What better way to start the touring season than by soaking your way through the scenic Kootenay Rockies?
Home to national parks, snow-capped mountains, and a quirky counter-culture, the Kootenay Rockies region is dotted with natural hot springs world-renowned for their healing qualities. These springs and pools are a great vantage point for soaking in breathtaking natural surroundings.
Join us for a circle tour of rest and rejuvenation through this stunning landscape. The tour starts and ends in Cranbrook, is around 1,100 km in length (640 mi) and typically takes five to seven days to complete.
Start in Cranbrook, where you can pay a visit to "Trains Deluxe", the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel. Wander through a nine-car rolling hotel and experience the height of elegance in railway travel. Nearby, the Ktunaxa Interpretive Centre, located in the St. Eugene's Mission, offers an authentic First Nations experience featuring a rustic teepee village, arts and crafts, and museum-quality exhibits.
Next, there's a fork in the road - choose either historic Fort Steele or Kimberley. Fort Steele Heritage Town (www.fortsteele.ca) helps you "Experience Yesterday Today" with trade demonstrations, period interpreters, heritage gardens, over 60 shops, live shows, and restaurants. Kimberley is known both as "The City of Festivals" and the "Bavarian City of the Rockies". Here you'll find world-championship golf courses, friendly locals, and Canada's largest freestanding cuckoo clock.
Whichever road you take, rejoin Highway 93/95 as it moves north towards Windermere.
Along the way visit Lussier Hot Springs at Whiteswan Provincial Park, on Highway 93/95 (22 km north of Skookumchuck, 8 km south of Canal Flats). This is a wild experience! BC Parks maintains a five-minute walking path down to the pools; it's wheelchair friendly, but can be extremely slippery in the winter. There is one small changehouse at the top. The pools are framed in natural rock with gravel bottoms, and each is a step down in temperature (from 110°F/43°C down to 94°F/34°C), with the third pool just steps from the Lussier River.
Farther North along Highway 93/95, stop in at Fairmont Hot Springs where the water is always hot, and the mountain scenery is majestic. Soothe your muscles with a soak after an afternoon on the road or a round on one of the valley's exceptional golf courses.
Just past the towns of Windermere and Invermere is Radium Hot Springs, home to Canada's largest mineral pool. You may encounter local head-bangers; each fall, winter and spring, Bighorn sheep are frequently seen in the village, on neighbouring low elevation benchlands, and the valley bottom.
Heading North up Highway 95, consider a side trip to Bugaboo Provincial Park. Witness granite spires carved by the elements, a popular mountaineering destination and home to a rustic hut maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada.
The next stop is Golden, a town at the junction of the Kicking Horse and Columbia Rivers. Golden is a town with never-ending stories. Take the name Kicking Horse: an explorer was crossing the river when he was hoofed in the chest by a delinquent horse. His friends took him for dead, but as they began to bury him, he sat bolt upright. They called the river the Kicking Horse.
Sound like a wild story? Wait until you see the river!
From the excitement of Golden and the Kicking Horse, take Highway 1 West towards Revelstoke, through Glacier National Park and over the 1,382 m (4,600 ft) Roger's Pass. Glacier National Park is home to two campgrounds and a great place to ski, hike, and climb.
By now you might be ready for another soak! Stop at Albert Canyon and at the Canyon Hot Springs. A nearby Giant Cedars walk, ghost town, and outdoor recreation activities will help round out your stay.
From here, continue into Revelstoke, the 'Home of the World's Largest Sculpted Grizzly Bears'. Visit the Revelstoke Dam and Railway Museum and learn the story of the men and women who put the city on the map.
Next, head South on Highway 23, crossing Upper Arrow Lake on the Galena Bay Ferry (free) towards Halcyon Hot Springs. Halcyon is surrounded by steep alpine peaks, crystal blue lakes, rivers and streams, and an abundance of wildlife. Springs are harnessed at the Halcyon Hot Springs Resort featuring a hot pool (107°F/41°C); warm pool (95°F/35°C); cold pool and children's pool (85°F/29°C). There are extensive walking and hiking trails, horseback rides, a boat launch, fishing, swimming, and ATV packages available during the summer months. In the winter, you can enjoy snowmobiling, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing.
Continuing South along Highway 23, discover Nakusp, a pretty little town home to a Hot Springs Resort with naturally-heated pools that range from 100°F/38°C to 106°F/46°C. The cross-country ski trails in the winter and backcountry hiking in the summer provide pleasant pastimes.
South along Highway 6 you'll find the sleepy mountain village of New Denver. The former mining town is now noted mainly for its spectacular location on Slocan Lake, with the peaks of the Valhalla Mountains rising more than 2,100m (6,825 ft) on the opposite shore.
From New Denver you can take a side trip 8 km (5mi) on Highway 31A to the ghost town of Sandon which in the 1890s was known as the Monte Carlo of North America. Further along Highway 31A, 47 km (29 mi) is the lake town of Kaslo. Here visitors can walk through Victorian streets and heritage sites and board the CPR sternwheeler SS Moyie, a dry-docked museum.
Leaving New Denver, continue south on Highway 6 along the shores of Slocan Lake. When you come to Castlegar, stop at the Doukhobor Heritage Village. From here you can opt to take a side trip down to picturesque Grand Forks, located on Highway 3 in the Thompson Okanagan.
Highways 3A and 3B both lead to the mining communities of Rossland and Trail. Nestled in a volcanic crater, the steep hills around Rossland are home to Red Mountain Ski Resort and have helped it become known as the 'mountain bike capital of BC'. Trail was built around the Cominco Smelter in 1895 and drew workers from around the world. The large Italian community is said to be the home of British Columbia's best Italian food.
Travel east from Trail to Salmo. Salmo began as a railway siding town called Salmon Siding on the Burlington Railway Line and grew with the nearby silver and gold mining industries. Salmo claims to have the world's oldest telephone booth on the property of the Sal-Crest Motel, and the world's largest penny - dedicated on July 1, 1995, Canada's Birthday.
After exploring Salmo drive Highway 6 north to the city of Nelson. With more artists and craftspeople per capita than any other city in Canada, Nelson is often described as a 'funky' mountain community. Take a heritage walking tour and explore some of the 355 fine heritage homes, hotels, and shops.
From Nelson travel East towards Balfour. For your next hot spring experience take a side trip 15 km (9 mi) North up Highway 31 to world-renowned Ainsworth Hot Springs. The resort's springs feature a unique horseshoe-shaped cave where the darkness, the mineral deposits, and the humidity combine for an experience that is exciting, and relaxing, all at once.
Back at Balfour, take the Kootenay Lake Ferry - the longest free ferry ride in the world - and follow Highway 3A south to Creston. Creston is located in one of the widest and flattest valleys in the region and is a stop on the Pacific flyway - the migration route for thousands of birds.
Visit the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area before driving back to Cranbrook along Highway 3 (95) and completing the hot springs and heritage circle tour of the Kootenay Rockies.
The Hot Springs and Heritage Circle Tour, located in the Kootenay Rockies Tourism Region, starts and finishes in the city of Cranbrook. There are numerous communities to visit on the route. More details can be accessed by clicking on the community links.
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia