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From Nakusp to Alberta: A BC Summer Road Trip Adventure

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

I am on a journey through the breathtaking landscapes of British Columbia during this sunny summer. Living life on the road in my trusty converted Sprinter van named Wanda is a dream come true, and today, I am excited to share the latest chapter of my 2023 Summer Van Life BC Road Trip as I take several days to travel from the hot springs town of Nakusp in the Kootenay Region of BC into the province of Alberta.

In the previous posts, I've recounted the experiences along the way including stops in Okanagan Lake, Christina Lake, Rossland, Salmo, Lockhart Beach and Nakusp Hot Springs.

Today, I'm moving on from Nakusp and taking several days to make my way to Calgary, Alberta.

I navigated the lake ferry system and explored some of the wonders of Yoho National Park. Along the way, I spent the night under the stars at the Ranch RV Park in Nicholson and huddled in Wanda amidst a terrific rain storm in the mountains at Canmore Municipal Campsite before heading into the suburbs and rural areas outside of Calgary to visit a dear friend and spend a couple of days with my sister at her horse ranch.


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I hope that this travel blog post will inspire you to embark on your road trip adventure, where the open road becomes your canvas and nature is your ever-changing masterpiece.


BC Road Trip: The Arrow Lakes Ferry System

As I left Nakusp, the first part of the route involved navigating the lake ferry system, a unique and delightful way to experience the stunning landscapes of British Columbia. The Arrow Lakes Ferry service is an essential transportation link that connects the communities along the Arrow Lakes in British Columbia, Canada.

The ferry service is managed by the Province of British Columbia and is considered crucial in reducing the distance and time required to travel between communities. It offers a cost-effective and time-saving alternative to longer road detours, especially for those travelling between communities located on opposite sides of the lakes.

The Upper Arrow Lakes Ferry service operates between Shelter Bay and Galena Bay. The Arrow Lakes Ferry service operates year-round, adjusting its schedule seasonally to meet the demands of travellers. This free ferry ride is a 20-minute-long voyage that is quite beautiful. The ferry itself is an open-deck ferry with a capacity of 80 vehicles. Galena Bay to Shelter Bay

Galena Bay (east) and Shelter Bay (west) are small communities in the West Kootenay region of British Columbia. During the mining rushes and booms during the late 1800s and early 1900s, thousands of prospectors and settlers arrived in BC and a need for transportation of people and goods became a priority. Steamships were in constant motion but weren't able t handle the demand. When the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) completed the railway line (1886) through the Selkirk Mountains, Galena and Shelter Bays became the hubs connecting the railway and steamboats on Upper Arrow Lake. When the Keenleyside Dam was built in the 1960s, many of the communities, including Galena and Shelter Bay were flooded. The communities were relocated to their current locations.


Shelter Bay Provincial Park

Within several hundred meters of the ferry terminal is the lovely Shelter Bay Provincial Park. This park is a great place to stop for a swim or a picnic before carrying along the highway. It also offers some camping in unshaded, open sites in a small campground with pit toilets ($23 CAD) for those arriving on later ferries and needing a place to spend the night. This is also a great bay for many water activities as it is calm and sheltered.

After a brief stop, I carried along the highway. I planned to make my way to Yoho National Park. I had a vague plan to stay near the town of Field or Golden but everything was going to depend upon the weather -- which was not looking at all promising. The forecast was calling for rain, something sorely needed to tamp down the wildfires raging throughout BC. Unfortunately, there were also thunderstorms in the forecast which increased the risk of new fire starts. Although the views continued to awe (when the clouds lifted enough to see the mountains), the dreary weather discouraged me from making stops along the way, so I drove straight on to Golden.

The Golden Riverfront Campground (Nicholson, BC)

As usual, I hadn't booked ahead. Knowing that my bed is always with me, I can get quite lackadaisical about where that bed will be parked. I first checked out the Golden Municipal Campground. The Municipal Campground seemed like an ideal location near the town but once I arrived and looked at the grounds, I decided it was more crowded and had less privacy than I wanted, so I opened up Google Maps and located a couple of campgrounds in the nearby community of Nicholson that looked promising.


Nicholson is easily accessible for travellers exploring the Rockies and the surrounding national parks. It was the construction of the CPR i n the late 1800s that brought railway workers and settlers to the area and formed this small community. The name "Nicholson" is in honour of Sir Charles Nicholson, a prominent figure in the CPR. The campground I eventually settled on was The Golden Riverfront Campground. I was delighted as the clouds cleared and the evening turned bright and sunny.

