Cranbrook, British Columbia. A pristine mountain city nestled in the Kootenay River valley, between the Purcell Mountains to the west, with the Rocky Mountains brandishing their dazzling white peaks from the north running east. There are so many things to do in Cranbrook BC that will make you wish you lived here!
About Cranbrook, BC
At an elevation of approximately 3000 feet, the mountainous relief in the region makes skiing a popular attraction, while lakes dotting the area (Jim Smith, Wasa, Lazy, Moyie) offer more laid-back recreational options.
Thanks to the city’s low emissions and surrounding mountain flora, the air is clean and crisp. Thankfully –for the sun lovers, Cranbrook experiences the highest exposure to sunshine compared to any other major urban area in British Columbia.
Cranbrook is named after its founder’s (Colonel James Baker) hometown in England after gold prospectors circa the 1890s settled it. Since then, economic activities including mining have grown and diversified, spanning into ranching, farming and lumbering.
The administration of the city of roughly 20,000 pays homage to its history by maintaining several historical heritage sites and a few archaeological dig sites.
It is among the most enjoyable and attractive places to visit in the Kootenays, the south-eastern region of British Columbia (named after the Kootenay River), offering up a wide range of activities for fast-paced and easy-going vacationers alike.
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How to Get to Cranbrook
The most direct means is by air, landing at Cranbrook/Canadian Rockies International Airport (YXC/CYXC). From Vancouver (YVR), the flight should take nearly two hours. Major airlines with international hubs in Vancouver and Calgary have daily flights into Cranbrook.
Buses into Cranbrook are available, with a popular transport service provider being BCTransit. Of course, one could always choose to drive there, with several navigation apps to guide you as you take in the scenery.
Highway 93 is one of the most beautiful drives in BC, and there are so many places to stop along the way, so take your time and pull over when the mood strikes.
Fun Things to do in the Kootenays
Once you get to Cranbrook, what exactly can you do to make the most of your time there? Thankfully there are plenty of options for both activities to participate in and places to go.
The largest city in the Kootenays is rich in history and culture, surrounded by scenic vistas and landscapes to take any outdoor adventurer’s breath away.
The people are warm and welcoming, subtly conscious of how beautiful the region around them is, especially out in nature.
They readily offer recommendations on locations different tourists would enjoy visiting, from campsites and biking paths to historical relics and eateries. Some preferred destinations include:
Fort Steele Heritage Town
A visit to this restored gold rush town is recommended for a trip back in time. It was originally called ‘Galbraith’s Ferry,’ then renamed after legendary Canadian lawman Sam Steele. Thanks to the volunteers and its management, the old town is maintained through restoration efforts and brought to life.
They keep it running as it did in yesteryear, from blacksmiths to leather workers and a renovated Windsor Hotel to boot.
St Eugene’s Mission Resort
This Three Diamond hotel offers a range of luxury options for a time away, including a golf course, a casino, spa, bar, and two restaurants. The views make it a much sought-after venue for weddings and outdoor events.
The premises is a refurbished abandoned school building, with the golf course and casino constructed between 2000 and 2003. Built in 1897, the school ran for 70 years, then closed (1970). The facility also has an interesting mystery behind it, hovering about the ancient cemetery adjacent to the older buildings. (wink wink)
Canadian Museum of Rail Travel
A likely hit with history buffs is this restored and renovated train station. Also known as the Cranbrook History center, this restaurant on rails offers up a deluxe experience showcasing commuter trains from different eras.
The adjacent building has been reworked into a hotel and museum, with a sizeable collection of artwork and artifacts.
Cranbrook & District Arts Council
For a more refined experience, visiting this art gallery and art school will be worthwhile. Visitors can enjoy paintings and crafts on exhibit and even express their artistic side by taking a painting or pottery class.
Three Bars Guest Ranch
For an authentic western experience with both nature and comfort, visit the Three Bars Guest Ranch, which offers a myriad of activities, including hiking, fishing, rafting, golfing, and of course, horseback riding.
This dude ranch in the Canadian Rockies is one of the best things to do in Cranbrook, and you will want to return again and again it is so fantastic.
Three Bars Guest Ranch is known for its weeklong stays and incredible riding trails. If you have never been to a dude ranch before, you need to go to Three Bars Ranch.
A dude ranch vacation is perfect if you are looking to get kids off screens or have quality family time together. The ranch activities will keep everyone as busy as they wish to be and the ranch amenities will allow for some much-needed relaxation.
The family-style meals are a highlight of the day, where you can interact with other guests, the wranglers, and the Beckley family who own the ranch.
Interpretive Nature Trails
Adventurers can savor the embrace of nature by taking (easy to intermediate difficulty) hikes in the Cranbrook Community Forest Trails. Biking paths and picnic sites are available and well maintained.
Golf enthusiasts will have a large variety of choices on enjoying the game in pristine and fresh environments. Cranbrook boasts over ten golf courses, each varying in difficulty and terrain from the last. Golfers can enjoy courses at Cranbrook Golf Club, Windstone Golf Course, and Mission Hills Golf Course, to name a few.
Jimsmith Lake Provincial Park
A short drive from downtown Cranbrook lies Jimsmith Lake, an excellent spot to enjoy the serenity and expansive scenery. Swimming, non-motorized boating, fishing, and picnicking make this activity-filled site popular.
North Star Rails 2 Trails
This 28-kilometer paved path is restricted to motorized vehicles, making it a great site for walks, bike rides, and skating. You can choose to cover the entire path or enjoy it in bits with a beautiful backdrop of distant mountain peaks.
