Tucked in the valley between the southern Rocky Mountains and the Purcell Mountains of the East Kootenays, Cranbrook and the neighbouring ski-town of Kimberley are ideal destinations if you’re an outdoors, nature or history lover.
Cranbrook and Kimberley are less than 30 kilometres apart (yup, you can even bike between them – more on that later.) The communities are about a 4-hour drive southwest of Calgary and 3 hours south of Banff making it the perfect spot to travel for a weekend getaway or a destination to tack onto your Western Canada holiday.
Disclosure: The Lost Girl’s Guide explored Cranbrook as part of a four-day media tour. Some links in the article are affiliated. This means I earn a small commission if you purchase an item through them, at no extra cost to you – it all helps support my small business.
Here are the top 10 things to do when visiting Cranbrook, BC
1. Chase Waterfalls
There are so many waterfalls in the region, there’s even a waterfall guidebook to help you discover them all.
If you’re looking for low-effort, high reward, make a stop in the community of Marysville, six kilometres south of Kimberley. Before you head to the falls, grab a coffee from The Koffee Kan. A couple of blocks down the street, The Marysville Falls boardwalk takes you 300 metres along the banks of Mark Creek for a view of the tiered falls that culminates into a nearly 30-metre drop.
For a little more adventure, head to Perry Creek Falls. While the drive is arguably more complicated than the hike, there is a bit of elevation change over the 1.5-kilometre trail into the falls. Passing an old cabin, crossing over a rickety bridge and down an embankment underneath the cover of cedar and larch trees, you’ll come up to the vantage point overlooking the roaring waterfall as it drops into an emerald pool. Rumour has it gold used to be mined in this area. The rocks are slippery from the spray and the river banks are steep so walk with care. Note that there’s limited cell service in the area.
Plan Your Visit: If learning more about the gold rush history in the area is your thing, consider checking out this great travel itinerary on Rockies Exploring here.
Photo Credit: Dave Lieske Photo Credit: Dave Lieske
2. Go on a Heli Tour of the East Kootenays
This experience is one for the bucket list and worth every jaw-dropping moment. Eclipse Helicopters offers sightseeing tours of the Southern Rockies with a few really unique options. For our trip, we flew up and circled around Fisher’s Peak, the highest mountain in the region, and dropped down the backside to land at 7500 feet next to a glacial lake called Nicol Lake. We got to take dozens of photos as the sun set behind the mountains before returning back to the valley.
For those really wanting to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you can book in for a picnic at the peak or a fine dining experience complete with white tablecloths, a three-course plated meal and your own personal Executive Chef in the alpine.
3. Hike or Bike in Cranbrook’s Community Forest
There are more than 100 kilometres of all-season trails winding through the 2000 hectares of crown forest land north and east of Cranbrook as part of the Community Forest. Trails are multi-use for bikers and hikers, several of which lead to stunning viewpoints over the valley.
If you only have an hour or two, head up 1.5 kilometres to the Eager Hill Lookout. There are picnic tables atop the grassy knoll. It’s a great place to take a snack break or – even better – enjoy a sunrise with views over the Rocky Mountain Trench. The trails are well signed and the new trail 5-kilometre Padawan Trail (yes, the trails are named after Star Wars characters) is also an adaptive tail.
Photo Credit: Dave Lieske
4. Picnic at St. Mary’s Lake
St. Mary’s Lake is an idyllic spot for a picnic. With the snow-capped Purcell Mountains hulking in the background, this day-use area is perfect for swimming and paddling. Trolling is recommended if you’re into fishing – as demonstrated by one kayaker who was out on the water with two fishing rods. While no camping is allowed here, there are picnic tables and washrooms on-site and a rocky shoreline perfect for exploring with the whole family.
Plan Your Visit: If you love lakes – there are more than 10 in the area perfect for water adventures in a weekend getaway. You can find a great itinerary suggestion here.
5. Visit Fort Steele Heritage Park
Fort Steele Heritage Park brings history alive – literally – with its resident Heritage breed livestock animals including 15 Clydesdales, a small herd of Cotswold sheep, Blue Slate turkeys, donkeys and chickens. This “wild west” town boomed in the 1800s during the gold rush and is now a historic park with more than 60 restored heritage buildings sharing what pioneer life was like. While it’s open to visitors every day of the year (except Christmas and Boxing Day), the park hosts specific events throughout the seasons.
A horse-drawn carriage ride is a great way to get an overview and a guided tour of the site. Make sure to snap a photo with the giant decommissioned water wheel and read more about the local history at the museum on the second floor of the Wasa Hotel. For a bit of fun, you can dress up in Victorian-era clothing provided in the museum.