Location 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️

Nicholson is about 7 km south of Golden on Hwy 95. It is easy access to Golden and Yoho National Park. The property includes access to the Columbia River, a swimming area, a sandy beach, and a wetlands area for wildlife viewing.


Amenities 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️

This huge private campground includes everything imaginable. The office can arrange many adventures and rentals for visitors. There are more than 100 campsites with all kinds of different settings from open pads, and treed sites, plus yurts and RV rentals.

The wash house was the best I've seen. It was a beautiful, well-designed building that included sparkling clean and modern flush toilets, showers, and laundry. The room that surprised me the most was the family bathroom which included a bathtub!

The property caters to groups with an event pavilion and several large group campsites, one that even includes a "warming house".


Campsites 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 1/2

There is a huge range of different sites. I had a wonderfully private, treed site that included water and 30-amp power hook-ups ($44 CAD. Unserviced tent sites $39 CAD). It was rather narrow and a fair distance from the wash house but comfortable. There were walk-in and drive-in tent sites, pull-through powered sites for larger RVs, as well as a good selection of back-in serviced sites.

Nearby Activities/Services 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️

There is a large open landing field at the front of the property where paragliding and hand-gliding adventures can be arranged through the office. Visitors can also choose to rent kayaks, paddle boards, and e-bikes.

The RV village area where I was parked was close to the Columbia River and a swimming area and beach. The wetland wildlife viewing area edges the back of the property.


Noise Levels 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️

The area I was in was very quiet. The sites around me had RVs parked in them but I did not see anyone around them during my mid-week stay. There is no road noise. There was no activity on the Landing Field while I was there.


Aesthetics 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ Each area on the grounds is unique and appealing for a different type of traveller. Everything is clean and well-maintained. There is an area available that will appeal to every camper and camping set-up. There is almost no light pollution and if you get a clear night, you'll be amazed by the number of stars in the sky.

BC Road Trip: Exploring Yoho National Park

After leaving Nicholson and continuing my journey towards Alberta, I rejoined Hwy 1 and entered Yoho National Park.

The park, established in 1886, is one of Canada's oldest national parks. The name translates to "awe and wonder" in the Cree language -- a very fitting name. The park's pristine land shaped by glaciers and the forces of nature, is a geological treasure that has been a sanctuary for explorers and nature enthusiasts for over a century.

There are numerous accommodation options in and around Yoho, catering to every kind of traveller. The park has luxurious lodges, charming cabins, and rustic cabanas for those wanting to linger and explore the park more fully. Camping is also a fantastic option, with front and backcountry options.


I was just passing through on this trip, so I wasn't planning on staying in the park. Instead, I bought myself a day parking pass ($10.50 per day). An annual pass good for all National Parks is $72.25, and free passes are available for those under 18 and new Canadian citizens.

Road Trip Sightseeing in Yoho National Park

I stuck to the main highway through the park. Near the town of Field, I turned off the Highway to follow Yoho Valley Road where I would see the Lower Spiral Tunnels Viewpoint, the Meeting of the 2 Rivers, and Takakkaw Falls. It was a drizzly day with low clouds. I didn't get the stunning mountain views, instead, I was in a misty damp world of low clouds and peeks of peaks.

This isn't a beautifully paved and graded road. It's good up to the Meeting of the 2 Rivers but those going further driving a longer vehicle may need to come up with a different plan. There are 2 very tight hairpin turns. I watched a tour bus back down the road after realizing it wasn't going to work. Wanda (6.1 m/20 ft) needed two attempts to make it around the second turn.

Spiral Tunnels Viewpoint

My first stop was at the Lower Spiral Tunnels Lookout just off the Trans-Canada Highway about 7 km (4.5 miles) east of Field. There is a second pull-out viewpoint of the Upper Spiral along the Yoho Valley Road, on the way to Takakkaw Falls.

The story behind the Spiral Tunnels is a remarkable tale of engineering ingenuity and the determination to conquer the challenging terrain of the Canadian Rockies during the building of the CPR. British Columbia, a British colony, joined the newly formed country of Canada based on the condition that a transcontinental railway would be built to link BC with the rest of the country.


