With the high-flying Rockies to the east and the rugged Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges to the west, southeastern British Columbia has as much beauty and recreation to offer as anywhere else in the province. If you're looking to avoid the crowds at Banff and Jasper national parks on the Alberta side of the Rockies, try one of the smaller parks.

Trenched by the mighty Kootenay and Columbia rivers, this region has a long history of mining, river transport, and ranching. More recently, the ranches have given way to golf courses, but development out in this rural area of British Columbia is still low-key. And while that means that you may not have the ultimate dining experience here, it also means that prices are lower across-the-board -- and you won't have to compete with tour-bus hordes while you hike the trails.

In pre-Contact Native America and the early years of western exploration, the Kootenay Valley was a major transportation corridor. Due to a curious accident of geology, the headwaters of the vast Columbia River -- which flows north from Columbia Lake for 275km (171 miles) before bending south and flowing to the Pacific at Astoria, Oregon -- are separated from the south-flowing Kootenay River by a low, 2km-wide (1 1/4-mile) berm of land called Canal Flats. The Kootenay River then zigzags down into the United States before flowing back north into Canada to join the Columbia at Castlegar, British Columbia.

Because a short portage was all that separated these two powerful rivers, Canal Flats was an important crossroads when canoes and riverboats were the primary means of transport. The fact that an easily breached ridge was all that separated two major rivers caught the imagination of an early entrepreneur, William Adolph Baillie-Grohman. In the 1880s, he conceived a plan to breach Canal Flats and divert much of the Kootenay's flow into the Columbia. Unsurprisingly, he ran into opposition from people living and working on the Columbia, and had to settle for building a canal and lock system between the two rivers. Only two ships ever passed through the canal, and today this curiosity is preserved as Canal Flats Provincial Park, 44km (27 miles) north of Cranbrook, with picnic tables and a boat launch on Columbia Lake.