Revelstoke, BC Shamrock Tour®: The Unexpected Motorcycling Mecca

Text: Robert Smith • Photography: Robert Smith, Thom Tischik, Bevin Jones

To many drivers, Revelstoke is just a stopover between Vancouver and Calgary. But for motorcyclists, the Kootenay-Columbia region around the city contains some of British Columbia’s best highways and byways, from sublime cruising to cuss-word challenging.

Salmon River Raid

It’s a brisk June morning when my buddy Bevin Jones and I spin east out of the Vancouver suburbs on the Trans-Canada Highway. We turn north on the Coquihalla Highway and head toward the cowboy town of Merritt. I’m riding a 2015 Triumph Tiger 800 XCx, the most multi-surface capable in the Tiger range; Bevin is on his trusty Suzuki DL650 V-Strom. I switch on the cruise control and marvel at how smoothly, quietly, and effortlessly the Tiger eats up the miles.

We’ve left the dense cedar forests of the British Columbia coast behind. Turning onto B.C. Highway 5A, we track its narrow, weaving ribbon of tarmac past Douglas Lake Ranch—the largest working cattle ranch in Canada—through the time-warped, timber–fronted village of Quilchena and across rolling plains to Kamloops, where we rejoin the Trans-Canada. East of Kamloops we turn onto Barnhartvale Road, rambling over arid ranchland under the warm afternoon sun before winding through scrappy stands of pine to the junction with B.C. Highway 97on our way to Westwold.

I remember the Country Christmas Store in Westwold from previous visits. A bizarre conglomeration of barns with an attached restaurant, it was circled by rusting hulks of vintage cars. But it’s no longer there, replaced by a formulaic Route 97 Diner, complete with an Elvis cardboard cutout and jukebox. Their ice cream is welcome, though, in the heat of the afternoon.

We continue south to Historic O’Keefe Ranch, a theme park that recreates the cattle ranching lifestyle of the 1850s. Just north is Armstrong, which overlooks the broad, bucolic meadows of the Spallumcheen Valley. We stop to admire the defunct Shuswap and Okanagan Railway’s nicely preserved station then seek out Salmon River Road, which will take us to Salmon Arm.

Wooded valleys open into farmland as the road meanders along the river’s twisting path. Beyond rolling fields of grain, we turn right just south of Salmon Arm to connect with 97B toward Grindrod, where we turn north again on 97A. This is today’s treat: a seemingly endless string of sweeping curves and light traffic as 97A tracks the eastern shore of Mara Lake, rejoining the Trans-Canada in Sicamous.

The route follows the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) east from here, and we take a break from dicing with the 18-wheelers to check out Craigellachie Station. Here, on November 7, 1885, CPR financier Donald Smith drove in the last spike, signaling the completion of the railroad. Following this is one of the prettiest stretches of the Trans-Canada. As it climbs through the Monashee Mountains, thick forests crowd the route, which tracks the rushing Eagle River upstream. 

We cross the Columbia River Bridge into Revelstoke and check into Regent Hotel, our home for the next four days; then we head for the patio of the hotel’s River City Pub for a refreshing pint of Mt. Begbie Brewing’s Easy Hopper ISA.

Dam Weather

Rain is in the forecast for the next day, so we take the fully paved B.C. Highway 23 to Mica Dam. It’s one of more than 60 dams in the Columbia River watershed, and one of the largest in British Columbia. The headwaters of the river are 120 miles southeast of Revelstoke in the Rocky Mountain Trench, but its tortuous course takes it 200 miles north to Kinbasket Lake, the dam’s reservoir, before turning south for Washington state. There are no gas stations on the road, and without knowing the full range of the Tiger, I decide to carry an extra can. Bevin is confident his V-Strom will make the distance.

It’s dry when we head out of Revelstoke, but a heavy overcast is threatening. The impeccably maintained two-lane tracks the valley between the Monashee and Selkirk Mountains. Forests shadow the Columbia, which is broad and full. And while the highway poses few challenges (apart from thundering transport trucks that seem to double the 50 mph speed limit), the scenery, with the Monashees’ snowy peaks hovering over the trees, is magnificent. There’s really only one major crook where the road curves around a spur in the river at Big Bend. Apart from a campground, there’s no habitation until the Mica Creek townsite near the dam.

