Othello Tunnels and the Hope-Nicola Valley Trail Loop

By Colin Hughes

As I left the abandoned railway bed and started climbing up through the old growth rainforest, I realized; this trail is actually an even better destination than the tunnels, the original reason I stopped to visit.

Most people zipping up and down the Coquihalla Highway completely miss one of the most spectacular roadside attractions along the busy roadway. The Othello Tunnels are located just minutes off the highway northeast of Hope.

The tunnels were constructed between 1914 and 1916 as a way to link the Kootenays with the South Coast of British Columbia. An engineering marvel cut through straight granite, they became known as one of the most expensive railway miles in the world, costing $300,000, a princely sum at the time.

The series of five tunnels are linked by bridges which cross over the thundering Coquihalla River as it winds its way through the 91 m (300 ft) deep gorges below. I had made hiking these tunnels a requisite part of my recent trip to Kelowna and was drawn in as soon as I hit the trail by the completely moss-covered trees. I could see immediately why this area, used for filming the movie Rambo, could stand in for a Vietnamese rainforest.

As I observed the Coquihalla River flow into the first gorge, the impressive tunnels loomed before me. I understood why many rode the train in the early 1900s just to experience travelling through the mountainside. Needless to say, a fair amount of time was taken to explore and photograph the work that went into cutting through the solid granite mountainside.

It’s hard to describe just how oppressive the massive towering cliffs are on either side of the river, but you do feel small as you stare up into them, or as you stand inside the tunnel in the dark with thousands of tons of rock above your head and sound of the rushing river echoing around you.

The rail bed trail is relatively flat and once through the tunnels, the mystical forest becomes even more awe-inspiring. Seeing the option of a loop, I left the rail bed and began to climb the Hope-Nicola Valley Trail (a supply trail for pack horses built in 1876) through the ancient and moss covered trees. The forest was still as a light drizzle fell.

Eerily quiet and oh so cool! As most visitors just do an out and back to the tunnels, I had it completely to myself. If you visit, be sure to hike the loop – the enchanting forest makes as great a destination as the tunnels themselves.

Coquihalla Canyon Provincial Park is a destination worthy of your time. You won’t be disappointed!

To fully appreciate all the recreation opportunities found in the region, pick yourself up a Waterproof Map by ordering online or using our store locator to find a Backroad Mapbooks retailer near you.