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Kootenay Vacation Staycation

I’m sure you’ve heard the catch phrase “staycation” and may have created your own over the past 18+ months.

As you are aware, I call Penticton, BC home. My little slice of paradise. You may also be aware that I do love “Beautiful BC”, and have spent countless days exploring it – from camping and fishing to road trips to city stays. Every nook of this amazing province offers unique experiences for us to enjoy, encounter and become enriched by.

Of course, we have been in lock down for what seems like an eternity, especially for someone like me, who enjoys being rejuvenated by travel experiences.

When our province opened up once again to travel, I began looking at creating some “downtime”, a vacation, for my husband and I to escape the every day responsibilities of staying home.

So where does one “staycation” when they already live in paradise? I considered two choices, each of them hinging on the amazing gift of being able to visit family we had not seen for a very long time. The first consideration was a Vancouver Island Tour. I love it there and have been there many times. We both love the ocean, the green richness that envelopes the Island, and the genuine kindness of the people who call it home. The second consideration was the Kootenay region. Much closer to home, still the beautiful green hues, and numerous lakes, the mountains and rivers. After much deliberation, we settled on a combination pack!

Day 1

Taking the Hope-Princeton Highway (Highway 3) for its stunning scenery, it took us just over 6 hours to arrive in Tsawwassen where we spent the night at the Coast Tsawwassen Inn. On the way down, we stopped in Hope for dinner and to recharge our electric car. Heading to the Coast there are so many options for charging – so don’t hesitate to take the leap and ditch the “gas” vehicles. Of course, our gas vehicle was safely housed at home. (lol) We’ve stayed at the Coast Tsawwassen Inn before – charging stations, very comfy beds and an excellent breakfast were all included in the stay! The next morning, we had packed up, loaded the car, and went to breakfast. To our delight and surprise, friends from Quesnel were also staying at the hotel and we had a chance to catch up and visit with them! Put a smile on our face!!

Day 2

The next step – a BC Ferry ride from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay just a hop, skip and jump from Sidney. The crossing takes about 90 minutes and offers such beautiful scenery that only Beautiful BC can offer (well, maybe New Zealand or Alaska can compete). For an early morning departure, put on a sweater and sit outside. It’s breathtaking. Of course, there’s plenty of seating inside along with food and beverage services, and for the kids there’s things for them to enjoy as well. There’s a small gift shop on board too if you are looking for a souvenir.

I’m strongly recommending making a reservation when taking the BC Ferry crossings. Yes, you do have to arrive early, but you will not be disappointed like others that get turned away because of a full ferry.

I have a sister and a nephew and his family living on the Island and seeing them was the biggest draw to a visit there. We only had a day. Having visited Victoria many, many times, we decided to spend that day in Sidney, exploring and experiencing the oceanside beauty. It was a perfect day. The sun shone, a light breeze blew, and the temperature a very comfortable 25 degrees.

Art on Sidney Waterfront Walk
Crab for Lunch or Dinner?

Upon our arrival in Swartz Bay, we took the quick drive to Sidney. There’s plenty of day parking available and this little gem town is perfect to explore on foot and then hop back into the vehicle to drive to the parks, where the focus is the ocean. That’s pretty much what we did! We met with my sister at the parkade and explored Beacon Park with its art walk, Glass Beach, Aquarium, and the fishing piers that jut out into the ocean where we encountered people bringing in their fresh crab for dinner (or maybe their lunch!) Following our walkabout, we headed off to our restaurant for lunch, where my nephew and his family joined us. It’s been many years since I’ve seen them – so this was a highlight – family – enjoying and extended lunch together! Perfect. My sister had confirmed reservations at the Surly Mermaid for lunch, and I strongly recommend that you confirm reservations at any restaurants in this seaside town, they were all packed! After lunch, my nephew went his way, and my sister and the two of us jumped back in the car and headed out exploring again. Our drive took us to Moses Point. We stayed here for quite some time, turning over rocks, peering into the clear tidal pools, watching the birds soar, and getting wet from the clams shooting water up as they dug down. It permitted time for reflection, conversation, and rejuvenation on the shores of the Pacific Ocean at the point of Saanich Inlet. All too soon the day on Vancouver Island had to come to an end and we made the journey back to Sidney, dropped my sister off at her car and took the return ferry ride back to the mainland, sitting outside on the deck, soaking in the rays of the sun and feeling the gentle breeze. It was indeed a perfect day. That night we were so happy and blessed to be able to spend the night at our cousin’s house and again visit with family.

