All photos © Robin and Arlene Karpan
With the catchy slogan of “Golden Rules”, the town of Golden, British Columbia is uniquely situated as a centre for exploring some of Canada’s most awesome Rocky Mountain natural attractions. It’s the only town in the world to be within a two-hour drive of six national parks – Glacier, Mount Revelstoke, Yoho, Kootenay, Banff, and Jasper.
The town of 4,000 lies along the Trans-Canada Highway, in a broad valley at the confluence of the Columbia and Kicking Horse Rivers. It’s this combination of soaring mountain peaks and river valleys that has made it popular for everything from hiking to biking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, wildlife viewing, skiing, mountain climbing, and just enjoying nature. These are our 8 top reasons why Golden is a travel destination not to miss.
1 Stroll around town
Golden’s riverside setting and compact size make it ideal for walking around. Start with the River Walk along the banks of the Kicking Horse River beside the downtown where sidewalk restaurants look over the water.
An especially photogenic spot is the striking Kicking Horse River Pedestrian Bridge. At 46 metres across, it’s the longest freestanding timber frame bridge in Canada. Building the unique covered bridge was quite a project, involving over 100 members of the Timber Frame Guild from across Canada, the USA, and Europe.
2 Test your fear of heights at the Golden Skybridge
Afraid of heights? This is the perfect place to find out but to do it safely. The adventure park at the Golden Skybridge, just outside town, is home to both the highest and second-highest suspension bridges in Canada. The 150-metre-long upper bridge takes you over a deep canyon where you peer straight down 130 metres or 426 feet to the rugged terrain below. From up here, the 200-foot waterfall far below seems like a mere trickle. The lower suspension bridge is 80 metres high, 50 metres lower than the upper one but still lofty enough to make it Canada’s second highest. A path connects the two bridges on both sides of the canyon, so you can do a loop walk taking in both.
Staring into the abyss from a swinging bridge is only the start of the adrenaline-pumping activities. The 300-metre-long zipline takes you flying across the deep chasm. Then there’s the Railrider Mountain Coaster, a kilometre-long track down the mountain slope that is somewhat like a roller coaster except that you get your own car and can control how fast or slow to go. An automatic braking system assures that you don’t go flying off the rails or ram into another car. The craziest option is the Giant Canyon Swing. You’re fitted with a harness and then free-fall over the canyon edge on the end of a cable that swings you from side to side across the canyon.
The park has a quieter side as well, with stunning viewpoints, benches to relax, and a kids’ playground. The large picnic area at the entrance has food and drinks for sale, and there are often live music performances on summer weekends. The Golden Skybridge is a place where you could easily spend several hours.
3 Say Hello to Boo the Grizzly Bear
Boo is one of the Rocky Mountain’s most famous grizzly bears. He is so special that he even has a 20-acre Grizzly Bear Refuge for his personal use. Boo and his brother Cari were born in BC’s Cariboo Mountains 20 years ago. Their mother was shot by a poacher, leaving the two helpless cubs orphaned. Not only were they rescued, but the refuge near Golden was built so they could live in a natural habitat. It would also give researchers a chance to study grizzly bear behaviour.
The Grizzly Bear Refuge is part of the Kicking Horse Mountain Resort near Golden. It is the main ski area in winter, while at other times of the year, visitors take the gondola to go hiking high in the mountains. A separate ski lift travels partway up the mountain to the refuge where you visit Boo (his brother Cari has since died), take a tour of the unique facility, and learn everything you could hope to know about grizzly bears. Check out this posting where we go into a lot more detail on the fascinating story of Boo.
4 Walk on the wild side at the Northern Lights Wolf Centre
Just north of Golden, the Northern Lights Wolf Centre is the place to go for everything wolf-related. The centre’s role is not only to teach visitors about wolves and their behaviour, but also how they fit into the environment as a keystone species. The myth and stigma of the big bad wolf is soon put to rest once visitors understand more about how these apex predators live and behave.
The highlight was taking part in the centre’s Walk with Wolves program. As the name suggests, we went for a walk in the wilderness – with a wolf! Leading us was the centre’s owner, Shelley Black, who brought along a wolf raised in captivity. It was a surreal experience wandering through the forest and along a creek valley with this iconic symbol of the wild at such close quarters. This was one of the coolest experiences we have had anywhere, so we will be following up with a more detailed article before long.
5 Take a side trip to Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park is about 78 km west of Golden along the Trans-Canada Highway. As the name suggests, it’s a wild land of glaciers and stunning mountain scenery. What we found especially intriguing was the intensely green old-growth rainforest at such a high altitude.
