Adventure & Outdoors
Plan Your Trip to the West Kootenays
What to see and do—and where to stay—in BC's West Kootenay region.
From the soothing sensation of being enveloped in warm water to the therapeutic value of the natural minerals, BC’s hot springs perfectly complement the adventure found on local mountains and waterways.
Begin your tour in Cranbrook, which over the years has transitioned from a thriving railway town to become the largest city in the Kootenay Rockies, and home to the Canadian Rockies International Airport (YXC). Admire 19th-century heritage homes, and visit the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel’s award-winning collection of restored railcars and locomotives. Make time for a day-trip to nearby Fort Steele Heritage Town and go back in time to experience “wild west” life in a restored 1860s gold rush town.
Drive north along Highway 95A to Kimberley.
Plan to spend a few days in Kimberley. This alpine resort community is an excellent destination for those who want to commune with nature. The immense Kimberley Nature Park—the biggest municipal park in BC—offers everything from short, easy loop trails to more strenuous trails with sufficient gain in elevation.
Kimberley is located between the Purcell and the Rocky mountains, which means access to spectacular hiking opportunities. Try a hike up to Sunflower Hill for a view of The Steeples and the Rocky Mountain trench, particularly refreshing on a brisk day. Or head to the St. Mary River, considered to be one of North America’s top spots to fly-fish for rainbow, cutthroat, and bull trout. From spring to fall, stop in at Kimberley’s Underground Mining Railway for a little history, ride the rails, and tour historic Sullivan Mine (open weekends only from May to September).
Continue north on Highway 93/95 to Fairmont Hot Springs.
Fairmont’s year-round, crystal clear hot springs pools beckon with their steamy, mineral-rich waters. The resort also offers 45 scenic holes of golf, access to hiking and biking trails, spa services, and even skiing in the winter.
Continue north, to Radium Hot Springs, and stop in Invermere on the Lake to cool off with a swim or a paddle, or enjoy the serenity of a canoe or kayak trip down the Columbia River.
Radium Hot Springs, located in Kootenay National Park, is one of the largest hot spring mineral pools in Canada. Soak away your tensions while gazing up at the red cliffs of Sinclair Canyon. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, and if you’re here in November you won’t want to miss the Headbanger Festival, a celebration of rutting season. Think two 70-kg (150-lb) animals running at one another full tilt, horns colliding with a deafening crash in a battle for dominance. Add some historical context with a hike to the Stanley Glacier to see fossils dating back some 500 million years. You can access the site on your own, or book a guided hike (reservations open in January).
Note: Radium Hot Springs is currently closed for renovations. Check their website for the latest information.
Continue north on Highway 95 to Golden.
Golden is set on the banks of the Columbia River, North America’s largest wetland, abundant with wildlife. It is close to national parks, including Yoho National Park, home to wonders ranging from powerful waterfalls to 500 million-year-old fossil beds. Mountain biking and whitewater rafting are popular activities here, and a literal and figurative highlight is a meal at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort—Eagle’s Eye Restaurant is the country’s highest elevation dining experience at 2,347 m (7,700 ft ).
Take Highway 1 east to Rogers Pass.
Rogers Pass National Historic Site, between Golden and Revelstoke, is one of BC’s great mountain crossings. Visit the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre to learn about the discovery of the pass and the completion of the railway, and to see natural history displays. Set in the Columbia Mountains between Glacier and Mount Revelstoke national parks is Canyon Hot Springs, home to two natural mineral hot pools that ease muscles sore from travelling.
Continue east to Revelstoke.
During the 19th-century mining boom, Columbia River sternwheelers connected the rugged town of Revelstoke to the railway. Today, walk through the alpine city to see some 60 restored heritage buildings as well as the Revelstoke Railway Museum (open October to April). Nearby, drive to alpine meadows in Mount Revelstoke National Park and head to Revelstoke Mountain Resort to ride the Pipe Mountain Coaster. West of town, stroll past hundreds of hand-crafted folk art figurines on the Enchanted Forest’s Wild Land Interpretive Walk, and visit the ghost town of 3 Valley Gap.
Drive south on Highway 23 to Halcyon and Nakusp hot springs.
Halcyon Hot Springs features four mineral-rich pools overlooking Upper Arrow Lake and the Monashee Mountains. Ahhh. In the village of Nakusp, stroll the lakeside Waterfront Walkway and then relax in the soothing hot springs, nestled in the Kuskanax Valley in the foothills of the Selkirk Mountains.
Continue south to New Denver.
New Denver and Silverton sit on the eastern shore of Slocan Lake, where you’ll find museums, artisan studios, and plenty of outdoor activity options such as the popular Galena Trail, a favourite among hikers and mountain bikers. A section of the trail includes a cable-car crossing over Carpenter Creek that accommodates bikes. In New Denver, visit the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre, a museum that pays tribute to the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II. Another must is a visit to Sandon, a historic gold rush ghost town once known as the “Monte Carlo of the North.”
Follow Highway 31A to Kaslo.
Kaslo’s natural harbour once bustled with activity as ore-barges, rowboats, steamships, and sternwheelers jostled for a place alongside the busy wharf. Today you can tour the S.S. Moyie, the world’s oldest intact passenger sternwheeler. Depending on your schedule, a foray into nature here may consist of a quick hike to powerful Fletcher Falls, or it may mean pitching a tent and staying a while. Kokanee Creek Provincial Park boasts long, sandy beaches, old-growth western cedar and grand fir, and great frontcountry camping. For backcountry enthusiasts, embark on an adventure in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, with its 1,200-metre long alpine jewel—Kokanee Lake—surrounded by precipitous cliffs and rock slides, as well as other scenic lakes like the gem-coloured Sapphire Lakes.
Continue south along Highway 31 to Ainsworth Hot Springs and the Kootenay Lake Ferry.
Sink into the soothing mineral waters of Ainsworth Hot Springs, with its large lounging pool and a stream-fed cold plunge. Owned by the Yaqan Nukiy people of the Ktunaxa First Nation, this unique hot springs features a horseshoe-shaped cave lined with stalagmites and stalactites. Just north of Ainsworth via a 25-minute drive, take a guided caving tour of the Cody Caves, the result of 170 million years of flowing water and dissolving limestone.
Fifteen minutes south, take the free Kootenay Lake ferry—the longest free ferry ride in the world—and drive to Crawford Bay. This charming arts community is home to a proportionately large number of artisans specializing in media ranging from soap to brooms.
Travel south on Highway 3A to Creston.
Creston is home to four wineries, so sampling should be on your agenda. Another must is a visit to the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, a refuge for more than 300 bird species. Follow the boardwalk trail to a three-story viewing tower, or take to the rivers, lakes, and marshes for canoeing and kayaking.
From here, it’s about a 75-minute drive back to your starting point of Cranbrook.
Opening image: Halcyon Hot Springs. Photo: Dave Heath
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