The Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3) runs from Hope at the east end of the Fraser Valley all the way east to the British Columbia-Alberta border in the Rockies. Sometimes called the Crowsnest Route or the Route of the Crow, Highway 3 is a memorial to a young engineer who came to Canada in 1859. An Englishman from Devonshire, 24-year-old Edgar Dewdney arrived in Victoria with little more than a letter of introduction to Governor James Douglas. To keep himself alive during his first few months in the west, he found work surveying for the Royal Engineers.
When the discovery of gold in the Similkameen River prompted Governor Douglas to build a trail to the Interior through British territory, Edgar Dewdney and Walter Moberly won the contract. They completed the section from Fort Hope to Vermilion Forks, now Princeton, in 1861. A few years later, gold was discovered in Wild Horse Creek, and Dewdney was given the job of continuing the trail into the Kootenays. Fighting towering mountain ranges, wild rivers, and bottomless bogs, Dewdney and his crew completed the 366-mile-long (590-km) trail in seven months at a cost of a mere $75,000. Dewdney's hard work and ambition later served him well in provincial and federal politics. He became lieutenant-governor of British Columbia before he retired in 1897.
The description of the Crowsnest Highway 3 below is provided in 3 parts: South Okanagan Valley, The Kootenays, and The Rockies (travelling from west to east):
Crowsnest Highway: South Okanagan Valley
The Crowsnest Highway runs from Hope at the east end of the Fraser Valley east to Grand Forks on the western edge of the Kootenays, through the Cascade Mountains and Manning Provincial Park and across the desertlike southern Okanagan Valley, including Princeton, Keremeos, and Osoyoos.
As you descend into the Okanagan Valley on Highway 3, a desert panorama broken by regular patterns of green spreads out before you. The area from the United States border north to Skaha Lake is known as Canada's pocket desert, although it is slightly too cold and wet to qualify for official designation as such. Instead, climatologists classify it as a midlatitude steppe. However, outside the sweep of the irrigation sprinklers, greasewood, sagebrush, and prickly pear cactus are visible reminders of the desertlike environment, while western rattlesnakes and scorpions lurk out of sight.
The western approach to the Okanagan Valley is from Hope, a small town on the Fraser River two hours' drive east of Vancouver. Among the towns passed along the way east of Hope are the mining town of Princeton, 80 miles (130 km) east of Hope; Keremeos, about 40 miles (65 km) east of Princeton; Osoyoos, about 30 miles (45 km) east of Keremeos; and Grand Forks, about 78 miles (125 km) east of Keremeos. Access to Highway 3 from the north is via Merritt, about 53 miles (85 km) north of Princeton on Highway 5A; from Penticton, about 23 miles (37 km) north of Keremeos on Highway 3A and about 30 miles (50 km) north of Osoyoos on Highway 97; and from Kelowna, about 125 miles (200 km) north of Grand Forks via Rock Creek on Highway 33.
Crowsnest Highway: The Kootenays
Highway 3 winds its way through the Monashee and Selkirk Mountains for about 135 miles (220 km) between Grand Forks and Creston, including the Kootenay Summit (5,820 feet/1746 m), Red Mountain Ski Area, and Christina Lake, Nancy Greene, and Kokanee Glacier Provincial Parks.
Two geographical features dominate the Kootenays: mountains and water. Four parallel mountain ranges, running in a generally northwest direction, march successively across the southeastern British Columbia landscape. The most westerly are the Monashees, followed by the rugged Selkirks, defined on their western flanks by the Arrow reservoir system and Slocan Lake, and on the east by the spectacular waters of Kootenay Lake. These two mountain ranges and accompanying lake systems define this district. Farther east are the Purcells, then the Rockies, outlining the area known as the East Kootenays.
The other major north-south water system in this district is formed by Kootenay Lake (at more than 65 miles/105 km long, it's one of the province's largest freshwater lakes) and Kootenay River, which joins with the Columbia near Castlegar.
The Crowsnest Highway east of Grand Forks provides a good introduction to the often steep terrain of the West Kootenays. Only intrepid travellers need apply to drive what is the highest-elevation paved highway in Canada, the Skyway. But you'll want some time - and cooperation from the weather. During winter storms, avoid this route, particularly the stretch between Salmo and Creston, for avalanches are a fact of life and road closures inevitable. Alberta licence plates begin to appear more regularly in parks here; the Kootenays are almost equidistant from the Prairies and the West Coast.
Travellers heading west on Highway 3 join this section of the Crowsnest Highway at Creston, just north of the British Columbia-Idaho border. From Creston, Highway 3A runs north along the east side of Kootenay Lake to Crawford Bay, where a free ferry at Kootenay Bay links with Balfour on the west side of the lake. Travellers approaching from the north may use this route or Highways 3A and 6 to link with Highway 3. So convoluted does the highway become that branches of it spin off and feed into each other in a tight knot in the Nelson, Castlegar, Trail, and Salmo loop. Travellers journeying south from the Slocan Valley on Highway 6 link with Highway 3A north of Castlegar, site of the only airport in the rugged Kootenays. Travellers heading south from the Okanagan on Highway 33 join Highway 3 at Rock Creek.
Crowsnest Highway: The Rockies
From Creston in the Selkirk Mountains via Highway 3 to Cranbrook in the Purcell Mountains, and Crowsnest Pass and the British Columbia-Alberta border in the Rockies, including Moyie Lake Provincial Park, Fernie Snow Valley Ski Area, and the border-area provincial parks.
For outdoor enthusiasts, the route from Creston to Crowsnest Pass is a motherlode of serious adventure. The British Columbia - Alberta border parks - Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, Elk Lakes Provincial Park, and Akamina-Kishinena Recreation Area - present some truly extraordinary landscapes to explore.
The name Kootenay, used for the southeastern portion of the province, comes from the Kootenay First Nation, a group of linguistically distinct Native people. They occupy the East Kootenays, with their territory extending into northern Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The western portion of the district was also occupied by Interior Salishan Natives, linguistically and culturally related to the coastal people, or by Thompson River-Shuswap Natives, heavily influenced by the Athapaskan culture.
This area can be approached from the Columbia River Valley in the north along Highway 93/95, from the west along Highway 3, or from the east along Highway 6 in Alberta.
Location: The Crowsnest Highway (Highway 3) runs from Hope in the Fraser Valley to the British Columbia-Alberta border, continuing east across Canada.
The following towns are located on or near the Crowsnest Highway:
Grand Forks, Christina Lake, Castlegar, Salmo, Creston, Yahk, Moyie, Cranbrook, Kimberley, Fort Steele, Jaffray, Elko, Fernie, and Sparwood.