Family Friendly Cycle Touring in the Kootenays

Known as a mountain biking mecca with epic descents over varied terrain and a road cyclists dream with plenty of routes that follow twisting lakeshore roads, we wondered if there were places for the whole family to enjoy? Here are four rail trails we found worthy to explore that you're able to take the whole family.

By: Rachel Bertsch + Save to a List

What makes a family friendly cycle tour, specifically with a toddler and infant? For us that means a route that allows you to feel safe about towing the kids in a trailer or in a bike seat, or having easy grades that little legs can push themselves up. Places to pause every hour or two so the littles can stretch themselves or rest their weary legs, and comfortable accommodation options with plenty of service stops so that you don’t have to worry about packing every little thing on your bike.

The Kootenays are better known for their mountain biking trails with epic mountain views and massive vertical descents. Several road cycling routes weave through the twisting roads of the West Kootenays, but we had a hard time finding anything mentioning if it was family friendly. We searched for a cycle tour of the Kootenays that would meet most of the following criteria:

  • Off road cycle path
  • Minimal or low traffic roads
  • Rail trail routes
  • Scenic pit stops
  • Overnights in cabins
  • Plenty of cafes for refueling

And we thought we found it. Following both the West Kootenay loop and detouring on to a series of four rail trails, we thought we would have roughly 400km of varied terrain most of which would be on low traffic roads or rail trails. We’d wind through numerous lake and river valleys, pass by historic villages, take breaks on pebble or sandy beaches with expansive mountain views, and cozy up in unique cabin stays each night along the way.

It all seemed perfect, until we reached our first leg of the journey: Highway 3A from Castlegar to Nelson. It sucked. Little to no shoulders on blind corners with speeding cars. To say we felt this was a bad idea for our kiddos and for us is an understatement.

Luckily, by using a car to bypass the highway sections to do a series of out and backs in a giant cycle loop of the West Kootenays - there are numerous family friendly rail trails and cycle paths in the Kootenays that make it worth the journey to this corner of BC.

Great Northern Trail // Nelson to Troup Beach // 12km Return.

The entirety of the Great Northern Rail Trail goes from Nelson to Salmo via Ymir, but the further south you go the worse the trail surface becomes. If you are with kids, skip the journey out of Nelson and just head northeast to Troup Beach.

Park at the 10th street parking lot above the Selkirk College in Nelson. With a 3.3% grade downhill, you’ll coast over small gravel rocks and three wooden bridges until you reach a confusing dead end near Five Mile Point.

Keeping your eyes peeled you’ll see a faint sign of a trail about 400m before the dead end, walk your stuff down to the beach from a makeshift trailhead perched just above the active train tracks about 400m. Continue north along the beach to the twin bays that make up Troup Beach. The view, the soft sand, and the warm waters are divine. Note there might be a path from the dead end of the rail trail, however, a fair amount of evidence of bears hindered us from exploring the paths there.

Bonus points for this trail as it starts in Nelson, a town full of every accommodation option out there and a seriously surprising culinary scene that would be hard to rival in a town this size.

Slocan River Rail Trail // Slocan to Crescent Valley // up to 100km return

Winding through a beautiful river valley, the Slocan River Rail Trail is 50km one way from Slocan to Crescent Valley. Following a river, passing farmlands and quaint villages in a mountainous valley, this rail trail sounds perfect for exploring by bike. The ability to make it a loop by returning via backroads also makes it unique on this list. 

Note that the trail surface on this route does vary.

From firmly packed wide gravel paths to narrow and bumpy single track lanes with overgrown vegetation in other areas. All easily doable with a mountain bike or touring bike with slightly wider tires at a decent speed since it is a flat trail, but uncomfortable in stages with the trailer and therefore very slow going.

For families with a trailer or young kids unable to peddle far, base yourselves in Winlaw for several nights. Karibu Park Cabins are right on the rail trail and a great spot for families or cycle tourists.

If you find the trail slow going, spend one day to venture south to Passmore rather than the entire length south, and another day north to Slocan. This way you hit what is arguably the most scenic sections. 

Be prepared as both villages are pretty limited in terms of services and while on the trail you will feel very far from civilization, so bring your own snacks. Luckily, there are many picnic areas and benches to take breaks at.

Kaslo to Bear Lake // up to 60km return

If you want to get out on your bike while in Kaslo, this is a region with a great deal of potential for excellent rides. Road cyclists have challenging laps north or south on the highway that never leaves a lake view for a long time. Mountain bikers have forestry roads and wagon trails that cut into the mountain ranges with exceptional wilderness beauty.

Families cycling have options, but they are considerably shorter.

The lakeside highway routes have limited shoulders and faster traffic. Northwards the 31 to Meadow Creek has less traffic, but a lot of blind corners and high speeds from those drivers that are on the road. Southbound to Ainsworth Hot Springs has considerably more traffic but a few more cyclists. With young kids I wouldn’t recommend either.

The better way to get out of Kaslo on a bike with your family is to head to the Valley of the Ghosts, an area of the West Kootenays with a series of abandoned boom towns that rests between Kaslo and New Denver.

We opted to follow the highway 31A to Bear Lake. Traffic was minimal and almost everyone kept to reasonable speeds. The highway climbs a gentle grade with the best views appearing near Retallack and Fish Lake, where there are walking trails among cedar trees and a picnic area to pause.

Note that if you don’t have a bike trailer and do have a mountain bike, a more ideal way to reach Bear Lake is via the Kaslo Sandon Rail Trail or Wagon Road. This 30km trail follows a mild grade and is off road for most of it. However, the surface is horrendous in places if you are towing a trailer and slow going even at the best of times.

Galena Trail // Rosebery to New Denver // 12km return

Note that we only did half of the 13km one way route (26km return from Rosebery to Sandon), as the cable car across Carpenter Creek near Sandon was out. The Galena Trail was built in 1895 as part of the CPR and is an easy yet pleasant ride hugging the shores of Slocan Lake.

The trail surface is ideal for trailer rides, however, there have been some obstacles added to the trail in order to dissuade ATV users making it a challenge to bring anything wider than a bicycle onto the trail.

Both Rosebery and New Denver are sleepy towns that boomed in the late 1800s, with New Denver having slightly more services including a decently stocked grocery store and accommodation options.

** A special note on gear for biking with toddlers and infants **

We use two methods to bring our kids with us. A Kids Ride Shotgun front seat for our toddler to sit on the front of our bike frame behind the handle bars and a Chariot (older Thule) Bike Trailer with an Infant Sling and Baby Seat Supporter attachments for our child under 12 months old. Note that it is recommended to start biking with your child only after they have well established head control, and generally it isn't recommended before a child is 9 months old. 

Ask your doctor before you start any biking activities with infants.

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Have any questions? Follow along our adventures in real time and get in touch by following @meandertheworld on Instagram. 

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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