From the western boundary of Yoho National Park, the Trans-Canada Highway meanders down the beautiful Kicking Horse River Valley to the town of Golden (pop. 3,700), at the confluence of the Kicking Horse and Columbia Rivers. As well as being a destination in itself, Golden makes a good central base for exploring the region or as an overnight stop on a tour through the Canadian Rockies that takes in the national parks on the western side of the Continental Divide.
Although Golden is an industrial town through and through—with local mines and huge logging operations that include a lumber mill—it also has a reputation for local outdoor recreation opportunities, most notably for its four-season resort, white-water rafting down the Kicking Horse River, golfing the fairways of one of the region’s best courses, and hang gliding. Below we recommend the best accommodations while this page has our Best Golden Restaurants.
NOTE: A stretch of the Trans-Canada Hwy. east of Golden is undergoing a multi-year twinning project. For details of the construction and updates on closures, go to the Kicking Horse Canyon website.
Golden Sights and Recreation
Take Highway 95 off the Trans-Canada Highway, and you’ll find yourself in the old section of town, a world away from the commercial strip along the main highway. There’s not really much to see in town, although you may want to check out the small museum on 14th Street. The 8.8-kilometre (5.5-mile) ROTARY LOOP is a paved walking and biking trail that leads across the river from downtown via an impressive timber-frame PEDESTRIAN BRIDGE, then upstream across Highway 95 (10th Ave. S) to the campground.
The COLUMBIA RIVER WETLAND, which holds international significance not only for its size (26,000 hectares/64,250 acres) but also for the sheer concentration of wildlife it supports, extends as far north as Golden. One easily accessible point of the wetland is REFLECTION LAKE, on the southern outskirts of Golden. Here you’ll find a small shelter with a telescope for viewing the abundant birdlife.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
Whether it’s summer or winter, as you descend into Golden from Yoho National Park it’s easy to make out the ski slopes of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort (250/439-5400 or 866/754-5425) across the valley.
The resort’s eight-person detachable Golden Eagle Express gondola transports visitors high into the alpine in just 18 minutes. The 360-degree panorama at the summit is equal to any other accessible point in the Canadian Rockies, with the Purcell Mountains immediately to the west and the Columbia Valley laid out below. Graded hiking trails lead from the upper terminal through a fragile, treeless environment, while mountain bikers revel in a challenging descent in excess of 1,000 metres (3,280 feet). On-mountain activities include visiting the Grizzly Bear Interpretive Centre, where sightings of Boo, the resident grizzly bear, are almost guaranteed, and trying your hand at mountaineering on the via ferrata. The gondola operates 10:30 am-4:30 pm daily late June-September.
With an impressive vertical rise of 1,260 metres (4,134 feet), 45 percent of its terrain designated for experts, lots of dry powder snow, and minimal crowds, Kicking Horse has developed a big reputation. In addition to the 3.5-kilometre-long (2.2-mile-long) gondola, four other lifts transport skiers and boarders to hidden bowls and to a high point of 2,450 metres (8,040 feet). Lifts operate mid-December-early April. Facilities in the base lodge include rentals, a cafeteria, and a ski school, while the summit restaurant is also open daily for lunch and Friday and Saturday for dinner.
To get to Kicking Horse, follow the signs from Highway 1 into town and take 7th Street North west from 10th Avenue North; cross over the Columbia River and travel 13 kilometres (eight miles) uphill from this intersection.
Anyone looking for whitewater rafting action will want to run the Kicking Horse River. The rafting season runs mid-May-mid-September, with river levels at their highest in late June. The Lower Canyon, immediately upstream of Golden, offers the biggest thrills, including a three-kilometre (1.9-mile) stretch of continuous rapids. Upstream of here, the river is tamer but still makes for an exciting trip, while even farther upstream, near the western boundary of Yoho National Park, it’s more of a float—a good adventure for the more timid visitor. The river is run by several companies, most of which offer the option of half-day ($90-100) or full-day ($140-170) trips. The cost varies with inclusions such as transportation from Banff and lunch.
ALPINE RAFTING (250/344-7238 or 877/344-7238) offers trips ranging from a family-friendly float to the excitement of descending the Lower Canyon. They operate from a signposted base 25 kilometres (15.5 miles) east of Golden, where there is also camping (free for rafters; limited services). Another local company is WET ‘N’ WILD ADVENTURES (250/344-6521 or 877/344-7238). From Lake Louise, WILD WATER ADVENTURES (403/522-2211 or 888/647-6444) leads half-day trips down the river, including a narrated bus trip to their purpose-built RiverBase put-in point 27 kilometres (17 miles) east of Golden. Departures are from Lake Louise at 8:15 am and 1:30 pm. The full-day trip is broken up by a riverside lunch. HYDRA RIVER GUIDES (403/762-4554 or 800/644-8888) operates on the river with bus transfers from Banff.
