Two nights on a quiet lake just over the Canadian side of the US-Canada border two weeks before the summer holiday hordes arrive. That was one of the highlights of our short road trip in June.
Christina Lake is a small lake and community near Grand Forks in British Columbia, less than 10 minutes drive from the US border. Over summer it’s one of the warmest lakes in BC, making it a popular holiday destination. We ended up there almost by chance after friends mentioned that it was a nice spot to stop along our drive.
Getting there from Kelowna or Big White is easy – just take Highway 33 south and then turn onto Highway 3 towards Grand Forks. It’s about a 3-3.5hr picturesque drive with a few lovely roadside rest stops and tiny towns along the way.
We stopped for lunch by a river and showed the kids the bear-proof bins. The first time they’d seen them.
Two weeks before the official start of summer holidays, Christina Lake was practically deserted. Most of the lakefront is lined with private dwellings but there are a couple of public beaches. Quiet streets lined with giant trees and lake front houses, ice cream stores on every second corner and frequent signs suggesting you should keep a look out for deer as they often wander through the town. I couldn’t live there year round but it certainly would be a lovely spot to have a summer home.
We stumbled across Totem motel and resort (a camping ground with motel rooms) after turning down a side street on a whim. As it was mid-week and outside peak season, they gave us such fantastic rates on accommodation that we ended up with a 3-bedroom apartment for less than you would usually pay for a motel room in Canada. Better still, the apartment was right next to the pool and a great playground. The kids would have been happy to stay for a month.
Unfortunately, with summer holidays still two weeks away, almost all the activities around the lake were shut. We were hoping to get out on the water, play mini-golf and give archery a try but they weren’t open yet. So instead we settled for a short hike to Cascade Falls and the old train bridge on the Kettle Valley Rail Trail.
The trestle bridge crosses the river just after it passes into a narrow gorge. With all the recent snow melt the water was churning through the gorge. A few of the rapids were so big they formed waves.
Cascade Falls is located further along the same gorge. It’s spectacular, particularly with all the snow-melt. A picture just doesn’t capture the noise and power of the falls in spring.
We could have happily stayed in Christina Lake for a few weeks but with most things still shut we decided to move on and come back another time.
Getting to the Rail Bridge and Cascade Falls
Both the falls and bridge are on the Kettle Valley Rail trail. It’s a great trail to walk along with kids or cycle because it’s very flat and well groomed. Just be careful around the bluffs above the falls. It’s a long way down!
There are several ways to reach the falls and bridge:
- Drive west from Christina Lake back towards Grand Forks along Highway 3. Almost immediately after passing the USA turnoff (Highway 395) there is a small gravel road going off to the left. Take that and park your car at the bottom. From here it’s a 100m walk to the bridge (blue pin below). A 5-minute walk brings you to the falls (roughly where the red pin is). Keep an eye out for the old concrete bulkhead on the left of the trail. Cross the bulkhead and follow the trail to your right until you reach the falls.
- The longer walk: Take Highway 395 towards the USA border. A few kilometers along you will see two small dirt carparks, one on each side of the road (marked in orange on the map below). The one on the western side leads to the falls and trestle bridge. The walk heading east takes you to another bridge across the river. The walk is easy but it’s roughly 4km return and has very limited shade. When you get to the concrete bulkhead, walk across it and follow the trail to the right to the falls. Then just backtrack to the bulkhead and continue along the main trail till you reach the bridge.
- If you don’t fancy walking between the two, you can also park close to the falls. Heading west from Christina Lake, turn onto Highway 395 towards the USA. Almost immediately after crossing the bridge you’ll see the sign on the right for Cascade Falls and a set of stairs leading up. Pull over and park here. Head up the stairs. When the trail levels out you’ll see a warning sign and a less defined trail leading to the right. Follow this trail. The trail disappears at times but just keep making your way towards the sound of the falls and you should spot the trail again. This brings you to the top of the east bluff overlooking the falls. Retrace your steps. We tried continuing along the main trail (it’s suppose to take you to other vantage points and an old tunnel) but it quickly became so overgrown we had to turn back.
Other suggestion for a nature escape ? Check the Banff National Park and its top hiking routes