The Kootenays are a large region in British Columbia Canada. This area begins at the Alberta Border and extends west to the Monashee range of the Columbia Mountains. The area is famed for its laid-back lifestyle and endless outdoor adventure opportunities.
The name is derived from the Ktunaxa First Nation's quthni, meaning "to travel by water", and indeed this is how the region was explored before the railway arrived. Exploration by river and lake, and commerce facilitated by the large sternwheelers that plied the many large lakes emphasize this point. Virtually untouched until the gold and silver rushes of the mid-1800s, a few settlers who fell in love with the area remained after the fortunes faded, and provided the roots for the communities as they exist today.
In the early days of British Columbia the Kootenays were geographically isolated from the rest of the province. The Canadian Pacific Railway built the Kettle Valley Railway to link the area to Vancouver, and also to waylay any plans of US annexation, an area the Kootenays had stronger physical ties to at the time. The Crowsnest Highway which bisects the region was completed in 1949, further solidifying the link to the rest of the province.
The Kootenays are comprised of several roughly north-south mountain ranges and the valleys between. From east to west there are the Rocky Mountains, Purcell Mountains, and the Selkirk and Monashee ranges of the Columbia Mountains. There are also several very large lakes in this area, the largest of which were formed by hydroelectric dams. Lake Koocanusa, which gets its clever name for the fact it stretches across the international border, was formed by the Libby Dam in Idaho. Kootenay Lake which is about 100km long with a 35km western extension to the town of Nelson is a natural lake, though the southern floodplains were diked to reclaim agricultural land. Arrow Lake, (which is divided into north and south portions at the Needles-Fauquier ferry) is almost 200km long, stretching from Revelstoke to Castlegar. It was formed by the Keenlyside Dam.
Today, this area is comprised of many small towns, and as with most of British Columbia, this area favors travellers looking for natural beauty and outdoor adventure, rather than cosmopolitan cities. It is particularly renowned for alpine skiing, due to the large amounts of snow the area receives, with several large lift-accessed resorts and a booming cat skiing industry.
The climate is generally warm and sunny in the summer, and cold and snowy in the winter. Winter driving conditions can be treacherous at times, so do take caution.
The de facto language in this area is English. It might be possible to get official services in French. Signage is bilingual in national parks.
There are only two major airports serving the area, Castlegar in the west and Cranbrook/Canadian Rockies International Airport in the east. Castlegar only serves to Vancouver and Calgary on Air Canada Jazz, and Cranbrook serves to Vancouver and Calgary on Pacific Coastal Airlines and Air Canada Jazz, with Pacific Coastal offering service to Kelowna as well. The other major airports that people use to get in and out of the area are Spokane in Washington, and Calgary in Alberta.
The only practical method for touring this area is by road. Car rentals will be available in all major cities. The area is served by an extensive highway network. The Crowsnest Highway (3) is the major east-west route, traversing the area from the Alberta border to the Okanagan. Highway 6 links the area to the North Okanagan in Vernon, and the Trans-Canada Highway passes through this area from Revelstoke to the Alberta border. North-south routes include Highway 23 which links Revelstoke to Highway 6 in Nakusp, and Highway 95 which links Golden to Cranbrook, and the US border farther south.
Greyhound offers coach service to all but the most remote communities in this region.
As with most areas in Canada, there is no real specialty or localized cuisine. It is possible to find food from almost any ethnic background in most communities.
One of Canada's favorite beers Kokanee is brewed exclusivly in Creston. It would be remiss to visit the area and not try a bottle. There are tours of the brewery available as well. The City of Nelson has its own brewery, The Nelson Brewing Company.)