Building a railway line through the rugged and treacherous Rocky Mountains was a monumental task, with numerous obstacles to overcome, including steep gradients and tight curves. Before the construction of the Spiral Tunnels, trains had to navigate the difficult Kicking Horse Pass, where the grades reached as high as 4.5%, making it extremely difficult for trains to ascend or descend the mountains. These steep grades required locomotives to exert immense effort, and the sharp curves posed safety risks and increased wear and tear on the tracks.


The solution involved constructing two separate tunnels within the mountainside, each spiralling inside the other in a helical pattern. This design allowed the tracks to rise or descend at a more manageable gradient, easing the strain on locomotives and enhancing safety.


Construction of the Spiral Tunnels began in 1907 and took two years to complete under the supervision of renowned railway engineer John Edward Schwitzer. The tunnels were excavated using manual labour and explosives, with workers toiling for long hours in dangerous conditions in the challenging mountain environment.


From either of the viewpoints, visitors can watch as a long cargo train can be seen entering one tunnel and exiting another as it winds its way through the mountain. Even though there is no set schedule, between 20 - 30 trains use these tunnels daily, so you won't have to wait long. You will hear the train echoing back and forth across the valley for at least 5 or 10 minutes before the train comes into sight.

The train enters the first tunnel and spirals to the left inside the mountain for almost 900 m and then exits from a tunnel about 15 m higher on the right side. From there it crosses the river and into the Upper Spiral Tunnel in Cathedral Mountain. This one spirals to the right and emerges 17 meters higher.


Meeting of the Rivers

Next on my itinerary was the Meeting of the Rivers, a place where the untamed Kicking Horse River and the tranquil Yoho River converge. This unique phenomenon can be observed from a viewpoint a short distance from the Spiral Tunnels Viewpoint, where visitors can see an awe-inspiring glimpse of the contrasting waters

The Kicking Horse River, originating from glacial meltwater high in the mountains, is a mesmerizing milky-white colour. This colour is the result of suspended rock particles and fine sediment, known as glacial silt or "rock flour," carried by the river from its glacial source. As the river flows with impressive force, it grinds against the surrounding rocks, breaking them down into fine particles that give the water its opaque appearance. On the other hand, the Yoho River is fed by alpine streams and rainwater and has crystal-clear waters free of this sediment.


Takkakaw Falls

The road goes up to Takkakaw Falls but, as mentioned earlier, some vehicles may not be capable of the hairpin turns and steep grades. The road leads to a parking area and then there is a short hike to the falls. In the parking lot area are toilets and a picnic area.

Takkakaw Falls is the second-highest waterfall in Canada. The falls are fed by the Daly Glacier, which lies high in the President Range of the Canadian Rockies. The glacier's meltwater feeds the Yoho River, creating a powerful flow that plunges over the edge of the cliff.

Its name means "wonderful" in Cree, one of the original First Nations groups (other traditional residents of the land are the Blackfoot and Ktunaxa peoples).

The falls trail is flat and can be navigated by those with mobility aids. The trail was a treat in itself, taking me over a pretty bridge, through dense forests and along crystal-clear streams. The closer I got to Takkakaw, the louder the thunderous roar of water crashing upon rocks became. I was also beginning to get wet. The spray travels far. This spray would be very refreshing on a hot day but you might want to be prepared with a waterproof layer.

If you want to get a closer view of Takkakaw Falls, there is an adventurous trail that leads to the base of the falls. This hike can be challenging, especially as it involves walking on rocky and sometimes slippery terrain. You will get wet. If you are planning to do this trail, do not take your electronics unless you have a waterproof pouch.


Takkakaw Falls is only accessible during the summer months. Make sure to check the park's website or contact the park's visitor center for the most up-to-date information on road conditions and accessibility.

I spent 3-4 hours at the Falls where I followed the trail, took the hike to the base of the falls, and ate my lunch beside the river.

Vermilion Lakes Wetlands (Banff National Park)

After seeing the Falls, I continued along Hwy 1, crossing into the neighbouring province of Alberta and into Banff National Park. Not far from the town of Banff is the Vermilion Lakes.

The Vermilion Lakes Wetlands Viewpoint overlooks a series of three shallow lakes—Upper, Middle, and Lower Vermilion Lakes—that are connected by small channels. This wetland ecosystem plays a crucial role in supporting a rich diversity of plant and animal species, making it a significant area for conservation efforts.

