Just off the Trans-Canada Highway, about 70 miles west of the Alberta/BC border, sits the tiny town of Golden. This charming town of 4,000 sits along the banks of the Kicking Horse River, one of the premier recreational waterways in Canada and one that is celebrated for its world-class whitewater. With Glacier, Yoho, Banff, and Kootenay National Parks all within an hour and a half drive, this laid-back hub in British Columbia makes an awesome home base for exploring Canada’s mountain national parks.
Unlike the Town of Banff or Lake Louise Village, Golden has largely been spared the overcrowding from the onslaught of annual summer tourists. It’s a bit more out of the way and, with just a handful of restaurants and a single brewery, much smaller and more chill than its more famous neighbors to the east.
In addition to its laid-back vibe, Golden could very well be considered the adventure capital of the Canadian Rockies. While the town itself is less vibrant than bustling Banff, it has no shortage of opportunities for adrenaline-pumping outdoor recreation. Tucked between the Columbia and Rocky Mountain Ranges, Golden offers activities to suit any thrill-seeker: skydiving, paragliding, skiing, hiking, heli-skiing, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting.
After falling in love with the Canadian Rockies back in 2014, we decided to make Golden our home for six months in 2022. With the borders at long last reopened in the slowly-rebounding, post-pandemic world, Stephan and I were finally able to make a return trip. Within days, Golden felt like home. Despite its small size, we quickly discovered a number of awesome local businesses and scenic greenspaces that we absolutely loved. If you find yourself visiting or passing through this remote mountain town, here are a handful of spots we totally recommend checking out.
Restaurants & breweries
For a small mountain town, Golden has a surprisingly good little food and craft beer scene. There’s a good diversity in cuisine, and many of the restaurants are family-owned businesses focused on using fresh, local ingredients. Here are some of our favorites:
We’re going to jump right in with what we think is the best restaurant in Golden: Reposados. This small taco shop is a fairly recent addition to the small town, and is focused on healthy eating and sustainability. Keep in mind, these are not your ordinary tacos. The small, corn tortillas are handmade daily and are filled with the most delicious, fresh ingredients. They are thoughtfully composed and look like little works of art on your plate.
If you’re not interested in a sit-down meal, they have a walk-up window where you can place an order for take-away. All of their consumable items are compostable and, if you order online, fifty cents from each order is donated to non-profits working on reforestation and poverty reduction projects.
As a vegan, I always struggle to eat out, and tacos are certainly not a meal I can typically enjoy. Reposados, however, offers an awesome variety of vegan tacos and burritos. For those with other dietary restrictions, they also have an assortment of gluten-free and dairy-free options.
My two favorites were their fishless and aguacate tacos. The former is fried tofu served with mango habanero salsa, slaw and cilantro. The latter is a super lightly-battered avocado topped with pico de gallo and pickled red onion. They were seriously unbelievable. For meat eaters, Stephan’s top picks were the al pastor (grilled pork with charred pineapple and cilantro) and barbacoa. That said, Stephan was perhaps even more besotted with the elotes, Mexican street corn smothered with Cotija cheese, chili powder and lime. This one was only on the menu for a limited time; if you see it, don’t wait.
Sanchez, meanwhile, went absolutely nuts for their churros. She became so obsessed, in fact, that we’d take her every week or two for a special treat. Any time we took an afternoon walk along the riverfront greenway, our fuzzy foodie would reach the edge of the Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge and immediately pull at her leash in the direction of Reposados. Each time we conceded, she’d race to the walkup window wagging and place her order.
Reposados also makes some killer (and super spicy) small-batch vegan hot sauces (pro tip: try the peach habanero). And for any tequila fans out there, the restaurant also offers an impressive margarita list rife with interesting-sounding flavors such as spicy coconut, grapefruit lemongrass, and smoky jalapeño pineapple.
This place quickly became a favorite for us. While we’re not the type to eat out much, we found ourselves returning to Reposados once every couple weeks. We’d visit their walk-up window, place our order, and walk just a couple hundred feet through Spirit Square to enjoy a picnic beside the Kicking Horse River. It was the perfect little summer ritual. If you find yourselves in Golden for even just a weekend, this is the one place you shouldn’t miss.
