Hitting the Rapids
My husband and I are all set to explore Valemount over the next two days. Our weekend itinerary is jam-packed with adventure, treats, and of course a visit to the local brewery. Follow along on our Valemount Road Trip Notes.
Wanting to get the most out of every minute of our trip we start off on a rafting trip with Mount Robson White Water Rafting. The raft base is a short drive from Valemount, on the way to Mount Robson. As we careen down the highway, spirits high, we turn the corner to face the monstrous Mount Robson.
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We continue on and pull up to the reception where we are met by Terry and Tatjiana, the father-daughter duo running the show. They both wear welcoming smiles and give us a quick rundown before pointing us in the direction of the guides. It becomes even more clear that family focus is central to this business as we listen to the guides banter back and forth as if they have known each other for years.
We’re each handed a wetsuit that doesn’t leave much to the imagination, as well as the required safety gear. The safety talk almost has me feeling more nervous than before, but my husband, Kyle, encourages me.
“Now that we’ve covered all of that it’s time to have some fun,” our guide exclaims and I relax a little.
We give the two teenage sisters who are on the excursion with us the front row and carefully step onto the raft, paddle in hand. The beginning of the raft trip is a gentle section, in which our guide uses the opportunity to test our ability to follow directions with some simple paddle commands.
As we approach our first class 2 rapid I feel my heartbeat quicken and plant my feet impossibly deep into the foot cups meant to hold us in the raft. We paddle into the rapids as the shockingly cold waters of the Fraser River splash onto our faces and over our bodies. I can’t help but laugh at myself for being nervous about something so fun. Kyle looks over with a big grin on his face and everybody in the boat cheers.
We approach a few more rapids in a similar fashion before paddling to shore. Here is where the real work begins. We’ve made it to Rearguard Falls, a class 5 rapid that isn’t commercially run. To complete the trip we have to haul the raft up a roughly trodden trail to where our guides will lower it down a steep embankment to the bottom of the Falls. Once the raft is back in the mighty Fraser, we climb in again, feeling ready to tackle the rest of the river. Our guide calls the command and we enthusiastically press our paddles into the water. He has to shout to be heard over the soft roar of the waterfall. Each stroke brings us closer to the base of the waterfall, before the rapids continue to carry us downstream.
The jewel hues of the water glisten in the morning sun. I look up just in time to catch a bald eagle soar above us. Its massive wingspan is captivating, and my eyes follow it down the canyon until I lose sight of it.
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After rafting we take a quick detour to stop at the majestic Mount Robson. At 3,954 metres, its claim to fame is that it is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies. The top of the mountain is covered with clouds, but it’s still a sight to behold. At such a height, it’s rare to catch sight of the whole mountain. Clouds often envelop themselves around the top.
By now, we’ve worked up quite an appetite so we head back to town for lunch at the Gathering Tree. The low clouds have lifted higher in the sky and spaced themselves, giving room for the sun to make an appearance. Originally, I had planned to grab a hot drink to warm up after rafting, but I decide to order an iced vanilla latte to go with my sandwich and salad. Kyle grabs a wrap and we head out to the patio to enjoy our lunch. Half of the outdoor seating is tucked between two patios, creating a private little garden. Out front are a few more tables and a brightly coloured rainbow bench, marking a welcoming space for all.
Three Ranges Brewing sits just next door, as if taunting us, but it doesn’t open for a couple more hours. Thankfully, our lunch is satisfying and the calm atmosphere is a perfect complement to a busy morning.
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Kyle and I drive over to the Best Western for a little downtime before dinner. Walking into the hotel lobby, it’s hard to not be enchanted by the space. The lounge is tastefully decorated with log accents, a large fireplace and lush foliage. A wall of windows faces the well-manicured lawns and forest.
It doesn’t take much to convince me to hit up the hot tub, so we head down to the pool. Once again, I am impressed with another wall of windows facing the forest. The clever use of windows gives the illusion of an outdoor facility. Forever young, Kyle can’t help but race up the stairs to the bright yellow water slide. He is all smiles as he careens down the slide and into the pool with enough force to splash all bystanders.
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Now it’s time for the moment we’ve been waiting for: Three Ranges Brewing. That beautiful golden light is hitting the brewery and all its patrons. Walking up to Three Ranges, it’s apparent what a bike community Valemount has become. An assortment of mountain bikes are perfectly lined up along the bike stand, and there are several tables of people in bike gear with huge smiles on their faces. Excited conversations about favourite trails drift throughout the outdoor patio.
I had phoned ahead to mention we were coming so I am happy to see Michael, the general manager and co-founder, greet us as we walk up. We take a minute to chat about the brewery and its origins. Three Ranges derived its name from Michael and his wife Rundi’s creative approach to market the unique valley it sits in and the three surrounding mountain ranges: the Rockies, the Cariboos, and the Monashees. The brewery was opened in 2013, after they fell in love with Valemount and decided to make it their forever home. Thanks to some encouragement from his wife, Michael combined his passion for beer with entrepreneurial spirit and took on the challenge of opening a brewery in a town of just 1,000 people. Despite some adversity, they persevered and it has now become the thriving hotspot it is today.
It’s difficult to pick a beverage since there is so much variety, but I finally settle on a Passionfruit Saison while my husband grabs a Ram’s Head Amber Ale. Beers brewed with fruit tasting notes are often an acquired taste, but the saison immediately captures my attention. It has a distinct taste of exotic passionfruit, but it’s not overwhelming. Three Ranges has achieved a perfect balance. The only bad thing about it is the fact that it’s a seasonal beer. I can tell that Kyle likes his Amber Ale by the rate it’s disappearing from his glass.
An assortment of cute pups are sprinkled throughout the seating area keeping their owners company. There are also a few kids munching on snacks from the two nearby food venues: a food truck and a traditional Italian pizzeria. Being a parent and dog mum myself, I appreciate that the patio is child- and dog-friendly, and love that the brewery encourages people to bring food from local restaurants over.
A couple of our friends meet up with us and we enjoy those last few hours of sunlight on the patio. I want to soak up every last ray of sunshine before the cooler winds of autumn and shorter days of winter set in. The sun starts to dip low in the sky, embracing the jagged mountaintops, so we take that as our cue to head for dinner.
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The community of Valemount has a small urban footprint. Most of the businesses are accessible by biking or walking. The downtown core is split into two main streets: on 5th Avenue there are several different restaurants and essential services, while across the tracks lies the other main street with a couple of cafes, the library, a few other businesses, and access to the bike park. Almost exactly where the two meet is “The Caribou Grill,” our next destination. The building is a sight to see with its beautiful log craftsmanship and stone masonry. The soft glow of the lights is a warm welcome. We walk up the steps to the news that it’ll be a bit of a wait before a table opens up so the hostess takes us out onto the patio to peek at the menu and offers us beverages.
By the time a table becomes available for us, I have already decided on the “chicken briejon,” a combination of chicken, brie cheese, diced tomatoes and spinach. The menu has a decent amount of vegetarian choices as well, but Kyle has his eyes set on the house special — a local take on the surf and turf. Our waitress is pleasant and attentive despite the packed restaurant, and inquires about our day while she delivers some bread to the table. The cheese bread is divine and I know I’ll be coming back another day for more.
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Our meals look even better in person than I had imagined. My stuffed baked potato and veggies smothered in cheese and paired with chicken is the perfect comfort meal after a busy day. By the time we have finished our meals, I’m disheartened because I don’t have any room for dessert. The restaurant is nearly empty by now so we pack it in to get a good night’s rest before our horseback riding adventure the next day.
Exploring on Horseback
In almost every business we’ve entered, we’ve managed to chat with the owners who are all working behind the counter. It’s refreshing to see the connection between these small businesses and the entrepreneurs behind them.
In the morning, our first stop is Vale Coffee, one of the newer additions to town. The modern decor is in stark contrast from the rustic buildings we’ve visited. I get the feeling I’ve been transported to a hip downtown coffee shop in the city but with all the cordiality of a small town. Behind the counter two of the four owners are slinging coffees and making conversation with the regulars who are picking up their freshly roasted beans or a social Saturday morning coffee. I can’t help but notice that they know most visitors by name. I also spy a playpen and a ridiculously cute baby girl contentedly watching them at work.
I stare through the glass encasement trying to pick between sweet and savoury, vegetarian or bacon. After some deliberation, I choose a rich-looking breakfast pie. Kyle goes for the mince and cheese pie. I’ve heard tales that the meat pies are the closest thing to an Aussie pie you can get on this side of the world. I suppose that would make sense considering one of the owners is originally from New Zealand.
We head to the picnic table out front to enjoy our lattes and breakfast. I sideways glance at Kyle for grabbing a meat pie for breakfast, but hey, we’re on vacation, anything goes. The coffee is delicious and our food is amazing. Kyle and I spent a year in Australia in our early 20’s, so Kyle can attest that the meat pies really are that good. I briefly question how it’s even possible to fit so much flavour into my breakfast pie, but decide to just savour it.
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Cowgirl Up Adventures is about a 30-minute drive from town. While Kyle is happy to sit in the driver’s seat, I take the time to admire the panoramic mountain views. The highway carves right through the valley, giving the illusion that the mountain tops are within arm’s reach.
There is no sign leading you off of the Highway; Cowgirl Up Adventures is not the kind of place any tourist could just stumble upon. It’s the kind of place where, if you know where to go, you’ll get there. Driving through the gate, we spy the guides lounging by the horse-pen. The horses are already all geared up.
