Kettle Valley Railway
A Part of the Trans Canada Trail
Location: British Columbia, Canada
The Route, at a glance…
Castlegar to Hope, via the Columbia & Western and Kettle Valley Rail Trails
The images from this 1998 tour were taken pre-digital cameras. Photos appearing here were all scanned with somewhat primitive technology at that time, resulting with images of poor resolution.
In 1998 I rode these rail trails before much development of the trail system was evident – especially so with the Columbia & Western Trail from Castlegar which was basically a railroad right of way with rails removed – lots of ballast rock and other hazards to contend with. The KVR trail section that I rode was a little more used but still had its original trestles and many in 1998 had no railings nor decking yet! Quite the thrill bumping the bike across the railway sleepers many feet above ground level!
Much of the reference and factual information is gleaned from the excellent book by Dan & Sandra Langford, “Cycling the Kettle Valley Railway,” which I took with with me on the trip and found indispensable. Some of the information in the book is now redundant. Nevertheless, still relevant are the many references and locations of historical nature and also the maps of the trail.
Unfortunately in later years, All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) and Dirt Bikes began illegally frequenting these rail trails, creating deep ruts in the trails in many places, resulting in a hazard for cyclists and hikers. Not to mention the noise and dust also created by these irresponsible “recreationalists.” I use the term “recreationalists” very lightly!
I can only add that I was very fortunate to ride across the original structures on my visit to the KVR trail; the trestles were really spectacular and a credit to the railroad builders of yesteryear. Sadly, one can read from the updates following that many of the original trestles in the Myra Canyon were lost in a forest fire.
2003 was a very dry summer in British Columbia; there were many forest fires burning out of control in the whole Province. One such fire spread out of control to burn many acres of forest on the outskirts of the city of Kelowna. The fire razed somewhere in the region of 250 homes, then changed direction and regrettably spread to the Myra Canyon. The majority of the original old railroad trestles were destroyed, thereby leaving this section of the KVR impassable. This was a great loss of some irreplaceable heritage and an absolute catastrophe for this portion of the Trans Canada Trail.
There is a notion of plans to rebuild with some form of bridge for cyclists and pedestrians; obviously the structures would not be carrying railroad stock and therefore could be less substantial than the old trestles.
In conclusion, I can only add that I was very fortunate to ride across the original structures on my visit to the KVR trail; the trestles were really spectacular and a credit to the railroad builders of yesteryear.
It has been over 4 years in the making, but the Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society are very happy to report that the trestles have all been completed, and it is now possible to travel over the 12 km route between Myra and Ruth trailheads. The Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society maintains a very informative website with regular updates to the KVR Trail and trestles in that area.
As a result of a large rock slide in April of 2013, Trestle #3 in the Myra Canyon was severely damaged and was rendered impassable. A by-pass route was opened in August, 2013, but it requires hiking ability and the need to push/walk one’s bicycle. The Trestle is being repaired and should be operational by Spring, 2014. Check out the Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society website for more updates and information.
The heading on this post reads “Part of the Trans Canada Trail,” whereas since 2016 the name has been promoted as “The Great Trail.” A trail that stretches from coast to coast across the vast expanse of Canada.
August 28th to September 7th, 1998
– 635 km (Planned) – 548 km (Actual)
We all made our own way by vehicle, from Vancouver Island to our rendezvous of a local Castlegar motel. Five of us were workmates and a chum of Doug’s joined us, making for a crew of six. There was myself, Doug, Tim (one of the virgins – first bike tour), Larry, Larry and Larry! Confused yet? I was! Well from here on in, I’ll refer to them as Larry N, Larry Mc and Larry P!
After getting acquainted with Doug’s friend, Larry P, we had a nice evening meal at a local restaurant before turning in ready to start our ride the next day. Larry Mc (another bike tour virgin) told us that his gear weighed in at 75 lbs so we quickly told him to ditch some of that lot! He did manage to leave quite a bit of gear behind with his wife, but I’ll swear that the guy must have had a pannier full of trail mix, because at every rest stop, out came this huge bag of the stuff, and it never seemed to get any smaller!