Pro tip: Reposados, as well as a number of other Golden business, take an extended break for a good chunk of the off-season. Unfortunately, they were closed for the last few weeks that we were in town. They shuttered the restaurant in mid-October and reopened the 1st of December along with the start of ski season. If you visit Golden during low season, you may miss out on some tacos as well as a few other cool places.
Just around the corner from the Save on Foods supermarket sits Daley Bread – a tiny nano-bakery and one of Golden’s true hidden gems. After baking professionally for twenty years, Laura Daley opened her bake shop during the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020. Two years later, this small, local business offers freshly baked breads as well as a rotating selection of sweet and savory pastries.
You wouldn’t think you’d find one of the flakiest, most beautifully laminated croissants ever in a small town like Golden, but Stephan has declared this to be categorically true. If you don’t trust his opinion, though, and would rather heed the suggestions of an ex-street dog, Sanchez highly recommends the sausage roll.
One thing they both agreed on? The cinnamon knots! Laura only made them once while we were there, but Stephan said it was one of the best things he’s ever eaten. Apparently, they were one her test creations, and they sold like friggin’ hotcakes. We heard a rumor that maybe the knots would be replacing – or at least rotating regularly with – the cinnamon buns, but we never saw them again on the menu (we checked weekly). If you happen to see those knots when you pop in, grab one… or thirty.
The menu here changes regularly, but you can look up what Laura’s got to offer on her Instagram page. If you’re vegan and they have them in stock, grab one of the date crumble bars. They’re a little on the sweet side, but also kind of addictive. Other treats on regular rotation include handmade Eat More bars (a Canadian classic), Lamingtons, and customer-favorite almond or ham and cheese croissants.
Know before you go: Daley Bread is only open Thursday through Sunday, with hours changing seasonally, so be sure to check their schedule online before stopping by.
The Baked Bean
One day while driving past Kumsheen Park, we randomly spotted a food truck with a small chalkboard sign advertising a fully plant-based menu. Always on the lookout for some still-seemingly-elusive vegan fare, it immediately caught my eye.
Newly opened in 2022, The Baked Bean is an entirely vegan food truck that caters to veg lovers around downtown Golden. The menu is fairly limited, but the food is seriously amazing! Everything is made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, and includes things like savory lunch wraps, breakfast burritos and energy bites made with dates, peanut butter and coconut.
Stephan and I sampled the crispy cauliflower wrap and the Mediterranean wrap filled with falafel, hummus, tabbouli and beets. While hummus and tabbouli are two things that are frequent staples on vegan menus – and super easy to make – I often find them to be totally uninspired. However, this was not the case with The Baked Bean. The tabbouli, in particular, was amazing and perfectly balanced with bulgur and herbs.
During our stay in Golden, the truck was typically parked at either Kumsheen Park or the parking lot off 10th Ave (near the railroad tracks and Chamber of Commerce). That said, check their Instagram page for location and schedule updates. If you see the truck parked around town as you’re driving through, pull over and support this rad local business.
If you think you can’t find authentic South American empanadas in the tiny town of Golden, think again. Prepared by hand in her small kitchen in Nicholson, Jess first starting making her empanadas for her Argentine husband, Diego, using his family’s recipe. When the pandemic hit in 2020 and she became in need of some extra income, Jess then started selling her empanadas to friends on Facebook. It sounds kind of crazy, but her business quickly took off and allowed her to help support her family (so inspiring, and I just love her story).
Whether you’re a meat eater or veg head, Mamacita’s has something for you. The empanadas are made using fresh ingredients sourced from local farmers and meat producers. There are six standard flavors, two of which are vegetarian (the chimichurri veg and black bean and corn). If you can’t decide on a single savory option, there’s a fiesta pack that features two of each flavor. Each kind is hand-tucked with a different fold, so they’re even like little pieces of artwork.
