An outdoor paradise in the Kootenay Rockies

There is no end of things to do in Cranbrook, believes city councillor Gerry Warner, particularly for the outdoor types

A group hikes along a trail just outside of Cranbrook, B.C.
There are plenty of hiking opportunities around Cranbrook. — Photo courtesy Gerry Warner

Known as the Key City, Cranbrook, B.C., is the largest city in the Kootenays as well as the sunniest city in B.C. According to Gerry Warner, a city councillor, Cranbrook could also be called the trail city for its ready access to the outdoors and excellent walking spaces. A favourite trail network for Warner is the Cranbrook Community Forest, a large area of accessible forested land that runs up the northeast side of the city.

“(The community forest) is right on the edge of town,” said Warner “It’s easy to access, good for walking dogs, you’ve got a series of little alkali lakes and all the trails are well marked. If you want to make a day hike out of it, you can. Or it’s just right there for a hike after supper—very peaceful, very nice.”

A slightly more ambitious hike that is well worthwhile is to Lakit Lookout. This former forest fire lookout is on the top of Lakit peak. The start of the trail is about eight kilometres off the highway, but the road isn’t suitable for an RV unit. The hike itself is an hour and a half at a very leisurely pace. The views are fabulous, taking in the whole Rocky Mountain trench up into the Wild Horse Valley and down into the United States against a carpet of wild alpine flowers. There’s no better place to really experience the Rockies, Warner said.

More to see

On the way back visitors can stop at Fisherville, which is near to the highway. This is a gold rush ghost town that now has interpretive signs among the remains of what was once a busy community. Nearby Fort Steele is a maintained heritage site and offers a more interactive and lively experience of life in the area before the growth of Cranbrook as the region’s centre.

Continue down to the Wardner Fort Steele Road to find the Kootenay Trout Hatchery, about a half-hour drive outside of Cranbrook. The facility provides guided tours throughout the summer in addition to an extensive interpretive area as well as a rare sturgeon hatching pond, the only one in the province.

“You’ll follow a scenic drive along the Kootenay River where you have great views of the river and the valley,” said Warner. “You’re right at the foot of the Steeples Mountains. The hatchery itself is open virtually every day of the year. They have tours; they have a special fish pond out there where kids can try fishing. (The hatchery) stocks lakes all through the Kootenays. What’s particularly unique about the trout hatchery is they also grow sturgeon and there is a sturgeon tank, so you can view that.”

Summer discoveries

There’s still plenty to discover back in Cranbrook. Elizabeth Lake and Idlewild Park are great places for a picnic, a walk and some bird watching. The Canadian Museum of Rail Travel is particularly notable for its collection of vintage rail cars. A vibrant Saturday farmers market offers an abundance of local produce and craftwork. There are also a number of good golf courses in the area including Mission Hills and St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino, a former residential school which is now a casino, resort and restaurant with an excellent Ktunaxa Interpretive Centre. The Cranbrook Golf Club, Shadow Mountain and Wildstone Golf Course complete the Cranbrook golf circuit.

For himself, Warner particularly looks forward to an annual trip up Mount Lakit along with the plethora of other hiking and fishing he enjoys in the area.

“For the outdoorsy type, you probably can’t be in a better place on earth for outdoor recreation than the Cranbrook area and Kootenay Rockies,” said Warner. “It is an outdoor paradise.”

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