The Kootenays are one of the most attractive and lightly visited parts of BC, and centre on two major north–south valleys which harbour Kootenay Lake, the Upper and Lower Arrow lakes and three adjacent mountain ranges – the Purcells, Selkirks and Monashees – whose once-rich mineral deposits formed the kernel of the province’s early mining industry. Nelson is the key spot, slightly peripheral to the Kootenays’ rugged core, but a lovely place, and one of the few provincial towns with real attractions in its own right. Smaller, more relaxed, lakeside towns, notably Kaslo and Nakusp, make excellent bases for excursions into mountain scenery that has a pristine quality rarely found elsewhere. Creston offers a glimpse into the region’s rich agricultural bounty with Canada’s juiciest cherries, and Rossland has bags of small town charm and was the site of Canada’s first downhill ski race. Water-based activities – canoeing and fishing in particular – are excellent, and you can also explore the ramshackle mining heritage of near-ghost towns like Sandon and New Denver. Many of these towns and villages also have more than their fair share of artists, painters, writers and artisan foodies, lending the region considerable cultural lustre. Castlegar also offers a fascinating immigrant history through the story of the Doukhobors who settled here from Russia.
Getting around the region without private transport is tricky, which is a shame because the roads here are among the most beautiful in the province. The most scenic routes – and these are some of the loveliest drives in BC – are Hwy-31A from Kaslo to New Denver, and the pleasingly dramatic Hwy-6, which leads south of Nakuspalong along the Slocan Valley and west to Vernon, setting you up nicely for the Okanagan.