What’s up with…
-The West Kootenays-
The West Kootenays are one of BC’s many whitewater wonderlands. With a host of rivers ranging from class II to V, and one of the highest density of hot springs anywhere in BC, you instantly have a world class paddling destination. Far from a conclusive guide, this is just a brief look at some of my personal favourite runs in the West Kootenays meant to aid you in planning your own adventure. Be sure to check out the hyperlinks in the text for more river beta, and explore paddlingmaps.com if looking for more of the areas runs not discussed here.
A Brief Overview:
The West Kootenay region, part of BC’s sprawling interior, ranges as far south as Creston BC (where you can take a tour of the Kokanee Beer Brewery) and as far North as Nakusp (which has no breweries as of yet). In between lie the cities of Nelson and Castlegar along with a slew of smaller charming towns. The entire region is mountainous, and the valleys between these mountains are home to a host of beautiful rivers and mountains. While rivers flow in the West Kootenays every season apart from the dead of winter, the best time to come for whitewater is in the spring, when you will find the sun shining and the snow melting.
What should I paddle?
Fortunately, there are plenty of awesome options, and a common way to get in the goods is to drive through the area north to south or vice versa while paddling and camping along the way. South of Nelson tucked against the USA border, the Salmo River (IV) with a beautiful canyon and on point camping is as good a spot as any to start a prospective trip. From the Salmo heading north, one might decide to head towards Castlegar for some high volume play boating on the Kootenay river via Brilliant Wave. After a surf session or two, the logical place to go is Crescent Valley, the West Kootenays whitewater hub. While here the Lower Slocan River (II (III)) provides whitewater enjoyable for beginner paddlers and experts alike, and the upper reaches of the Slocan provide warm water and a scenic mellow float in the summertime. Crescent Valley is also in close proximity to the Little Slocan (III), an excellent introductory boulder garden creeking run, and Koch Creek (IV (V)), which with continuous boulder gardens and steady gradient is a boofers paradise.
After a few days in the Crescent Valley Zone, it’s time to continue north, which leaves you with some options: continuing on Highway 6 straight to New Denver or detouring around via Nelson, Ainsworth Hotsprings and Kaslo. The latter provides an opportunity for some mid trip hot springs, and maybe checking out the Kaslo River (IV+ (V)) on your way past. Either option lands you in New Denver where you’ll find the Wilson River a short drive from town. One of the area classics, the Wilson boasts multiple put-ins depending on the difficulty of whitewater you’re after, with the 7km put in being the most popular, and arguably the most classic. If you’re chasing grade five, be sure to check out one of the Wilson’s main tributaries, Fitzstubbs Creek. With multiple waterfalls and slides, Fitzstubbs is a great place to huck your meat in the middle of nowhere, and even better, the bigger drops are largely portageable, meaning minimal commitment if your courage isn’t what it was at the campfire the evening before.
Once you’ve grown tired of Wilson goodness (it will take more than a fair few laps I promise), Nakusp, the last town on this trip will spoil you some more. A road to the town's local hot springs also provides access to Kuskanux Creek, boasting three sections all with their unique characteristics: boulder gardens on the Upper (IV), waterfalls on the Middle (V) and river running treats on the Lower (IV). And a trip north of Nakusp will take you to St.Leon Creek, legendary in status, manky in reality, if levels align and you're up for some class V micro creeking including a giant slide, it will not disappoint. Combined with a soak in one of the nearby hippie hot springs, and you’ll understand why the West Kootenays are one of BC’s whitewater wonderlands.
It doesn’t end there:
As previously mentioned, these are just a few of the West Kootenay classics, and the area boasts plenty of more seldom run borderline exploratory missions for those looking to get off the beaten track. If you liked dreaming about rivers with me, be sure to check the blog for future posts including a Revelstoke Rivers Rundown, and a guide to one of BC’s most elusive whitewater zones, Vancouver Island.