Day 3

Today brought about the main reason for your trip to the Lower Mainland. We had the opportunity to visit with our aunt who suffers from dementia and is in a long-term care home. We were able to take her out to a nearby park, sit, visit, talk, go for a walk, and admire the beautiful gardens. Reminiscing doesn’t really work well, so, as it is with all patients who suffer from Alzheimer’s, the conversation went where the conversation went. We treasured every moment. Just by happenstance, this day also was the birthday of another member of our extended family, and we got to visit, eat dinner and cake and sing Happy Birthday to a very happy 3 year old! Another excellent day.

Day 4

This day was about coming back home to Penticton, attending Mass, getting a good night’s sleep in our own bed, switching from our electric vehicle to our gas powered one. We were heading into the Kootenays and charging stations we fewer and further apart.

Day 5

We began early in the morning as we drove to Three Valley Gap and spent the night. It’s about a 3.5-hour drive which afforded us to enjoy a leisurely trip stopping along the way at places we usually pass by. Sadly, the smoke from wildfires filled the air. I had planned to “go up” a few mountains but we chose to stay low knowing we wouldn’t have any views due to the wildfires. A sight that never gets old is the incredible beauty of Kalamalka Lake. A long, narrow lake, it ends just south of Vernon. Due to the limestone deposits, its waters have several hues of blues and greens blending and flowing throughout the whole length of the lake. It’s beautiful and swimmable in the summer months and several campsites huddle close to the shore.

Need cheese? Well, sadly, we didn’t so we continued past Armstrong and into Enderby. I had scheduled a stop at Falling Coconut for some “shopping” and ice cream, but they were closed with limited opening hours during the pandemic. And yes, I was a little disappointed. However, we had arranged to meet a dear friend for lunch in Salmon Arm, just a short half hour drive away, so it was a good thing my ice cream stop was closed. We spent a couple of very relaxing hours catching up with friends we hadn’t seen for a very long time before once again hitting the road!

Our next drive through town was Sicamous, famous for its houseboat rentals on the beautiful Shuswap Lake. We actually rented a houseboat many years ago – I highly recommend this very family/friend friendly way to vacation! For train buffs – the Last Spike just after Craigellachie is a must stop located just 40 minutes away from Salmon Arm. Here the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven in the railway in 1885.

En route to Three Valley Lake are a couple of very enjoyable family activities – Crazy Creek with its hot pools, trails and suspension bridge – the Enchanted Forest which has been around for a very long time and is a charming nature walk where you will uncover and discover fairy tale characters. There are activities for the kids to take part in, “houses” to explore, boat rides to enjoy on the lake and even an adventure park.

Three Valley Gap Resort Lobby

When we arrived at Three Valley Lake and our lodging for the night Three Valley Lake Lodge, I was definitely ready for a little dip in the lake! When I made the reservation, I was informed that we would not have internet and we would not have air conditioning – oh boy – imagine that – no work for me! Fortunately, we did have a mega fan in the room – yes, we were in the midst of the “heat dome” that covered the province. This lodge is a very interesting mix of old versus new and truly has the “lodge” feel. There are little surprises here and there – an indoor solarium, an indoor pool, a grand foyer. Our room had an amazing view of the lake! The restaurant attached to the lodge has to be entered from outside as it has no physical connection to it. The menu is simple, and the food is good home cooking. Nothing fancy and not too expensive. PS – the homemade blueberry pie was to die for!

