We have been going to the Bull River Guest Ranch basically since they first opened. In fact, we were the first tenants in Cabin #3! It had just been build and the German couple who originally built it started the tradition of it being one of the best placed to stay in the wilderness.''
Let me start with the roads in and out. The ranch is on a gravel side road to the east of the main highway. If you are going South, or were in the Cranbrook or Fort Steele area, you will probably enter this road from an entrance just North of the Fort Steele village. There is a gas statio/convenience store, which also has a campground. This is the last place you can buy gas or food, although there are larger facilities in Cranbrook. You will turn onto the highway, and decent a river bank down to the Kootenay River. This is the Wardner-Fort Steele Road. At the bottom of the hill is a bridge over the Kooenay River. We have been going here for over 20 years and between this bridge and the campground there has always been an eagle nest on the hillside.
Cross the bridge and you will be going basically South. The Kootenay River is very close to the highway for the first mile or so, and has split into a continuously changing pattern of shallow channels and rocky islands. This is an excellent place to go fishing, but many people also try their had at gold panning. In fact, this area had one of the earliest and largest gold strikes in the area. I have panned and was rewarded for four hours of work with a lot of gold dust, and a single nugget that weighted almost a quarter ounce. Do be careful if you venture out into the water. While the summer temperature is not objectionably cold (and you might see a bikini clad female fisherwoman), the river water is glacier feed and can be close to freezing even in the middle of the summer. Also, the streams can be fast enough to knock you off your feet even with only shin deep water levels. And most of the rocks are round and smooth and can be extremely slippery.
After passing this area, you will proceed to a Provincial Park called Norbury Lake. This is a small (and warmer) place you can stop at. There is a small beach and boat launch, and a grassy area where some lay out in the sun. There is no running water and only minimal toilets. Fishing here is more for lake fish instead of river fisth.
From the Kootenay River area to Norbury Lake, you will find the road well maintained and through an area with farming and some wooded areas. The views to the East are impressive since there is enough room to actually see a range of mountains.
Soon you get to the Bull River Road. You can tell you are almost there by high tension power lines which cross the Wardner-Fort Steele Road. The Bull River Road runs only to the east. You will now be on gravel highway for the rest of your trip.
There are a few pointers on Gravel Highways. You need to "feel out" the surface of the road, since the gravel shifts around a bit, especially when you turn corners. You often will find that certain portions of the road are smoother than others, and you also often will find that a slight change in speed will accentuate or reduce the bumpiness. Trucks sometimes use this highway, and they should be given the right of way. They also sometimes will sprinkle water on the road to eliminate dust, but what they really do is increase mud. Driving on the mud is totally different than driving on a dry surface. Another thing that is not unusual, especially around sundown is that deer will come out to graze along the road. They sometimes ignore cars and stand or slowly walk across the road.
Proceed down the Bull River Road and while this road does not have spectacular vistas, it still has it's perks. Besides the deer, you will probably see other wildlife along the way. We have seen bears and just about every other animal that lives in the area. You also might find wild flowers along the road. They grow wild in the area.
You will continue on this road as it wiggles around and gradually gains altitude. As you approach the top of this incline, you may notice a large commercial establishment to the left. I don't know if anyone knows exactly what is done here, but satellite pictures show a couple dozen buildings of various sizes and cars parked around them. Someone told me it was a mine.
As you continue you might notice a large water tower like tank to the right. This is part of the BC Hydro development which is a small hydroelectric plant using the Bull River for power. It was recently upgraded and modernized. In the "old days" there was a wooden (Yes, Wooden!) pipe several meters in diameter which conveyed the water from the dam to the hydroelectric plant. The pipe was always leaking and ran above ground adjacent to the road. The renovations included replacing this wooden pipe with a concrete pipe, mostly buried underground.
As you proceed, the road takes a sharp turn to the right, and you will cross the Bull River on a newer bridge. Again, things were a bit different in the "old days". At tat time, the bridge consisted of a few very large logs, each perhaps a meter in diameter, with the tops cut off to make the bridge more or less flat. There were no guardrails and the bridge was narrow. But then like now, there are some interesting views from the bridge. If you are not being followed and there is no traffic coming toward you (the normal condition) you will see to the left the Dam. To the right is a nice areal view of the river, and almost directly under the bridge is a very narrow and rugged section of the river with an almost water falls type arrangement. I have been told that this area, and especially the area around the bridge is used for white-water kayaking, and this is one of the most rugged white water places in North America.
Almost immediately after getting off the bridge you will get to a "Y" in the road. proceed to the right to go to the ranch. If you go to the left, you will follow the Bull River, first along the lake formed behind the dam, but later along miles and miles of river. Eventually, you will get to some point where the road stops, sometimes due to a landslide. But you also might just get to the place were the road actually ends or becomes almost too rugged for even 4 X 4 vehicles. (I forgot to mention that the road I have suggested so far are quite passable with a standard auto. Passing traffic, or truck you follow to closely might throw a rock up and chip the paint or break a windshield.but this is not that common. Still, locals who live in the area often have a cracked windshield or dented body from these rocks.
The road will proceed up hill from the "Y" and you will pass several small lakes. Then before you know it, you will be at the ranch on the left side.
The ranch is laid out on sort of a horseshoe shaped road. Cabins are built on the road and in the center of the horseshoe is the lodge. The lodge is a log cabin with exposed wood beams and a variety of stuffed regional animals and animal heads.
I had mentioned that we were one of the first guests at the ranch. They were building the cabins and the one we were in had just been mostly completed. The owner came around and ask us if we wanted a lock on the door! These had not been installed yet. At the time, the cabins had running water and electric heat, along with a wood stove for heat. There were no TVs, no telephones, and no internet. The ranch was an actual production ranch, and cattle wandered the grounds freely. We woke the first morning to the sound of a cow mooing outside te window. My wife went to take a bath and there was a bat in the bathroom. The owner came out with a broom and chased the bat away. You could go horseback riding, and if somewhat proficient you could team up with the "ranch hands" when the corralled the cattle or moved them from one area to another.
