Crossroads of the eastern Kootenays, Cranbrook (pop. 20,500) nestles at the base of the Purcell Mountains 28 kilometres (17.4 miles) south of Kimberley and provides spectacular views eastward to the Canadian Rockies. The main touristy reason to stop is the Cranbrook History Centre, but with the surrounding wilderness, nearby Fort Steele Heritage Town, and well-priced motels, it’s a good base for further exploration.
Cranbrook’s main attraction, the CRANBROOK HISTORY CENTRE (57 Van Horne St., 250/489-3918, 10 am-5 pm daily mid-May.-mid-Oct., 10 am-4 pm Tues.-Sat. mid-Oct.-mid-May) is on a siding of the main Canadian Pacific Railway line directly opposite downtown. Most of the displays are outdoors spread along three sets of track, including the only surviving set of railcars from the Trans-Canada Limited, a luxury train (also called “The Millionaires’ Train”) built for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1929. The dining, sleeping, and solarium lounge cars sport inlaid mahogany and walnut paneling, plush upholstery, and brass fixtures. Restoration displays, a viewing corridor, a model railway display, a slide show are included in admission, while guided tours of the car interiors are extra.
The locals are proud of their downtown heritage buildings, which you can view on a self-guided walking tour by picking up the handy Explore Historic Cranbrook brochure from the visitor centre or the history centre, or download it here. You can still see the home of Colonel Baker—the original Cranbrook developer for whom downtown’s main street is named—in Baker Park off 1st Street South.
If you’re still in a heritage mood and heading for Kimberley, take Old Airport Road (a continuation of Theatre Road) north to ST. EUGENE’S MISSION CHURCH, between Cranbrook and Kimberley. Built in 1897, this is the finest Gothic-style mission church in the province; it features beautiful, hand-painted Italian stained-glass windows. The adjacent mission has been extensively renovated and is now a hotel, itself well worth walking through for its historic value.
South of Cranbrook
Beside the highway at the southern city limits, Elizabeth Lake Bird Sanctuary is a large area of wetlands is a haven for many species of waterfowl, including Canada geese, teal, and ringneck, scaup, redhead, bufflehead, goldeneye, and ruddy ducks. You can also see coots, grebes, black terns, and songbirds. Mammals present include muskrats, white-tailed deer, and occasionally moose.
Around 22 km (16.7 miles) south of Cranbrook is MOYIE LAKE, a deep-blue body of water backed by cliffs. Protecting the lake’s north end is 91-hectare (220-acre) MOYIE LAKE PROVINCIAL PARK, which has a sandy swimming beach, a rocky dog beach, short interpretive trails, and the chance to view kokanee spawning on gravel riverbeds in late summer.
Halfway along the lake, the village of MOYIE, once boasting a population of 1,500, today holds nothing more than a few historic buildings, a pub, and a gas station; the 1904 church on Tavistock Street and the 1907 fire hall beside the highway are among the original survivors. Miners working the nearby St. Eugene Mine for lead and silver were the first settlers. The old mine is visible on the hill by wandering down to the lakeshore.
Fort Steele Heritage Town
Fort Steele Heritage Town (9851 Hwy. 93/95, 250/417-6000, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily May to mid-June, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily mid-June to Aug., 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily Sept. to mid-Oct., 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wed. to Sun. the rest of the year ) is 17 km (10.6 miles) northeast of Cranbrook on Hwy. 95. , along the more direct option, you’ll see over 60 restored and reconstructed buildings, including log barracks, hotels, a courthouse, a jail, a dentist’s office, a ferry office, a printing office, and a general store all crammed to the rafters with intriguing historical artifacts. Park staff brings Fort Steele back to life with appropriately costumed working blacksmiths, carpenters, quilters, weavers, bakers, ice-cream makers, and many others. Hop on a steam train, heckle a street politician, witness a crime and testify at a trial, pan for gold, watch a silent movie, and view operatic performances in the Opera House. One of the highlights is Fort Steele Follies, a professional 1880s-style live-theater company performing a musical comedy at the Wild Horse Theatre. Showtimes are at 2 p.m. daily during the summer only.