View from Room of Three Valley Lake
Taking a Dip in Three Valley Lake

Three Valley Lake is a glacier fed lake and when we checked in I asked how warm it was. She mentioned, because of the heat dome, it was really warm. Well, really warm, might be pushing it – it did have that ‘’’ooo…I’m going in chill, but soon grew on me and I did spend some time enjoying the coolness. My hubby did find the creek feeding the lake coming in pretty much right beside where I was swimming.

There is a “ghost town” adjacent to the hotel, and hotel guests get a discount for the entry ticket. I really do recommend touring through this ghost town – it is really well done. It’s not a typical “town” like Barkerville, for example, but many of the buildings and fixtures, etc, were rescued, purchased and brought here to create this ghost town. I really enjoyed touring it. Outside of the pandemic, it does have “activities” during the day for visitors to participate in and enjoy. I liked our overnight stop here.

Three Valley Gap Ghost Town

Day 6

Giant Cedars
Rogers Pass

Our drive from Three Valley Lake to Fairmont Hot Springs brought us through Revelstoke, alongside the mighty (almost) Columbia River, into Glacier National Park, through Golden and then to our hotel, home for the next three nights. By this time, we had picked up a fair bit of smoke and it kept us on the ground instead of up the mountain for a view of the valley. Fortunately, the smoke was aloft, so we had clear air to enjoy one of the highlights of the trip for me – the gentle hike through the Giant Cedars Boardwalk. These towering cedars are easily enjoyed by walking along the boardwalk carefully placed throughout the forest. They tower above you; your senses are overwhelmed by the smell of the cedars and it’s a wonderful respite from the heat of the day. Revelstoke is a nature lovers paradise. There’s everything from white water rafting to fishing to kayaking, to horseback riding to mountain biking to summer and winter activities at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. Rogers Pass is a breathtaking drive. We stopped in Golden to do some shopping and I was a little disappointed until I found the perfect shop for me! There’s so much enjoyment when you find the gift you were looking for! When we arrived at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, it was dinner and soak!

Pool for Resort Guests
Public Pools

The Fairmont Hot Springs Resort is wonderful! There are several different room categories – from fancy to cabins to suit your needs. There is a separate hot pool for guests at the resort in the middle of the grounds and we spent most of our time there. There is an indoor hot and cold plunge pool in the spa area – and cold means cold! But, I guess after spending time in the sauna, gym, spa or steam room – you really do need to get cold! There are warning signs posted to watch your exposure in the hot springs. Away from the private area for guests is the main pools for everyone to enjoy – hotel guests get a wrist band to enter without paying extra. There’s a lap pool, the hot soak pool and the dive tank which is closed for now. It gets super busy! What really surprised me is just how many families were there – kids of all ages, so don’t expect to much quiet time. The hotel also offers free outdoor yoga sessions and other activities, including mini golf just off the property – so you won’t be bored! There’s a lot of wildlife around – they mostly visit in the morning – but, when we were there, there was a lot of mosquitos! I had to go and buy bug spray!! The restaurants are pretty good. The food is not fancy, but we never had a bad meal – good, almost home cooking, meals. No complaints! There’s an onsite coffee shop as well, although we did find that to be a big pricey.

It’s a great location to go exploring from and we really took advantage of that aspect of the stay.

Day 7

WOW! We took this day to go into Kootenay National Park and experience its incredible beauty. The Canadian Rockies soar, Kootenay mountain ranges beckon you to stop and take a picture, the milky Kootenay River and the crystal-clear Vermilion River entice you – but beware, they are moving very, very quickly and are ice cold! Deep start canyons and tumbling waterfalls will take your breath away and there’s hidden gems to uncover everywhere. The park’s landscape is so very beautiful and deserves your time there – relax, take your time, and enjoy!! You will need a park pass to enter – it’s $10.00 per person per day (or $20 per family, youth are free) – so really inexpensive. Display it on your dash and go explore.

Radium Hot Springs is just inside the park and many people visiting stay in the small town of Radium which has all the services you need. We did not soak in the Radium Hot Springs, but because of its easy access, it’s very popular with locals and transient visitors from BC and Alberta. The waters are clear and very welcoming in the Hot Springs. There are towels to rent and lines can be long since no advance reservations are taken. Just be prepared for the weather and also note there is no shade to provide an escape from the sun. There is a picnic area available for families to enjoy a picnic together after their soak. It’s super family friendly as well!