Other Summer Recreation
GOLDEN GOLF AND COUNTRY CLUB (576 Golf Course Dr., 250/344-2700 or 866/727-7222) is a challenging 18-hole course in a forested section of the Columbia Valley to the north of town. This course is generally in excellent condition, with water coming into play on many holes—including the signature 11th and 12th holes along Holt Creek—and numerous streams and lakes to catch wayward shots.
The hills surrounding Golden are laced with mountain biking trails, many developed and maintained by local enthusiasts. A good source of information is the GOLDEN CYCLING CLUB. Accessed from along the road up to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort are the Moonraker Bike Trails, popular for scenery and varied difficulty. Off the resort access road, you’ll find CEDAR LAKE, starting point for many trails and also a popular spot with locals for swimming, picnicking, and canoeing. More adventurous souls are drawn to Golden for its thermals, perfect for hang gliding and paragliding, and to the steep face of Jubilee Mountain, a renowned sport-climbing destination.
You can stay in one of the regular motels lining the highway, but don’t. Instead, choose one of the unique mountain lodgings that surround the town. Here are our favourites:
BASECAMP LODGE GOLDEN (801 9th St. N., 855/219-4707) epitomizes woodsy Canadian Rockies lodging. It is a modern, riverfront log building with amenities that include wireless Internet, a living area with a large-screen TV, a large deck with outdoor seating overlooking the Columbia River, and a backyard with a fire pit. Some rooms are designed for families. Rates include coffee and muffins each morning.
BLAEBERRY MOUNTAIN LODGE (1680 Moberly School Rd., 250/344-5296) is on a 62-hectare (150-acre) property among total wilderness. Choose between two wooden cabins that sleep two comfortably and have full kitchens, or the much larger three- and four-bedroom cabins. The lodge is nine kilometres (5.6 miles) north of Golden along Highway 1, then seven kilometres (4.3 miles) farther north along Moberly School Road.
CEDAR HOUSE CHALETS (735 Hefti Rd., 250/290-0001) are spacious one- to three-bedroom cabins with full kitchens, wood-burning fireplaces, wireless Internet, barbecues, and hot tubs.
Continue south through the old part of town over the Kicking Horse River and take 9th Street South east at the traffic lights to reach GOLDEN MUNICIPAL CAMPGROUND (250/344-5412, April-Oct.). It’s a quiet place, strung out along the river and two kilometres (1.2 miles) from downtown along a riverfront walkway. Facilities include picnic shelters, hot coin-operated showers, wireless Internet, and 72 sites (32 with power hookups) with fire pits. Across the road is a recreation center with a swimming pool and fitness facility.
GOLDEN RIVERSIDE CAMPGROUND (872 McBeath Rd., Nicholson, 250/344-6825, Apr.-mid-Sept.) is a sprawling facility on the west side of the Columbia River five kilometres (3.1 miles) south of Golden. Campsites are spread through a forest and through an open field, with access to the river via a short trail. It has the cleanest, most impressive bathrooms I’ve seen at any Canadian Rockies campground, but on the downside, mosquitos are a major problem in the heat of summer.
While accommodations, fast-food restaurants, and gas stations line the Trans-Canada Highway, downtown Golden holds other basic services, including the POST OFFICE (502 9th Ave.). Ninth Avenue also holds outdoor equipment shops and BACCHUS BOOKS & CAFE (409 9th Ave., 250/344-5600, 9 am-5:30 pm daily), offering a wide selection of new and used books, with plenty of local reading and detailed maps of the Columbia Valley.
GOLDEN VISITOR CENTRE is ensconced in a small but architecturally striking building beside the main highway through town (1000 Trans-Canada Hwy., 250/439-7290, 9 am-5 pm daily June-Sept.). Interpretive displays, free wireless Internet, and helpful staff make this a worthwhile stop.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort has webcams all over the mountain, including at the summit.
For a downtown Golden webcam, check out one of the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure webcams, which are refreshed every few minutes. One cool feature of these highway webcams is the option to “Replay the Day,” which shows a compilation of the previous day’s screenshots in a 15-second video. Click on this link:
The BC government also manages a webcam to the east in Kicking Horse Canyon, which faces east along the Trans-Canada Highway.