Usually, when visiting family in Calgary, we make a beeline up to Highway 1 and make the direct drive in approximately 7 hours. This time, we were overdue for some R&R in the great outdoors and chose to do the journey sloooowly. We left on Labour Day, completed a 6-hour mountain hike and visited 4 very different hot springs over 4 days. Our first day was the longest day of driving (excepting the return home), from Penticton to Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, a short distance north of Nelson.
The requisite stop at the Deadwood coffee shop (& much more!) in Greenwood.
Settling in for the evening with the only campfire we would have on Kootenay River (Kokanee Creek Provincial Park)
To access the trailhead for our intended hike, we first needed to travel 19km on a progressively rougher logging road. Started out wide and relatively even gravel then became narrower, steeper, and more rutted. At a couple of points, the potholes were perfectly placed to make the van twist and wrench in a spiral motion. Once we made it to the parking lot, we noticed many of the vehicles wrapped in chicken wire. Investigating further, we learned that porcupines, who are nocturnal, love nothing more than chewing through brake lines! So, for those who will stay up at the cabin overnight, they must protect their vehicles from midnight raiders or risk not being able to drive out (or for a very exciting downhill drive!)
Reaching Kokanee Lake after 4.5km of climbing.
Rock climbing around the lake to encounter the beautiful meadows, with the last of the summer wildflowers before crossing the “pass” beyond which we had our lunch stop.
HOT SPRINGS #1: Ainsworth
This soak was a well-earned reward following our hike and gumby legs. Our last visit here was about 30 years ago. This is a ‘resort-style’ pool with the added element of the sauna-like caves that wind through the rocks. The pools are attached to a hotel and restaurant, offers spa services by appointment, and, since 2015 is operated by the Ktunaxa (“Kootenay”) people of the Lower Kootenay Band. Adults pay $14 for a single entry, $20 for a multiple one-day entry. The large pool is at a temperature that is comfortable enough to stay in for extended periods. The caves are much hotter and there is a cold plunge pool to “get your tingle on!”
After all the expensive crossings on B.C. Ferries to Vancouver Island & the Gulf Islands, S was NOT going to pass up crossing the lake on the free B.C. Ferry. S was also not going to pass up on a $5.35 grilled cheese & tomato sandwich from the quaint on-board café. On the other side (Harrop), we were going to take the forest service road across to Kimberley, but the first few km of the road came with dire warnings, so we did the extra 80 km drive around to Cranbrook before heading up to Whiteswan Provincial Park.
HOT SPRINGS #2: Lussier
Another 16km gravel mountain road to Lussier Hot Springs, and 30 more to the heart of Whiteswan Provincial Park. This side-road adventure had the added drama of being an active logging road with large trucks charging up and down the narrow, winding road. Luckily, we were able to camp at Moose Lake just a few km past the hot springs. So the trade-off for FREE and NATURAL hot springs is to walk down a 200m trail then to climb over large (& sometimes sharp) rocks for the glory of immersing yourself in one of 4 small rock pools on the side of a river. Each tiny pool has a different temperature from barely warmer than the river to very hot (hence the partial submersion in the pic). As it was busy, we also had to climb over and around others in the pools but we were entertained by some of the characters that appear to be regulars. When we were last here in 2000, Lussier Hot Springs was little known except to locals. The retaining walls and improved trail down the slope are evidence that the cat is out of the bag.
HOT SPRINGS #3: Fairmont
This is a long-established, destination hot springs resort. A large 3-pool complex with extensive hotel accommodations, a large fully-serviced campground, extensive trails, golf, and a ski hill. S used to come to Fairmont as a child as his family travelled for vacation between Edmonton and Vancouver. Again, our last visit here was many years ago. The pools cost $22.95 for an adult day pass but there is a 25% discount when camping. We managed to get a camp site just a short walk across a foot bridge to the pools so spent the entire afternoon poolside, alternating reading and swimming. The pools are open until 9 pm, and after having dinner at our campsite, suddenly at about 7 p.m., everyone seemed to emerge from their RVs like gophers in spring, towels in hand, to head down to the pools as the sun went down. We joined them.
Near Canal Flats is a small walk that takes you to the source of the Columbia River.
HOT SPRINGS #4: Radium
Contained within Kootenay National Park and managed by Parks Canada, this is one of the oldest hot springs. As a heritage site, they can only maintain it, but have improved the access with expanded parking, underpasses, and a café and terrace to open next year. It consists of 2 pools (different temperatures) literally a few metres below a busy highway. The benefit of a Parks Canada facility is the low entry fee (adults $7.30). The last time we stopped in here was in early January to break up a long drive between Calgary & Penticton more than a decade ago. There is extra magic sitting in this pool with snow on the mountains.