A lot of people don’t know much at all about the Kootenays, including those living in Vancouver (even though both places are found in the same province)! Ask any Vancouverite if they know anything about the region, let alone ever visited it, and you’ll probably get some blank stares. I have to admit that I was also one of those people.
I didn’t know much at all about it, just that it was mountainous and its towns were small, but after the disastrous 2020 I was having up until that point, I needed to get out of the big city of Vancouver and I didn’t really care where I would go.
I chose to stick to BC since all the other Canadian provinces were either closed off to visitors or doing worse in terms of COVID numbers. I thought that going to a small town would be good for my mental health and being in the mountains would also provide me with many cool things to see and do, especially once the weather got colder, so that’s how I ended up in the charming town of Nelson!
My time in Nelson, BC
I made the move at the end of August. I had already found a place to rent a month earlier by joining the local Facebook group dedicated to rentals so I loaded up my car and made the 8 hour drive, stopping only in Kelowna for lunch. I arrived not knowing anyone in town, but I was already feeling better by being there instead of Vancouver.
The next day I set out to explore the town. It was a beautiful day, summer still in full swing, and it felt really nice to be a tourist again. Being a small town, it didn’t take much time to see everything, but I had joined a local Facebook group dedicated to beach volleyball and one of its members told me they were planning to play that afternoon so I took them up on that offer and headed to the location they gave me.
It was a beautiful beach called Taghum Beach and it’s located right where the Kootenay Lake transitions into the Kootenay River so it’s kinda like a river beach. A lot of people were out enjoying the weather and I could see people setting up the volleyball net so I had come just in time. I went up to introduce myself and they were super friendly and welcoming!
Beach volleyball is one of my favourite sports and the location + the weather were spectacular so I had a really great time that day and also met a lot of cool people! It ended up becoming a common occurrence for me during all of September since the summer weather continued well into the month.
All in all, it was a great introduction to the Kootenays and I was very pleasantly surprised by my experience there so far. Some other awesome things I did in Nelson that month include hiking the local mountain overlooking the town, wakeboarding on the lake, canoeing to a secluded island on the river, and checking out the local waterfall!
I also did a lot of trips outside of town to explore the surrounding area, visiting places like Slocan Lake, a ghost town called Sandon, the cute little towns of Kaslo and Kimberley, and the city of Cranbrook which is the biggest city in the Kootenays. All in all, I was quite satisfied with my time in Nelson, but it felt like something was missing.
Having grown up in a big city, I felt slightly out of place being there. The locals were very friendly and welcoming, but it was hard to connect with them in general, apart from a few good friends I made. Add in the fact that I had heard some good things about Revelstoke, another town in the Kootenays, and I decided that I would cut my time in Nelson short and spend some time in Revy as well!
As the weather started to get colder in October, beach volleyball stopped happening. We were entering the shoulder season where there is not much to do (especially during COVID) until the local ski resort opens up in the winter! However, I still took it upon myself to continue my adventures by hiking the beautiful Kokanee Glacier park and visiting other towns in the Kootenays like Fernie, Trail, and Rossland, but mentally, I was ready for Revy.
My time in Revelstoke, BC
November came along and I made the drive up to Revy. I had an awesome suite with access to a hot tub and I already knew someone in town since a friend of mine from Toronto was also spending some time there so it was pretty easy to get settled in. And say what you want about Facebook, but I was able to meet some really cool people super easily thanks to some of the local groups I joined!
That first week, someone else who was new in town let me know about a trivia night happening at a local pub and invited me out so I contacted some of the people I met from that Facebook group and put together a trivia team. We showed up, not having met each other before, and actually ended up winning the trivia! All of our random knowledge combined awarded us with a $50 gift certificate to a local shoe store which we ended up selling for $45 so we could buy ourselves some drinks at next week’s event instead haha.
We also explored the town, taking in all the local sights and waiting for the snow to fall. Both in Nelson and in Revelstoke, COVID was a second thought since there weren’t any known cases in town, but then it showed up. Revelstoke had an outbreak and everything shut down. All gatherings were cancelled and we were all avoiding any social interaction. Luckily, the ski resort was opening up soon so we had something to look forward to.