Marble Rock in Marble Canyon

Our mission was to get to Marble Canyon – about a 1.5-hour drive from Fairmont. This was a highlight of the whole vacation! We traveled through Kootenay National Park, stopped a couple of times to enjoy pullouts – but when we arrived at the entrance to Marble Canyon it’s deceptively inviting and, although beautiful, not too impressive – UNTIL – you start the roundtrip trek. A very well-groomed gravel path with some railings, some rest areas and several bridges to cross unveil the indescribable beauty of this hidden gem, that can only be experienced once you begin the trek. You climb until you reach the summit and experience the cold spray, the plummeting waterwalls, the narrow gorges that hide the glacier cold waters of the Kootenay River as you are treated to the rare beauty and power of water cutting through rock. The hike is only about 30 minutes, but you’ll be stopping to take in the beauty – so add on some time and experience the wonder!

Marble Canyon
Marble Canyon

There’s so much to experience in Kootenay National Park – Marble Canyon, the Paint Pots, Dog Lake, Olive Lake, Simpson River trail, the Vermillon Crossing, Numa Falls, Glacier trails, Meadows to camp and rest at, the Continental Divide rest area, several viewpoints where you can gaze at gorges, mountain ranges, and raging rivers, hot springs and so much more. Take a day – or two – and let nature take you away. One incredibly striking event for me was as we were driving from Radium to the Canyon – everything was so lush and green, then we turned a corner. In 2003, a huge fire swept through the park, and it burned for 40 days destroying 18,000 hectares of the lush scenery we had just driven through. There is a stark reminder of the danger of fire, but even in the desolate, barren landscape that is now there, you can see life returning. Day 7 was a day I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of!

Radium Hot springs Public Pools

Day 8

We went exploring – we had been following the Kootenay and Columbia River on this journey and we were determined to explore them further. So, we went for a drive – down a dirt road and didn’t get quite close enough – too much marsh and weeds in our way. We also took a look at the possibility of going to a beach and just chilling out. Beaches in Invermere include the Kinsmen, Windermere and James Chabot which all welcome sun seekers. These beaches on Windermere Lake were super busy, so be prepared for a wait for parking spots if you don’t arrive early. Of course, I had arranged some “food experiences” along the way – and the fried chicken at the Ullr Bar had super high ratings. I was not disappointed – it was a unique, delicious treat! Restaurants are very, very busy in Invermere – head off the main drive to find others – like the Ullr Bar. Of course, upon our return to the Fairmont, a soak in the hot springs was a must!!

We did take a break at Panorama Mountain Resort near Invermere where many, many bikers were there taking the chair lift up and biking back down. It actually was very busy there. A couple of places were selling burgers, etc., but I was surprised at how many family friendly activities were on the mountain.

Day 9

Off to Ainsworth Hot Springs! This five-hour drive had us travel through Canal Flats – an incredibly cute community that we just had to stop and explore. The Kootenay River flows through this small community heading south and the mighty Columbia River begins here with a simple spring that comes up from the ground at Canal Flats, and it heads northward. There’s a narrow 2 km strip of land that separates them! Amazing!! It was 32 degrees, but we were determined to take the 1.5 – 2 km hike into the spring. Unfortunately, a little sign that said, “bear in area”, was enough to keep me from trekking in 30-degree heat. I know I cannot outrun the bear or my husband! This small community has a beautiful beach, hiking trails and the local are super friendly – waving to us as we drove through!!

After exploring Canal Flats, we drove through Skookumchuk (don’t blink) and decided not to go to Fort Steele as many of their attractions were closed due to COVID. We continued through Cranbrook and stopped in Creston at the Skimmerhorn Winery for a tasting. Unfortunately, their kitchen was at capacity, so we had to hunt for lunch separately. However, we looked forward to the wine tasting since they grow different types of grapes in the Kootenays then they do in the Okanagan. We came home with a couple of bottles, of course!

