- Written by Dan
The Sasquatch Route
By Hostelling International / Anthony Brook
A Road Trip Through the Best of the West
If you are visiting Western Canada, you are likely to fly into Vancouver. There is a myriad of sights, restaurants and adventures to be had here. It deserves at least a couple days of your time; probably more.
It can be a pricey place to play—but no worries, Vancouver has three great hostels to choose from. HI-Vancouver Downtown, as the name suggests, is downtown, but it’s on a quiet, tree-lined street away from honking horns and the boom-boom of night clubs. This being said, great restaurants, pubs and the beach are only a few minutes away. If boom-boom is your thing-thing, then you will want HI-Vancouver Central, right in the heart of the entertainment district on Granville Street. The bright lights of the big city are right outside your door. Maybe the beach is more your speed. Head out towards the University of British Columbia and stay at HI-Vancouver Jericho Beach which is, you know, right beside, Jericho Beach.
After submersing yourself in Vancouver’s culinary delights, cultural diversity and dramatic scenery, it will be time to leave Canada’s most talked-about city behind—it’s time to be refreshed by the interior of B.C. and southern Alberta. You have a few choices of how to do this. The most direct route is to follow Highway 1 east (Trans-Canada Highway, TCH), up the Coquihalla highway to Kamloops. Rejoin the Trans-Canada and pass through Revelstoke, Golden, Lake Louise and Banff, before ending in Calgary. It will take about 12 hours. If that drive is a little too long for you and you're looking for a good stop halfway, check out HI-Shuswap Lake and get some rest for the trip ahead.
If you have the time, avoid the Coquihalla and remain on the old Trans-Canada, heading north to Cache Creek and then over to Kamloops. On the way you can stop at Hell’s Gate Air Tram, where you’ll get a true appreciation of the power of the Fraser River.
Some of Western Canada’s best whitewater rafting is also right there on the Thompson River.
In contrast to rafting options further east, the Thompson is big and deep and warm. There is all the excitement without the log jams and hypothermia of the Rockies.
A third option is to head north from Vangroovy, have a quick stay in Whistler, pass through Pemberton and embark on the Duffy Lake Road. This is a very different experience and you should be ready for a rougher, but passable road. It climbs thousands of feet from Pemberton over multiple steep switchbacks. Once your altitude has been gained, you won’t be looking at the mountains, you’ll be in them. The road can be driven to its termination in Lillooet in just a few hours, but why rush? Take advantage of the many FREE B.C. forestry rough campsites and have a real wilderness car-camping experience. After Lillooet, you eventually rejoin the Trans-Canada at Kamloops.
If you have lots of time, avoid the TCH altogether. Just after you pass Hope, B.C. turn off and follow Hwy 3, The Crowsnest Highway. At Hostelling International we call this the Sasquatch Tour. This pretty road will twist and turn and go up and down all the way across southern B.C., just a few miles north of the U.S. border. You’ll pass through high deserts and high mountain passes; big lakes and little lakes, small towns and smaller ones. Don’t be in a rush because nobody else will be.
After about three hours of driving you will be in the Canadian Cascade Mountains, and it’s about time for a break. Manning Provincial Park is waiting. From jagged mountain peaks, to rivers, lakes and hiking and biking trails, Manning has a little bit of everything to help wash that urban film away. Camping is available, and like all B.C. provincial campgrounds is inexpensive and well cared for.
As you head east, you’ll quickly notice the landscape and flora change. The mountain feel will give way to the dry heat and rolling hills of the interior. Soon you will have the choice of diverting to the 3A to Penticton, or continuing on directly to Osoyoos. Because there is time, let’s assume Penticton.
Penticton is a medium-sized town of 32,000 people. They are here because there is so much to do. Boats, bikes, climbing ropes, tents, skis, hockey sticks, and most importantly wine glasses, are vital tools for happiness in the lower Okanagan Valley. The warm climate and moderating influence of a large warm lake makes for great wine country. B.C. wines are famous around the world, but like most purveyors of fine liquors the locals keep lots of the good stuff for themselves. Wine tours, either commercial or self-directed, are a great way to pass the day and sample some vintages you won’t find on the store shelves.