To get to the original WILD HORSE CREEK diggings, continue north from Fort Steele and take the logging road to Bull River and Kootenay Trout Hatchery, then the first road on the left (before the creek crossing). Fisherville—the first township in the East Kootenays and once home to over 5,000 miners—was established at the diggings in 1864 but was relocated upstream when it was discovered that the richest seam of gold was right below the main street. About five kilometres (three miles) from the highway is Wild Horse Graveyard. From this point, you can hike a section of Wild Horse Creek to see a number of historic sites, including the Chinese burial ground, the site of the Wild Horse post office, the remains of Fisherville, and the diggings. It takes about two hours to do the trail, allowing for stops at all the plaques along the way.
Most motels are along Highway 3 through town. The highway is known as Van Horne Street south of 4th Street North and Cranbrook Street to the north. On average, motel prices here are among the lowest in the province, making it a good spot to rest overnight. One of the least expensive of these is
In the heart of the commercial strip, LAZY BEAR LODGE (621 Cranbrook St., 250/426-6086) is an old roadside motel snazzed up with log trim, beds of bright flowers, and a colourful coat of paint. The rooms remain basic, but each has a coffeemaker and some have a fridge and microwave. Out front is a small swimming pool for guest use.
- EUGENE GOLF RESORT & CASINO (7777 Mission Rd., 250/420-2000 or 866/292-2020) is north of Cranbrook, out near the airport. Here, the Ktunaxa nation have transformed an abandoned mission building into the sprawling St. Eugene Golf Resort & Casino. Surrounded by rolling farmland and with distant views to the Canadian Rockies, it’s a beautiful property, complete with the Ktunaxa Interpretive Centre, a golf course, outdoor swimming pool and hot tub, casino, and a restaurant and bar. The motel-style rooms are comfortable and spacious.
One of the area’s most attractive campgrounds is in JIMSMITH LAKE PROVINCIAL PARK, four kilometres (2.5 miles) off the main highway at the southern outskirts of the city. The park has a sandy beach on a small lake (swimming, fishing) and 35 campsites (no reservations, mid-May-early Oct.).
Unlike the several backcountry parks in the area, 144-hectare (360-acre) WASA PROVINCIAL PARK, 30 kilometres (19 miles) north of Cranbrook, is easily accessible along Highway 93/95 north of Fort Steele. The lake is warm, making for good summer swimming. The park is divided into a number of different sections scattered around the lake, but all are linked by an eight-kilometre (five-mile) trail that encircles the lake. The main campground (519/826-6850 or 800/689-9025, May to Sept.) is across the road from a small stretch of park beach and has hot showers. You’ll need reservations through BC Parks.
South of town 22 km (16.7 miles) is MOYIE LAKE PROVINCIAL PARK, which has a sandy swimming beach, a rocky dog beach, short interpretive trails, semi-private campsites scattered through an open forest, and hot showers. This campground is extremely popular, so make reservations through BC Parks.
For more options, check out the Cranbrook Campgrounds page on the Cranbrook Tourism website.
CRANBROOK VISITOR CENTRE (800 C Baker St., 250/489-2563, 9 am-5 pm daily in summer, Mon.-Fri. only the rest of the year) is in a historic two-story red brick building at the entrance to downtown.
HUCKLEBERRY BOOKS (19 9th Ave., 250/426-3415, 9 am-5 pm daily) is loaded with local reading material, including some interesting books on the region’s gold rush history.
St. Eugene Mission, north of Cranbrook, has webcams pointing north of the resort entrance road and south across the golf course.
The BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure maintains highway cams along major routes in the Columbia Valley, including along Hwys. 93/95 as it passes by downtown Cranbrook.