One trail but countless memories

By Lane Lindstrom

The 157-meter-long Kettle Bridge crosses the Kettle River and is wide enough for OHVs up to 60 inches. It is one of seven bridges we crossed on the Columbia Valley Trail.

Would you travel hundreds of miles to ride just one trail? We did, and we would do it again in a heartbeat. And that’s saying something, because we passed some amazing riding areas on our way to southern British Columbia to ride the Columbia Valley Trail. But, this trail between Cascade, B.C., near Christina Lake, and Castlegar, B.C., is a spectacularly unique rails-to-trails path that once carried trains for the Old Boundary division of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Ours was an out-and-back ride, but you can explore any number of side trails that offer plenty of technical options, including impressive elevation gains leading to glaciers, plus stellar views of mountains, valleys, lakes, rivers and creeks.

We stuck to the main trail, sometimes known as the Columbia & Western trail, for a couple of reasons. We had just one day and were looking to dial up as many miles as we could, and we rode fairly early in the season while there was still plenty of snow in the higher elevations. The area gets up to 12 feet of snow each winter, and that takes a while to melt, so optimal riding season is July through October. The shoulder seasons can also be good times to ride, depending on snow conditions. Early June worked out for us, although we didn’t hit the high country.

Even on the main trail we got to experience all the beauty of this part of British Columbia except the glaciers. We rode between and around towering mountains, lakes, and rivers and creeks that were running high.

While Mother Nature rules along this trail, it’s man-made features that make this rails-to-trails ride so unique.

This tunnel is short enough to see from one end to the other. Other tunnels are of varying length.


When talking about destination rides, we almost always put scenery as our prime attraction. We figured scenery would once again be on top. After passing through five tunnels, crossing seven bridges and riding along several retaining walls, man-made trail features became our ride favorites.

We crossed two bridges over the Kettle River soon after leaving the parking area in Cascade. The first bridge isn’t far from Cascade Falls, while the second bridge was one of the most scenic and highest bridges on the trail. The second might be one of our favorites trail features ever!

This is just one of several waterfalls we passed on our journey along the Columbia Valley Trail.

The bridge crosses high over the Kettle River, not far from the Canada/U.S. border, which is less than 3 kilometers downstream. Soon after crossing, you gain elevation to the tune of 2.2 to 2.4 percent over the next 41.8 kilometers (26 miles) as you make your way to Farron (elevation 3,976 feet), which is at the top of the mountain/grade. At Farron summit, the trail has gained 2,316 feet elevation. The trail then descends toward Arrow Lake and Castlegar (elevation 1,626 feet). Along the way are more bridges and tunnels. 

The retaining walls are equally interesting and impressive man-made features. Built to provide mountainside stability while providing a path for the railway, they continue to provide that same protection for powersports vehicles, bikers and hikers today.

Tunnels range from short to the long Bulldog Tunnel, which is 916 meters (nearly 1 kilometer or a bit more than a half mile) long and built in the late 1890s. The longer tunnels are pitch black away from the openings. Headlights help pierce the darkness. Hunting for that epic shot, we walked into a tunnel and quickly found out our cell phone light did little to illuminate our way. We had to wait for vehicles to enter the tunnel to give us enough light to walk farther.

Choosing an OHV with good lights in working order is a great idea on this rails-to-trails route.

The bridges were breathtaking. Most were hundreds of feet above waterways and fun to ride across. Aside from the bridges that crossed the Kettle River, we crossed a couple that are wedged between the mountainside and Arrow Lake, again offering unparalleled views of the lake and mountains.

We crossed under the Paulson Bridge, which is high above the trail and is on Highway 3/Crowsnest Highway that connects Christina Lake and Castlegar.

There are five tunnels on the CVT between Cascade and Castlegar. Since they were built for trains, they are tall and fairly wide—and fun (maybe even a little creepy)—to ride through.


It was overcast and rained some during our day-long ride, so the views weren’t as epic as they might have been under sunny skies but we certainly weren’t disappointed. We did get some sun about midway through our ride (over on the Castlegar side of the trail), and it lit up the mountains and shone off the lake and creeks. But, what we saw over the 161 kilometers of riding was so spectacular, there was no way we could be disappointed. The mountains stretch on and on in every direction with the tallest ones still snowcapped. Rivers and creeks were raging due to the spring runoff, and we saw several waterfalls along the way.

The Columbia Valley Trail is not technical but it can be challenging. The challenge is keeping your eyes (and machine) on the trail instead of gawking. For most of the ride we were either ascending or descending the mountain. It was level along Upper Arrow Lake as we approached Castlegar. Speaking of Upper Arrow Lake, it’s another natural wonder. It’s more than 90 miles long, and the trail goes along it for several kilometers before turning back into the mountains and towards Farron.

Seeing a bear on the trail just added to the adventure. We also saw some deer.

The Paulson Bridge towers high over the trail and is another impressive bridge along the route. We didn’t ride on it, just under it.


We didn’t know/weren’t expecting the ride to be so rich in history, but we lucked out with our guides, all members of the Grand Forks ATV Club, who knew the area and this trail. Mike DeGirolamo, Geoff Canuel and Brian Magaton knew the area’s history and best riding. Magaton and DeGirolamo worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway before retiring. DeGirolamo is a retired train engineer who worked/traveled the Old Boundary spur of the railway before the Canadian Pacific stopped using the railway in 1993. He was a treasure trove of historical information.

As you get closer to Castlegar coming from Cascade, Upper Arrow Lake comes into view. You ride along the lake for several kilometers. The lake is 90 miles long.

DeGirolamo explained that when the train would leave Cascade and head up the mountain, it would take 2.5–3 hours to make it to Farron.

If you can’t arrange for a local to guide you, there are a number of kiosks along the way that explain several highlights of the area. You’ll learn about the “murder” of Peter V. Verigin who died in an “unsolved train explosion” on the Old Boundary spur, as well as tunnel, which was named after the Bulldog Tunnel. There are many more historical highlights along the trail. We also made a short hike from the trail to some hand-made ovens that were used to cook food for the workers building the railroad. 

This is one of the trestle bridges we crossed on the Columbia Valley Trail. It is hundreds of feet above a small creek that dumps into Upper Arrow Lake.

Of course, you can simply ride past all these kiosks or you can pick and choose which ones to avoid. There are plenty of options. Some of the kiosks are under cover with a picnic table where you can take a break. We used one to escape a downpour. The Grand Forks ATV Club helped put up the kiosks, as did the Columbia & Western Trail Society.

We spent the entire day riding and exploring the Columbia Valley Trail. That downpour we experienced precluded a more leisurely return.

A return trip to British Columbia’s Boundary Country is already on our list. When we head back to ride the area again, we’ll have to decide if we’re going to stick to the Columbia Valley Trail or explore the hundreds of kilometers of other trails, or do both.

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