As for the savories with year-round availability, Stephan’s favorites were the ham and cheese and Canadiense – a mixture of bacon, potato, cheddar and onion. During one of the summer farmers’ markets, Stephan even managed to get his hands on a limited edition sweet empanada made with haskap berries. With the appearance of a stretched-out blueberry, haskap berries are native to Canada and considered a super food. A single serving of berries contains more vitamin C than an orange and three times the antioxidants of blueberries. Though I wouldn’t have predicted it, I think he was in love with these even more than the savory.
If you’re in Golden, you can find Mamacita’s Empanadas at their kitchen in Nicholson, about 5 miles (8 km) south of downtown. Seasonally, you can also grab some at the Golden Farmers Market. The empanadas are sold frozen, and can also be found in a handful of specialty shops. In Golden, you can find them at Eat Pure Mountain Market, conveniently located right on 10th Ave. Other BC locations that stock these delicious treats include: Le Marche in Revelstoke; Stoke Market in Kimberley; Morchella Market in Cranbrook; Hopkins Harvest in Windermere; and Kootenay Coop in Nelson.
Whitetooth Brewing Co.
For all you hop lovers out there, Golden is home to just a single craft brewery. Luckily, it’s a good one. Specializing in west coast-style and Belgian-inspired ales, Whitetooth opened its doors in downtown Golden in 2016. The brewery is open daily and offers both indoor and outdoor seating (seasonal). They also host a variety of events, including live music, so check their social for updates. While dogs are not allowed indoors, the brewery does have a handful of pup-friendly outdoor picnic tables where you can enjoy a glass or flight during the summer months.
Whitetooth offers a half a dozen core beers as well as a small selection of limited edition seasonal releases. They’re available on draft, in cans, or by growler. Our favorite pour when we visited was hands-down the Blower Pow – their core northwest-style IPA. If you’re in search of something hoppy, this one’s wicked good and available year-round.
Pro tip: Whitetooth partners with Reposados (see above). If you’d like to try some of those awesome tacos we described earlier, Reposados will deliver your order right to your table via bicycle. Two birds, one stone.
The Wolf’s Den
If you’re looking for a lively, family-friendly restaurant in Golden, consider popping into The Wolf’s Den. The informal tavern offers a fairly extensive menu of creative burgers and other casual pub fare, and also boasts a large selection of draft beer and regular live music entertainment. The Den’s owner is a former country singer who grew up working in restaurants, eventually settling in the mountains to enjoy a more laid-back lifestyle. Seems like the perfect life goal to us.
When I stumbled across the poutine menu at The Wolf’s Den, we knew we had to make a visit. It was Sanchez’s first time in Canada, and she’d never sampled the country’s iconic dish. This Canadian classic combines all of her favorite things – meat, gravy, cheese and French fries – into one super indulgent mound of comfort food. We knew she’d be totally stoked with this one.
Aiming to completely wow our fuzzy Thai foodie, Stephan ordered her the duck confit poutine – a classic-style poutine crowned with a mountain of meat coated in a maple-sriracha glaze. The verdict? She went even more insane than we could have imagined. She was crying, howling, and throwing her best tricks to entice us to keep stuffing her face with gravy-soaked duck and cheese curds. It ended up being one of her favorite poutines in all of Canada (she sampled across several provinces), and she later asked us where this dish had been all her life.
Not interested in the duck poutine? Their other takes include a classic version (just cheese curds and gravy), buffalo chicken, smoked meat, and hog heaven.
Bear & Bone Burger Co.
In search of a burger while you’re town? Look no further than Bear & Bone, just off the Trans-Canada Highway. This family-owned restaurant uses locally-sourced meat and ingredients from Golden and western Canada, including ethically-raised beef from Golden’s Whiskey Hill Farms. Bear & Bone also sources products through BC indigenous businesses, such as their Spirit Bear Coffee, and strives to be a sustainable, environmentally-mindful business.
Eager to try one of their signature burgers after a long day of hiking, Stephan grabbed a Bugaboo Buffalo for takeaway. The locally-raised bison patty was topped with bacon, bourbon bacon jam, and smoked cheddar. He loved the combination of flavors and Sanchez was also duly impressed. If you’re looking for another creative creation, consider the Curd Burg – a beef patty topped with deep fried cheese curds, BBQ sauce, and truffle aioli. Like a lot of local restaurants, they’ve even got a vegetarian option with their Mean Bean Burger – a black bean patty topped with avocado crema and served on a ciabatta bun.