As we approach Mica Creek, the clouds unload their cargo in a spectacular downpour. It’s brief but saturating—though inside my REV’IT! suit I’m snug and dry. The day’s journey rewards us with a dramatic view from atop the dam. And, yes: the Tiger did make it back to the hotel—though the low fuel light burned bright!

Kootenay Lakeside

The Columbia runs from Revelstoke into the Arrow Lakes, where, 30 miles south, the Shelter Bay-Galena Bay ferry drops us off in the Kootenay region. Most traffic turns right to follow B.C. Highways 23 and 6 to Nelson and Castlegar. We turn left…

Classified as a provincial highway, 31 is a gravel-and-hardpan road for much of the 100 miles between the ferry turnoff and the lakefront town of Kaslo. It’s been on my “must-do” list for a while, but I’ve never had the opportunity to ride it on suitable hardware. The first few miles are two-lane, but closer to Trout Lake the pavement ends and it’s quite slippery in places, with accumulations of sand and small rocks. Soon the surface thins out and we’re able to roll a little faster—still, we’re cautious of “marbles” in the turns.

It’s an idyllic ride: cruising by river and lakesides at the forest’s edge. And while a few spots of rain fall, it’s not enough to muddy the dirt surface. By Meadow Creek we’re back on tarmac for a spirited ride on the serpentine shoreline from Kootenay Lake to Kaslo.

Silver was discovered here in the 1880s. Ore was loaded onto sternwheelers and shipped down the lake either to the smelter in Nelson, B.C., or to Spokane, WA. Moored in Kaslo is the Moyie, the last surviving sternwheeler. I’ve planned a pot pie lunch at the best restaurant in town, the Rosewood Café.

Kaslo’s other main treat is 31A, which connects to New Denver on Slocan Lake. It’s a rollicking ride, winding along the Kalso River to the pass at Retallack, then down through more sinuous twisties into town. The Tiger frolics through the turns, leaning outrageously while soaking up the occasional pothole and frost heave.

We sidetrack to the ghost town of Sandon, the site of one of the biggest silver mines of the 1890s. Its powerhouse, British Columbia’s oldest hydroelectric utility, is still in operation, the 1898 Westinghouse generator driven by the waters of Carpenter Creek. The nearby Sandon Museum invites visitors to learn more.

The Road Less Traveled

The next morning, we’re joined by Revelstoke’s tourism supremo, Thom Tischik, and Jo Breckman of Rocky Mountain Moto Adventures. They’re both interested in checking out our route for the day. We’ll follow the Trans-Canada west to Three Valley then take logging roads south to Lumby in the Okanagan Valley via Mabel Lake. Climbing Monashee Pass to the Needles ferry, we’ll head back to Revelstoke on 6 and 23.

Before we leave the Trans-Canada, I select the Tiger’s Off-Road mode, which reduces traction control to suit the loose surface and limits power output. It also turns off the rear wheel’s ABS for better braking control. The first dozen miles on Wap Lake Forest Service Road from Three Valley are grindingly slow, as the rough two-track is sprayed with gravel to help the log trucks get traction when it’s wet. Trucks have piled the gravel in the turns and chewed the straights into washboard. I’m easily able to control the Tiger’s speed; throttle transitions are smooth, while the engine has plenty of low-end grunt.

Near Wap Lake, the terrain flattens; there are fewer turns and the loose dirt becomes smoother, the glassy lake flickering between the trees as we ride by. The Tiger performs impeccably, feeling steady and controllable even on the rockier roads. Some other big dual sport bikes feel heavy at the front, wanting to plough in, but the Tiger is light-footed and nimble. We see just two other vehicles: an empty log truck forces us to pull off, and a speeding pickup leaves us in a heavy dust cloud. Then we’re back on tarmac, swinging past Mabel Lake Resort and across open fields toward Lumby.

