later.
Slocan Valley Rail Trail
What a lovely ride! A 50-kilometre, level trail for non-motorized recreation, beautifully maintained by volunteers, with benches, picnic tables, interpretive signs, and toilets along the way. To our Victoria friends, imagine the Galloping Goose Trail, except with more grass, fewer people, and more impressive scenery.
What did we see? Wetland water birds, prehistoric sites, signs commemorating Japanese Canadian internment camps, farmsteads, and river and mountain views, such as views of Frog Peak and the confluence of the Slocan and Little Slocan rivers.
John arranges multi-day bicycle tours, too, so if you are considering a trip to the Kootenays, you might like to check out his website.
After hanging out at the Sugar Shack and the Washeteria and walking all the Greenbelt River Trails, we feel like locals in the outdoorsy town of Revelstoke. We visit the tourist destinations, too: the Revelstoke Dam Visitor Centre, the gondola at Revelstoke Mountain Resort, and Nel’s Knickers, the pair of metal pants at the only place in Canada where ski-jumping records were set.
Kaslo is one of British Columbia’s prettiest villages, according to the tourist literature, and we agree: this is a cute, quaint, tiny lakeside town surrounded by Purcell Mountain peaks. Also very cute: the Koots sculptures playing hide-and-seek among the boulders along the Kaslo River Trail.
In Nelson, our first stop is the Visitor Centre, where a competent, friendly staff person creates a plan for our Nelson days. We take the heritage walking tour, walk the waterfront pathway, ride the streetcar, admire Cottonwood Falls, visit two farmers’ markets, and walk the Great Northern Rail Trail from Svoboda Road to Five Mile Point/Troup Beach (13 km, return). Kal Tire is our final stop, where a flat tire on the rental car is quickly repaired.
Friendly, uncrowded, and outdoor fun – that’s the Columbia-Kootenay corner of British Columbia.