The plan was to take advantage of the good weather we often enjoy during the Fall in the British Columbia interior and do a multi-day bikepacking trip. I had not been able to include this year’s BC Epic 1000 race in my summer riding itinerary and the planned Buckshot Doubleshot over the Labour Day weekend was cancelled due to restrictions and closures caused by the wildfires that had encroached on that route. So I put together a route I thought would be enjoyable from several aspects: very limited traffic, beautiful vistas, good climbs and descents, and well placed resupply and accommodation possibilities. Here’s what I came up with:
This would be a 4 day ride leaving Kelowna and climbing up to the Kettle Valley Rail Trail at Myra canyon. That day’s ride would then proceed through that marvelous canyon complete with multiple high trestles and tunnels and continue down through Beaverdell to Rock Creek. There limited accommodation and resupply is available. The 2nd day would head West briefly on Highway #3 before climbing up Baldy Mountain Road and proceed on McKinney FSR over to Oliver. From there the ride would utilize the KVR branch line and Highway #97 to Penticton. The 3rd day would follow the well-established KVR route up through Summerland and over to Princeton. Day 4 would conclude by again following the KVR through Tulameen and Brookmere to Merritt. Planned distance was about 480 kms with days ranging from 100 to 150 kms – pretty cushy from a bikepacking perspective.
As the planned pace was pretty comfortable and the route was to utilize motels and restaurants, I thought I might be able to entice someone else to join me on the tour. My invitation out on my social networks only garnered one possible partner, but alas, we couldn’t find a compatible six day stretch.
I had enjoyed an overnight ride to Kananaskis from Canmore as part of the Bikepack Canada Summit from September 14th to 17th. That ride and the other two short morning rides that weekend were great fun, but the weather was quite late-Fall in nature. The snow flurries and crisp mornings were identical to those we had last year a full month later in the season.
I examined the weather forecasts for the places on the route and examined my calendar and came up with 4 consecutive days of good weather that would fit. Leaving on Monday, September 25th provided a four day window with only a chance of showers on day one. Conveniently, my brother would just be arriving back home in Kelowna from a trip back East so I had accommodation before and after and a place to park my van.
Day one was the longest stretch at 150 kms. I wanted to get away at 7 AM as I needed a time margin to recognise the fact I hadn’t done a long ride for at least 10 days. My brother graciously arose early to guide me up to Myra with a route that avoided more traffic than the route I had plotted. That 20 km climb was the most arduous of the route and took me nearly 3 hrs.
After that it was a rather enjoyable ride through Myra and down past Arlington Lake with its well-kept lakeside Rec site to Beaverdell for lunch.
The weather that day was cool but only a few drops of rain were encountered. Leaving Beaverdell is a bit convoluted as a gravel road has usurped the rail trail for a few kilometres. Here was also where I encountered 4 big dogs that looked like they could be trouble. The owner called them back when he heard me tell them, “Hi, guys. I do have bear spray!” The ride continues down the Kettle River, past some ranch fields, and through Rhone with its “Rider’s Rest” shelter before arriving at Rock Creek.
Rock Creek proved to be a mini adventure in itself. I arrived just after the Trading Post with its very own in-house roasted coffee had closed for the day and wouldn’t open in the morning until 8 AM. Accommodation without reservations was a choice between a sketchy motel at $70+ or a seedy room in the Rock Creek Hotel. You can find reviews online, mostly favourable, for the food in the Pioneer Pub in the hotel, but reviews on the rooms are strangely absent. I was told the room would cost me $40. Inspection showed it would do. No bugs were found, but the room was tiny and the washroom down the hall. I could only squeeze my bike into the unlocked entry landing a floor below my room. The beer and pub food were good. I did sleep as the bed was comfortable, but I kept a window open even though the highway was mere feet away. Apparently more clarification is needed on the no-smoking rules as it doesn’t seem to apply to pot smoking, at least in the Rock Creek Hotel. I haven’t been stoned for a long time and wasn’t sure I’d appreciate it now second hand. But my legs and body appreciated the rest and I did get a fair night’s sleep.
Day two started with a breakfast of coffee and fresh cheese breadsticks at 7 AM at the nearby service station. Sadly I didn’t wait for the Trading Post coffee at 8 AM as I wasn’t sure how the day’s ride was going to go. The route over Mt. Baldy to Oliver was one I had plotted on map without knowing the area or gleaning any info on it beforehand. It was to be the shortest leg of the 4 days but I still wanted a good time margin. The only accommodation I had reserved beforehand was for this night in Penticton and it was past any chance of cancellation.
I climbed up out of Rock Creek on Highway #3 in the crisp morning air.
Good shoulders and considerate traffic got me safely to the Canyon Road turnoff and up to Mt Baldy Road. My route from there was along the south shoulder of Mt. Baldy along Alden Rd. and McKinney FSR. When I turned onto Alden Road, one of the postings was a small but ominous “No thru road” sign. That did give me pause as I did not know more than I could see on my GPS map, but I reasoned it might be a bridge out or something I could ford or work around on a bike.
