WESTERN CANADA

A Homespun Road Trip

A couple of years ago, I went on a safari tour in Tanzania, and was lucky enough to film the amazing landscape and animals of the Serengeti. At the end of that trip, I summed up my appetite for travel:

‘Last year I spent my birthday in Moscow watching the opera at the Bolshoi Theatre, this year I celebrated on the plains of the African Serengeti. I wonder where I will be on my next trip?’

Little did I know that a global pandemic was about to unfold.

In 2020, as Covid hit and the world went into lockdown I moved back to Canada still pondering when my next trip will be. However, with the borders still closed international travel still seemed a long way off. Then I had an idea – I was going to explore the open roads of my own country on a motorcycle.

Route Planning

For this road trip, the old Ralph Waldo Emerson adage rings true: “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” For me, the journey itself was the reason I was travelling. So, I set about choosing some of the best roads in British Columbia for motorcyclists, selected a few towns and cities to stop in, and my route pretty much wrote itself.

From Victoria, I would travel by ferry to Vancouver, ride up the Sea to Sky Highway, through the Kootenays, before making my way east to the Rocky Mountains. I would then turn back through Prince George, Prince Rupert and down Vancouver Island.

If you are travelling to British Columbia for a similar road trip, I highly recommend including the roads I have listed, although I also advise doing some research of your own first. You may be less road-focused and prefer to see some specific towns and cities along the way – there is a lot to explore, and I covered just a small portion.

Bike Preparation

My bike is a 2018 Honda CB500X, which I purchased used with just under 3000km on the clock. It’s an entry level adventure bike which seemed pretty well-suited for someone new to motorcycling like myself.

To make the bike a bit more roadworthy I made some additions, including attaching a set of Givi Trekker Outback side cases and a Nanuk 930 top case. I also installed the Givi crash bars, which would reduce any damage sustained by the engine in the inevitable event of me dropping the bike.

Finally, I added a Pipe Werx exhaust to give it some sexy sounds at full throttle, a set of inexpensive fog lights from Amazon because the stock headlight has all the output of a candle, and several camera mounts to allow me to document my journey.

Destinations and Highlights

As I have mentioned, my trip was almost entirely determined by the roads I wanted to ride. The towns I visited were largely incidental, although in this section I will outline where I stayed, as well as some of the highlights and attractions, allowing you to decide whether or not you want to visit them on your trip.

Vancouver to Whistler

My road trip actually began on the water as I caught a short ferry ride across the Strait of Georgia from Victoria to Vancouver. It takes around 90 minutes to cross the 60km stretch, and you can spend your time taking in some picturesque views of the many local islands inside the Strait.

BC Ferries operates several sailings between the mainland Vancouver Island. I highly recommend making a reservation for vehicles during the summer months, but you won’t need it for a motorcycle as we always get to go to the front of the line!

Now, entire guide books have been written about Vancouver but, having lived there and run a business in the city for more than ten years, I was eager to get out of the city. No sooner had I arrived, I was heading back out of the city across the Lions Gate Bridge, where I connected with the Sea to Sky Highway, which would take me east to Whistler.

Officially known as Highway 99, this famous route is filled with incredible sights at every turn. For example, around 40 minutes up the road from Vancouver, you will find Porteau Cove, which is one of the most popular stops on the route for its sweeping scenery. If you prefer to take in the views from a loftier position, then the nearby Sea to Sky Gondola travels 2,904 feet into the sky for unforgettable views across the mountains.

With the road as my playground, I whizzed past these attractions on my bike, as well as other popular sights, such as Squamish, Garibaldi Lake, the dramatic Brandywine Falls, and – of course – Whistler itself. Whistler is seen as one of the finest mountain resorts in the world, with world-class skiing in the winter and magnificent mountain biking trails in the warmer months.

Highway 99 eventually becomes the Duffey Lake Road, connecting Pemberton to Lillooet. As mentioned, this was one of my must-rides at the start of the trip.

It’s an 80km trip, filled with even more amazing scenery and miles of exciting twists and turns. I was really able to open up the CB500X and have some fun.

Merritt

After a long day of riding, my first stop was in Merritt, BC, where I had booked into a comfortable hotel room to crash for the night.

Not to disparage cities such as Merritt – which have their own unique quaintness – but there isn’t a great deal to say about them, especially when spending such a small amount of time there.

In fact, Merritt has a population of just 7,000 people and there’s very little to actually do. Yet, they still manage to host a popular music festival in the summer months – the Rockin’ River Musicfest, held in late July.

Interestingly for movie buffs, Merritt has also been a regular haunt for filmmakers, and will feature in the upcoming blockbuster Jurassic World: Dominion, set to be released in summer 2022. The city was also a set in Jack Nicholson’s The Pledge, The Wicker Man (the 2006 remake), and the first episode of Smallville. Perhaps Merritt can be known as the Hollywood of western Canada!

