4 cool Cranbrook things: beer, food, biking & role-play


Written and photographed by CHRIS ISTACE

Cranbrook, B.C. – Driving along Highway 3 through the Kootenays, many folks pass by the city of Cranbrook not realizing what lies just off the busy road. I recently spent a couple of days here and discovered this: a cool recreated historic village, miles and miles of trails for hikers and bikers, a deliciously vibrant food scene and a local craft brewery named after the impressive Fisher Peak that reigns the landscape here.

Cranbrook was a pleasant surprise and is certainly worth a visit next time you’re cruising by the largest city of the East Kootenay region.

Go #RockiesExploring discover more about the beautiful city of Cranbrook

1. Fascinating history at Fort Steele Heritage Town

Watch Getting Crafty in Cranbrook #RockiesExploring on YouTube.

Video by Chris Wheeler Media

My first stop had us turning out of the city on Highway 95 to the north banks of the Kootenay River. It’s here I had my introduction to the historic community of Ft. Steele. Named after the North-West Mounted Police Superintendent Sam Steele who brought peace to the area and whose name lives on with a fun festival in mid-June, it was a bustling community built on the back of countless mining booms. The community disappeared though when Cranbrook became the government centre, but now it’s a fascinating heritage town brought back to life and a perfect place for history buffs and families to learn about how people lived more than 100 years ago.

fort steele
Photo: Chris Istace

Locals fought hard to preserve the history of Ft. Steele Heritage Town, and in 1961 it was protected as a historic park. As I walked the streets and explored the buildings, you could see how the pride and passion of the locals had reinvigorated this era of Kootenay history. Every little detail has been recreated right down to the period furniture I saw as I peeked through some of the windows of the 60 restored buildings.

fort steele
Photo: Chris Istace

Our friendly tour guide, Jessica Britton, was dressed head to toe in period attire like the other countless character actors walking the street and weathered pine boardwalks. A highlight of the day was spending time with the blacksmith, Chase Roshau, as he took us through the steps of crafting a fire poker. The room became hot as he fired and pounded the steel into shape, giving us a look at how people made a living in this community a century ago. Not a detail is left out in the village, right down to the goats and horses in the corrals, the one-room schoolhouse and the heritage gardens lining the streets.

2. Hiking, vistas and biking

Cranbrook hiking
Photo: Chris Istace

Flipping through the pages of the guidebook, Mountain Footsteps, as an avid hiker I was excited by the stunning photos and endless hiking in the region. Now in its fourth edition released in the spring of 2018, this terrific guidebook is the labour of love of long-time resident Janice Strong, a photographer and hiker.

Now in its fourth edition and released in the spring of 2018, this terrific guidebook – now a B.C. best seller – is the labour of love of long-time resident, Janice Strong, a photographer and hiker.

I met up with Janice, who took us to one of her favourite spots on a short hike just outside of town up to Eager Hill Lookout. Wildflowers danced across the hillside as the alpine glow lit up distant Fisher Peak and Steeples.

Cranbrook hiking
Photo: Chris Istace

It’s easy to understand how Janice, originally from Vancouver Island, fell in love with the Cranbrook area. “Around Cranbrook, there are open grasslands with a fantastic burst of wildflowers in spring; Douglas fir and pine forests offer a different landscape to explore while several ponds and wetlands near Cranbrook add variety,” she said.

From hiking to biking, I had the opportunity to experience the beauty of Cranbrook's community forest from different perspectives. My mountain bike tour of the parklands was led by Ryan Hamilton, president of the Wildhorse Cycle Club, who met us at the trailhead. Be sure to check out the TrailForks website to see how the busy club has carved out trail after trail. I was in my happy place, pedalling uphill and darting downhill over well-laid out routes. In one ride, I was greeted by massive open vistas and then ponderosa pines lining the trails, very different than the West Coast trails I usually ride on.

Biking in Cranbrook
Photo: Chris Istace

Talking to Ryan over a post-ride beer at The Heidout, it was evident he and the club members know they have something special here. “I love Cranbrook for what it has and what it is close to. The trails are well linked and close to town. Our trails make excellent use of the topography here.”

3. Food for the soul

Photo: Chris Istace

I realized the only downside to Cranbrook is that I don’t live there. This is how I felt after sampling the amazing food at Soulfood Restaurant. I met the owners, Tamara Mercandelli and Caitlin Berkhiem who introduced me to their chef, Ronny Belkin. Ronny gave us a tour of his aromatic kitchen and showed us how he prepares their popular kimchi. Caitlin led us through the creation of their homemade ginger-based sodas. As a huge fan of Kombucha, I could easily drink a lot of this tasty concoction.

It was obvious Tamara loves crafting food to please people. “The idea of having relationships with the people who grow our vegetables and raise our meat. It’s like when you have a garden and you make a salad from everything that you have grown yourself. It is the best salad in the world. Soulfood is taking that concept and magnifying it.”

I loved their food so much that during my trip I returned three more times, ordering something different each time and was blown away by every meal.

4. Peak experience for the beer-lover's palate

Of course, I had to check out Fisher Peak Brewery, especially hot off its recent win at the Canadian Brewing Awards capturing gold for the brewery's Scottish Ale beer.

Photo: Chris Istace

Brewmaster Jordan Aasland showed us around the brewery. Fisher Peak Brewery is located in The Heidout and Brewhouse in downtown Cranbrook. Jordan told us that one of the benefits of the location is that you can see guests enjoying your creations first hand. As I walked through the brewery, filled with bags of hops and stainless-steel vats, the aromas filling the air are the stuff of a beer lover’s dream.

“I like to tell people that making a good beer is like making a really good soup," Jordan said. "You know the kind that is made from scratch with the freshest of ingredients that you spend all day simmering, tasting and adding to, until you have a well-balanced broth. One that puts a smile on your face, warms your soul and that you can't wait to share with your family and friends.”

We watched Jordan as he blended the hops for his next brew, carefully weighing and mixing the ingredients. We even got to see a special very small beer batch he was fermenting in oak bourbon casks that he received from a local distiller. The smells were rich and intoxicating. Anyone who gets to drink the finished product will be in for a treat.

I left Cranbrook with a whole new appreciation of this crafty and passionate city and its surroundings, wondering why I hadn’t gotten to know it a lot sooner.

If you go

Learn more about Cranbrook here.

Begin planning your trip to Cranbrook via the HelloBC website.

Uncover more adventures in the Canadian Rockies. Check out ZenSeekers' #RockiesExploring Expedition page to see how you can have an adventure like this.

Watch #RockiesExploring Highlights on YouTube.

Both Westjet and  Pacific Coastal Airlines fly into the Canadian Rockies Airport  

Chris Istace is a ZenSeekers' correspondent, he can be found at The Mindful Explorer and on Instagram and Twitter.

Like Our Facebook Page