Access Roads

Access roads are often rough in the West Kootenay and conditions change seasonally.

Before you go hiking, you need to have the right vehicle, skill, and knowledge to get to the trailhead. Check out Taking the Essentials for info about what to bring in your vehicle and get an updated road report before you leave. If you’re leaving your car parked overnight in the subalpine, you should be prepared to porcupine-proof it.

Access roads can be hazardous with logging trucks, washouts, downed trees, boulders, and rough conditions. Always be prepared and drive safely.

Access Road Updates

To get updated access road info, try the following places:

West Kootenay Hiking Access Group

One of the best places to get the latest info. Locals regularly post about road conditions at the start of hiking season.

Ministry of Lands, Forests, and Natural Resource Operations

The BC government maintains an Excel spreadsheet of road conditions. This spreadsheet may not be updated as regularly, but lists the name of each access road (and corresponding trail/rec site), along with the minimum required vehicle type and the date the information was updated.

BC Parks

BC parks posts updated trail reports in the summer, including notes about access road conditions. These reports can be viewed under the ‘Hiking’ section of each park page:

On top of Buchanan Lookout – quite the road!

Access Road Terminology


Forest Service Road. These are most of the access roads we drive up to. These gravel roads follow creek beds along valleys or zigzag up slopes. They are often slow and rough. They are sometimes scary.

Here’s some important FSR distinctions:

  • Deactivated FSR – the area is no longer being logged and the road is no longer being maintained. Bridges may have been pulled out, so it is recommended to get an updated access road report before you go.
  • Inactive FSR – the area is not currently being logged, but the road is being maintained (sometimes minimally maintained, however).
  • Active FSR – the road is being used for active logging. Usually there will be a sign posted at the start of the road announcing radio frequencies. Drive carefully. If you see a logging truck or an industrial vehicle, always yield to it and allow it to pass.


These are all types of vehicles:

  • 2WD = 2 Wheel Drive
  • 4WD = 4 Wheel Drive
  • HC = High Clearance
  • LC = Low Clearance

Knowing what type of vehicle you have will determine which access roads are a no-go. You don’t want to end up scraping the underbelly of your Prius.

Water Bar

This is a trench intentionally dug across the road to allow water to flow and slow down erosion. Water bars can get very deep and can pose a real problem to low clearance vehicles.

When approaching a particularly nasty water bar, do not drive at it head-on. Instead, angle your car so only one wheel drops down at a time.


Bumpity-bumpity-bump. Washboard happens when the friction of passing vehicles starts packing the gravel road into little ripples and ridges. These ripples become bigger until the they start to act like mini speed-bumps. Best to slow down.


Alder is a tall thick shrub that grows vigorously along backcountry roads. It can quickly overgrow deactivated roads. Avoid driving through alder thickets if you value your paint job.


A pullout is a section of the road that is intentionally widened to allow two vehicles to pass each other. These are helpful and rare.

Oh **$#*&#$!!!

Choose your expletive. This is what you say when you meet an oncoming vehicle on a narrow road with a steep drop off one side and there is no nearby pullout.

What you do next may include:

  • Giving the other driver a frightened, desperate look and praying that they start backing up so you won’t have to.
  • Coming to a stand still and hoping for divine intervention.
  • Backing up yourself slow. The vehicle travelling downhill has right of way.
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2 years ago

Very good information. Thank you!

3 months ago

TIL “The vehicle travelling downhill has right of way.