By Ryan Mijker and Kate Berniaz
Central British Columbia’s Okanagan is home to what may be the premier recreational cycling trail in the province. The Kettle Valley Rail (KVR) Trail is made up of more than 500 km of bike trail across mountainous terrain, plains, river valleys, lake shore and forest. Along this route, cyclists will journey through time exploring both the natural and human history of the region, as well as discovering the contemporary beauty of the land and people.
The Kettle Valley Railway opened in 1915, winding its way from Castlegar to Merritt, and from Hope to Spences Bridge where the KVR connected to the Canadian Pacific Railroad transcontinental line. Built initially to guard Canadian and British Columbia mining interests from American ambitions in the region, the KVR became a key passenger corridor and route to transport fruit from the Okanagan Valley.
In the mid 1950s, when highway transport became more popular, the KVR had high maintenance costs, persistent avalanches and rock slides along the rail line which doomed the KVR. A railroad that took 20 years to construct and costed more per kilometer to build than almost any other track in North America, saw only 60 years of service. However, the rail bed has been reborn as a successful multi-use recreational corridor.
After the last tracks had been removed, the corridor was redeveloped in the 1990s. The trail is accessible to all yet will provide even the most seasoned riders with great entertainment. The gentle grade and quality trail makes cycling the KVR trail a very welcoming family event. At the same time, the rugged terrain and true wilderness that surrounds the pathway make this enjoyable for veteran riders.
Dramatic, Popular Views Along the Way: Between Midway and Penticton, BC
Likely the most popular segment of the trail, is the stretch between Midway and Penticton. The roughly 200 km stretch offers world class views and can be easily done in four days. Cyclists prefer to start the tour in Midway because the grade (though only a maximum of 3% to accommodate the trains) is in your favour going that way. On the ascent to trail height at Myra Canyon most cyclist will hardly notice the climb because of the low grade. The descent from Chute Lake into Penticton is a virtual coast to the shores of Lake Okanagan.
The quality of the trail varies from region to another. At its best, the path is a well-laid cycleway of crushed pounded gravel the width and quality of a well graded gravel road. Some sections of the trail are bumpy due to heavy use by all-terrain-vehicles. Other quarters form a single dirt track through a field.
Crossing the KVR Trail between Midway and Penticton cyclists will find a wide mixture of accommodation options. Camping, both in paid and back-country spots can be found. Chute Lake Lodge and Hydrolic Lake provide popular and comfortable commercial camp sites. There are also many spots off to one side of the trail offering a hidden oasis. If you have a preference for some simply luxury or a warm bed and shower halfway through your journey you can choose one of the landmark hotels, B&Bs or lodges along the route. In Beaverdell, you can stay at the Highland Cabins, next night at Raven’s B&B, and then the Chute Lake Lodge for a touch of rustic comfort.
The highlights of the second half of the trip include the Myra Canyon trestle bridges, old tunnels, the wineries and view of Naramata.
Myra Canyon Trestle Bridges Section
The Myra Canyon trestle bridges are the most well visited section of the trail, due to their proximity to Kelowna (accessible by car) and great visual appeal. The 11 km stretch includes 13 trestle bridges. The longest of the wood bridges is 228m long and 55m high and turns the route almost 90 degrees. Although not the largest wood trestle bridges ever constructed, they are comparable and the number over a short distance makes them an awesome engineering marvel. Most are not original as many were destroyed during the great fire of 2003. Since the stunning photos from the fire, a huge effort was made to raise money and reconstruct the bridges. Though they now won’t hold the weight of the trains that originally trundled over them, the bridges are visually comparable to the original.
As the end of the trip nears, there are still attractions on the last day of the trip. Once you hit Chute Lake, you quickly descend 600 metres in elevation to Penticton, so you can enjoy the easy ride. Between Chute Lake and Naramata there are two amazing tunnels. Though there is a detour around one, it is worth making your way to the closed tunnel to see the great wooden beams collapsing.
There are also impressive views of Okanagan Lake as you ride towards Naramata, an area famous for its wineries –which brings me to the next treat: visiting wineries and tasting some of the premier wines of the province. There are a number of wineries along the KVR trail between Naramata and Penticton. Since you are almost at the end of your trip, you can afford the weight of taking a couple bottles with you!
More about the Kettle Valley Rail Trail here.