“Whatever you do, don’t throw the stick,” is the greeting I receive from Katy, the owner, as an energetic dog bounds up to me, stick in mouth. Katy introduces herself and her all-female team, as well as the puppy, Molly. The view from the ranch is incredible. The horses stand majestically in front of an unobstructed view of the Caribou mountain range. A slight chill is in the air, warnings that winter is on its way and a reminder that the weather in the mountains is unpredictable. Thankfully, the sun streams through tiny breaks in the clouds.
Taylor offers to give me a hand onto my designated horse, Whiskey. “It’s not that I’m scared around horses, but I don’t know how to act around them,” I mention. My experience with horses extends to one or two rides, and other than that, the only other time I’ve ridden an animal was a camel in Egypt. Taylor laughs and just tells me “to act natural. Whiskey is a calm, gentle creature that is very difficult to spook.” I hop on him with surprising ease, and await for everyone else to mount.
Kyle is far more confident on his horse, but the commands I was given are simple to remember and I gain confidence with each step. As we begin our trip, my horse tucks behind Taylor’s, and Kyle’s follows closely. Katy and the ranch hand, also by the name of Katie (which made introductions so simple), fall in line at the back.
We tuck off onto a narrow trail into a thick forest. The gentle trod of the horse hooves is incredibly relaxing and I settle into my saddle with gratitude. Light filters through the brush in magical patches. The dog, Molly, follows us, working in such refined synchronicity with the horses. I’m amazed that she doesn’t get caught in their hooves, and the horses don’t seem to mind the company of the spunky little dog.
Katy explains that just the night before they had returned from an 8-day horse packing trip through the Moose River Route with five other women. The Moose is a section of the remote Great Divide Trail with many river crossings that requires excellent route-finding skills. They encountered everything from tree-obscured trails to mornings of snow, despite it still being August. I listen intently to her description of their adventure as we approach our first creek crossing.
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“It’s not uncommon for people to get vertigo while crossing creeks, so make sure to look straight ahead and not at the water,” Taylor calls in warning. The temptation burns inside me, but I do as I’m told and our first creek crossing goes without incident. We travel further down the trail, in and out of dense forest and lush meadows. After a few more creek crossings we enter an old growth forest rich with majestic cedars and lush ferns. Kyle and Katy chat away behind me. My stallion keeps bumping right into Taylor’s horse, but Taylor explains that the two horses have a close relationship, and it doesn’t bother them. She tells me that all the horses they ride commercially at Cowgirl Up Adventures are stallions — they don’t take any of their mares on horseback trips as they tend to have fiery personalities.
The forest starts thinning and we enter the clearing marking the end of our tour. I take a minute to appreciate the expansive views before dismounting. Kyle is walking his horse around the clearing, trying to dissuade it from the appealing pile of hay. Molly runs back in search of her beloved stick and her next victim. We say our goodbyes and rush into town for our final meal at the Swiss Bakery. Though the Swiss Bakery has been around for quite a long time, its previous owners recently retired to Newfoundland, and the current owners have only been in place for a couple of months. The seating area is a beautiful wooden balcony facing Canoe Mountain. Aside from a large selection of breads, the menu consists of all the usual lunch favourites, smoothies, a special baguette sandwich, and yogurt and granola. The menu changes day by day, but the going theme is emphasis on local and organic.
Kyle chooses the lunch special: lasagna made with local grass-fed beef which comes with a locally grown salad, a partnership with a hydroponic growing container new to the valley. The coffee beans are supplied by Vale Coffee roasters, just down the road. I order a sandwich and a smoothie. Last minute, I add a brownie to my order because it looks so good.
The difference in freshness is immediately apparent — my husband’s salad is so delicious that it ends up on my side of the table. We enjoy our lunch on the balcony, watching the travellers filter in and out of the bakery, treats in hand.
We wrap up our trip with our hearts and bellies full. I’m grateful to have been able to enjoy all of these experiences with Kyle, and happy I could connect with some friends new and old at the brewery. Between the two excursions, I managed to experience some incredible adventures varying from adrenaline-filled to a relaxing ride. There is something magical about this corner of the world that really draws one in. The community is full of passionate people doing what they love in a place they love.
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Crystal clear blue skies and our gorgeous snow-capped peaks form the backdrop for your epic and unforgettable vacation. In summer, reel in a rainbow trout, wind through our trails from the saddle of your ATV, or let a horse show you the way — however you decide to travel through our valley, you’re certain to create a memory around every turn.
Whether your ideal winter vacation involves launching yourself down a mountain in search of the freshest, deepest powder, or cutting figure eights into a frozen pond, we have it all right here in Valemount. So get out, let the mountains move you.