Cycling+ Bikepacking

From a cycling perspective, exploring the remains of the Kettle Valley Railway (KVR) can be broken into sections between major centres:

  1. Hope to Brookmere (Coquihalla)
  2. Merritt Subdivision
  3. Brookmere to Princeton
  4. Princeton to Penticton
  5. Osoyoos Spur
  6. Penticton to Kelowna
  7. Kelowna to Midway

After Midway, the Columbia & Western railway begins and this goes all the way to Castlegar (and Beyond).

1 Hope to Brookmere

This section of the KVR is the most damaged as it was built through the treacherous Coquihalla Summits. Some incredible history and relics can be found in this area but exploring by bicycle isn’t the easiest. That is, except for the beginning. There is a beautiful trail from Hope to the Othello Tunnels. It is less than 5km long so the biking is around an hour round trip. Unfortunately the Othello Tunnels (when approaching from Hope) is usually blocked off. It was double blocked off after there was huge damage from in late 2021. That didn’t stop us from finding a way in and surveying the damage in early 2022:

Othello Tunnels – Surveying the damage in early 2022

Othello Tunnels (when open to public) are likely the most popular and stunning attraction for visitors to Hope. The tunnels are most often visited on foot and there is parking at the north end (accessed via Othello Rd).

Othello Tunnels

Moving on from Othello Tunnels, there isn’t much to see as most of the old railway route is under the Coquihalla Highway. The next interesting spot is best visited as a short hike off the highway – Ladner Trestle:

Exploring the amazing Ladner Trestle

Inching up elevation toward Brookmere, we finally enter the Coquihalla Subdivision. Starting at Portia station, the route finally diverts off the highway (ie, isn’t under the highway anymore). The route north from Portia Station to Coquihalla station was chosen as the route for the Trans-mountain Pipeline and there is a service road that parallels the KVR. Since most of the railway right of way has been destroyed, travelling on the pipeline service road is the way to go. It’s possible to explore bits of the KVR along the way. From Portia north, there are such gems as the Iago snow shed, Iago tunnel and hole in the wall falls.

Exploring the KVR Coquihalla Summits from Portia Station North

Continuing north there are a lot of interesting tunnels (mostly collapsed) and tons of interesting waterfalls. Exploring the history around here is fascinating – a truly monumental task to try and build anything through this pass.

Exploring partially collapsed tunnels of the KVR in the Coquihalla area
Exploring the KVR Coquihalla Summits from Coquihalla Station South

Much of the Coquihalla KVR is directly beside or underneath the Coquihalla highway. At Brodie station, the route veers off toward Brookmere. Navigating this section now requires some effort as devastating fires and floods hit the area in 2021.

2 Merritt Subdivision

Brodie Station sits 6.4km from Brookmere and was a junction point between routes. It was possible to head north along the Merritt Subdivision from here. When the winter became too fierce, trains could be diverted north to avoid the Coquihalla Summits. Later when the Coquihalla Subdivision closed, this became the main route.

The first section north of Brodie Station features a number of bridges over the coldwater river. A couple of these have been removed or destroyed due to the 2021 fires + flooding.

Burned bridge over the Coldwater River

Not much remains of the Merritt Subdivision but there are some notable features worth exploring like the Clapperton Tunnel:

Clapperon Tunnel on a long forgotten section of KVR

3 Brookmere to Princeton

Brookmere water tower

Traditionally this is finally the section of trail where some good cycling can begin. Unfortunately in late 2021, this section took a beating (especially from Coalmont to Princeton). It is still navigable for the adventure biker who doesn’t mind fording a river or climbing up an embankment. Coalmont Road parallels most of this section and is a viable alternative for those who tire of the rugged KVR route.

Starting in Brookmere and heading toward Princeton the ride gets wild pretty quick. Most of it is clear but there some serious sections of bushwhacking and route-finding. After a couple of hours though, the route crosses Coalmont road and then all options become easier. From Thalia Station all the way to Coalmont the route is pretty straightforward and bikable.

Cycling past Otter Lake

It is honestly not even worth trying the section of KVR from Coalmont to Princeton. The river has washed away so much of the route that it is downright dangerous to even try. Unlike other sections of poor track, there are often no bypasses at all available.

The following video documents the Princeton to Brookmere destruction (Summer 2022, shortly after the devestation).

Assessing the damage – Princeton to Brookmere

4 Princeton To Penticton

Finally, a portion of trail that is cyclable! This section isn’t the most exciting but there are some highlights along the route. One section of the track near Summerland actually still has track! (and train!). For special events it’s possible to ride the old steam train (for cycling there is a nearby bypass).

Cycling the KVR on either side of Princeton

For those that can spot it, there is still an old train car parked on the tracks near Summerland – visit at your own risk!

Exploring an old abandoned train car still parked on old track of the KVR
Cycling the Summerland to Princeton route

This is a tangent but the KVR did branch off at Penticton and head south through OK Falls and Oliver to Osoyoos. Sections of this are very cyclable and fantastic including Skaha Lake and the International Hike + Bike Trail.

KVR South Spur

5 Penticton to Kelowna

This section of KVR is hands down the most popular for cyclists. The route through Naramata is breathtaking and the Kelowna Trestles section through Myra Canyon is the best section of the KVR to visit on the entire route. Everything in the middle is quite mundane but visiting Chute Lake in the middle can make it worth the journey.

The route is usually cycled from Kelowna to Penticton as there is a gentle decline the whole way. This makes the 80kms doable in a half day. For families, the option of stopping half way to camp or cabin at Chute Lake is an option. Note that Kelowna isn’t actually on the KVR making logistics a bit difficult to end or start at the trestles and continue on to Penticton or Rock Creek.

KVR Route Trestles to Chute Lake
Trestles through Myra Canyon
Myra Canyon Tunnel

7 Kelowna to Midway

This section of the trail is very bikable but also the least visited of all the (bikable) sections. There aren’t the glamorous tunnels and trestles which makes the route a bit lacklustre (even moreso after coming down from Myra Canyon).

Note also that Kelowna is not actually on the KVR which makes logistics a bit challenging (the KVR is 1/2 hour drive away and 800m up the mountainside).

Scenic canyon along the KVR near Westbridge
Cycling north of Rock Creek

The KVR section near Midway is the most visited and a lot of the action is around the Kettle Valley River. A popular campground in that area is worth visiting on this leg of the trail.

KVR through the Kettle Valley Recreation Area