Since skiing and snowboarding are quite distanced sports, it means that they are fairly COVID-friendly activities. You only really need to be careful when waiting in line to take the chair lifts, but we were smart about that and kept our distance. The resort was also doing a great job enforcing these rules and only about two weeks after the outbreak showed up in Revelstoke, it was contained.
We still opted to limit our gatherings, but with the ski resort open, everyone was pretty satisfied with the situation. Revy has a really great ski hill and most people who live there get season passes, choosing to hit the slopes all winter! Can’t say I blame them because the town is fairly isolated with any other towns or cities being over an hour away at least so the mountain is the best thing to do!
I also got lucky when the weather dipped to below freezing since that meant I could fulfill a Canadian childhood dream of mine and play hockey on a naturally frozen outdoor surface! Growing up in Vancouver, it never got cold enough for the local lakes and ponds to freeze so when I learned that I could skate outside in Revelstoke, I grabbed my skates, gloves, stick, and a puck, and finally did what I dreamed of doing as a kid!
It was one of many highlights of my time there and it all culminated on my final day when I went up the mountain one last time to be rewarded with clear skies and a fresh dump of snow to ride on. It was awesome to glide through the powder on my snowboard and the next day, I was on my way home to Vancouver for Christmas in a much much better mental state than before I left.
I did not know what to expect from my time in the Kootenays, but all in all, it was a much needed escape for me that ended up turning into an awesome 4 months experiencing a new place in my own province and returning to a positive mental state. Below, I will outline each major city/town in the Kootenays so if you’re ever inspired to spend some time there, you’ll know what to expect!
What to expect from the Kootenays
Nelson: The heart of the Kootenays, right in the middle of everything. It’s easy to get to anywhere else in the Kootenays from here, making it a great base to explore the whole region. It’s also a super pretty town with laid-back locals who would probably define themselves as free-spirited and spiritual. Lots to see and do around here.
Revelstoke: Somewhat isolated, but also one of the more visited spots due to its location on the Trans-Canada Highway between Vancouver and Calgary. Has a great ski resort that only opened in 2008, but is already pretty famous. Beautiful scenery with lots to do in the winter. Locals are also super cool with a good mix of Canadians and internationals.
Kimberley, Fernie, & Rossland: Cute little mountain towns that come alive in the winter when the ski season opens. If you’re looking for a relaxing winter vacation in a scenic town, they are great options, otherwise they’re a fun little daytrip if you’re staying nearby. Rossland is also home to a cool museum outlining the early history of the Kootenays.
Nakusp & Kaslo: Other fun daytrip towns that are worth visiting. They are both close to some great hot springs and nice views with Nakusp being situated on the coast of Upper Arrow Lake and Kaslo on the coast of Kootenay Lake. Kaslo is also home to a really cool historical refurnished sternwheeler that was used to transport people across the lake back in the early 1900’s.
Cranbrook: Biggest city in the Kootenays (big being relative as its population is only 20k), but kinda boring. It doesn’t have too much great scenery and the city itself is somewhat bland, but it’s worth a stop if you like trains as their railway museum is pretty cool since it houses refurnished train cars from the early 1900’s.
Castlegar, Trail, & Creston: Smaller towns, all within an hour from Nelson, that don’t have too much to offer. They are all fairly boring with many of the locals opting to go to Nelson when looking for something fun to do. Trail is home to a large mining company which has a huge plant right in the middle of town so if you’re into steampunk-type scenery, it’s worth checking out.
So as you can see, the Kootenays have a lot to offer, especially if you’re into the outdoors. I enjoyed my time there and it made for a good escape from the stresses of the city, but I don’t think I could live there forever as I need the excitement that the hustle and bustle of a city provides!
I have a lot of other adventures planned so stay tuned for those, but in the meantime, check out my post where I talk about my experience in Morocco if you haven’t already. I ran into a lot of crazy situations that make for some great stories!
Also, if you’ve ever been to the Kootenays, let me know about some of your own experiences in the comments below!