While enjoying Penticton’s 2,000 hours of annual sunshine why not stay at HI-Penticton? It is a renovated 1908 heritage home in the downtown core. You can park the car and stroll to restaurants, pubs and the beach. It’s not uncommon to come for a night and stay for a week.
To get back on the main trail again, take the 97 south to Osoyoos. The town is named after the local First Nations people of the same name, and means “narrowing of the waters.” It would not be surprising if it meant “Hot, Real Hot.” With an average summer temperature of over 31°C, everyone is plenty glad that there is a lake in the centre of town; the warmest lake in Canada, in fact. There are also plenty of public beaches and picnic areas available for those passing through.
Ok, get on the road again. Heading east again, after you pass Grand Forks, Christina Lake, near Gladstone Provincial Park, is a nice stop for another dip in a lake. As you hit the city of Castlegar, there is another opportunity for a side trip. Take the 3A for an hour or so north and you’ll come into the pretty little town of Nelson. It sits on the west arm of Kootenay Lake and is a former silver mining town converted to a laidback tourist centre.
The Kaslo Jazz Festival, a bit to the north, and the Shambhala Electronic Music Festival, a bit to the south, are good examples of the variety of cultural experiences you may find here. Either way, be prepared to get your hippie on. HI-Nelson is a great spot in the centre of town to get the lay of the land and hang with other enlightened travellers.
No matter what your musical preference, everyone agrees that if you are here in the winter there is tons of snow. Whitewater Ski area just south of town has some incredible slack-country skiing (if you need to ask what that is, don’t do it), and the Salmo Creston Pass (back on Hwy 3) has some great, very car-accessible, backcountry skiing. Get out—walk up.
Speaking of the Salmo Creston Pass, it is one route you can take to continue on to Fernie. The other is to hop the ferry east of Nelson to Crawford Bay, then go south on the 3A. Both will bring you to Creston. From Creston, it’s just another few hours to Fernie.
Fernie is another turn-of-the-century mining town turned tourist mecca. More cowboy hat than tie-dyed bandana, it offers all the requisite mountain pastimes that adrenaline junkies are looking for, and they get tons of snow. Fifteen years ago or so, Resorts of the Canadian Rockies capitalized on the steep terrain and deep snowpack and invested heavily in the ski hill.
They turned the sleepy mom-and-pop mountain into a destination resort. You don’t need to pay top dollar for the over-the-top on-hill accommodations, HI-Fernie-The Raging Elk is right downtown and looks just like the Fairmont when your eyes are closed! It’s the first choice for discerning travellers who have more brains than money.
As you cross the border into Alberta, you enter the Crowsnest Pass. It’s good that this is your last mountain valley, because it is the site of a tragic, yet very interesting event. On April 29, 1903, 90 million tons of limestone broke away from Turtle Mountain and buried the small town of Frank and 90 of its inhabitants. If you are wondering what 90 million tons of rock looks like, it is more than you think. A visit to the Frank Interpretive Centre is really worth the time.
Two hours to Cow Town. As you drive out from the Crowsnest Pass you’ll see hundreds of windmills sweeping gracefully off in the distance. The fastest way to Calgary is north on Hwy 2. If there is no rush, turn north further to the west on Hwy 22. This secondary highway takes you through ranching country and gives a beautiful view of the Livingston Range to the west. Unlike some that you will meet in Calgary, these cowboys are the real deal.
Last stop on the Sasquatch tour is Calgary. If you are there at the beginning of July, the Calgary Stampede is on, and it does live up to the hype. The whole city turns into a giant barn party. HI-Calgary City Centre is a stone’s throw from the fairgrounds. The rest of the year, Calgary is the financial heart of Alberta’s oil industry with the highest per capita rate of big box stores in the world. The residents of Vancouver and Calgary proudly proclaim that each city is nothing like the other, and they are both right. Next stop, the Rockies.