The Vermilion Lakes Wetlands Viewpoint is easily accessible and can be reached by following Vermilion Lakes Road, just outside the town of Banff. The road leads to various pullouts and viewpoints, providing ample opportunities to soak in the scenery.

The wetlands are a haven for wildlife, and visitors often have the chance to spot a variety of animals, including waterfowl, beavers, muskrats, and even elk. Birdwatchers will delight in the numerous avian species that call the wetlands home, such as Canada geese, mallards, and herons. I made a note to return to spend time here on my return through Banff but feeling the damp work its way through my jacket, I decided it was time to dry out and head to Canmore where I planned to spend the night.


Wapiti Municipal Campground (Canmore)

I set up camp at the Wapiti Municipal Campsite in Canmore, Alberta surrounded by the towering peaks of the Rocky Mountains. I was looking forward to walking into town and exploring but the rain carried on through the night, so I had a shower and snuggled up inside with a good book. I did not fully explore the campground so I won't rate it but the wash house was clean and the showers were warm. Many gophers were popping in and out of their holes and scurrying around.

In the morning, the skies had cleared and I was heading east towards Calgary where I would spend a couple of days visiting with my sister on her horse ranch outside of the city before returning to BC and continuing my explorations.


Final Thoughts

The tourism phrases for the province of British Columbia are Beautiful British Columbia or Super Natural British Columbia both of which are excellent descriptors of this gorgeous land. The Kootenays and Yoho National Park are stunning examples of this beauty with the towering mountains, powerful waters, and stunning landscapes. I am immensely grateful to be able to call this province my home while recognizing that I have so much more to explore. I hope that this travel blog will inspire you to start your road trip adventures.

I invite you to follow the rest of my journey by subscribing to this blog. You'll receive notifications whenever new content is posted. You can also stay connected through my Facebook page, Facebook Group, Twitter, and Instagram, where I'll be sharing more snippets, photos, and stories from my ongoing road trip.

 

*Note to commenters: Your comment will be published as a "Guest" comment unless you are logged in.


13 Comments


Emma Gilbert
Emma Gilbert
Sep 13, 2023

I love this area, Yoho is so pretty. And I'm always in awe of the spiral tunnels. It's very cool to go through them and see half of the train still behind you higher up on the track. I do need to stay around Golden a bit more, I'm usually rushing to get to Banff or somewhere, I think I need to take a leaf out of your book and really take it slow. I'll admit the ferry is a great idea, and it's free? That's fantastic

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Guest
Sep 04, 2023

You've been on the road for quite some time, did you ever struggle with sightseeing-fatigue along the way? The natural environment is beautiful, no doubt, but I was wondering if you have a specific favourite from the tour? The Takkakaw waterfall is a highlight and I liked the picture that showed it from a bit further away and revealed some benches to sit and admire this natural wonder.


Carolin | <a href="https://solotravelstory.com/">Solo Travel Story</a>

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Sep 04, 2023
Replying to

I do get sight-seeing fatigue on any longer travel experience, so I build in "respite" days. On this road trip, that might mean doing laundry or errands, having a beach day, or hanging around the campsite reading, playing my flute, or watching the sun roll across the sky. For Summer 2023, Nakusp and Malcolm Island were highlights.

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Guest
Aug 24, 2023

BC has been on my list for so long that reading this article only reinforced my desire to visit the region.

The photographs are magnificent and reflect the natural beauty of the place well, but I confess that Takkakaw Falls made me WOW! What a phenomenal place! Angela | Home - (blondearoundtheworldtravel.com)

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Sep 04, 2023
Replying to

Takkakaw is a WOW! Yoho and Banff National Parks are chock full of WOW! The Rocky Mountains are magnificent and I think everyone should visit.

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Guest
Aug 22, 2023

I think I'm going to have to add the spiral train tunnels to my upcoming drive to Jasper/Banff. It's a very cool example of engineering. Thanks for including the video. I also love the Cree translations of the various place names, they're so well-suited. What a beautiful place to drive through!


- Melanie

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
Aug 23, 2023
Replying to

It really is a lovely little side trip as you are going through the park. It is a fascinating engineering marvel. It has been heart-warming to see the improvements BC is making regarding acknowledging the indigenous peoples.

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Guest
Aug 20, 2023

I love how you're really taking your time to experience the small towns in the area. We are often too focused on just getting to our destination as fast as possible we don't really enjoy the journey - but it seems like you're really making the most of the journey.

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