I’m cruising in a low gear on my mountain bike along a cliff face overlooking the endless rows of vineyards nestled beside Lake Okanagan. When I’m told about the history of the area, it’s easy to picture the steam rising out of this canyon and the rumble that would have reverberated throughout the valley. 100 years ago, trains servicing a growing mining and milling industry ploughed through here on the very corridor I am riding on.
In Penticton, British Columbia, you can cycle the tracks of time on the abandoned Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) – a National Historic Site of Canada marked by a 20km easy grade route that crosses multiple trestles, tunnels and bridges with sweeping views that are, at times, alluringly precarious.
This particular trip to Canada was characterised by my love of train travel, having just spent three days riding the Via Rail from Toronto to Edmonton. It was symbolic then, to end my time here tracing the journey of a route that was also once a part of the Canadian Pacific Railway – a secondary railroad operating both passenger and freight services in the Southern Interior region of British Columbia from 1915.
We began our journey on the Okanagan Mountain at the mighty Myra Canyon, whose densely carved-out tunnel marked the start of this historical journey. We set up our bikes, strapped on our helmets and all sped through this window to another time, where gravel pathways and gentle bends marked the route preserving this town’s important heritage.
Picture stops are compulsive as you wire through woodland and pretty panoramic views of Penticton. It’s a shame quaint steam engines no longer trundle at such heights. Over time, mine closures, a decrease in freight load from the mills and a dent from the forestry industry as trucks became the preferred method of transportation, eventually led to part-closures of the KVR from the 1950’s through to the 1980’s.
Yet, despite final its abandonment in 1990, the already carved and easy-grade route was fast attracting hikers and cyclists, eager to explore the mountainous area. The viewpoint became accessible for more than just past train passengers, yet disrepair called for restoration with regards to safety of those using the route for recreation purposes. So, the government of British Columbia purchased the Kettle Valley Railway corridor, bringing its bridges and trestles back to life.
Preserving this old rail bed not only brings people to Penticton aside from its ‘wine country’ fame, but also conserves a significant part of the region’s industrial heritage. But this scenic cycle was only a glimpse into the fascinating history of the railway in Canada, for the 600km route this railway once spanned awaits the more adventurous looking to travel the Kettle Valley Railway’s full journey.
Things to Know:
- The Kettle Valley Rail Trail Tours are run by Monashee Adventure Tours (I was a guest as part of my three week exploration with and require a minimum of four people. Pick-up is from your accommodation, where you will be transported to the Myra Canyon Trailhead to start your adventure.
- Prices start at $120 (CAD) per person, discounted with groups over 10 or 20 people. The tour includes:Bike rental, Guide, Helmet, Snacks, Transport and Water.
- A small section of the Kettle Valley Railway remains. The heritage railway line is a preserved 10-mile journey in Summerland, BC.
- For further information on travel in Canada, visit the Destination Canada website
I’m always happy when on a cycle tour, so all opinions in this article remain the words of a true biking geek. Many thanks to Monashee Adventure Tours for allowing me to be their guest on this tour, with the help of Destination Canada who helped facilitate my stay.