6. Golf at St. Eugene Resort
While I’m not personally a golfer, the meticulously cared-for greens at St. Eugene Resort made me consider hitting the links. In fact, the region is home to 7 championship courses within a 24-kilometre radius. While St. Eugene is known for its par 72 golf course, it’s also an upscale resort and casino with three on-site restaurants, an outdoor pool, a spa and a KOA RV Park. If you stay in the campground, you can order “room service” from the restaurant and have it delivered to your camper. It’s like having a personal chef while camping!
Photo Credit: Dave Lieske Photo Credit: Dave Lieske
But what makes St. Eugene such an extraordinary place to visit is learning the heartbreaking history of the area. It was a former residential school that didn’t close until 1971. After twenty years, the site was reclaimed by the Ktunaxa Nation who chose to spend a decade gutting and restoring the building, turning the dark history of the Mission into a place to create new memories with family and friends.
Since it was within the St. Eugene Mission School that the culture of the Kootenay Indian was taken away, it should be within the building that it is returned.”– Elder Mary Paul, 1984
Photo Credit: Dave Lieske
7. E-Bike the Rails to Trails Paved Pathway
The 28-kilometre, three-season North Star Rails to Trails paved pathway linking Cranbrook and Kimberley rivals any commuter trail in Western Canada. What was once a CP railway line built in 1899 is now a multi-use trail for walkers, joggers, bikers and e-bikers. The gently sloping trail takes you through dense forest, along the bridge over St. Mary River (the halfway point) and out onto a long flat stretch of grasslands with epic views of the surrounding Rockies and into Kimberley.
There are several repair stations along the trail that have multitools, air pumps, maps and toilets. For e-bike rentals, check out North Star Bicycle in Cranbrook.
8. Stroll Down Kimberley’s Platzl
The Bavarian-esque Platzl (public square) in the picturesque ski town of Kimberley is a 25-minute drive away from Cranbrook and worth an afternoon or evening visit. The pedestrian walkway is lined with boutique, artisan and antique shops as well as several eateries, perfect to stop in for a pint or a panini. Make sure to carry some change with you to plug a loonie into Canada’s largest free-standing cuckoo clock to hear “Happy Hans” yodel as he salutes you.
9. Summit Fisher Peak
Fisher Peak is not a hike for the faint-hearted. With 1340 metres of elevation gain, this 9-kilometre return hike to the summit of Mount Fisher will get your heart pumping and leave your leg muscles burning (during the climb up and down.) But the exertion through the treeline and along the scree slope to the summit is worth every step for unrivalled views of the Rocky Mountain Trench as it is quite simply, mesmerizing. Expect the hike to take at least 8-10 hours. Make sure to leave a trip plan with someone on the ground and carry plenty of water and food.
10. Take in a Live Performance at Key City Theatre
For a night out on the town, take in a theatre production or concert at Key City Theatre in Cranbrook. As a performing arts, conference and cultural centre, this 600-seat venue is host to more than 100 live shows and events each year so there’s something for everyone. Check out the upcoming events here.
Where to Eat & Drink in Cranbrook
Fire and Oak restaurant in the Prestige Rock Mountain Resort serves up hearty portions on their breakfast menu. From a selection of green smoothies to creamy sourdough vanilla French toast and eggs benny prepared four different ways, this restaurant had me coming back every morning for a bite. Don’t overlook them for dinner either, as they transition from casual to sophisticated for their evening menu.
At first glance, Hot Shots Cafe in downtown Cranbrook appears to be a coffee shop. But their breakfast menu is as surprising as it is tasty (it’s all day too!) It’s quick and easy to grab something to-go like the classic breakfast bagel and pick up a few sweet treats for later on the trail like the almond coconut bar or energy bar.
Max’s Place is the perfect stop to grab a light lunch to go. With sandwiches on their house-made bread, they also have quiches and sausage rolls. Don’t forget to grab one of their soft and sweet cinnamon buns slathered in cream cheese icing for later.
Housed in a firehall built in 1929, Firehall Kitchen & Tap is well-known for its massive appetizers and gourmet burger and poutine selection. Try the gastropub’s “$35 Nachos” or go all-in on one of their “Big Burgers.” They also have a variety of craft beer on tap.
The Heid Out is both a restaurant and brewhouse and perfect for a special night out. With several Red Seal Chefs on staff, the menu is mouthwatering. Both the Jaeger Schnitzel and Roasted Duck Breast are highly recommended.
Where to Stay in Cranbrook
Prestige Rocky Mountain Resort has everything you’re looking for in a night or two away. There’s an indoor pool, hot tub, fitness centre, on-site restaurant and spacious foyer to enjoy at your leisure
If you’re looking for something different, book into one of two redesigned railway car suites at the back of the hotel (appropriately located next to the active rail line – but don’t worry, train horns won’t wake you here). The Crystal Railcar and Santa Fe Railcar have been beautifully decorated for a unique getaway.
From April until mid-October, St. Eugene has 125 guest rooms with 300 acres to enjoy at their resort, including the on-site KOA for campers (as a bonus when camping, you also have access to the resort’s pool during the day).