If you haven't heard about the Kootenay Rockies yet, you will.
A spectacular, mountain-oriented destination situated in the southeastern corner of British Columbia, this stunning region of lakes and mountains, natural hot springs and offbeat, charming towns won't be BC's best-kept secret much longer.
The Kootenay Rockies, lying along the western flanks of the Rocky Mountains, is home to some of Canada’s highest peaks, most scenic golf courses, hippest new ski resorts and four National Parks, which morph into hiking, mountain biking and rafting playgrounds each summer.
Fernie, for example, a funky mountain town of Victorian brick, surrounded by 1, 011 skiable hectares (2,500 acres), was recently named "Best Ski Town" by Ski Canada magazine.
Seven other Kootenay Rockies mountain resorts, including Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, near Golden, and Panorama Mountain Village, near Invermere and Lake Windermere, are highly ranked for runs, powder and facilities, without the crowds. Come summer, the lift-accessed hiking and biking are second to none. Revelstoke Mountain Resort has the highest lift access vertical in North America and is the only resort world-wide to offer lift-, heli- and cat-skiing from one village base. Add in 57 other ski operators, including 22 backcountry, nine heli-ski, 15 snow-cat and 11 Nordic, and it’s no surprise why the region is known as the Powder Highway.
The region is also home to some of BC's most lovingly preserved historic sites, from the world’s oldest intact passenger sternwheeler, the SS Moyie, dry docked at Kaslo, to the intriguing railway museums in Cranbrook, Three Valley Gap and Revelstoke. Go back in time at Fort Steele Heritage Town, where actors playing shopkeepers, townsfolk and even politicians bring to life a 1890s boomtown. And in Kimberley, there’s a chance to travel underground with the Underground Mining Railway, as they depict life as a hard-rock miner.
In this region of small towns and cities, each community has its own flavour and unique characteristics. Nelson, for example, set idyllically on the western arm of Kootenay Lake, is so rich with heritage buildings and cultural life it's been dubbed Canada’s number one small arts town.
Whether you're skiing, biking, golfing or just touring, you'll probably appreciate the wealth of natural hot springs in the area. The Hot Springs Circle Route, a self-drive route leads to nine different springs, from the rustic to the lavish.
The route follows Highways 93 and 95 along the Columbia River, past some bizarre rock formations caused by natural erosion — called hoodoos — and through landscapes rich in wildlife, including black bear, deer, elk, moose, mountain goats and especially birds. The Columbia River Wetlands, between Canal Flats and Donald (north of Golden), and the Creston Valley Wildlife Management area (near Creston) are home to more than 260 avian species, including ospreys and blue herons.
The many parks in the area include Yoho National Park, boasting 3,000 metre- (9,843-foot) high peaks, and home to the Burgess Shale, a UNESCO World Heritage Site famed for its Cambrian-aged fossils; Kootenay National Park, where glacier-clad peaks reside along the Continental Divide; Glacier National Park, home to more than 400 glaciers; and Mount Revelstoke National Park, where the Meadows-in-the-Sky Parkway leads to sweeping views of the Monashee and Selkirk mountains. Though, of course, sweeping views are par for the course throughout this region.