If you find yourself in Golden on a Wednesday between June and September, consider stopping by the local farmers’ market. The market is small, but hosts a nice variety of vendors in downtown Spirit Square from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. With fresh produce, baked goods, prepared foods, body products, local artisans and food trucks, you’re likely to find something interesting.
If you’re hanging around town later on a Wednesday evening (from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.), Spirit Square also holds weekly concerts from mid-June through mid-August. The Kicking Horse Culture Summer Kicks Concert Series is family friendly and features a wide variety of music (e.g. rock, country, folk) performed by local bands.
Out & about
If you find yourself needing to work off all the tasty treats you’ve enjoyed during your visit, there are a number of nice greenspaces and walking trails within a stone’s throw of Golden’s town center. Similarly, if you’re looking for a longer hike or the opportunity to do some mountain biking, there are a number of great options. Not only are Golden’s trails and parks particularly scenic, but they also lack the crowds that have come to plague Banff and its surrounding area.
Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge & Greenway
The Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge is one of Golden’s most notable landmarks. Sitting beside the colorful flower gardens of Spirit Square, the scenic span stretches 46 meters (151 feet) in length across the turquoise waters of the Kicking Horse River. Surprisingly, this quaint pedestrian way has claimed the title of longest freestanding timber frame bridge in Canada.
As someone who grew up in rural New England – home to dozens of historic covered bridges that date back to the 19th century – this humble attraction instantly transported me back to my hometown in New Hampshire. Although this bridge is much newer – constructed in 2001 from locally-sourced timber – the architecture is just as quaint as the time-worn New England originals.
If you’re looking for a nice walk around town, a groomed greenway runs alongside the Kicking Horse River for about a mile. This path is part of the longer Rotary Trail, a 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) loop that runs entirely around Golden’s town limits. The trail is multiuse, open to both walkers and bicycles, though there is one section where walkers/runners can detour via a ‘pedestrian only’ path. Part of the trail is forested, part runs alongside the river, and part navigates urban streets. It’s largely flat, and makes a great place – either in entirety on in part – for a morning run. My riverside runs quickly became my favorite morning ritual during our six-month stay.
Pro tip: If you’re exploring the Rotary Trail in early summer (around early June), keep an eye out for orchids in the understory. We found a few special spots that were just littered with beautiful blooms including yellow lady slipper, striped coralroot, and small round-leaf orchids.
The Beaver Ponds sit on the north side of Golden’s small downtown. While there’s not much of a walk here – just a path running half a mile-ish between 11th Ave North and Anderson Road – it’s a pretty scenic little spot. A small footbridge offers a gorgeous look at the peaks of the Dogtooth Range, and it’s a nice place to do some birding. With west-facing views of the neighboring mountains, early morning makes a great time for photography.
Named for its spot at the confluence of the Kicking Horse and Columbia Rivers, this small park makes a nice outing for people with kids or dogs. Here, you’ll find a mile-long (1.8 km) out-and-back trail that runs alongside the Columbia River, with small beaches for splashing around when the water level is low. The trail runs along the northwest side of Golden’s small regional airport, and you can often spot skydivers parachuting down during the summer season.
One afternoon as one canopy of tandem jumpers was hovering low, coming in for a landing, one of the two screamed hello to Sanchez. Sanchez was totally floored. She could not figure out why these people were suddenly falling from the sky, and started jumping on us excitedly to corroborate this crazy spectacle she was witnessing.
If you’re looking for decent little hike while you’re in town, the trip out to Thompson Falls is a good one. The trailhead for the falls sits just 25 minutes north of downtown in the tiny community of Blaeberry, and the roundtrip hike clocks in at just over 7 miles (11 km) with around 1,300 feet (400 m) of elevation gain.