My wife and Larry Mc’s wife had brought their vehicles out to Castlegar with us and were heading back the next morning. Doug left his truck parked at a friend’s house in Castlegar and planned to return via road to retrieve it after the rail trail tour. Most of us had only toured on paved roads before so this was to be a new experience, and we soon discovered that the miles don’t roll by as quickly on rough terrain as they do on pavement. Especially with fully loaded bikes!
Day 1 – 59 km.
Castlegar Station to Paulson Station
Columbia & Western Railway
“Only 59 km to ride today eh?” “Easy ride, it’s only rail trail!” That’s what we were discussing over a leisurely breakfast at the motel coffee shop. We dawdled and figured that we didn’t need to get started too early. So by the time we hit the road it was mid-morning. Our warm-up was 8 km of paved road riding alongside the Columbia River before we could pick up the railbed. At the trailhead we were missing two guys already! One of Doug’s tire flatted out up the road; he showed up a while later with Larry N who stayed to help him. While we we waiting for Doug and Larry N, we had a quick side trip to the Hugh Keenleyside Dam at the bottom of Lower Arrow Lake, and oohed and aahed there for a while!
OK, now we were ready for the trail, but we saw the no trespassing sign erected by the rail company! From previous research I found out that it was mostly there to cover their butt if anyone has an accident while using the disused railbed, so we continued on as others have. Almost immediately we were into really loose and large ballast rock. Mountain bikes usually handle well on difficult terrain, but fully loaded with panniers full of camping gear etc., they handled like wild pigs on that loose ballast. The grade was uphill at about 2%, which doesn’t seem like much, but it was constant for the whole day and very wearing when coupled with the heat which was in the high 90’s! The ballast rock continued for about 10 km and we were very happy to see the last of that. My arms ached from the constant manoeuvring of the handlebars trying to keep a straight line and not veer off over the edge of the mountainside.
Removal of the the heavy ballast rock for this first section of the C&W has been undertaken by volunteers who hope to have the rock out of the way by year-end.
As we climbed higher and higher the scenery became more and more spectacular and we were surprised how high we had climbed when we looked down to see Lower Arrow Lake. But it sure was hot! Doug had another three punctures before we finally discovered that his rim was causing all the flats. Probably the sharp edges of the spoke holes. Tim (the electrician) had a roll of electrical tape with him, so Doug wrapped multiple layers of that around the rim and the problem seemed to be solved for a while.
Our first tunnel was at km 22, another at km 23 and yet another at km 27. A short distance after the Coykendahl Tunnel, we came across a very small water source falling from the rock above, this was the only water we saw all day, hence the need for water filters on a trip such as this, and with the temperatures soaring, it really was a necessity.
Hot and tired already, and the hours were passing as quickly as the miles were slowly! A large rock fall at km 32 gave us a chance to take in the view and have a rest stop. The next tunnel was considerably longer than the previous ones. Bulldog Tunnel is 912 metres in length and has a curve near the end, so for the most part it was very dark until we were almost at the end. Bike lights/flashlights were a must, together with lots of shouting to frighten off all the things we couldn’t see, or imagined!
Finally after Farron Station at km 51, the grade changed to a downhill. Then another 8 km later we came to the remains of Paulson Station, which was our camp for the night, thankfully, as it was getting pretty late and our estimation of the “easy trail ride” was shot all to hell! A small creek was there for water, but it was a real rock bed for a campsite! Doug scoured the KVR book for an alternative spot, but there didn’t seem to be an alternative close by with water, and at the end of a hot tiring day the water was the most important issue. Besides we were tired, dusty, and hungry. Also, the temperature was cooling off as the sun had quickly disappeared behind the mountain, so by the time we finished cooking and clearing up, it was already getting dark. In view of that, the executive decision for the next day was to get up early to beat the heat and to allow us to arrive at a campground earlier. Oh, and no dawdling!
Day 2 – 52 km.
Paulson Station to Grand Forks Station
Columbia & Western Railway
Up at 5:30 a.m., when we say early, we mean early! After a quick breakfast we took off and found a nice grassy campsite about 2 km past the rocky one we spent the night at, but no water though.