Kelowna

Refreshed and recharged after a good night’s sleep, I was back on the road for my second day, where I would be riding east to the village of Nakusp.

On the way to Nakusp, I would be making a planned pitstop in the city of Kelowna, as it was the city in which I spent a few years of my childhood. It had been 34 years since I last lived there and, as one of the fastest growing cities in BC, I was curious to see what had changed.

It was wonderful to see my old school and my old home, although I was a little saddened to see all the changes and development. It seems that no city in BC is immune from the rampant pace of generic condo development.

Is Kelowna worth a visit for you? Possibly – it does have a beautiful waterfront boardwalk and plenty of local craft breweries, wineries, cideries, and distilleries. If you enjoy your small-batch alcohol, then it is certainly worth spending the night (although maybe go easy on that craft beer if you are riding the next day!).

Nakusp

From Kelowna I made my way up to Vernon and then east to Nakusp. Coming out of Vernon the traffic was surprisingly heavy, so I was expecting a rather boring ride to Nakusp. However, it was a nice surprise when the traffic thinned out and the road turned nice and twisty. I was able to open up and enjoy the turns and twists of Highway 6.

All too soon I arrived at the Needles Ferry which is a free cable operated ferry across Lower Arrow Lake in the West Kootenay region of southeastern British Columbia.

The village of Nakusp lies at the north end of Arrow Lake and is known for its restorative hot springs – the cleanest in BC – and picturesque lakeside setting, sitting in the shadows of the Selkirk and Monashee mountain ranges.

I arrived at Nakusp in the late afternoon, which gave me enough time to grab some gas and some food, before finding my hotel for another night of well-deserved shuteye.

Highway 31A

Day three saw me make my way south from Nakusp to the small village of New Denver. Here I would ride east to the village of Kaslo via the infamous Highway 31A – aka, the Valley of Ghosts.

Ghost hunters may be a bit disappointed to find out that the stretch of highway is actually named the Valley of Ghosts on account of the many old towns it was once home to, as opposed to otherworldly spirits.

While I didn’t visit any this time, on the way you can look for ghost towns like Cody and Retallack; both just off the highway. If you are only visiting one, then Sandon is worth checking out. It can be accessed by heading around 13km along a gravel road just off Highway 31A. This former wild silver mining town (once home to 85 brothels!) still has buildings such as the city hall and fire hall, which are all open to exploration.

For ghost hunters, it may not provide the chills you crave, but for motorcyclists, Highway 31A is 46km of endlessly fun twisty roads!

Kaslo

At the other end of Highway 31A sits Kaslo. This was a very pretty village, sitting on the sandy shores of Kootenay Lake in the Selkirk Mountains. There’s also a lively downtown area with heritage buildings, offering enough choice for dining and shopping to justify an overnight stay.

This is exactly what I did after a long and enjoyable day of biking. I checked into the Kaslo Motel, which offers cozy little private cabins to rent. I would spend two nights here, using it as my base to ride up Mount Buchanan.

It’s worth noting that Kaslo is a very popular stop for motorcyclists in the summer, so hotel reservations are definitely recommended.

Mount Buchanan

Day four began with a trip to Mount Buchanan, which is located about 11km outside of Kaslo. It’s a popular hiking and mountain biking area, but I had heard that there was a gravel road that would take you to the top of the mountain, a perfect test for my little “adventure bike”.

Of course, this only works if you know the correct route – and I didn’t! I got lost a few times but once I did find the correct route, it’s a 12km gravel road all the way to the top.

Stopping so often and backtracking certainly interrupted the journey, but making it to the top was worth it. The view from the top of Mount Buchanan overlooking Kootenay Lake was magnificent, and it made for a fantastic picnic spot.

The historic fire lookout at the top is one of the very few in BC that is still standing, and to see it in a fully-restored condition was a nice bonus before I made my descent.

Having spent a little longer at the mountain than I first anticipated, it was time to head back to the Kaslo Motel for some rest before venturing the next day into Alberta.

Canmore

One of the reasons I wanted to take this trip was to see the scenery in Alberta, Rocky Mountains. So once again I packed up my bike and set off for Canmore.

This part of the trip involved a crossing the Osprey Ferry, which, to my delight, was also free of charge. As someone who lives on Vancouver Island and has to take the rather expensive ferry to Vancouver a lot, I was really enjoying all these free inland ferries.

The day also involved riding on Highway 3A, which is a fun winding route along the north shore of Kootenay Lake, surrounded by stately homes, log cabins and fruit farms. As July was mid cherry season, it seemed a shame not to stop to sample a punnet of fresh cherries on the way!

I didn’t actually know about highway 3A before my trip, so it proved to be a surprise highlight for me.

Banff National Park

The next day I was up well before sunrise to meet Martina Gebarovska, a Canmore based photographer who offered to show me the amazing scenery of the Banff National Park.

