Take Highway 31A east from New Denver and you pass the turnoff to the ghost town of Sandon before crossing a low pass and descending to Kaslo, on Kootenay Lake. From Kaslo, Nelson is 70 kilometers (43 miles) to the south, with plenty of spots worth visiting en route.
The original Slocan Valley boomtown, Sandon once was a thriving town of 5,000 people. After the discovery of silver on the slopes of Idaho Peak, Sandon grew quickly and at one time boasted 24 hotels, 23 saloons, banks, general stores, mining brokers’ offices, and a newspaper.
Its main link to the outside world was the Kaslo & Slocan Railway, built in 1895 to connect Sandon with sternwheeler transportation on Kootenay Lake. The Great Depression of 1929 put an end to the heyday, and in 1955 many of the buildings were swept away in spring flooding. Today you can count the population on two hands.
The best place to start a visit to Sandon is the 1900 city hall, where you can pick up the Sandon Walking Tour Guide. This brochure details all the original structures—only a fraction of which remain—with a map that makes exploring on foot more enjoyable. Up the creek from city hall are Sandon Museum (250/358-7920, summer only) where exhibits bring the old town back to life, and Silversmith Mine Powerhouse, which still supplies power to the few remaining residents and retains its title as western Canada’s oldest operating hydroelectric plant.
On the same side of the creek as the museum an unnamed road leads up to 2,280-meter (7,480-foot) Idaho Peak. The road is very rough, passable only in July and August. From the end of the 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) road, a steep one-kilometer (0.6-mile) trail leads to the summit and spectacular 360-degree views of the Kootenays.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition