48 Hours in Kootenay
Southeastern B.C. may be sparsely populated numbers-wise, but it’s dense with quirky towns, complex history, offbeat activities and some major warmth burbling up from the earth’s core.
Cross Upper Arrow Lake on the Shelter Bay ferry south of Revelstoke before checking into your cozy cabin at Halcyon Hot Springs (5655 Hwy. 23), first opened in 1894 and known in the 1910s and ’20s as a party hot spot where you could drink, dance and gamble the night away, notwithstanding those pesky Prohibition laws.
Grab your bathing suit and a loonie for the locker and head straight for the four pools—temps come in hot, warm, swimming and freezing-cold plunge—for a soak in the lithium-rich waters before dinner at on-site Kingfisher Restaurant. Request a table by the window when you make your reservation so you can watch the sun go down over Upper Arrow Lake and the Monashee Mountains as you sip a glass of Naramata syrah and dine on locally inspired dishes, like a massive quinoa salad with creamy dressing, topped with roasted B.C. beets and sunflower seeds.
You don’t need another dip before checkout, but don’t say goodbye yet: leave your bags in the car and borrow a kayak, canoe or pedal boat for a jaunt around the ultra-clear and largely traffic-free lake. En route to Kaslo, take a detour into Nakusp and stop by What’s Brewing on Broadway (420 Broadway St.) for an iced almond milk latte made with Kicking Horse coffee. Bring it with you to the Nakusp Hot Springs, yet another natural Jacuzzi with a gorgeous setting. Chill like a Kootenay type.
Once you’ve towelled off (don’t bank on your suit drying out at any point during the weekend), make your way down Highway 6 past New Denver until you’re about 20 minutes from Sandon, then pull off at the sign for Retallack Lodge. Park your car and stretch your legs on the one-kilometre loop of the Retallack Cedars Trail, where the centuries-old trees have hosted hibernating black bears as well as film crews for the movie version of Snow Falling on Cedars. Mosey on to the quaint town of Kaslo and park on Front Street for dinner at BlueBelle Bistro and Beanery (347 Front St.), which serves up an eclectic menu featuring the most inspired chicken mole in the Kootenays and rotating brews on tap from Nelson Brewing Co.—the Harvest Moon Hemp Ale always seems apropos in these parts.
Keep your eyes on the road, not the view, as you head southward along Kootenay Lake toward Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort (3609 Hwy. 31). Check into your room, then head to the pools for a pre-bedtime soak—they empty out right before closing at 9:30 p.m., so take advantage of the lull for some alone time in the dark, steamy, waist-high waters of the horseshoe-shaped cave.
Put on your walking shoes for an easy uphill hike behind the hot pools, where you can see the source of the springs and take in a catch-your-breath view of Kootenay Lake. Back at the pools, take advantage of the relaxed a.m. vibe—access is for hotel guests only from 8:30 to 10—for one last soak before you depart.
Southward from Ainsworth lies Nelson, the cool village that passes for a dose of urbanity in these parts. Brunch at Cantina del Centro (561 Baker St.), whose fresh triple-shot margaritas and extensive tequila and mezcal list will have you bargaining over who gets to escape from driving duty. Luckily, all cocktails are available virgin, and the huevos rancheros and rich habanero-chocolate tart will make up for any lack of booze.
Whichever your choice, follow it up by heading up the street to the home base of Nelson’s Oso Negro coffee roaster (604 Ward St.) for a bag of beans, many organic and fair trade, and a cup of joe for the road.