Note: This post is about a recent vacation in the Pacific Northwest to Idaho and Montana.
As we drove curve after curve, the lake appeared endless. I wondered when we would ever make it. The speed limit signs kept tripping me up too. The 80 made me want to drive faster, when in fact, I should be driving slower, as the 80 referred to kilometers per hour, which roughly translates to 50 miles per hour.
Not sure when the next boat would be leaving, I pressed on, afraid to even stop for a bathroom break. I didn’t want to be stuck waiting for an hour for the next one. Every now and then, I glimpsed the view of the lake and the mountains on the other side. At the parking areas, trucks with trailers jammed every spot and it is easy to see why. On this hot August day, boats are plentiful out on the water.
Finally, after driving what seemed like forever since we came across the border, we finally arrive. Lines of cars, trucks with trailers, and motor homes are lined up in lanes. I see cones across the lane, and for an instant fear that there is no room for us. It looks like there is another lane, but unfamiliar with ferry loading protocol, I’m not sure what to do and I don’t want to look like an ignorant American.
When I realize there are three more lanes vacant, I pull up to the front of the line. I glance out at the water, and see our vessel moving towards the dock. We have made it just in time. Just in time for the longest free ferry ride in the world.
These days, there isn’t much you can get for free that provides a service. A short cruise on the San Francisco Bay costs upwards of $30.00. Heck, even crossing the Golden Gate Bridge or the Lincoln Tunnel costs you money. So when I read about the Kootenay Lake Ferry in British Columbia and found it cost nothing, I was all in.
And this is no ordinary ferry ride. It is one packed with scenery all around you as you cross from the town of Kootenay Bay on the east side down to Balfour on the west side. The main ferries, the Osprey 2000 can hold around 80 vehicles depending on the ability of the ferry employees to mix and match vehicles, maximizing its space. Fascinated by what seemed like a large Tetris game, I watched with awe as they placed the trucks and trailers. Our little Chevy Sonic rental seemed out of place, as did our US license plates. It is clear from the ferry’s load, that most are here to enjoy the lake’s recreational opportunities.
The free ride includes a chance to stand near the front, with a cooling breeze in our faces, while enjoying the scenery. Snow capped mountains appear in the distance, as we motor across the water. The lake seems endless as do the views. Children with their parents, perch on top of small posts to get a better view, seeming to enjoy the ride as much as we do.
After about 30 minutes, the engines slow down as we slowly edge our way towards the dock at Balfour. Obviously skilled at piloting the ferry, the captain ever so carefully turns the ferry at just the right angle to bring us up to the dock. Back to our car, we scurry, just in time to exit the ferry on our way to Nelson, British Columbia.
If you happen to be in northern Idaho, and want to experience a fun boat ride complete with resplendent views, bring your passport and consider heading up the Kootenay River to the ferry ride. It won’t cost you a penny, but will leave you breathless from the views.