Glass House – Exterior
Glass House – Interior

About 45 minutes from Creston is an interesting and unusual roadside stop. This home was built by David Brown for his family, on a solid rock outcrop on the shores of Kootenay Lake. So, what makes it so unusual? It built from 500,000 embalming fluid bottles. David Brown, before he retired, worked in the funeral business. He collected the bottles from many friends and in time collected 500,000 of them weighing a remarkable 250 tons. It has three main rooms, circular in shape. The house will surprise you and the grounds are beautiful. Originally, built to be his family’s home, they had so many people drop in and ask to see if they could explore this unique home, so they moved out and opened it as a tourist attraction. Their family members still run, maintain and act as tour guides. It’s a little bit cheesy, a little bit expensive to go through, but unique enough to take the half hour to 1 hour stop and check it out. It’s kinda cool.

Ainsworth Main Pool
Entrance to Hot Spring Cave
A Peek Inside the Hot spring Cave

Our next adventure – taking the Kootenay Bay ferry across the lake from Kootenay Bay Terminal to Balfour Terminal. The crossing takes about 35 minutes, and the ferry runs about every hour. It’s free to transit the lake and, weather permitting, you can get out and enjoy the view. Once across, it’s a hop, skip and jump to Ainsworth Hot Springs and the Resort. There’s not much at Ainsworth – so be prepared to just enjoy the hot springs and the resort. The restaurant if a little more upper class. I treated ourselves to the “new wing” in an upgraded king room and it was awesome!!! We had an incredible view of the lake and upgraded amenities. It was a short 2-minute walk to the hot spring pools. This hot spring is also very family friendly and definitely on the “route” that spring seekers take – many of them, including us, talked about the difference between Fairmont and Ainsworth. The waters in Ainsworth’s main pool are not as hot as elsewhere, so you are able to sit and soak a lot longer. Adjacent to the main pool is the “cave”, the entrance is man-made to preserve it, but the rest is all natural. It is a horseshoe crescent cave carved into the limestone and it’s something out of this world. So, let me back up a bit – first of all, I am very claustrophobic, so me going inside a dark, hot cave was probably not going to happen. My husband on the other hand went in and out many times during our stay there. It was a highlight for him. I did manage to take a few steps in and was blasted by the humid, muggy heat from the cave. It was kinda like running face first into a fan or a wall of fans blowing super hot heat at you. When going through, springs of natural hot water permeate through the rock and gush into the cave, adding to the waters of the hot spring. At the back, it is dark, very muggy and very hot. So much so, that when my husband did come out – he headed straight for that very cold plunge pool to cool back down again. There are little crevices that you can relax in and spend time “chilling”. All around the grounds are natural springs of hot water making their way to Kootenay Lake.

Needles “Cable” Ferry

If you are a fan of ‘spelunking’, there are more natural caves that a guide can take you through for a day of exploring the unusual! I really loved it an Ainsworth. It was very favourite of all the Hot Springs and would definitely go back and spend an extended weekend there.

Day 10

Sadly heading home. It’s about a five hour drive from Ainsworth to Penticton, and once packed we were on our way! Passing through Kaslo, and very cute Nakusp where we had breakfast, we crossed Upper Arrow Lake on the Fauquier/Needles Ferry, just a quick 15-minute crossing and continued through the beautiful Monashee Mountains. This road is incredible – winding its way through incredible mountain vistas, it was breathtaking. We stopped for a bite to eat in Lumby and then ran into very familiar countryside as we continued through Vernon and home.

Where will my next vacation take me? I’m not sure! I’m hoping for Japan, as I haven’t seen my son, daughter-in-law and grandson for almost three years. If not, maybe a quick jaunt to Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal? I have not yet been to Ottawa and Montreal, so I would be OK with that!!!

I can tell you that I, other than the extreme heat and the constant concern for forest fires, I loved every minute of our Kootenay Vacation Staycation!

If I can help you plan a road trip through Beautiful BC, or beyond just let me know!!!

Thanks for journeying along with me. It’s a beautiful world. Let me help you experience it.

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