The Arrow Lakes and Slocan Valley is home to tranquil valleys that are remote and sparsely populated. This was not always the case. In the late 1800s prospectors flocked here from all over North America in search of rich mining claims. Only a few made fortunes, however the mining legacy is evident all over the region in charming small towns and villages that are built in the valleys of the Selkirk mountain range.
The Arrow Lakes owe their present size to the Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar. Prior to 1969, the Arrow Lakes were two smaller lakes joined by a 32 km (20 mi) river. The Arrow Lakes run from Revelstoke in the north, south to Castlegar, and are the main drainage system for the west Kootenays. The lakes are teeming with rainbow and cutthroat trout, Dolly Varden, and kokanee.
The Slocan Valley exploded in the 1890s with the development of silver and lead mining and communities like Slocan, New Denver, Silverton and Sandon sprang up. Mines here were worked until high production costs and low ore prices ended the boom.
48 km (29 mi) northwest of New Denver along Highway 6 in a picturesque setting at the foot of the Selkirk Mountains, on the east shore of the Arrow Lakes, is the village of Nakusp. Like so many other communities in this region Nakusp was first established during the mining boom in the Slocan Valley at the turn of the twentieth century. Ringed by the Selkirk Mountains to the east, the Valhallas to the south and the Monashee Mountains to the west, Nakusp offers two hot springs to relax in and a host of outdoor recreational opportunities.
The Nakusp Hot Springs, open year-round, invite visitors to relax in their soothing waters. Surrounded by mountains, the pools are naturally heated and range in temperature from 38°C/100° F to 41°Celsius/106°F.
Situated just 10 km (6 mi) south of Nakusp on Highway 6 heading towards the Lower Arrows ferry terminal is McDonald Creek Park, one of a system of four provincial parks on the Arrow Lake reservoir. With facilities on the eastern shoreline, the park is a destination for swimming, boating and fishing opportunities.
Continuing south on Highway 6 between Nakusp and Fauquier (pronounced “Folkier”), you will pass through the small community of Burton and if you look up you will notice many osprey nests perched on the tops of power poles. The ospreys return to the nests every spring to raise their young. It’s in Fauquier that you pick up the free cable ferry which crosses Lower Arrow Lake and joins Highway 6 towards the Okanagan.
Heading north from Nakusp on Highway 23 towards Revelstoke is Halcyon Hot Springs. The natural hot springs found at Halcyon have made this spot overlooking Upper Arrow Lake a popular destination. Continuing north you will cross on another ferry. The Upper Arrow Lake Ferry travels from Shelter Bay and Galena Bay connecting Highway 23.
Past the ferry crossing and 25 km (15 mi) south of Revelstoke on Highway 23 is Blanket Creek Park and where Blanket Creek flows into the Columbia River just north of the Upper Arrow Lake. Popular with locals, this park was originally a farm and has now been developed to provide recreational opportunities. With its warm man-made swimming lagoon, adventure playground, historic homestead site and easy access to scenic Sutherland Falls, this park offers enjoyment for the entire family.
Revelstoke is located at the junction of Highway 1 and Highway 23, nestled between the spectacular Selkirk and Monashee Mountains and is the gateway to Mt. Revelstoke National Park, a place of incredible contrasts. The park is known for its spectacular summer sub-alpine wildflower meadows and rugged peaks. The peak of Mt. Revelstoke can be reached by travelling the Meadows-In-The-Sky Parkway which takes visitors through a dense rain forest of cedar and pine, sub alpine forest and meadows. From Balsam Lake the mountain can be explored on a number of hiking trails.
In Revelstoke visitors can stroll through the beautifully restored downtown and see over 60 buildings that date back to the late 1800s and that are home to quaint boutiques, casual coffee bars and restaurants. Just north of Revelstoke is the Revelstoke Dam operated by BC Hydro. Further east along Highway 1 is Three Valley Gap and Three Valley Gap Heritage Ghost Town.
Slocan on Highway 6 is located at the extreme south end of Slocan Lake. Slocan City, as the town was previously called, was a booming mining town back in the 1890s, when silver was discovered at nearby Sandon. The town was once the end of the line for railway travellers into the valley and served as a freight and passenger depot for sternwheelers heading up the Slocan Valley. Today, Slocan serves as an excellent base for outdoor adventure seekers wishing to explore the mountains, parks, lakes, rivers and streams in the area.
Valhalla Park, a favoured wilderness area, is right on Slocan’s doorstep. It runs 30 km (18 mi) along the west shore of Slocan Lake and most of the Valhalla range of the Selkirk Mountains. In the northwest, the New Denver Glacier dominates the landscape while the block shaped Devil’s Couch and Hela Peak define the central area. Cascades and waterfalls are common on almost every creek. The shoreline of Slocan Lake is for the most part a rugged combination of bluffs and large rocks interspersed with beautifully isolated pebble and sand beaches. Pictographs on the rock bluffs overhanging Slocan Lake are reminders of former First Nations inhabitants.
Heading north 27 km (17 mi) on Highway 6 from Slocan is the community of Silverton. Silverton Gallery and Mining Museum is a must-see, featuring an outdoor museum of mining equipment from the local mines at the turn of the twentieth century. The art gallery displays the works of the local artists and is also a theatre where performances are regularly scheduled year-round.
North another 8 km (5 mi) is New Denver. Founded in 1892 the Village of New Denver saw its first houses built by the mining prospectors. 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 2,100 m (6,825 ft) on the opposite shore.
The ghost town of Sandon, 8 km (5 mi) east of New Denver on Highway 31A, was in the 1890s known as Monte Carlo of North America. Famed for its unbelievably rich deposits of silver-lead ore following the 1891 discovery of silver, thousands of men soon filled the small valley almost to bursting. In its heyday, Sandon had a population of over 5,000 and boasted numerous hotels and saloons, three breweries, bordellos, schools and churches. Sandon was abandoned in the forties when the mines ran out and was severely damaged in a flood in the 1950s. But since the 1970s a group of dedicated volunteers has worked on-site to preserve and restore artifacts and buildings such as the beautiful Slocan Mercantile Block, which now houses the Sandon Historical Society Museum and Visitor’s Centre. Today, Sandon draws thousands of visitors a year to enjoy its many attractions and its amazing display of authentic British Columbia history.