It’s been an exciting couple of decades for Golden, a small mountain town in eastern British Columbia. The local economy, which once relied heavily on logging and mining, has shifted to embrace adventure tourism with a strong focus on hiking, climbing, mountain biking, and other adrenaline-chasing pursuits.
Sandwiched between BC’s Purcell Mountains and the Canadian Rockies, there’s no denying that the town’s setting is a major blessing. Golden sits between six of the country's most stunning national parks: Yoho, Glacier, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Mount Revelstoke, and is handsomely endowed with fast-flowing rivers, sheer granite crags, and a winter deluge of dry, powdery snow.
If you’re unfamiliar with the region, rope access technician and avid outdoor sports enthusiast, Logan Hurd, delves into some reasons to get better acquainted.
1. Superb hiking
“Kicking Horse is a steep, gnarly mountain in the Purcell range,” explains Logan, who works in and around Golden on slope stabilisation and developing new tourism projects.
To warm up your mountain legs, Logan recommends heading out on a short hike to Gorman Lake. “If you’re feeling more adventurous, you can always continue further along alpine ridges to other lakes or even climb to the top of Kicking Horse Mountain resort,” he adds.
An hour's drive away and slightly further afield, Kootenay National Park is a wilderness area refreshingly free of gondolas and ski resorts. Located southeast of Golden, the park flanks Hwy 93, a sweeping mountain road dotted with intriguing trailheads. The eight-mile round-trip to Stanley Glacier cuts through forest to a scree-strewn valley flanked by craggy cliffs and embellished by tall, slender waterfalls.
Alternatively, for a simpler walk head to Yoho National Park, where you can stroll around aptly-named Emerald Lake on a three-mile trail under the watchful gaze of Mount Burgess and Wapta Mountain.
2. Hardcore mountain biking
When the big thaw arrives in spring, and snow comes streaming off the mountains, Kicking Horse ski runs become serious mountain bike descents that complement a web of sinuous single-track that fans out across the region.
“A ton of work has been put into building up a mountain biking trail network around Golden in recent years,” says Logan. “You can bike a new trail every day and go the whole summer without biking the same trail twice.”
Golden has three distinct cross-country mountain biking networks with over 100 miles of singletrack trails, and there are routes for every kind of rider. Word has quickly spread. Plus, unlike some of the more famous mountain towns in Canada, Golden doesn’t have to wrestle with national park restrictions. Its open and free-spirited nature is part of its appeal.
“In the past five years, bike races have picked up in popularity,” says Logan. “Events that would only pull in around a dozen competitors 10 or 15 years ago are now getting more than 100.”
Some of the trails have become legendary. Mount 7’s swift downhills are considered world class. Logan singles out the more benign Canyon Creek in the Moonraker trail system as his favourite. “It’s a blue [intermediate] cross-country trail, riding along the edge of a huge canyon with beautiful views,” he remarks.
For road-biking, drive just under two-hours west. If Canada had a Tour de France, the ascent of Mount Revelstoke, on the paved Meadows in the Sky Parkway would be its Alpe d’Huez. Climbing 1,468m over 16 miles up a 5.6 percent grade, the snaking road incorporates 15 hairpin bends and seven spectacular lookouts before delivering you wide-eyed and legless at the summit. Seasoned road-bikers refer to it as the toughest climb in Canada.
3. Mountain coasters and gondola rides
Opened in 2021, one of the Golden’s newest features is the Skybridge, an adventure complex that takes you on a circuitous walk over Canada’s two highest suspension bridges, slung precipitously over a 420-ft-deep canyon.
For families, soft-adventurers or those with a fear of heights, stick to the lumberjack-inspired axe-throwing booths, Logan suggests, or try sliding down the mountainside on the Railrider Mountain Coaster, a kind of bobsled meets rollercoaster.
Kicking Horse has plenty to offer those with children in tow. Suspended above the peaks, an enclosed gondola hoists visitors to a staggering 3,700ft, where views stretch out across vast, silent landscapes. Hungry? Head to Eagle Eye Restaurant, the highest in all of Canada, where you can gaze out on four national parks while ordering a bison burger, or the cheesy Canadian classic, poutine. Afterwards, why not visit Boo the grizzly bear at his refuge in Kicking Horse. This 20-acre site was created for orphaned cubs, and is the largest of its kind in the world.
4. Climbing and mountaineering
The Bugaboos, a two-hour drive southwest from Golden, have a mountaineering pedigree going back to the early 1900s when legendary Austrian climbing guide Conrad Kain began wrestling with the rock. Commercial heliskiing was invented here in the 1960s and mountaineers still cherish the range’s huge granite spires surrounded by massive glaciers. “My first climbing trip there was 10 years ago, and I’ve been back every summer since,” says Logan. “The views are breathtaking and unlike anything else in the area.”
Closer to town, Kicking Horse caters for climbing fanatics with a via ferrata, modelled on the fixed protection climbing routes that originated in the Italian Dolomites during the First World War. The guided Ascension route — 1,500ft of cables, bridges, and ladders — is considered one of the most technical in Canada.
Glacier National Park, 40-minutes west of Golden, has been revered by alpinists since its foundation in 1886. Its highest peak? The northwest ridge of 3,284m Mount Sir Donald, considered by many as one of the classic climbs in North America. For experienced rock-climbers, it’s a relatively straightforward ascent using third and fourth class moves before hitting a short stretch of 5.4 grade climbing just shy of the summit. Consider taking one of Golden's mountain guides with you for help on the trickier descent; they know the peaks like the backs of their hands.
5. Epic whitewater rafting
Golden's Kicking Horse River attracts adrenaline seekers from far and wide. The lower section is often closed off, but fear not, the choppy rapids of the upper and middle sections, peaking at class IV, are considered some of the most extreme in Canada, Logan reports. Rafting companies supply you with oars, helmets, and lifejackets, and there are guides available to help navigate the currents.
For those after even more of a thrill, there's the option of heli-rafting, giving adventurers access to Golden's lower canyon, with its vertical cliff sides and serious rapids — and which is completely inaccessible without a helicopter. Hovering low over the river, you'll be dropped gently into the water, before the current picks you up and carry you onwards.
The rafting season runs May to September with June, when rivers are engorged with snowmelt, enjoying the highest water levels.
Coming from the UK, the nearest international airport to Golden is Calgary. Vancouver is another option. The town is a three-hour drive from Calgary and an eight-hour drive from Vancouver on the Trans-Canada Highway. You can rent cars at both airports. Rider Express runs daily buses between Calgary and Vancouver stopping in Golden. For more information, visit tourismgolden.com