Day 1: Vancouver to Kelowna (388km, 4h15min)
We set off from Vancouver around midday of Saturday after a cooked breakfast and some road-snack shopping. Getting out of Vancouver was a bit of a trial with limited right-sided driving experience and google maps telling us to drive around on circles but we eventually ended up on the right highway heading east to Kelowna, the Trans-Canada Highway. It was a stunning drive through snow-capped mountains and forests. We weren’t expecting to be driving through snow so when we got up past the snowline and there were all these signs about snow chains and avalanches we did have a couple of moments of ‘how high are we going?’ But as it turns out the roads were all clear but there was plenty if snow to each side. We went through two mountain passes (the Coquihalla summit, 1244m, and the Penansk summit, 1717m).
We descended into the Okanagon Valley and got to Claire’s in Kelowna around 5pm and shortly after went out for a pub meal at the Sturgeon Hall. After that Claire and Jake took us to see a band they knew at a local bar/restaurant (Mistrel). The band was called My Kind Of Karma and were great fun to watch. Folky with some regaee rhythms and a banjo made for a fun band with the crowd loved. They are clearly a popular band in this town and the bassist is running for Mayor! Kelowna is a sizeable town with tourism as it’s major money maker. It sits on Lake Okanagon and the Big White ski resort is around 60km down the road.
Day 2: Kelowna to Nelson (347km, 5h)
Not having any concrete plans with a car to get us around, the three of us decided to drive to Nelson for a couple of days. My day started off with breakfast and a stroll to pick up some coffee from the local Bean Scene down the road to prepare us for the next few hundred km’s. The drive out of Kelowna was beautiful, this time the highways were more fun (i.e. more bends) and the scenery just as stunning as the ride into Kelowna. We headed south along the BC-33 all but hitting the border with the USA. When we got that far South we turned eastbound once more along the BC-3 towards Nelson. We felt more in the forests along this drive, passing alongside dense firs. Not long after leaving Kelowna did we see a Bald Eagle sitting atop a tree besides the highway, a great spectacle and one animal ticked off the list! There were plenty of rivers along the way which were getting fast flowing from the melting snow, even some whitewater. There was just the one mountain pass on this drive, the Koutenay pass (Salmo Creston Summit, 1781m). The state of the roads was similar to Day 1 with piles of cleared snow besides the highway and expanses of clear, bright white now to either side.
We arrived into Nelson driving alongside the Koutenay River around 5pm and headed to a cafe for a hit drink and some accommodation tips. We ended up at the Grand Hotel, in a room housing three for only $25 a night – bargain! That night we lounged in the Sports Bar (The Sportsman), where there were about 30 TV screens all showing the Ice Hockey. Claire ordered a ‘Ceaser’ which we sampled and not that bad, surprisingly given it’s effectively a bloody mary with added clam juice, Yes, that’s right, clam juice. For dinner it was a round of beef. The girls with juicy steaks and I had a ‘Beef Dip’. that’s shaved beef in a sub roll with a cup of dripping for dipping. Delicious.
Day 3: Nelson
Not having to drive anywhere on the third day, we rose with no real plans. Enquiring at the front desk of the Grand Hotel set Kirsty and myself on a walk up to Pulpit Rock, a lookout point on the other side of the Lake to Nelson and only a 45 minute hike. A pleasant walk up was rewarded with a great view of the town, much bigger than first impressions led us to believe.
We walked back down and met up with Claire for lunch at the Old World Bakery in town where we thought about our next move. Having the freedom of the car made this easy and the Visitors Centre had also told us of a couple of nice spots to try.We headed over the Orange Bridge and up the Lake to Harrop which we reached via a free car ferry across the lake. On the ferry a friendly Canadian commented on the quietness of my ‘truck’, he had thought he had the quietest truck on the west coast but he was impressed by our Nissan Murano. He then went on to tell me that everyone on the Eastside was not to be trusted, there were no police over there and he only travelled over with a baseball bat. Embellishment I am sure, but an interesting insight nonetheless. We were led to believe by a lady in the Nelson Visitor Centre there was a bakery in Harrop with enormous cinnamon buns which I was rather keen to sample. We arrived to find the bakery is only open three days a week and alas it was not one of those days. So, back in the car and back over the ferry to the safety of the Westside.
We then made our way further up the Lake side and stopped at the Dock and Duck pub for a beer and fries ’n’ gravy. A beautiful spot on the lake, just by the dock for the world’s furthest travelling free car ferry. Rather than travel back across the lake we made our way further up the lake ending up at Kaslo, a small town home to the world’s last reaming stern paddling steamboat. Also home to a great ice-cream – the moose-track (vanilla with local fudge and peanut butter cups mixed through). We then headed back for Nelson and the Grand Hotel for some relaxing before dinner and bed. The only wildlife spotting for Day 3 was some deer. No bears yet but still hopeful.
Day 4: Nelson to Kelowna (445km, 5h30m)
Heading back to Kelowna to drop Claire off before heading on to Banff, we decided to take a different route heading north to Nakusp first then west through Needles and Vernon where we drove south to Kelowna. The drive was beautiful yet again, this time following rivers and lakes through the Crescent Valley then the Slocan Valley passing by the Valhalla Provincial Park and the Slocan Lake. Cute small towns too; New Denver, Slocan, Silverton and Nakusp to name a few. In Nakusp I had the pleasure of trying a deep fried pickled gherkin. It was as delicious as it sounds. South from Nakusp we crossed the Upper Arrow Lake via a cable ferry from Fauquier to Needles. There was plenty of snow along the way besides the road and a small snowfall as we went over the Monashee Pass (1,205m). We managed to spy an Osprey as well nesting atop a power cable pole as well as some more deer and an eagle. Still no bears though.
Day 5: Kelowna to Banff (483km, 6h)
The drive from Kelowna to Banff was yet again beautiful, starting off in farming land with orchards, soon ascending with mountains rising up above us and snow covered fir trees to each side. There was more snow on this drive than other days and we drove through quite a heavy downfall when passing over a mountain pass (Rogers Pass, 1330m). Again, we had the thought of, ‘do we need snow chains with us?’. The snow was coming down quite hard and had settled on the trees, with the snow either side of the road several feet think by the look it it. The thoughts past however when we descended again and the snow abated. There were some nice towns on this drive.
We stopped in Revelstoke for a stretch of the legs which had mountains overlooking it in every direction. We drove along the Highway 1 which is the main route West to East in Canada and there were more trucks and general traffic than the other days driving. We passed through 3 National Parks before we got to Banff National Park – Mount Revelstoke, Glacier and Yoho National Parks. Pretty much all the hikes along the way were closed due to the weather, still too much snow on the ground. We passed many signs warning of Elk and actually saw one! A lone female sitting down in the snow, much larger than deer. We are still hopeful that we might see a bear here as there have already been sightings near Banff and they have been awakening from hibernation in the past weeks, hungry and looking for food.
Banff appears to be a nice town, surrounded by mountains and is a popular base for skiing and snowboarding. We are staying here 3 nights and intend on doing some walks/hikes if the weather isn’t too bad (i.e. too much snow) and taking is easy in our lodgings – a self-catered apartment with two stories, two bedrooms, a kitchen and lounge. Not bad for the two of us! We are actually staying more near Canmore than Banff but close enough. We will use this as a base to explore the surrounding area in the coming days.
Check back for Part 2 – including Banff, Jasper, Whister and the road back to Vancouver. There are also photos from Part 1 in the photo gallery section, or click here.