The trail is largely forested, paralleling the Blaeberry River for much of the journey. Every so often, you get a glimpse at the vibrant turquoise water and surrounding mountain peaks. The falls themselves are very small, but surprisingly scenic. To be honest, we weren’t expecting much when we first went out there. Feeling like absolute dog shit from our COVID boosters the day before, we cancelled a longer outing for an easier and shorter trip out to the falls. When we got there, we were kind of shocked at how pretty it was. The water from the Blaeberry was a blinding shade of blue, and the small gorge housing the falls made the backdrop a little more dramatic.
We thought the spot was so pretty that we ended up returning to photograph the falls during Golden’s first real snowfall in early November. We attempted to navigate the forest service road in our Subie after a solid 8 inches (20 cm) had fallen, which, in hindsight, may not have been the best idea. Although we got stuck once on the unplowed road, Stephan’s bad a** driving skills managed to get us out without having to reach for the shovel or recovery boards.
Pro tip: If you don’t want to make the seven-mile roundtrip hike, you can drive about 3 miles (5 km) further up the forest road and park at the Thompson Falls Recreation Area Campground. From here, it’s just a short walk (less than a mile) to the falls.
Mount 7 (Beaverhead Mountain)
With a network of mountain biking trails, a paragliding launch site, and one main hiking trail, Golden’s iconic Mount 7 is a great option for every kind of outdoor enthusiast. Officially named Beaverhead Mountain, Mount 7 earned it’s now more common moniker from the characteristic patch of snow that crowns the mountain in early summer.
For a brief window each year, typically during the month of June, a curious melt pattern leaves behind a perfectly-carved number “7” just below the mountain’s summit block. It’s a super interesting phenomenon, and one that attracts visitors and locals alike. The “7” shape is easily discernible from town for a few fleeting weeks each summer until it abruptly vanishes without a trace. For thrill-seeking locals, skiing the seven has become a Golden rite of passage.
For those who don’t have either the skill or pluckiness to ski the seven (raises hand unapologetically), you can still enjoy the mountain via a more mellow hike or slightly more technical summit scramble. For casual hikers, a social trail leads to an open ridge near the upper paragliding launch site. From the ridge, it’s a steeper and more exposed scramble to the summit. The hike to the summit clocks in at just over 5 miles (8 km) with about 2,400 feet (730 m) of vertical gain. If you stop at the ridge, it’ll be a bit shy of these numbers.
The trail is accessed from the Mount 7 Recreation Site, which serves as the peak’s lower paragliding launch site. The site is about 30 minutes (15 km) up a forest service road off Highway 95 near Reflection Lake. Though it’s a dirt road, we found it in really good condition when we drove up the first weekend in July.
Though the route up Beaverhead (Mount 7) is easy to follow, there’s no official, maintained trail. Rather, the first half of the trail follows an old service road now used for ATVs. A social trail then snakes through the woods until it eventually pops out onto a more rugged ridge at the edge of the tree line.
As soon as you gain the ridge and the trees thin out, you can see the summit looming overhead with a few easily discernible paths cutting through the steep scree slope. And, of course, if you’re early in the season, you’ll get a great view of that iconic number “7.”
While much of the final push to the top is up steep but navigable scree, the final summit block involves some more technical scrambling with a bit more exposure. Admittedly, we ended up stopping short of the true summit as I was no longer comfortable. While we’re quite experienced hikers, this was my first real scramble here in Canada, and I think I dove in over my head. Now that I’ve got significantly more scrambling experience, perhaps we’ll be back to give this one another go. If you’re keen to try to tag the 8,504-foot (2,592 m) summit, just be aware of your abilities and always hike to hike another day.
The only few other people pushing up toward the summit were those toting skis and poles preparing to earn their badge of honor. Most people we saw on Mount 7 stopped at the flat ridge along the tree line. A hike to this point is still a good one, and offers the same killer view of Golden, the Columbia River Valley and surrounding peaks of the Columbia Mountains.
Kicking Horse Mountain
For mountain biking enthusiasts, Golden also makes a pretty fabulous home base. The town’s beloved mountain resort, Kicking Horse, is just a 15-minute drive (12 km) from downtown. Here, Kicking Horse’s gondola ferries riders to a highpoint of 7,700 feet (2,300 m), where a variety of trails switchback to the lower mountain at an elevation of around 4,200 feet (1,300 m).