The crowning jewel of the Canadian National Park system, Banff offers stunning views of waterfalls, emerald green lakes, majestic mountains, and local wildlife.

We set out very early in the morning to take advantage of golden hour. It was great to get off the bike and get up close to some of the nature that I had seen from the road and with Martina’s guidance I was able to take some fantastic photos!

Invermere

After our photoshoot I was back on the road and heading west to the small town of Invermere, where I was meeting up with Michael Marcoux, who runs a motorcycle guiding business into the local mountains.

The mountain scenery was amazing and the off-road riding wasn’t as hard as I thought, despite taking a bit of a fall at the top due to my motorcycle bottoming out. With such beautiful scenery, fun riding, and a relaxed local vibe, Invermere is definitely a place I’d like to return to.

Jasper

From Invermere, it was time to get back on paved roads. I was looking forward to this, as I was about to ride the famous Icefields Parkway to Jasper – the halfway point of my trip.

This road is actually rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveller and I got to see glimpses of why. It’s 232km of fast highway that winds along the Continental Divide, offering views of soaring rocky mountain peaks, thundering waterfalls, and more than a hundred glaciers.

Unfortunately for me, most of the amazing views were hidden behind a thick haze of forest fire smoke. A shame, but a good excuse to return to ride the Icefields Parkway again in the future.

The alpine town of Jasper is a picturesque little place with plenty to do. The town itself is home to dozens of boutique stores and restaurants, although most people visiting will be interested in exploring Jasper National Park, which is one of Canada’s 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Jasper’s own website claims that it is ‘the perfect place to reconnect with nature and marvel at the majesty of the universe’. There are plenty of opportunities to spot wildlife, such as elk, bear, deer, moose, and sheep.

Unfortunately accommodation in Jasper is very expensive so I was only staying for one night but luckily for me my Airbnb host and fellow CB500X rider offered to show me her horses.

This proved a nice end to the ‘outbound’ leg of my journey – it was now time to head home.

Prince George

I woke refreshed and ready for day eight of my road trip, which would see me cover a good chunk of the 1200km I had planned for the next two days. I was heading west on Highway 16 towards Prince Rupert, with a quick stop over in Prince George.

Prince George is the largest city in northern British Columbia, Canada, with a population of just over 74,000. As you may expect from any large city, there is plenty to see and do in the spheres of culture, arts, dining and sports.

Notably – for this trip in particular – I was interested to learn that the city has a very large off-road motorcycle community with a range of motocross tracks, like the Blackwater Motocross Park. Prince George is also home to an all-women motorcycling group called the PG Motoladies, which is now more than 60 members strong.

However, for me it was just a place to crash as I continued my way home.

Prince Rupert

As I pulled into Prince Rupert, the majority of my road trip was complete. Myself and my trusty bike had covered just over 3500km.

It was now time to put my feet up and take advantage of some rest and relaxation before traveling the penultimate leg of my journey, which would be a ferry south to Port Hardy.

Prince Rupert is a beautiful port city with an abundance of hiking, fishing and other outdoor activities to enjoy, as well as a Grizzly Bear Sanctuary with around 80 bears roaming in a protected area.

My time in Prince Rupert was primarily spent reflecting on my trip. My favorite moments were discovering so many epic roads in southern BC. Before the trip, I knew the roads like the Duffey Lake Road, the Sea to Sky Highway, and Highway 31A would be fun, but I loved discovering new roads such as Highway 6, Highway 3A and Highway 31A, which were a delight to ride.

But there was one more road to navigate before my trip was complete.

Ferry to Port Hardy

The Northern Adventure operates regular sailings from Prince Rupert to Port Hardly and between Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii.

On the ferry, you can reserve premium seating in the Aurora Lounge, located near the bow. With reclining seats and panoramic windows, this area offers you the chance to enjoy some stunning views of both the ocean and islands along the Inside Passage. Most of the sailings are run during the day, due to COVID and an unplanned schedule change, the sailing I was on ran overnight so I opted to check into a private cabin.

As I arrived back on Vancouver Island I was in the homestretch of my journey with just 500km separating me from home.

The ride from Port Hardy to Victoria can be done on the main highway but I recommend taking the scenic route of Highway 19A. Known to the locals as the ‘Old Island Highway’, this scenic oceanside route between Campbell River and Parksville offers miles of picturesque coastline, charming small towns, and outdoor adventure along the way.

The Final Stretch

As I cruised back into Victoria, I was in a reflective mood and even though I hadn’t travelled to some exotic locale, I was surprised at how much fun the trip had been.

The two weeks I spent riding through Western Canada motivated me to start planning an even bigger trip next year. Will it be Ushuaia or Prudhoe Bay?

I hope my journey has inspired you to seek out your own road trip. Remember, wherever you live, adventure is closer than you think!

To follow my travels and see more photos, check out my Instagram account.

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