A recent trip to British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley included a full day of cycling on the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR). The Kettle Valley Railway’s history date back to the early 1900’s when silver was discovered near Nelson, British Columbia. Years of surveying and building culminated in an official rail opening in 1915. In later years the economic importance of the railway line decreased and some sections or subdivisions as they are called were phased out and by 1990 the last of the railway lines was abandoned. Fortunately the railway line was converted to trail and now 600 kilometres (360 miles) are open for backcountry use.
The KVR trail is true wilderness. It winds through the backcountry of southern BC passing through a range of environments including vineyards, orchards, forests, lakes, deserts and mountains. Small centers are connected via the trail; places like Beaverdell, McCulloch, Chute Lake, Coalmont, and Brookmere which are mere dots on the map and at most have a few places to stay. Tunnels, bridges, wild animals, rattlesnakes, extreme heat and thunderstorms are some of the hazards one might encounter.
Short sections can be hiked but every summer more and more mountain bikers are discovering the joys of this trail. It’s possible to cycle one day sections near some of the bigger centers like Penticton and Kelowna. One of the most scenic sections to cycle is the 20 kilometre section through the Myra Canyon, about 1,000 metres above Kelowna. Fires in 2003 burnt 12 of the trestles and blackened over 20,000 hectares. Through the efforts of the Myra Canyon Trestle Restoration Society, private individuals and several layers of government, funding was secured and the trestles were rebuilt. The Myra Canyon section of the Kettle Valley Railway reopened in 2008; the section is suitable for people with a range of cycling abilities – from families to experts. Cycle over eighteen trestles and through two tunnels over 20 kilometres (12 miles).
If you have more than half a day then I highly recommend cycling from Myra Canyon to Penticton – a distance of about 80kms. Monashee Tours based in Kelowna can shuttle you to the start and pick you up at an agreed upon rendezvous site at the end of the day. At about the half way mark Chute Lake Resort appears. Stock up on cold drinks, burgers and homemade apple or rhubarb pie before continuing. Buy extra cold drinks if it’s a hot day. It took the better part of 6 hours to cycle the 80 kms and the last two hours were hot, 34 C and dehydration was definitely a problem.
Although it’s downhill all the way from Chute Lake to Penticton, on a railway grade of 2.2%, it’s by no means an easy ride. You have to deal with a great deal of sand which takes a light tough on the handlebars. Watch for rattlesnakes through the Rock Ovens and shortly after you pass Hillside Winery look for The Trail Store – a perfect place for a summertime cold drink, slushie or ice cream cone, all provided by an incredibly hospitable family!
If you want to cycle the entire Kettle Valley Railway then it’s a good idea to purchase the book – Cycling the Kettle Valley Trail by Dan & Sandra Langford. They provide route notes and lots of helpful information though their layout is confusing.
Monashee Adventure Tours have 12 tours related to cycling on and around the Kettle Valley Railway. Consider a sunset tour, multi day tours of assorted sections of the Kettle Valley Railway, an Osprey Lake Tour, a trestles and tasting tour and a Naramata Bench wine tasting tour. If you’re interested in doing your own tour but need help with shuttles anywhere between Castlegar and Hope then give them a call too. National Geographic Adventure Magazine chose Monashee Adventure’s BC Highline Tour as one of the Top 25 Best New Trips in the World for 2010 – high accolades indeed for the 4 day/3 night tour that includes the Myra Canyon and a wine tasting component at Sumac Ridge.
Myra Canyon Bike Rentals also contacted me and had this to say:
There is a bike rental on the parking place on the end of the Myra Forest Road.
Customers are able to rent bikes on the parking place and bike the 18 trestles and two tunnels.
Myra Canyon rents all kinds of bikes and child trailers.We rent bikes for 4 hours or full day.
Some sections of the KVR are truly first class and well worth cycling. In particular you won’t go wrong with the Myra Canyon section.
You might also want to read: Where to Stay if You Bike the Kettle Valley Railway