The Kicking Horse Mountain bike park boasts over 30 miles (50 km) of trail spread over this 4,500 feet (1,400 m) of vertical, and includes more than 30 runs and 120 jumps and drops. Trails range from easy singletracks to gnarly technical descents, and you can purchase a day, weekend or season pass. Check out the website for information on lift tickets as well as detailed trail maps and descriptions.
If mountain biking isn’t your thing but you’re still craving some outdoor adventure, Kicking Horse is also home to one of western Canada’s acclaimed via ferratas. With three routes of varying difficulty, the fixed alpine pathways offer non-climbers the chance to experience a controlled mountain ascent.
For those visiting Golden in winter, Kicking Horse Mountain also offers some of the best downhill ski slopes in the area, as well as opportunities for tubing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Wherever your interests lie, Kicking Horse has got you covered. And whatever season you visit, the views are guaranteed to be nothing short of spectacular!
Cedar Lakes & Canyon Creek
Part of the Moonraker Trails Recreation Site, Cedar Lakes and Canyon Creek are a couple more scenic spots for hiking, biking, or even camping. Sitting just southwest of downtown Golden, the trails can be accessed from either Kicking Horse Trail (the road that leads to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort) or Canyon Creek and McBeath Roads (off Highway 95 in Nicholson).
On the Kicking Horse Trail side of Moonraker, you’ll find Cedar Lake Campground. On the Nicholson side of the recreation area, you can access Sanderlake Campground. A network of multiuse trails crisscross between the two campgrounds, and are popular with hikers and bikers alike. If you’re in search of an early-season hike, Cedar Lakes and Canyon Creek offer some nice options before the higher elevations melt out. And if you visit in winter, Moonraker is also a nice spot for some cross-country skiing. As with everywhere in Canada’s mountain wilderness, make sure you’ve got bear spray with you. Grizzlies are known to frequent the area around Cedar Lakes.
World’s Largest Paddle
If you haven’t found enough to do in downtown Golden and are looking for a quirky tourist attraction, head 20 minutes south to the town of Parson. Just off Highway 95 in the Columbia River Valley, you’ll find the world’s largest paddle.
Built to scale from a single log of Western red cedar, the behemoth is exactly thirteen times larger than a traditional paddle. Stretching 60 feet (18 m) in length and standing 9 feet (3 m) tall, the 5,300-pound (2,400 kg) paddle earned its place in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2014.
The record breaker came to life when the owner of local tour company Columbia Wetlands Adventures decided to fashion a new sign for his business. When the idea of a paddle popped into his head, he wondered how big he’d have to go to construct the world’s largest. After a little research, he commissioned a team who went on to spend 200 hours over 10 days crafting the masterpiece. Now surrounded a couple picnic tables and grassy area, he’s welcoming visitors to pause for a picnic, snap a photo, and enjoy his larger than life brainchild.
For a town of just 4,000 people, Golden sure does have a lot to offer. We feel so lucky to have been a part of this mountain community for six months.
Even though we were here for a half-year stint, we still managed to miss out on a few local gems. One place we (shockingly) never made it to was Gorman Lake. We spent three months living right on Kicking Horse Mountain, and never managed to get up there… inexcusable, in my opinion.
If you’re interested, the lake looks beautiful, but the forest road that goes up there is notoriously bad. Four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicles are recommended, but we obviously can’t speak to this. In summer, hikers can enjoy a 3.5-mile (6 km) trail with about 1,000 feet (300 m) of elevation gain. The area is prime grizzly habitat, so be sure to carry bear spray. In winter, Gorman Lake is a popular spot for snowmobiling. If you go up during the snowy months, however, be avalanche aware. There are numerous avalanche paths and hazards, so be sure to check conditions and be prepared in terms of both training and gear.
Whatever you choose to do in Golden, you’re sure to have a great time. If you visit during low season, though – you know, those few, awkward fall and spring months where you can’t really hike or ski – be prepared for some businesses to have shuttered up for an extended break. Even then, though, you’ll still find plenty to eat and do. While many may prefer the bustling hubs of Canmore or Banff, a bit further east in Alberta, for us Golden proved to be the perfect little retreat.