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West Kootenay Section

Trail information and most images sourced with great appreciation from

The route through the West Kootenay region includes a wide variety of trail experiences - from historic rail trail in the west, to dramatic hiking routes along the Columbia River, paved highways - and even an 8 kilometre ferry crossing across Kootenay Lake! 


To the west, the trail enters the West Kootenay region from the Boundary region at the height of land near Farron Station along the Columbia & Western railway.


 Snow can stick to the trail near Farron (north of Christina Lake and the Paulson bridge) into mid May on north-facing slopes.


To the south, the Columbia Trail follows the river towards the city of Trail.



From trail there is section of pavement connecting to Salmo from where we head north on the Salmo Great Northern Rail Trail to Nelson and then east on pavement to the Balfour ferry and across to  Grey Creek, where the route enters the East Kootenay / Rockies.

Farron to Castlegar

The route enters the West Kootenay region just north of the Paulson bridge along the Columbia & Western Railway at the height of land near Farron Station. This portion of the trail is filled which rich history, including the spectacular bombing of the railway in 1924. A small monument to its target, Doukhobor leader, Peter Verigin, lies adjacent to the trail. Further north, the trail passes through the nearly 1-km long Bulldog Tunnel, before turning east and travelling downhill to Castlegar, featuring fantastic views of Lower Arrow Lake along the way. The trail ends when it reaches the Hugh Keenleyside Dam; from here, the rail line is still active; the main line in Castlegar connects Nelson and Trail, with this sideline to the dam servicing the nearby timber mill.


The trail surface varies from hard packed to loose gravel. Trail maintenance is performed by the BC government (Rec Sites and Trails BC) and the local volunteer steward group, the Columbia & Western Trail Society. Due to the rugged and remote nature of the area, the trail's various trestles, culverts and embankments are bombarded by Mother Nature each winter and spring so temporary bypasses might be encountered.


Snow can cling to the height-of-land (at the Farron explosion site) as late as early June but should be clear at the time of the Grand Depart. 


Highlights on this section:

  • Farron Explosion Site

  • The tunnels and trestles of the Columbia & Western Railway (especially the 912m long Bulldog Tunnel!)

  • Views of Lower Arrow Lake

  • Old rails preserved and still intact (near Castlegar)


Castlegar to Trail (Columbia River Trail) and on to Salmo

From the  Brilliant Suspension Bridge in Castlegar the route runs south towards the city of Trail making use of the Columbia River Trail.


From the Brilliant Suspension Bridge the route follows existing trails along the riverbank through Selkirk College and under the Kinnaird Bridge. Roadways through Ootischenia are necessary in order to connect with the Columbia River Trail which begins near the old settlement of Blagodatnoye. Keep in mind that the Columbia River Trail is not a fully recognized trail as it passes through some private property. Stay on the trail and leave no trace.


The Columbia River Trail - and even some sections from Castlegar to Ootischenia are moderately challenging for tourer/cross type bikes and cyclists lugging trailers or carrying panniers. That said, there are no major obstacles - but several narrow sections and steep climbs/descents.


At the southern end of the Columbia River trail the route uses some of the local mountainbike trail network dropping down into the city of Trail.


The route to from Trail to Salmo regrettably involves a stretch of paved highway before joining the next rail trail closer to Salmo -leaving Trail on Highway 3B begins with a long climb up the mountainside to Montrose and Fruitvale - however, it is the only substantial hill on this stretch. The rest of the highway to Salmo is otherwise fairly flat and simple to follow.


Salmo to Nelson (Great Northern Rail Trail)

The Salmo Great Northern Trail is a 48 km abandoned railway running between the town of Salmo in the south, and the city of Nelson in the north. The railway was operated by Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Today, most trail stewardship is overseen by the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK).


The trail's gravel surface is highly degraded in the Salmo area, but improves as the trail heads north, away from heavy motorized activity. The RDCK allows motorized use on the trail's southern half from Salmo to roughly Hall Siding, though off-highway vehicles currently cannot legally cross highways (as of Winter 2014), the damage by motorized vehicles typically tapers off at the first highway crossing north of Salmo.


The river valley can be quiet windy and falling trees are sometimes an issue. The trail normally improves in quality as it approaches Mountain Station, above Nelson.


The Regional District of Central Kootenay does an annual spring trail closure for a portion of the Nelson-Salmo Great Northern Trail due to grizzly bear activity. The closure is in effect each year from May 1st until June 15th so will be lifted when we go though.  The bears use this area because of its high vaued forage habitat. In most cases the bears move on to higher elevations by the middle of June. As black bear and grizlly bear activity is common in the Spring and early Summer, bears may be present on the trail system throughout the year so please remember to always:

  • use caution;

  • do not attempt to view or approach bears;

  • do not leave garbage or food on trails


Railway history c/o Spirit of 2010 Trail web site: The rail line was built by American Daniel Corbin. His Spokane Falls and Northern (SF&N) Railway reached navigable water on the Columbia River only 24 kilometres south of the Canada/US border in 1890. Corbin continued building his railroad north, and completed the Nelson and Fort Sheppard (N&FS) Railway in 1893, providing Nelson with an uninterrupted rail line to Spokane, Washington. Another significant step in railway expansion was the opening of the Great Northern Railway main line from Spokane to Seattle, also in 1893. The rail line was initially forced to use 'Mountain Station', located high above Nelson, with a steamer dock at Troup, British Columbia 8 kilometres north east of the 'Queen City' on Kootenay Lake. In 1895 a rail loop was established at Troup with a line along the lake to the outskirts of a neighbourhood called 'Bogustown' just outside of Nelson, now known as the Fairview neighbourhood.

In 1898 Great Northern Railway acquired a controlling interest in both SF&N and N&FS railways and two years later, acquired running rights to the new CPR station in Nelson. Great Northern Railway purchased SF&N outright in 1907 and the N&FS in 1944 and merged into the Burlington Northern System in 1970.

In the early days, the rail line formed an important connection for the West Kootenay mining towns, allowing efficient shipping of their rich ores to the United States. Passenger traffic also flowed between Nelson and Spokane from 1893 to 1941. All train traffic into the region ceased in 1989 (though the Waneta section continued for a while longer). In 1998 the rails and ties were removed between Ross Spur and Salmo, and in 1999 the final removal of the rails and ties between Salmo and Troup was completed.

Nelson to Grey Creek 

Arriving from the heights of Mountain Station above town on the Salmo Great Northern trail, the route enters Nelson from the south. Running through Nelson's city streets north to the waterfront and towards the "BOB" (Big Orange Bridge).

From here to Gray Creek the route from the Big Orange Bridge in Nelson to Balfour simply follows the highway to the Balfour ferry dock (longest *free* ferry ride in Canada!).


From Balfour, the ferry whisks trail users to the east side of Kootenay Lake; continuing along the highway, the route passes through Crawford Bay to the small village of Gray Creek. This highway route is a favourite among local road cyclists and many touring cyclists. From GrayCreek, the trail route climbs up, up and away into the mountains over Gray Creek Pass.










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