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Kootenays is a large region in British Columbia. This area begins at the Alberta border and extends west to the Monashee range of the Columbia Mountains. The area is famed for its laid-back lifestyle and endless outdoor adventure opportunities.


Map of the Kootenays' travel regions, main cities and other destinations — switch to interactive map
Map of the Kootenays' travel regions, main cities and other destinations
From Revelstoke to the Alberta border along the Trans-Canada Highway.
  East Kootenays
Ski resorts and natural hot springs.
  West Kootenays
Home of retired hippies and the eccentric Doukhabors.


  • 1 Cranbrook — the Kootenays' largest city
  • 2 Nelson — "The Queen City" of the Kootenays, renowned for its tourism, culture and outdoor activities
  • 3 Revelstoke — summer and winter mountain playground
  • 4 Golden — gateway to the Rockies
  • 5 Castlegar — Russian links provided by the Doukhobor sect and a Russian Orthodox chapel
  • 6 Trail — home of one of the world's largest operational zinc smelters
  • 7 Fernie — world-renowned kayaking, mountain-biking, and skiing
  • 8 Rossland — produced gold mines and gold-medal skiers
  • 9 Creston — a vast plain in otherwise mountainous country
  • 10 Kimberley — quaint European styled chalet village

Other destinations

Valhalla Provincial Park, view from Gimli Peak


Photo taken from Wildhorse Catskiing terrain towards the backcountry skiing at Ymir Yurts.

The name is derived from the Ktunaxa First Nation's quthni, meaning "to travel by water", and indeed this is how the region was explored before the railway arrived. Exploration by river and lake, and commerce facilitated by the large sternwheelers that plied the many large lakes emphasize this point. Virtually untouched until the gold and silver rushes of the mid-1800s, a few settlers who fell in love with the area remained after the fortunes faded, and provided the roots for the communities as they exist today.

In the early days of British Columbia the Kootenays were geographically isolated from the rest of the province. The Canadian Pacific Railway built the Kettle Valley Railway to link the area to Vancouver, and also to waylay any plans of US annexation, an area the Kootenays had stronger physical ties to at the time. The Crowsnest Highway which bisects the region was completed in 1949, further solidifying the link to the rest of the province.

Upper Arrow Lake, south of Nakusp

The Kootenays are comprised of several roughly north-south mountain ranges and the valleys between. From east to west there are the Rocky Mountains, Purcell Mountains, and the Selkirk and Monashee ranges of the Columbia Mountains. There are also several very large lakes in this area, the largest of which were formed by hydroelectric dams. Lake Koocanusa, which gets its clever name for the fact it stretches across the international border, was formed by the Libby Dam in Idaho. Kootenay Lake which is about 100 km long with a 35-km western extension to the town of Nelson is a natural lake, though the southern floodplains were diked to reclaim agricultural land. Arrow Lake, (which is divided into north and south portions at the Needles-Fauquier ferry) is almost 200 km long, stretching from Revelstoke to Castlegar. It was formed by the Keenlyside Dam.

Today, this area is comprised of many small towns, and as with most of British Columbia, this area favors travellers looking for natural beauty and outdoor adventure, rather than cosmopolitan cities. It is particularly renowned for alpine skiing, due to the large amounts of snow the area receives, with several large lift-accessed resorts and a booming cat skiing industry.

The climate is generally warm and sunny in the summer, and cold and snowy in the winter. Winter driving conditions can be treacherous at times, so do take caution.



The de facto language in this area is English. It might be possible to get official services in French. Signage is bilingual in national parks.

Get in


By plane


Airports within this region with scheduled commercial flights


Castlegar's and Cranbrook's airport at the main airports in the region with flights to Vancouver and Calgary. Castlegar and Trail serve the West Kootenays and Cranbrook serves the East Kootenays. For larger airports, travel to Calgary, Alberta or Spokane, Washington.

By bus


By boat


Inland Ferries. Operated under contract for British Columbia's Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, inland ferries are vehicle ferries that connect roads across rivers and lakes. Routes operate throughout the year, but some river ferries may not operate during parts of the Spring due to river conditions. Free. Ferries in this region:

  • 1 Arrow Park Cable Ferry. Daily 5AM - 12:05PM, 2:15PM - 9:20PM. Crosses the junction between Upper Arrow Lake and Lower Arrow Lake. Located just north of Highway 6, about 22 km south of Nakusp. 5 minutes crossing. Operates on demand.
  • 2 Glade Cable Ferry. Daily 5AM - 2:20AM. Crosses the Kootenay River. Located just east of Highway 3A, about 22 km west of Nelson. 3 minutes crossing. Operates on demand.
  • 3 Harrop Cable Ferry. 24/7. Crosses the Kootenay River. Located just south of Highway 3A, about 24 km east of Nelson. 5 minutes crossing. Operates on demand.
  • 4 Kootenay Lake Ferry, Balfour–Kootenay Bay (Highway 3A; 35 km (22 mi) east of Nelson or 81 km (50 mi) north of Creston). Daily first departure: 6:30AM - 7:10AM (Balfour / Kootenay Bay); daily last departure: 9:40PM / 10:20PM (Balfour / Kootenay Bay). This is the longest toll-free ferry in the world. Connects Highway 3A across Kootenay Lake. 35 minutes crossing. Sailings depart from a given side every 1 hour 40 minutes to 1 hour 50 minutes, though this increases for most of the day up to every 40 to 50 minutes during the summer. Kootenay Lake Ferry (Q6430828) on Wikidata Kootenay Lake ferry on Wikipedia
  • 5 Needles Ferry, Needles–Fauquier (Highway 6; 59 km (37 mi) south of Nakusp or 135 km (84 mi) east of Vernon (in Okanagan)). Daily first scheduled ferry: 5AM / 5:15PM (Fauquier / Needles); daily last scheduled ferry: 10PM / 9:45PM (Fauquier / Needle); Daily on demand: 10PM - 5AM. Connects Highway 6 across Lower Arrow Lake between Fauquier and Needles. 5 minutes crossing. During scheduled service hours, ferries depart every 30 minutes from a given side. Needles Ferry (Q6986645) on Wikidata Needles Ferry on Wikipedia
  • 6 Upper Arrow Lake Ferry, Shelter Bay–Galena Bay (Highway 23; 48 km (30 mi) north of Nakusp or 52 km (32 mi) south of Revelstoke (in Columbia-Rockies)). Daily first departure: 5AM / 5:30AM (Shelter Bay / Galena Bay); Daily last departure: midnight / 12:30AM (Shelter Bay / Galena Bay). Connects Highway 23 across Upper Arrow Lake. 20 minutes crossing. Sailings are depart every 60 minutes from a given side. Upper Arrow Lake Ferry (Q98594914) on Wikidata Upper Arrow Lake Ferry on Wikipedia

By car


There are two major east-west highways that the pass through the Kootenays:

  • Highway 1 (Trans-Canada Highway) travels east from Vancouver and west from Calgary, passing through the Kootenays towns of Golden and Revelstoke. This is the more northern of the two highways,
  • Highway 3 (Crowsnest Highway) travels east from Hope via Osoyoos and west from Lethbridge, passing through the Kootenays towns of Castlegar, Creston, Cranbrook, Fernie, Grand Forks, and Salmo. This highway travels near the border with the United States.

There are several highways that enter the Kootenays heading north from the United States:

Get around


The only practical method for touring this area is by road. Car rentals will be available in all major cities. The area is served by an extensive highway network. Highway 3 (Crowsnest Highway) is the major east-west route, traversing the area from the Alberta border to the Okanagan. Highway 6 links the area to the North Okanagan in Vernon, and the Trans-Canada Highway passes through this area from Revelstoke to the Alberta border. North-south routes include Highway 23 which links Revelstoke to Highway 6 in Nakusp, and Highway 95 which links Golden to Cranbrook, and the US border farther south.

By public transit


BC Transit operates the following bus transit systems in the region:

Rogers Pass in Glacier National Park


  • Rogers Pass between Revelstoke and Golden is not to be missed. It receives an incredible 10 m of snow each winter. Located in Glacier National Park.
  • A visit to one of the many Hydroelectric Dams in the area can be fascinating and educational.
  • A darker side of Canada's history is examined at the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, which preserves the stories of the more than 20,000 Japanese-Canadians interned here during the second World War. Located in New Denver.
  • Fort Steele is preserved as an 1890s pioneer boomtown. Just north of Cranbrook.
  • Rossland's Le Roi Gold Mine and Rossland Museum tell the story of the Kootenay gold rush.
  • The Burgess Shale Fossils, Yoho National Park. A UNESCO World Heritage Site that showcases the world's finest Cambrian-aged fossils of soft-bodied marine organisms.


Buffalo Ranch near Golden
  • Go skiing or snowboarding at Whitewater (Nelson), Red Mountain (Rossland), Fernie Alpine, Kimberley Alpine, Panorama (Invermere), Fairmont, (Fairmont Hot Springs), Kicking Horse, (Golden), or Powder Springs (Revelstoke).
  • The area's many provincial and national parks provide no end of opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Hiking, mountain biking, and fishing are all popular pastimes in this region.
  • Snowmobiling is a popular winter recreation, especially in the Revelstoke area, where competitions and hill-climbs are organized.



As with most areas in Canada, there is no real specialty or localized cuisine. It is possible to find food from almost any ethnic background in most communities.



One of Canada's favourite beers Kokanee is brewed exclusively in Creston. It would be remiss to visit the area and not try a bottle. There are tours of the brewery available as well. Many cities in the Kootenays have small breweries in town, including Nelson.

Stay safe

  • When skiing or hiking in the backcountry there is always a danger of avalanches. The Canadian Avalanche Association has advisories for this region on their website.

Go next

  • There are nine international border crossings in this region between Canada and the United States. Not all are open 24 hours, enquire locally. In some cases, the busiest crossings are closed overnight, and a less-used one is open 24 hours so that motorists won't have to detour by more than one border crossing location.
  • The sun and fun of the Okanagan is due west.
This region travel guide to Kootenays is a usable article. It gives a good overview of the region, its sights, and how to get in, as well as links to the main destinations, whose articles are similarly well developed. An adventurous person could use this article, but please feel free to improve it by editing the page.