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Crowsnest Highway #3 🍁(Alberta & British Columbia)

What to See & Do along the Trans-Canada Crowsnest Highway?

The Crowsnest Highway (from west to east) passes through a number of towns close to the US-Canada border through rugged terrains both east and west of the Okanagan (famous for its many wineries) with bands of lush farmlands between, before crossing the Columbia Valley (twice!) then the southern Rockies and then the wide open Prairies. The Crowsnest Route connects with the main Trans-Canada Route at Hope, BC in its west end, and at Medicine Hat at its  eastern end.

Travel the Crowsnest Highway #3

The #3 Crowsnest Highway is a southern route for the Trans-Canada, running east-west but closer to the US-Canada border than the main #1 route. This route connects mid-sized communities including Lethbridge, AB, Cranbrook BC, Osoyoos (in the south end of the Okanagan), with Hope,  and Vancouver. It stretches 1,161 km (721 mi) across the southern portions of both provinces, between Hope and Medicine Hat. In British Columbia, the route is mostly mountainous. In Alberta the route quickly exits the mountains and is most lightly hilled prairie. In the prairies, the highway forms part of the Red Coat Trail which continues east of Lethbridge into Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

The route passes through the Crowsnest Pass, named for its beautiful Crowsnest Mountain, just east of the Alberta/British Columbia border, which rises to 2485m (8152 ft) to the north of the highway. The Crowsnest Pass itself, on the Alberta-BC border, rises to an elevation of 1358 m (4455 ft) above sea level.

Hope, BC is a major transportation connection point for #1 north up the Fraser River canyon, the #8 Coquihalla Highway express route to Kamloops, and the #3 Crowsnest east to the Okanagan, and the #7 Lougheed highway on the north bank of the Lower Fraser River, and the #1 TransCanada west along the south bank of the Lower Fraser River into the Greater Vancouver area.

Early History of the Crowsnest Pass

Although the pass was known to the Kootenai Indians, this pass was ignored by early explorers.  The first white man to use it was Michael Phillips, who crossed from west to east in 1873 and had cut a pack trail through the pass by 1879.

After the Canadian Pacific Railway built their route through the Kicking Horse Pass in 1884, the parts of British Columbia south of that were loosely serviced by the American railroad, the Great Northern Railway, which the Canadian government saw as a threat to its national sovereignty. Through the 1890s, the CPR was still strapped for cash, though in 1897 the Canadian government granted the CPR the funds to build a railroad from Medicine Hat through Fort MacLeod to Nelson, BC. Track-laying commenced by July 1897, reaching just shy of the BC border that year, and Kootenay Landing (north of Creston) by the end on 1898, with paddlewheeled steamer service on Kootenay Lake to Nelson. The new route enabled the railway to exploit the coal deposits found in theis reagion of Alberta and B.C.

In 1903 the Frank Slide not only buried the village of Frank (now part of the municipality of Crowsnest Pass), a mine located there, but a good stretch of the railway track, which took 7 months to dig out and repair.  In B.C., the stretch from Dunmore to  Hope was via the Kettle Valley Railway, which  completed their route in 1906. The final stretch, between Dunmore and Kootenay Landing,  was completed in 1930  which completed rail service via the Crowsnest Route.

As traffic grew, the original route from Lethbridge southwards across the St. Mary River, and then northwestwards to Fort Macleod became a bottle-neck. By 1908 the a high level bridge spanning 5,328  feet across the Old Man River just west of Lethbridge was completed , which allowed the route to travel from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge to Fort MacLeodmore directly. The first trains travelled this new route in late 1909.

Crowsnest Highway Route Map across Alberta & BC

Which is the Shortest Route?

While on a map it looks shorter than the #1, which curves north to Kamloops, Revelstoke, Golden and Calgary. However,  the #3 Crowsnest Route is actually longer because it follows a winding path through mountain river valleys, and most of the route is 2 lanes, meaning you can only travel at the speed of the slowest vehicle ahead of you.

  • 1,110 km and 12 hours drive via #5 Coquihalla. (Coquihalla is 4 lanes divided and recently built)
  • 1,183 km and 13 hours via Fraser Canyon #1 (2 lanes and more hills and curves)
  • 1,166 km and 14 hours via #3 Crowsnest< (2 lanes and even more hills and curves)

For cyclists that 50 km is at least a half-day more of pedalling (and significantly higher climbs to the passes and high points!)

What are the Highest Points along the Crowsnest Highway?

The highest point of the Crowsnest Highway is the Kootenay Pass  elevation 1,775 m or 5,823 ft, between Castlegar and Creston as the highway crosses into the Selkirk Mountain.  This stretch of the #3 is also called the Salmo-Creston Skyway or the Kootenay Skyway.

The second highest point is Bonanza Pass elevation 1,535 m or 5,036 ft), west of Castlegar at Nancy Green Lake. Anarchist Summit elevation   1,233 m or 4,045 ft, east of Osoyoos is not really a pass but a high point in the roadway cresting a high plateau.

Location of High Points Along CLocation of High Points Along Crowsnest Route #3

By comparison, the highest points along the #1 main Trans-Canada route are the Kicking Horse Pass (dividing the Pacific and the Atlantic basins) is 1,627 m, and the Rogers Pass in the middle of the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges is 1,350 m.

Map of Highest Points of the Crowsnest Highway #3

Crowsnest Highway towns and cities in British Columbia and Alberta


Trans Canada Highway Locales to search for  businessess, attractions, accommodations for your Crowsnest Highway Roadtrip

Rockies-Banff National Park-Peyto Lake lookout-sliver

Alberta Rockies

Visit BC Rockies

BC Rockies

Visit the Calgary Stampede


Visit Fraser Valley, BC

Fraser Valley

Visit Shuswap-Okanagan