We turn east on 6, considered one of the best motorcycling roads in B.C. It offers almost every riding experience: fast sweepers and hairpins on the climb to Monashee Pass; a long, sweet series of tight turns on the descent; and a speedometer-tempting four-lane down to Arrow Lakes. It doesn’t get much better than this, and in On Road mode the Tiger is imperturbable as it romps over the varied terrain.

The ten-minute cable ferry trip, like all inland waterway crossings in British Columbia, is free. Six continues north to the lakeside resort of Nakusp where we collect 23 again to the Galena ferry. Like all the roads we’ve traveled today, there’s almost no traffic.

Unfinished Business

I ride west on the Trans-Canada past Shuswap Lake to Kamloops before turning south for home. Though always well trafficked, the highway here provides extraordinary vistas of the mountain-framed lake, which turns azure blue beneath the sun. Just as I pass Three Valley Gap, the clouds open again, and though the rain ceases by Salmon Arm, the lake reflects the sky’s leaden color.

It’s been a rewarding week: many familiar favorite routes, and some new challenges, all in the idyllic setting of the Kootenay-Columbia region around Revelstoke. And the Tiger …? I like to think of it as a Magic Carpet: It handled every kind of road with aplomb, smoothing out the rough and scampering over tarmac at indecent speeds. Revelstoke is the perfect stepping-off point for rides into the Canadian Rockies just two hours east, and for exploring the sinuous backroads and dramatic scenery of the Kootenay region to the south. Four days just isn’t enough! 

RoadFOOD: The Hut

The small tourist town of Nakusp on Upper Arrow Lake has several excellent cafes, but my favorite is The Hut, an old-style drive-in serving succulent burgers, creamy milkshakes, and hand-cut fries. In continuous operation for 45 years, The Hut’s hours vary by season and its 25 milkshake flavors include piña colada! Find it at 98 Broadway St W, Nakusp, BC, (250) 265-4655.

LODGING: Regent Hotel

I’ve stayed at the Regent many times over the last 20 years and know I can rely on friendly reception, spotless rooms, and all the amenities of a full-service hotel. Located in the heart of Revelstoke’s historic downtown, it’s close to the pedestrian mall and within walking distance of local restaurants. Or, if you prefer, the hotel’s 112 Restaurant and Lounge offers fine dining on site, and its River City Pub has a range of craft beers, outdoor patios, and an extensive bar menu. Its newest edition, Mt. Begbie Breakfast Café, provides a delicious start to your day, serving classic breakfast dishes, inventive omelets, bagels, and fresh fruit and yogurt. Most importantly of all, perhaps—there’s a secluded covered area at the rear of the hotel for motorcycle parking! Find it at 112 1 St E, Revelstoke, BC, (888) 245-5523, 
www.regenthotel.ca.

DESTINATION: Revelstoke, British Columbia

“If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography,” admitted William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s tenth prime minister, in 1936.

When, in 1871, British Columbia agreed to confederation with the rest of Canada, it was promised a railroad connecting the west coast to eastern cities 3,000 miles away. But Canada’s “geography” (especially the Rockies) almost defeated the builders of the Canadian Pacific. In 1885, with the line incomplete and the company nearly bankrupt, a group of Scottish investors led by Lord Revelstoke came up with the necessary funds, and the town of Farwell was renamed in his honor. The first trans-continental CP train left Montreal for Port Moody, B.C., on June 28, 1886. 

In the steam years, Canadian Pacific added an extra locomotive in Revelstoke for the long climb to 4,360-foot Rogers Pass in the Selkirk Mountains. With the coming of more powerful diesels, this was unnecessary, and Revelstoke lost much of its purpose. So the city fathers revitalized the downtown, and with the opening of nearby ski hills it reinvented itself as a tourist destination. 

Located on the banks of the Columbia River and nestled between the Monashee and Purcell Mountains, Revelstoke is great for every kind of outdoor activity, from cycling to skiing, but especially for motorcycling. It’s surrounded by mountainous adventure roads, and is just 150 miles from the amazing Icefields Parkway in the Rockies. The well-groomed town center is the perfect place for an evening stroll, with live street entertainment, bustling bars, and outdoor restaurants. www.seerevelstoke.com