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.
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!
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!).
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.
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!
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.
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.