The park is also home to Rogers Pass, which played an important role in the building of the CPR and later in the completion of the Trans-Canada Highway. The Rogers Pass Discovery Centre was named the best national park museum in Canada by Explore magazine.
The park offers some incredible hiking possibilities, everything from ambitious treks to easy short walks. One short hike we especially liked was the Meeting of Waters, a 3.3 km loop starting near the Illecillewaet Campground which, by the way, is a beautiful place to camp. The trail took us past the confluence of Asulkan Brook and the Illecillewaet River where nicely-situated Parks Canada red chairs overlook the powerful white water.
Another pleasant short walk is to Bear Creek Falls. It’s almost next to the Trans-Canada Highway, about 9 km east of Rogers Pass. Only one km return, the trail descends 95 metres to the falls. Most of the steep sections are on stairs, so it is a relatively easy walk. Expect a bit of huffing and puffing on the walk back up.
6 Take a side trip to Yoho National Park
Yoho National Park is the closest national park to Golden, about 50 km east along the Trans-Canada Highway. The biggest news here is the rebuild of the Trans-Canada Highway through Kicking Horse Canyon which is between Golden and the park. This is one of the most rugged sections of the highway which for many years had a slow and narrow two-lane road. A massive construction project has been taking place over the past few years, replacing it with a modern four-lane thoroughfare all the way from Golden to Yoho. There were plenty of disruptions, closures, and long detours during construction, but it is now nearing completion. During our trip this fall, it was a pleasure to drive with only a few minor slow-downs as final improvements were being made.
The name says it all. Yoho is a Cree word expressing awe and wonder. While that may describe many places in the Rocky Mountains, things here seem cranked up another notch, with 28 peaks soaring over 3,000 metres, raging rivers and waterfalls galore, and postcard views at every turn.
Some of the many highlights include 254-metre high Takakkaw Falls, the highest falls in the Rockies and among the highest in Canada. Emerald Lake, as the name suggests, is a dazzling bluish-green colour set against an awesome backdrop of high peaks. At the Natural Bridge, the powerful swirling action of the Kicking Horse River has carved its way right through solid rock. These are only a few of the many highlights. For a more detailed look at what makes this park special, see our article on The Best of Yoho National Park.
7 Drive Highway 95 to Radium Hot Springs and Kootenay National Park
Just over 100 km south of Golden is Radium Hot Springs and the southern entrance to Kootenay National Park. But half the fun is getting there. Highway 95 heads southeast, following the scenic Columbia River Valley. Along the way, we pass by the wildlife-rich Columbia River Wetlands, considered one of the largest undisturbed wetland ecosystems in North America.
We also pass the turnoff to see the World’s Largest Paddle, recognized as such by the Guinness World Records. Built entirely of wood, it is 18.5 metres or close to 61 feet long. The turnoff sign is easy to miss, however. Watch for it just south of the Columbia Wetlands Outpost on the east side of the highway.
Radium Hot Springs is both the name of the town and the name of the popular hot pools set in a stunning cliff-side landscape. From here Highway 93 heads north through Kootenay National Park. It’s a land of grand vistas, valleys and canyons, waterfalls, glacial rivers, and great hiking. Then there are the wild colours in places such as the Paint Pots where ochre beds are wild shades of yellow, orange, and red. For a more comprehensive look, see our article Why You Should Visit Kootenay National Park.
Highway 93 meets up with Banff National Park after crossing the continental divide which also marks the border between BC and Alberta. The highway ends at Castle Junction, where it meets the Trans-Canada Highway about halfway between Banff and Lake Louise. An excellent loop trip packed with scenic vistas, known as the Golden Triangle, is to travel this route from Golden to Radium Hot Springs and then to Castle Junction. From here, head west back to Golden by way of Lake Louise and Yoho National Park.
8 Check out some of the lesser-known natural areas
While the famous national parks are the most obvious places to visit near Golden, don’t overlook many of the nearby provincial parks, recreation sites, wildlife areas, and scenic backroads. One place we especially enjoyed was Waitabit Creek, less than a half-hour north of Golden and only a couple of kilometres off the Trans-Canada Highway. The creek is a popular spot for fly fishing and there is a small campground with basic facilities. Best news of all – the campground is free!
These are certainly not all of the attractions in and around Golden. For a comprehensive run-down visit the Tourism Golden website. Here you will also find details on places to eat and the wide array of accommodations from hotels and motels to lodges, hostels, B&Bs, and campgrounds. Since Golden is so close to the national parks, many visitors prefer to stay here because accommodation prices aren’t as high as staying inside the parks.