Kootenay Lake is 530 m (1,736 ft) above sea level and bounded by the Selkirk Mountain range to the west and the Purcell range to the east. The lake is about 144 km (90 mi) long, and up to 152 m (500 ft) deep. The average width is 4 km (2.5 mi) and is 8 km (5 miles) across at its widest. It was formed during the Ice Age, when glacial advances deposited glacial till to the south, creating the rich farmlands around Creston and a large basin to the north.
Creston is situated in a valley at the south end of Kootenay Lake at the junction of Highways 3, 3A and 21, which runs 11 km (7 mi) south to the Canada/USA border. Creston is an important business centre with a thriving diverse economy. Creston Valley is a broad, fertile, agricultural region and home to many dairy farms and orchards. Warm weather arrives early and stays later, blessing Creston with one of the mildest climates in British Columbia.
The Stone House Museum allows visitors to explore the history of the Creston Valley and the gold prospectors who settled there. Strolling through the town the visitors will see decorative murals depicting the history, local beauty and life in the Creston Valley. Glacier Brewery, home of Kokanee Beer, has organized tours mid-June to mid-September. The brewery can trace its roots back to the Fort Steele Brewery, which opened in 1898.
The Creston Wildlife Management Area interpretive centre offers the opportunity to learn about the numerous species of birds, mammals and reptiles that inhabit the nearby wetlands. Interpretive walks and canoe rides throughout the marsh are available.
Spectacular mountain views, surrounding expanses of wilderness and the beauty of Kootenay Lake all combine to make Creston an excellent base for outdoor adventure, and a popular destination for visitors. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy Creston's scenic hiking, biking and naturalist trails.
Heading west along Highway 3 from Creston is Stagleap Provincial Park. This park is located at the summit of the highest all-weather highway pass in BC and one of the highest paved highways in Canada. Travelers can enjoy the sub alpine forest from the luxury of their car or can take a short walk around Bridal Lake.
Stagleap Provincial Park is one of the most accessible backcountry skiing destinations in the region and its consistently excellent snow conditions have made it a major backcountry ski and snowshoe destination. The terrain can very hazardous in winter with extreme avalanche conditions and off-trail use is discouraged. Only those with proper equipment and training should venture into backcountry areas. Hiking the high alpine areas, such as Ripple Ridge and Cornice Ridge, is also very popular in the summer months.
From Creston a trip up Highway 3A north provides a beautiful scenic drive along the east shores of Kootenay Lake. The first community along this route is Wynndel which continues the agriculture heritage of the area with a number of berry farms. A little further north is Sirdar where many people stop at the pub and general store.
Further on is the small lakeside resort town of Boswell and Lockhart Beach Park. Lockhart Beach Provincial Park is a small, beautifully forested park. This 3,751-hectare park protects an undisturbed watershed and stands of old-growth cedar and hemlock. A hiking trail runs along Lockhart Creek, through a mixed forest of Douglas fir, western red cedar and Ponderosa pine.
Gray Creek is the next community along Highway 3A and was first settled in 1906. Located here is Kootenay Lake's oldest general store, the Gray Creek Store on Chainsaw Avenue. A prominent service centre for the East Shore and still under the same family ownership, proprietor Tom Lymbery's father started the business in 1913. It has an excellent collection of BC history books, large hardware selection, and also features wood stoves.
Crawford Bay, a few kilometers north of Gray Creek is named after "White Man Jim" Crawford, a trapper and gold prospector who lived in the community until his death in 1914. The peace and quiet of Kootenay Lake affords visitors to Crawford Bay a wonderful escape from city life, and plenty of opportunities for a variety of water related activities. The area is dotted with artisans and signs point the way to their galleries and workshops.
Drive another 10 km (6 mi) west from Crawford Bay to Kootenay Bay to take The Longest Free Ferry Ride in the world, a 40-minute scenic crossing of Kootenay Lake, from nearby Kootenay Bay to Balfour on the lake's west arm. Prior to 1902, Kootenay Bay was only a flag stop for the paddlewheelers, which nosed right up onto the pebble beach. In 1947 the ferry terminal moved from Gray Creek to Kootenay Bay and by June of 1948 the highway, which by then was the Trans Canada Highway, was paved through to the ferry landing.
The ferry traverses Kootenay Lake docking at Balfour on the west side. Tranquil today, Balfour bustled in the old mining days of the 1890s, as sternwheelers plied the waters of Kootenay Lake, transporting prospectors and supplies to and from mining camps along the lake's shores. From Balfour you can access Kokanee Creek Provincial Park with over one kilometre of sandy beaches is a summer destination for beach lovers.
Just north of Balfour is the world famous 32,035 hectare, Kokanee Glacier Park located in a rugged wilderness area of the Selkirk Mountains between Slocan and Kootenay Lakes. Established in 1922, this park is one of the oldest in the province. Lying mostly above 1,800 m (5,850 ft) in elevation, the park has three glaciers: Kokanee, Caribou and Woodbury which feed over 30 lakes and are the headwaters of many creeks. Kokanee Lake is 1,200 m (4225 ft) in length, 400 m (1300 ft) wide, probably 100 m (325 ft) deep and surrounded by precipitous cliffs and rockslides. Scenic lakes include the gem-coloured Sapphire Lakes, the milky Joker Lakes and popular Gibson, Kaslo and Tanal Lakes which offer good fishing for Rainbow and Cutthrout trout.
Heading west along Highway 3A along the fringes of the West Arm Park the traveler comes to the picturesque town of Nelson. West Arm Park extends along the shore of Kootenay Lake from Nelson to Harrop and up to the peaks behind. The creek fans and pocket beaches are popular with boaters.
Nelson is famous for its cluster of some 350 heritage buildings that along with its setting and stunning scenery create a quaint almost fairy book town. Incorporated in 1897 as a mining town, Nelson has bloomed into a unique community with a thriving tourist trade. Nelson has been described as the best "Small Art Town in Canada". For the entire summer ‘Artwalk' turns the downtown core into a living art gallery. Thanks to the mild climate in Nelson visitors can ski without freezing in the winter and fish without scorching in the summer. This makes Nelson a paradise for outdoor sports enthusiasts. The award-winning terrain and abundant snow make for amazing skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling and snow-shoeing in the winter. As the snow melts away in the Spring, the landscape becomes a mecca for golfing, hiking, fishing, climbing, mountain biking and bird watching. Nelson is also home to the renowned Whitewater Ski Resort described as one of the best powder mountains on the continent, and the scenic Granite Pointe Golf Club.
Travelling north from Balfour along Highway 31 a must stop is the village of Ainsworth Hot Springs. The Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort's natural hot springs feature a unique horseshoe-shaped cave where the darkness, the mineral deposits and the humidity all combine to offer an exhilarating experience. The hot, steamy, odourless shower of mineralized water falls from the cave's roof and forms a waist-deep pool, providing a rejuvenating natural steam bath.
The visitor shouldn't leave the Kootenay Lake sub region without exploring Kaslo. The town was built on the wealth created by the silver boom of the late 1800s, and the hills surrounding Kaslo are rich in the history of those bygone days. The Purcell Mountains tower above, and the wide tree-lined streets and stately old houses exude charm. Kaslo is also home to the world's oldest passenger sternwheeler, the S.S. Moyie, an international treasure. Berthed at the edge of Kootenay Lake, the sternwheeler rests permanently in her former port of call on Front Street. The S.S. Moyie is a Provincial Heritage Landmark open daily, mid-May to mid-September.
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