Treasure the beauty of nature and the warmth of a community in Golden this fall

Wedged between the Rocky and Columbia Mountains, Golden, B.C. is best known as a winter destination, with skiers and boarders flocking to carve up the powder-coated steeps. But autumn is when it really lives up to its name: the sun is shining, the foliage is fiery and the mountain views are crisp and clear. Yet the tourist hot spots are near-empty and the town is populated mainly by friendly locals gearing up for the season. Drive in from the west via the Trans Canada highway, or fly to Calgary, rent a car and backtrack via the stunning Banff Icefields Parkway.

Once you're in town, here are nine great ways to treasure the season in Golden...

1. Cozy up in an off-season ski chalet

    Lush MountainFacebook/Lush MountainAccommodations around Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, the local ski hill, are pretty much deserted this time of year, which means excellent prices and plenty of privacy. Lush Mountain Accommodation rents a smattering of luxury chalets and condos hillside, many equipped with deluxe kitchens, spa-like bathrooms, saunas, fireplaces and outdoor hot tubs for soaking under trees and stars.

      2. Sip a Belgian-inspired pale ale at Whitetooth Brewing

        WhitetoothKirsten RodenhizerGolden’s first and only craft brewery, Whitetooth, holds down its title with gusto. The beers take inspiration from Belgian traditions (Icefields Pale Ale, Launch Pad Ryle Ale, Thread the Needle Witbier) and West Coast styles (Blower Pow IPA, Whitetooth Session Ale, Speed Metal Foreign Extra Stout). A roster of edgy seasonal offerings rounds out the menulike the Golden Black, a Belgian stout with notes of cocoa, licorice and warmed fall fruits. The tasting room is hopping year-round, but the roomy patio is a prime spot to catch the last low rays of autumn sunshine.

          3. Watch hang gliders and paragliders launch from Mt. Seven

          Mt. SevenTourism Golden (Dave Best)This peak southeast of town, known for the “7” shape visible near the top, is one of the world’s best spots for gliding. A mix of warm and cold air creates thermals, or updrafts, that allow soaring, dipping and rising for hours at a time—and spectacular photo ops. Pack a picnic up to the launch and admire the sweeping view of town, with glinting rivers snaking along the valley floor and sunbeams splitting over stippled peaks. You can sit back and watch the adrenalin junkies sprint off the wooden platform into the air, or try it for yourself by signing up for a tandem glide with a local outfitter such as Altitude Adventures or Parapete Tandems.

            4. Trek the Blaeberry Valley on horseback

              Horseback ridingKirsten RodenhizerYou’ll cover more ground in the beautiful river valley, north of town, on a horse than on foot. Your steed leads the way as you get lost in a panorama of orange, green and gold leaves against a glacial blue river (Keep an eye out for crimson schools of fall-spawning Kokanee too). Bear Corner Bed and Bale offers one-, two- and three-hour rides from its acreage bordering the wilderness, as well as overnight trips. The farm itself is a sweet spot to visit, with misty fields, grazing horses and a handful of dogs who scamper beside their equine buddies, plus a potbelly pig named Merlin who loves a scratch behind the ear.

                5. Walk with wolves

                WolvesTourism Golden (Dave Best)The Northern Lights Wolf Centre, also in the Blaeberry, adopts wolf pups (bred elsewhere in captivity) and raises them with the goal of preserving the species and debunking “big bad wolf” stereotypes. Drop by to meet the pack during a 25-minute presentation about these fascinating, social creatures and their role in nature. As a keystone species, they allow entire ecosystems to thrive. Better yet, book one of the centre’s photo hikes, and wander the woods with a pack member or two. The wolves are trainedimprinted at a young age onto centre owners Shelley and Casey Blackwhich means they’re no danger, and game to pose for snaps between dashes into the woods to get their exercise.

                  6. Tuck in at local cafes, restaurants and pubs

                  Chicken curryFacebook/Riverhouse TavernGolden may not be a culinary capital, but it has a handful of dining spots that are much loved by residents. Try adorable Bluebird Cafe for perfectly frothed cappuccinos and yummy breakfast burritos, and Eleven22 for modern comfort food inspired by world cuisine, like Moroccan Vegetable Stew and Chicken Cashew Curry, served up inside a converted turn-of-the-century house. Riverhouse Tavern offers solid pub fare, like tacos, burgers and shepherd’s pie. Although the real draw here is the bicycle-thronged patio, the perfect place to nurse a cold one and mountain-gaze the day away.

                    7. See spectacular waterfalls at low water

                    WaterfallsKirsten RodenhizerIn the fall, it’s possible to get up closer to the area’s cascades than when they’re icy, or churning with spring runoff. One must-see: Wapta Falls in Yoho National Park. A short drive east and an easy half-hour hike through dense forest brings you to this pounding, 30-metre-high fall, surrounded by translucent pools and spray-made rainbows. Another is Thomson Falls, north of town, accessible via Blaeberry Forest Service M Road. Here, the Blaeberry River narrows and squeezes through a slot canyon. This time of year, you can walk out over a moonscape of eroded rock and carved basins, marvelling at how placid and aquamarine some of the pools remain compared to the quickly rushing sections.

                    8. Hike the sun-soaked trails

                      Yoho ParkTourism Golden (Agathe Bernard)Flanking Golden are six national parks, all threaded with incredible hiking trails: Yoho, Glacier, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Mount Revelstoke. The longest and steepest deliver the best views; for instance, Iceline Trail in Yoho, a 17-km loop that criss-crosses forest, crystalline streams, glaciers and waterfalls. For something easier on the knees, Loop Brook Trail in Glacier National Park runs along an old railway line for about two kilometres, with views of old stone trestles. Or try the nice flat Rotary Trail network in town, which runs next to the Kicking Horse River.

                      9. Explore Kicking Horse off-season and spot a grizzly... while you can

                        Kicking HorseKirsten RodenhizerChairlifts at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort are open through September 30th for hiking, mountain biking and ATVing. On sunny days, expect phenomenal views of the Columbia Valley and surrounding mountain ranges. Trail access is weather-dependent. This year, the resort is already getting snow at higher elevations. Also open through September is the Grizzly Bear Refuge, the largest enclosed and protected bear habitat in the world, at eight hectares. Boo the grizzly, orphaned by a poacher and rescued as a cub, has roamed here since 2003, hunting, fishing, digging and playing as he would in the wild. If you miss your chance for a tour, mark your calendar for next year: the refuge reopens to the public in late June.