A few years later, they had just build the bunkhouse, and if I remember right, a new house for the owner that also served as an office.
On another trip, they were completing work on the lodge. We were in fact the first people to eat here. The owner arranged for us to have the chief prepare us an anniversary meal, and he found us and ask us what we wanted. He then prepared the meal in the immaculate kitchen and served it to us, timed perfectly so as each course was completed the next was presented. It was a real thrill and a wonderful experience. By this time, the "new" owners had taken over the ranch, but the original owners were still living on the property in a house they built for themselves to retire to.
We brought our two dogs (with permission) and they had a ball. First, the owners dogs were very good and friendly, both to people and other canines. The same was true of the workmen who were finishing the lodge. They brought their dogs to work with them and all the canines got along great! Another thing that happened was that when we made our reservations, the owner contacted us, knowing we were repeat customers, and ask us what he could do to improve the place or make up more comfortable. My wife had back issues, and we mentioned that the chairs in the cabins were not comfortable for long periods. When we were pulling up to the Ranch, there was a truck delivering new, and much more comfortable chairs for all cabins. The owners not only listened to us, but took an action (which I am sure was not cheap) to make sure our visit, and those of others to follow = would be more pleasant.
Unfortunately, they also were installing cable for internet or cable TV use. We had enjoyed the getting away from it all feelings we had in the past, and this "improvement" only would make things worse.
Not mentioned in other posts is that they have a large and clean self-serve laundry facility. When we were there, it was free, and they even provided the soap and fabric softeners.
Another thing that is not mentioned is the hot tubs. These are located in a building, so they can be used year-round, but we actually preferred to have the hot tub just out in the open with only maybe a roof over it. It is invigorating to use the warm tub after wandering to the tub itself in colder weather.
From our first visit, we have seen people in various stated of dress from near-nudity to full nudity. The first few visits, these people were quire comfortable and would wander around the grounds or lay in loungers by their cabins in minimal swimwear or less. The last visit, we did see a nude could heading from their cabin to the hot-tub building in the nude, but this was late at night and everyone else was probably asleep. While these people did not bother us, some people may not like this practice. I am unaware of any rule prohibiting such behavior.
Heading over to the barn, you will see the petting zoo. There are a wide selection of friendly animals such as lamas (or maybe they were alpacas), There were more traditional farm animals like cows, sheep,and even a pig. One of our dogs took a real liking to a miniature horse, and they played together and chased each other around, but both were very gentle with each other.
The scenery has always been spectacular. The mountains nearby make a wonderful backdrop to the grounds, which vary from pristine well manicured grass areas to fields of wild flowers, to lakes.
A mention about mosquitoes was made. We have always gone there in mid July to mid August, and have never had an issue with bugs. We have been there during rainy summers, hot summers, cold summers and just about all other types of seasonal weather. Part of the lack for bugs is that there are many insect predators in the area. Various other non-biting insects as well as birds eat the mosquitoes like they were filet minions. Bats have a special affinity for mosquitoes and eat as many as they can catch, often 1000 to 1200 per hour! Each of the female bats is a potential mosquito bite, so let the bats be They don't bite people (they are not vampire bats) and don't fly into a person's hair.
You might see spider webs and insects around the outside of a cabin. Let them be, Let them eat all the bugs they want. It is nature's way and if left without interference works pretty good.
From the ranch, you can also take the road to the South. This is a much less rugged highway, but still dirt and mud in places. It passes a number of lakes and eventually joins with Highway 93. This road is more likely to have trucking such as logging trucks on it. Check locally, since there may be restrictions on days of operation and other requirements (like need of non-consumer 2-way radios.)
There is a large lumber mill you pass right at the highway 93 intersection. The road here meanders through the lumber mill and it is at places hard to find. Highway 93 has an interesting bit of trivia associated with it. Highway 93 in Canada starts at Jasper Park, and continues South along some of the most scenic sections of roads in the Canadian Rockies. It proceeds across the US boarder keeping the designation of Highway 93. It visits Montana, Idaho (including Sun Valley). It proceeds through Nevada (being the road that goes down the famous Los Vegas strip. Phoenix is the next major city as it continues South into Arizona. After running through Tucson, it reaches the Mexico boarder and proceeds into Mexico.
This combined length of the road is over 1500 miles, about the same distance as from New York city to Cheyenne Wyoming
Local attractions near the ranch (besides countless rivers, lakes, forests, and wild animals) are the Fort Steele Pioneer Village -- an assortment of pioneer days buildings and businesses, several wild hot springs (where water comes directly from the ground and into pools where one can relax in the hot mineral waters. A number of commercial hot springs (including Fairmont Hot springs near Invermere BC and Radium Hot Springs at Radium BC. A short distance away is Baniff wih it's own hot springs and Jasper with yet another. The last three springs being man made, with good highway access and all the modern conveniences. The last two mentioned are run by Parks Canada, the Canadian National Park System).
Don't expect to take in everything mentioned in one day -- it will take several, and you will probably stop often for views, taking pictures, to enjoy lunch at one of the picnic grounds, or taking in some of the hot springs. Hiking,fishing, certain types of hunting, gold panning, and bird watching are also things people do in the area.area. There are also boating opportunities from rental canoes and kayaks tl much larger fishing and pleasure boats. History buffs might find the area's history of interest, and there is always the railroads and rail museums that can be visited.
You can easily spend two full weeks at the ranch and not do everything you might want to do.
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