Scenic Drive: Highway 3A Along Kootenay Lake

To travel between the East Kootenays and Nelson, you have two options. One is to follow Highway 3 east from Creston to the town of Salmo, where you pick up Highway 6 north. A scenic alternative, Highway 3A, takes you north from Creston along the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake.

Glossy water of Kootenay Lake.
Kootenay Lake. Photo © Mari Smith, Flickr/CC-BY.

Allow plenty of time to meander along this winding road to enjoy the views across the lake to the mountains beyond. One of the largest lakes in B.C., Kootenay Lake is 67 miles (108 kilometers) long, and at its widest point, it’s three miles (4 kilometers) across. From Creston north to Kootenay Bay, it’s just 50 miles (80 kilometers), but even without stopping, the drive will take at least 90 minutes.

The most unusual sight along Highway 3A is a former funeral director’s home. David H. Brown built The Glass House (11341 Hwy. 3A, Boswell, 250/223-8372, 9am-4pm daily May-June and Sept.-Oct., 8am-7pm daily July-Aug., by appointment Nov.-Apr., adults $10, ages 13-17 $8, ages 6-12 $5) in the 1950s, constructing its walls from more than 500,000 empty embalming fluid bottles. Brown apparently felt there should be a practical use for this funeral industry byproduct; he collected discarded bottles from colleagues in the funeral business across western Canada. Guided tours of Brown’s 1,200-square-foot (111-square-meter) home and the surrounding gardens overlooking Kootenay Lake 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Creston tell you about its construction and its unique story.

Another stop to make along Highway 3A is in the village of Crawford Bay, where you can visit studios and galleries of several artists and artisans, including a blacksmith, a broom maker, and a glassblower. Crawford Bay is 47 miles (76 kilometers) north of Creston.

The Kootenay Lake Ferry approaches the dock.
The 35-minute ferry bills itself as “the longest free ferry ride in the world”—who knew? Photo © Brian A. , Flickr/CC-BY.

To cross Kootenay Lake and turn west toward Nelson, take the free Kootenay Lake Ferry (250/229-4215, 7:10am-10:20pm daily) from Kootenay Bay on the lake’s eastern shore across to Balfour on the west. The 35-minute ferry bills itself as “the longest free ferry ride in the world”—who knew? Note, especially if you’re coming from the east, that the ferry operates on Pacific time, one hour earlier than Alberta and the East Kootenays.

Carolyn B. Heller

About the Author

A travel writer based in Vancouver, Canada, Carolyn B. Heller has celebrated spring in the Canadian Arctic, swapped fairy tales with a Druze family in the Golan Heights, studied Spanish in Ecuador and Costa Rica, and road tripped throughout North America. She writes about cultural, culinary, and offbeat adventures for Travel + Leisure, Atlas Obscura, Verge Magazine, Explore, The Takeout, Roads & KingdomsMontecristo, Canadian Traveller, and many other publications. And she’s the author of three Moon guidebooks: Moon Vancouver, Moon Toronto and Ontario, and Moon Vancouver and Canadian Rockies Road Trip.

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