Very few climatic moods are as dramatic as Autumn’s golden larches, which transform Kootenay landscapes from forest green to honey-toned gold before grudgingly relinquishing their needles to the frosty earth. From late September through November, Mother Nature performs a spectacular encore to summer, coaxing locals out of their homes and into the rugged wild where they paddle calm waters against the backdrop of golden views, hike trails hugged in amber warmth, and take long drives down windy roads through the caramel-kissed countryside.
We see your perfectly-aged hiking boots and delicious pumpkin spiced lattes and raise you the path we walk, the mountain we climb, the lake we paddle, and the seasonally-inspired, locally-brewed beer we drink. Because around here, during fall, we’re all in.
DAY 1: FOR THE VIEW, FOLLOW THE YELLOW LARCH ROAD
Crank the tunes and pick your dirt road. Here’s two backcountry gravel-road options that’ll knock your fall-savvy socks n’ sandals combo right off!
Take a drive along the Bull River Forest Service Road, accessed off the Wardner Fort Steele Road near Fort Steele. This gravel road will bring you past BC Hydro’s Aberfeldie Dam and alongside the Bull River, a sparkling and spectacular cold mountain river filled with cutthroat trout. The Bull River can be accessed at numerous pull-offs and camping areas along the forest service road. Keep your eyes peeled for elk, moose, mountain goats and bears! This drive can be enjoyed in whatever time you have, as there are plenty of spots to safely turn around, but for a full day adventure go all the way to Summer Lake! It’s an enjoyable trip at any time of the year, but absolutely unforgettable in the fall, when the Bull River is low and sparkly, the larch trees gold, and the calm skies a piercing blue.
Go to Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park (approx 100 km from Cranbrook, one way). In addition to the golden larch trees lining the gravel road, Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park focal points include the shining waters of Whiteswan and Alces Lakes, the Lussier River, and natural hot springs. Once you turn off the Kootenay Highway, it’s about 22 kilometres down the gravel Whiteswan Forest Service Road to Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park.
And for the Craft Brew: Fernie Brewing Company always rolls out some amazing seasonal beer options, such as the Ghostrider Pumpkin Brown Ale, launching this September, and Java the Hut Coffee Milk Stout, coming October 2021. Look for Fernie Brewing Company seasonal favorites and year-round pours from the taps of craft-centric local restaurants, and on shelves in liquor stores throughout Kimberley and Cranbrook. A great place to start your FBC seasonal search is the Firehall Kitchen & Tap, which exclusively pours BC Craft beer on its 20 taps. Fernie Brewing Company is part of the BC Ale Trail.
DAY 2: FOR THE VIEW, HIT THE WATER
There’s a lot of lakes around here. Below are our top three options for calm water paddles with spectacular larch viewing. Choose your adventure.
St. Mary Lake Regional Park is located approximately 20 km west of Kimberley on St. Mary Road, on the east end of St. Mary Lake. The park, which is abundant with golden larches from late September to November, is open from dawn until 9 p.m. Amenities include a parking lot, picnic areas, boat launch, hiking trails and a wheelchair accessible outhouse. The 295 hectare lake rests at an elevation of 930 metres above sea level and is located at the base of Bootleg Mountain. It’s a popular recreation lake for fishing, paddling, swimming and birdwatching. On the north side of the lake, across the road from the lake, is the Kimberley Nature Park and the trailhead to the Alki Creek Hiking Trail. For more information and a park map see the St. Mary’s Lake Regional Park brochure.
New Lake is a secluded lake located only about 10 minutes from Cranbrook. This rugged backcountry lake has a small unmaintained parking area with lake access that supports the launching of boats, canoes, kayaks and paddleboards. There’s no amenities or beach here, making it a typically quiet and isolated spot minutes from town and perfect for a reflective and remote paddle on the water, complete with a lovely larch view.
For those who want to combine a leisurely drive to find their scenic water views, Whitetail Lake is spectacular in the fall. The day-use area is at the lake's edge at the north site. Fishing is a popular activity here, as the lake is managed for trophy fishing by the Ministry of Environment and is stocked annually with Gerrard trout and medium sized Brook trout. Amenities include picnic tables, boat launch and toilets.
- Driving directions from Canal Flats: Drive 4.5 kms north of Canal Flats on Hwy 93/95 and head west on the Findlay Creek Forest Service Road. Follow signs to Blue Lake Forestry Camp along the Findlay Creek Forest Service Road and the Deer Lake Forest Service Road. Do not take the final turn to Blue Lake at km 23.5. Stay right at km 25.5, then one more right will lead you to Whitetail Lake Recreation Site near the 28 km mark. The access road is passable by 2WD vehicles with trailers, but may be quite potholed depending on road maintenance scheduling.
And for the Craft Brew: Ride the day’s wave to the The Heid Out Restaurant & Brewhouse in Cranbrook for award winning craft beer, brewed on site at Fisher Peak Brewing. With six of the beers flowing straight from the 1,000 litre tanks to the tap, this place is THE place to test the waters. Keep with the lake theme and enjoy a Soggy Otter Brown Ale: a rich flavourful brown ale that fills your mouth with a fusion of toasted malt and sweet caramel. Finished with a nutty and mild hop bitterness. Fisher Peak Brewing is part of the BC Ale Trail.
DAY 3: FOR THE VIEW, TAKE A HIKE
There’s no wrong trail. But here’s some EXTRA right ones for fall. Take your pick!
Perry Creek hiking trail and falls is a 2.6 km trail situated in the Purcell Mountains west of Cranbrook. The trail, which is appropriate for all skill levels, takes you past an abandoned gold mine to a set of pools below a waterfall. The drive out, as well as the hike, will deliver a brilliant showcase of autumn’s seasonal colours
- Directions: From Cranbrook head north on 95A up to Kimberley. Take a left on Wycliffe Park Road before reaching Shadow Mountain Golf Resort. Turn left on Old Wycliffe Road and continue for about 1km before turning right on Perry Creek Road. This road turns into a well-maintained gravel road. Follow it for about 10km before parking at a yellow gate at the start of the trailhead on your left.
Lakit Lookout is a popular hike offering one of the best viewpoints around, especially if you are wanting to get a “Big Picture” golden larch view. This short but steep hike gets you to an elevation of 7,700 feet (2346 m) where you’ll find a panoramic perspective of the Kootenay River winding its way down the Rocky Mountain Trench; the communities of Ft. Steele, Cranbrook and Wasa; and a grand sweep of the Rocky Mountains. From the parking lot, the trail up is very straightforward, but can be quite steep in sections and very dry. Bring lots of water!
And for the Craft Brew: Finish off your golden mountain trails with a golden mountain ale. Specifically, Mountain Standard Golden Ale from Over Time Beer Works in Kimberley. This is a light, lager-like ale with medium body, malty-grainy flavour, and a crisp, dry finish. Purchase at the Cranbrook BC Liquor Store, Kimberley BC Liquor Store, or enjoy your cold pint at Kimberley’s Pedal & Tap or The Shed. There’s a number of tasty options from Over Time Beer Works, depending on your preferences and mood, but one thing they all have in common: These beers are honest, modest and hard working, brewed with care, crafted by hand, and made in small batches. Overtime Beer Works is part of the BC Ale Trail.
- Local craft beer is best enjoyed responsibly.
- Some of these destinations are accessed via active logging roads so its recommended vehicles have a two-way radio equipped with appropriate frequencies and follow Radio Calling Procedure. Always yield to industrial traffic and drive with caution.
- If you plan to spend some time in the backcountry check out the app Gaia GPS to assist you on your adventure.
- And if you love craft beer, check out the BC Ale Trail Mobile App, where you can get started on your next Ale-venture today, and be rewarded for supporting BC Ale Trail breweries.
Cranbrook and Kimberley businesses cater to the outdoor enthusiast. Whether you’re looking to rent a paddle board or bicycle, buy some hiking shoes, or find trail maps, these are the stores you’ll want to visit.
- Just Liquid Sports offers sales, service, rentals and even instruction for all things watersports.
- Bootleg Bike Co has bike sales, service and rentals.
- High Country Sportswear is an independent retailer of premium outdoor clothing, equipment, and accessories.
- Gerick Sports sells top-quality outdoor sporting and recreation equipment and has an all-season tech shop to ensure your gear is tuned up and ready to rock.
- Purcell Outdoors is Kimberley’s outdoor gear, apparel, and trail-running store.
- Northstar Bicycle Co. is Cranbrook’s local source for all things bicycle, including rentals.