Kettle Valley Railway Line
Title: Kettle Valley Railway Line; by Terry Connellan
No life like one on a bike
For the past sixteen years, and more than
seventy-seven thousand kilometres, I've spent
my summers wandering the main highways
and back roads of Canada and the United States
on a bicycle.
My bikes have had their wheels dipped in the Atlantic,
Pacific and Arctic (Beaufort Sea) oceans, in search
of history, scenery, beauty, and the perfect cinnamon
roll. I travel alone and self-sustained. Everything
I need tent, cooking, sleeping, & entertainment
gear I carry on board.
If you are one of those poor wimps whose self image
is dictated by the brand of beer you drink or car you're
making payments on, face it what follows isn't for you.
On the other hand if you like fresh air, excitement,
challenge, spectacular scenery, good food and
a stress-free pathway through history, come along
with me. I'm going to share one of my favorite short
trips with you.
From Hope to Midway in British Columbia lie the
remains of 500 kilometres of railway, built almost
a hundred years ago to serve the mines of the BC
interior. Much of the first half of the Kettle Valley
Railway is difficult to traverse because of the
construction of the Coquihalla Highway and ties
For this three day trip I've chosen 170 rail and tie free
kilometres of the eastern half, between Penticton and
Start in Penticton with a heritage tour including the old
train depot. Check trail conditions, campsite, B&B,
and motel accommodations with the Bike Barn.
If you head out for Naramata in the early afternoon
there will be time for a wine tasting stop at Bohumir
and Vera Klokocka's Hillside Cellars, 1350 Naramata
Road. Their Clevner white is a favorite in Victoria with
The Sooke Harbour House, and you may wish to take
a bottle along to share. If it's a hot day taste lightly.
Remember that cycling, like driving under the
influence, is terminal stupidity.
The Camp Creek Station Pub in the village of Naramata
is the perfect 1st night stop. This is an old fashioned
English Pub where delicious, food, friendliness and
good company abound, and alcohol is only an
adjunct. I was stuck, when unable to choose between
cheese cake and mud pie -- I ate them both.
Rise early you have 35 kilometres to burn off last nights
supper and it is all uphill on a steady 2.2% grade. Your
start from the "Pub" is up Robinson, jog left on the
highway, and then turn right up Smethurst road to the
parking lot at the rail grade, turn left and you're on your way.
Some of the trail surface is loose, fine material so you'll
be happy with one and a half to two inch tires and pushing
I hope your camera is clicking shots to look back on next
winter because 2.4 km from the parking lot is your first
tunnel 162 feet long. Another 9km will bring you to path
leading uphill to your left to dome shaped rock ovens used
to prepare food for the railway labourers and, sometimes in
the winter, to thaw dynamite for the foolhardy.
Back to the trail and another 2km to Horseshoe Tunnel,
also known as Big Tunnel, curving for 1604 feet, it's dark
in there. You can bypass the tunnel using a path to the
left just before the entrance. My bike is equipped with the
Canadian-made BLT light system, the best there is,
so I rode through the tunnel.
There was some rock fall and pooled water, but it wasn't
difficult, just dark and cool. I wouldn't try it without
a light. For the next 12km there are glimpses of Okanagan
Lake miles away and over 2000 feet below.
Five bridges to cross, the longest of which is 60 feet,
and you will have ridden most of the longest stretch
of unbroken 2.2% grade in B.C., arriving at Chute Lake.
Throughout the province there are Forest Recreation Sites.
Camping is free and most are user maintained, so
"take only memories, leave only footprints." The site
is to the right 1/3 of a mile on a road around the south
end of the lake, but first check out the alternative.
Chute Lake Resort. Campsites for trailers etc. are $10.00
including hot showers. I felt the area would be too noisy so
I spoke to the owners Gary and Doreen Reed and they put me
back in the woods at the south end of the property next to a
special cabin. Ask them to tell you about the cabin owner and
the plaque on the rock by the side of the lake.
After a long hot shower I had the supper special. They feature
delicious, cyclist-sized portions, note; reserve, they run out
early. I then crawled into my tent to sleep the kind of sleep
that only cyclists have at almost 4000 feet above sea level,
at the end of a perfect day.
I had an early start after the Breakfast Special, surrounded
by the fascinating artifacts in the Lodge that I couldn't see
clearly the night before. There are only 50km to go before
nightfall and this is to be a day of heart-stopping vistas.
I hope by now that you've done your homework for this trip.
The assigned reading was: Railway Mileposts of British
Columbia Volume II by Roger G. Burrows; McCulloch's Wonder
by Barrie Sanford, and Exploring The Kettle Valley Railway
by Beth Hill. They are all worth having in your library.
The first of 18 bridges/trestles, and two tunnels that will take
you through the awesome Myra Canyon, is a 780 foot long
steel span. Now is the time to start your camera working you
are entering the locale of the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation's 1973 filming of the "National Dream."
Take your time, you've got all day.
I remember sitting on the safety platform in the middle of the
434 foot frame trestle, which at 4178 feet above sea level
is the highest point of the trip, legs dangling over the edge,
eating my lunch, awestruck by the view, and humbled by
the thought of the enormity of the task that faced Andrew
McCulloch eighty years before.
Next time I'll camp right in the middle of the canyon, but
perhaps you'll prefer to carry on to either of two free
Forest campsites on Hydraulic Lake. The campsites
are in a pretty location amongst the trees at lakeside.
This is a favorite fishing spot, if you play your cards right
you may end up sharing someone's catch.
From here on its a beautiful, scenic, downhill "float". Fifty
km into the day you have the choice of packing across
Wilkinson Creek, or if the water is too high, 6km of gravel
road to highway 33 and rejoin the railway bed at Carmi.
Stop for lunch in Beaverdell at either of two good cafes.
Beaverdell will always be remembered for John O. Harrison,
his fascinating tales of more than eight decades of pack
trains, trapping, adventures and the gift of a skinning knife;
and for gutsy Alice Zitko who with her children grown qualified
to operate the large trucks for BEL road maintenance.
Alice rode south with me 15km and cycled across her
first railway trestle (an experience none of us ever forget.)
Your trip ends at the bridge over the west fork of the
Kettle River at the appropriately named Westbridge. At one
time there was a railway depot, general store, and hotel.
These are all gone now but at today's general store the
folks will relate history while you have one of their giant
ice cream cones (come on you've earned it!)
This trip can be covered in less time, but why do it? Ride
with all your senses see, smell, hear, taste, touch, and
most of all imagine. Pause often and imagine building the
railway; working the mines; riding the Kettle Valley Railway.
The train, can you hear it?
Back to Bicycle Touring
Back to Home page