Apart from the previous day’s loose ballast rock, the C&W rail trail was in very good condition and we found hardly any wash-outs or deteriorated bridges. What a difference it was riding the downhill railway grade, we were making much better time and the sun was just barely up. I was in the lead, just enjoying the scenery and ride, when I rode around a bend and there right in front of me, was a black bear! I don’t know who was more surprised, me or him (her)? I slammed on the brakes and quickly laid on my air horn; off he scampered into the bush. Phew, that was a close call; I silently thanked my Air Zound horn for the quick response! Of course, the troop following missed all the action and then proceeded to berate me for scaring the bear away!
After about 16 kms we stopped for a break and had an excellent panoramic view of Christina Lake and Highway 3, a long way below the trail. It was getting hot again though! Continuing on, the trail levelled out, but we were still moving along at a good pace. That is until a tree branch attacked Doug! He was riding by a tree fall, a little too closely I might add, and his rear pannier somehow caught the branch; the bike stopped dead and so did Doug. First casualty of the trip, out came my trusty first aid kit and we treated Doug’s wounds with hydrogen peroxide. He was more shook up than hurt, just a few bits of road rash and then the inevitable evaluation of “what happened?” Oh, the bike was OK too, and the pannier only had some minor damage.
The trail was starting to get narrower so we rode on as far as was practical. The problem was tall grass and weeds encroaching from both sides, as we passed through them, it felt like we were being whipped across our bare legs. We suffered as much as possible and then took to the adjacent paved highway for the last few kilometres into Grand Forks.
Grand Forks has a nice municipal campsite more or less in the centre of town. The only sore point was that they charged us “per tent” and not “per site.” However there was a decent washroom with showers which was refreshing for us. Then a trip to the grocery store for provisions and something cold! The thermometer outside the store read 98°F, no wonder I felt hot! We took a few cold beers back to our camp and rested up to get ready for dinner. Doug and I went to get a Chinese take-out and returned with the food back to the campsite while the other guys went out to one of the restaurants in town. While we were having dinner, we noticed lots of people appearing at the park. We soon found out that there was to be an outdoor gospel service in the park that evening, complete with music and song; we had a front row seat! But it only lasted for an hour and must of tired us out, as we went to our respective tents and bed for the night.
Day 3 – 76 kms.
Grand Forks Station to Kettle River Provincial Park
Columbia & Western Railway and KVR
Hope for a continuation of the downhill from yesterday was soon quashed – after an early start and breakfast we were climbing that wearing 2% rail grade again for 22 km all the way to Eholt! On the way to Eholt, we found an old railway maintenance shed that was still standing, this was just before we passed through a couple more tunnels. We then were glad of a downhill run all the way to Greenwood, where we stopped for much needed snacks. Greenwood has the distinction of being BC’s smallest city, and we gave it a thumbs-up for it’s great bagel shop!
After leaving Greenwood, we were still on a downhill run and the miles passed by quickly as we rode over some small trestles and good trail all the way to Midway Station, which is now a museum for the KVR. Midway is named as such because it is “midway” across the province of British Columbia on Highway #3. Also, Midway Station is the end of the Columbia & Western Rail Trail and the beginning of the Kettle Valley Rail Trail.
Many years ago this whole area was mined for copper ore, and it was all shipped via rail. I don’t know if the dirt on the trail was evidence of long ago rail shipments, but there seemed to be a lot of black, coal-like dust making up the trail, and the extent of the dust was really evident when I looked at my travelling companions… The ones who wore glasses, took them off and looked like old-time race car drivers or even panda bears – black faces and white eyes! It was hilarious, and I realised that it does pay to be in front sometimes kicking up the dust instead of being on the receiving end! I should have had the camera ready for that episode!
We stopped at the Midway Museum and indulged ourselves of their washrooms and water supply. A lady volunteer at the museum advised us to stay on the road until well past Rock Creek, as the local farmers and landowners had taken over many portions of the right of way, and some even had electric fences to stop cyclists and other trail users from crossing “their” property. The lady gave us excellent directions and soon we were cycling on quiet back roads; we crossed a river and found a nice spot to cool off in the shallows. The cool river water felt really good and was a great cool down from another hot and sunny day. It was unfortunate, but we didn’t reconnect with the KVR until 24 km past Midway where we crossed an impressive trestle to the Kettle River Recreation Area/Provincial Park, where we would camp for the night.