Kimberley, a city almost as far northwest to Cranbrook as Fort Steele is Northeast, also offers exciting options for entertainment in its outdoor recreational areas (Cominco Gardens, Marysville Falls), historical sites (Kimberley’s underground mining railway and heritage museum), and golf courses (Trickle Creek, Kimberley’s Riverside Campgrounds).
Whenever we are in Kimberley, we always stop at Stoke Market. This cute little market right in the middle of town has the best smoothies and coffee and a great selection of treats and groceries to stock up on.
Go Rafting on St Mary’s River
One of the perfect things to do in Cranbrook to beat the summer heat is to head to St Mary’s River and go rafting. The rapids are gentle but quick enough to make it a fun experience and there are many places to stop and take a swim in the chilly water.
Where to Eat in Cranbrook
A good time should be accompanied by good food, and Cranbrook has several to offer:
Fire and Oak (Prestige)
This restaurant, remodeled with a touch of sophistication, offers its patrons a classy dining experience. Al Forno baked pizza, and grilled sterling steaks are among the specialties offered on their fresh, diverse menu.
Fire Hall Kitchen & Tap
For a less formal, cozier meal with friends and family, a visit to this restructured fire station is a plan. They have craft beers on tap and provide a casual ambiance to cater to their diners’ (and drinkers’) needs.
Heid Out Restaurant & Brewhouse
Heidi Romich and her team of chefs serve up an array of delicacies that welcome a wash down of quality beers brewed right downstairs. Local flavors from the region are married into delectable meals, with their burgers being a star attraction.
Hot Shots Cafe
To get a great cup of coffee, look no further than Hot Shot’s Café. Made from high-quality coffee beans, enjoy your favorite coffee with an exotic food menu served by passionate staff.
Sweet tooths can find solace in the decadent delights dished at Max’s Place. The in-house bakery makes fresh pastries (cinnamon buns are a specialty) and a variety of savory dishes.
Where to Stay in Cranbrook
After a day of exploring, adventuring, and dining in Cranbrook, one needs good places to relax and rejuvenate. Cranbrook has a variety of options not limited to but including:
Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort
The BW premier collection offers a luxurious stay in their multi-facility and 112 room resort. In addition, ‘Fire and Oak’ and Don Cherry’s restaurants located on-site are great for a meal and/or drink before turning in.
St Eugene Golf Resort & Casino
After a day on the pristine course, this resort offers options to wind down and get stirred up. Risk takers can spend their nights at the tables and slot machines at the casino, with deluxe accommodation options nearby.
Mount Baker Heritage Hotel
This hotel offers a boutique experience, thanks to its artistically styled furniture and ambiance. The rooms are suited for various tastes, from old western to modern, perfect for unique accommodation experiences.
This hotel offers a more laid-back (but no less charming) accommodation. It is a good fit for those looking to spend time on mountain trails and lakeside beaches, thanks to its friendly rates and proximity to downtown Cranbrook.
Things to do on the Drive to Cranbrook
Part of the fun of visiting Cranbrook BC is getting there and the drive along Hwy 93 is exceptional. The scenery is stunning and with so many places to stop and explore, you should consider adding a few days to your trip to Cranbrook to explore the region.
Radium Hot Springs
If you are looking for a serene place to relax and rejuvenate, look no further than Radium Hot Springs. The village is nestled between two stunning mountain ranges with the Columbia River running through it. Visitors entering this idyllic town will find pristine views and no shortage of adventure.
The most popular thing to do is relax in the hot springs. The springs that give rise to Radium Hot Springs are a must-see for any trip through the Columbia Valley. Play in their cool pool or relax with views of scenic mountainsides, you won’t find more accessible hot springs anywhere.
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Spend the Night in Invermere
In order to break up the drive to Cranbrook, we chose to spend the night at Copper Point Resort. The resort has a golf course, restaurant, and a fantastic indoor and outdoor pool. If you are driving an electric vehicle, the hotel has both a Tesla destination charger and EV charger.
Just down the street from the hotel is Ozzie’s Go-Kart Garage and a whole lot of fun. We had a blast whipping around the go-kart track amongst the gorgeous scenery. If you are looking for something fun to do for an hour, it’s a great place for a few laughs and some friendly family competition.
Sandstone Cliffs and the Columbia River
My personal favorite stops on the drive to Cranbrook were at the Sandstone Cliffs. You will find them just south of Fairmont Hot Springs along Hwy 93 at Dutch Creek.
These spectacular hoodoos are visible from the highway, and there is an easy pull out to park and see them up close and in person right before the bridge over the river.
Just a few minutes down the road is the Columbia River viewpoint. There are restrooms here and it makes for a perfect spot for a picnic. Soak up the 180-degree views before carrying on to your final destination of Cranbrook BC.
Final Thoughts on Cranbrook BC
Cranbrook BC in the Kootenays is a beautiful, serene, even magical destination -if you look in the right places. The people, environment, food, and ambiance make it a great place to live, work, and study and an even better place to vacation in.
Opportunities to create lasting memories abound beyond every turn and over every hill, making it a fantastic destination for any travel plan.
Casandra Karpiak is a travel writer and the co-owner of Savoteur. A Toronto native with Danish roots currently residing in British Columbia, her travel writing has been seen on The Associated Press wire, MSN, CBS, NBC, Entrepreneur, 24/7 Wall St, Times Daily, and many more.
You can follow her travel adventures on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.