Kettle Valley Rail Trail

Bicycling across BC on the historic KVR

The Kettle Valley Rail Trail is probably the best known bike route in Canada. Traversing some 650km (400 miles) from the Cascade Mtns to the deserts and verdant valleys of BC's southern interior, the trail passes through an almost shocking variety of scenery for such a short distance. Easily divisible into shorter trips (many people will be familiar with the popular Othello Tunnels and Myra Canyon), rarely exceeding an effortless 2% grade, and offering a nice blend of remote wilderness with resupply and bail-out points, it's a perfect introduction to off-road bike touring.

Originally opened in 1915 as an effort to prevent BC's silver ore from being siphoned off to the US via the more naturally navigable north-south routes, the KVR was an engineering marvel for its time, taking nearly 20 years to complete and, mile for mile, was one of the most expensive tracks built on the continent. One glance at the complex topography of mountain ranges and tunnels and trestles and you'll quickly understand why. It served the southern communities for only a few decades, helping open up new towns and settlements, before being largely abandoned beginning in the early 1960s and eventually turned into a recreational trail in the 1990s. You'll find information boards scattered along the way shedding light onto the area's rich history, mostly about the boom towns and colourful characters that have long disappeared into wilderness.

Officially the KVR extends from Hope to Midway (or is it vice versa?), but is often combined with the Columbia and Western Trail to Castlegar (or all the way to Fernie as part of the BC Trail). Unable to start in Hope due to a wildfire closure up the Coquihalla, we begrudgingly began our trip in Princeton and ended in Castlegar 12 days later, averaging about 50km a day (nice and leisurely with too many photo and swim stops to my speedy sister's chagrin). As always, you can find some basic route info hidden on the search / explore page.

For the most part the condition of the trail is pretty good, but can certainly be rough in sections with plenty of chunky bits and sand pits. Most people seem to blame ATVs for churning up the gravel, but in many communities the only way to get funding to maintain the trail is to have people using the trail, and the people who want to use it mostly ride ATVs, so... it is what it is. We recommend a nice comfy saddle and at least 50mm / 2" tires if your bike can swing it, though we encountered a stalwart gentleman on 40mm meats absolutely crushing it, so it mostly just depends on how much weight you plan on carrying and how many daily discomforts you want to put up with. I say live large and max out your bike's clearance if you can, why not? We suffered zero flats on even our smallest 48mm tires, but our arms were plenty numb from the constant gravel chatter and we did rattle a few bolts loose and broke a rack on one bike and a camera on another. But you'll be fine! It is not crazy rough. Just kinda... rough. And anyway well worth the effort.

You'll pass through a number of small towns and grocery stores, with a major resupply conveniently halfway in Penticton. Plan on carrying about 2 days of food at a time and capacity for at least 3 litres of water (plus a filter) — there are plenty of dry stretches. You can find a few campgrounds along the way, and probably hotels and bed & breakfasts (including the famed Chute Lake Lodge), but we mostly just wild camped whenever we could. Including in a couple of spots we should not have. But hey! Just between us.

We've travelled this stretch probably a hundred thousand times by car so it was especially neat to see it by bike. Mainly because the trail generally takes a different route entirely, but you also just appreciate things differently when travelling so slowly. We almost always stop at the Deadwood Cafe in Greenwood, but maaan we really stopped this time. We parked there for a couple hours at least, sampling the entire menu almost. And then we got up and went to the neighbouring Copper Eagle Bakery too. Bike trips are like that. Bless them.

I rate this trail 8.5 stars.