As it turned out it was a through road, although not one passable in a vehicle without high clearance. The surface was quite rough in spots and I rode through at least 5 kms of 3+ inches of silt that if wet would be nasty wheel-sucking mud.
The descent down to Oliver once reconnected with Mt. Baldy Road was smooth, fast, and provided good views of the valley ahead. So that was about a 35km climb with a 25km descent and dropped me into Oliver for lunch.
The little but ever-growing town of Oliver was a beehive of traffic and construction. It was nice to ride along the river north for a few kilometres before taking Highway #97 for 20kms to Okanagan Falls. The KVR is rideable in places along this stretch, but missing key connections such as at the ends of Vaseux Lake convoluted the route. However, the new replacement bridge at OK Falls allows one to follow it all along the western shore of Skaha Lake to Penticton. There are a few ride arounds where developers near Kaleden were able to wrest right-of-way land away before the rails to trails conversion salvaged the rest.
I enjoyed my larger reserved room in Penticton and had enough time to wander around a bit to choose a place to eat before retiring.
Day three started off with a breakfast sandwich at Tim Hortin’s and another packed for lunch before heading up the KVR through Summerland. I’ve ridden this route a few times from the other direction and had to do one deviation from my GPS route. Somehow the route I had plotted followed the actual KVR through Summerland instead of the existing Trans Canada Trail which has to route around that portion of the original KVR now used by a wine tour train. The Trans Canada Trail skirts the hillside above Summerland and as well as being a flowy treat, it provides some sweeping vistas of Summerland and the valley.
Back on the converted KVR route the surface is pretty good and the climb up to Osprey Lake is quite pleasant as it follows along a creek.
After the beautiful fall views and bridge at Osprey, the trail flattens a bit but the surface roughens. Even with the 2.8″ tires, the soft and ATV chewed ruts make the next 35 kms harder than they should be. Fortunately there are still good views and terrain to take the edge off having to focus more on the surface and maintaining sufficient momentum. I used my external ear buds here to let music and podcasts keep me from thinking it was drudgery. Using ear buds in the bush creates an incongruent combination with the bear spray I was carrying in a body holster. Fortunately, the earbuds I used are not sound deadening, but even more fortunately I had no encounters with bears on this trip.
Soon enough the Jura benchlands were reached, signalling the descent down to Princeton.
Princeton has done a lot to promote the KVR Rail to Trail, including this fabulous bridge to replace the ugly black steel trestle I remember running across as a kid. They’ve also paved the trail for several kilometres through town and installed lights in the long tunnel on the western edge of town.
I spent my early youth growing up in Princeton and lived several years about a block from this bridge. I rode my heavy old singlespeed CCM bicycle everywhere around it on roads and trails.
The town of Princeton has found itself caught in a conflict of interests in the promotion of the KVR. They have invested in the infrastructures mentioned, but the cyclists have not provided the same economic boon to the town as have the ATVers. Even though they’ve banned ATVs in the city limits, they have become known as a mecca for ATVs among lower mainland enthusiasts to the overall detriment of the trail.
For me it was nostalgic fun to spend a few hours wandering the main streets remembering and noting what had and had not changed since I lived here nearly 50 years ago. I stayed at an old motel called “The Cedars” which I remember when new was called “The Evergreen Motel”.
Day four started off at a brisk 3 degrees, and as it followed a deep valley, took awhile to warm up. As I spent much of my youth exploring this countryside, I particularly liked riding the railroad that was mostly inaccessible back then when it was active.
The Tulameen is a beautiful river valley rife with deep and crystal clear pools inviting cool dips and fly fishing at every turn.
The route continues up the Tulameen through historic Coalmont then on to the town of Tulameen in the Otter Valley. This old town is now a rather little known but highly valued summer resort as it is now less than a three hour drive from Vancouver. Much pleasure to be had on Otter Lake.
The trail leaves the river here but follows meandering Otter creek up the valley through multiple cattle ranches with many gates. Eventually it arrives in historic Brookmere that came into existence as the place where extra locomotives were unhitched and sent back down to Vancouver after helping the trains climb up the Coquihalla summit.
From Brookmere the trail descends down the Coldwater River. Cycling is good only from this direction as momentum carries you over the rough and choppy surface that is much more of a problem when coming up from the other direction. Again a popular route for ATVs.
As you pass through the underpass at Highway #5, the trail becomes more convoluted. Much of it has been usurped again by the road and private land, and only a few kilometres are cyclable. Although the paved Coldwater Road has no shoulders, it hasn’t too much traffic and the last few kilometres down into Merritt provides an exhilarating finish to the trip.
Although I enjoyed nearly every minute of this ride, I was still satisfied to reach its conclusion. I was very appreciative of my brother’s offer to come and shuttle me back to Kelowna and my waiting van.
In summary, even though I enjoyed particularly good weather, I would highly recommend this bikepacking route to anyone at anytime between June and October. The distances between communities would make even inclement weather bearable, and the scenery is spectacular.