Nakusp & Halfway Hot Springs

As we left Revelstoke, the rain slowed and we caught glimpses of fresh snow dusting the peaks. Oh boy! From this point, our driving distances would be much shorter (until we entered the US again), which gave us a lot of flexibility as we moved from place to place. The weather looked unpredictable as we drove south toward Nakusp, but we hoped for a mostly dry day.

A break in the trees provided a glimpse of the Columbia River

As we cruised down Highway 23, I wanted to find a spot where we could see more of our surroundings. We crossed a bridge, and noticing a break in the trees, I asked Zach to stop. As I stood on the bridge snapping the above photo, Zach spotted a path leading under the bridge and discovered an exquisitely illustrated sign listing two destinations: Mulvehill Canyon – 1 minute and Echo Bay – 7 minutes. We decided to follow the path to Mulvehill Canyon on the other side of the bridge. It seemed to be a trail for climbers as several side routes led directly to the canyon walls. We didn’t go too far, just enough to catch an unobstructed view of one of the waterfalls below. It was a beautiful canyon blanketed in vibrant green moss and fresh rain, and it felt special because it was so unexpected.

Back on the highway we continued toward Blanket Creek Provincial Park, a small park set on the banks of the Columbia River. It’s just far enough from Revelstoke that I discounted it as a place to camp, but I learned about its waterfall, Sutherland Falls. Here too, the distance to the falls was measured in time – five minutes. We were alone with a small family at the viewing area, and again it felt slightly special and secluded. The waterfall was powerful with a forceful drop into the creek below where it flowed toward the river.

In order to reach Nakusp, we needed to take a ferry across Upper Arrow Lake. We managed to time our arrival just right for the noon crossing. On board we struck up a conversation with a friendly older couple in the car behind us. They were on their way to Kaslo, a stop of ours in a couple of days, and offered us a few hiking recommendations in the area. They also warned us of an unusually aggressive grizzly on Idaho Peak – one of the hikes I had picked out near New Denver – which I had just read about that morning. They were very sweet and genuinely nice – a common theme among all the Canadians we met along our journey.

On the other side, we continued toward Nakusp, a small village on Upper Arrow Lake cradled by three mountain ranges, the Selkirks, Valhallas, and Monashees. We stopped at the visitor center for recommendations and a map of the village. I wanted to visit Nakusp’s Japanese-style garden and admire their Waterfront Walkway, but we also wanted help in choosing which of the three nearby hot springs to visit. With ample hiking opportunities all around us, I was slightly disappointed that I hadn’t allotted more time in Nakusp.

We walked to the Japanese garden first. Smaller than I expected, but beautifully arranged, it sits on a corner of the waterfront near the public beach. Many of the towns in this region have Japanese gardens as a memorial to the Japanese-Canadians who were forcibly relocated to camps in the region during WWII. We later visited a memorial center in New Denver.

We continued east along the Waterfront Walkway, which offered stunning views of the lake and the mountains around us. We strolled through the Spicer Garden and looped back up onto the main avenue where we passed shops full of summer tourists.

There are three hot spring options near Nakusp – Halcyon Hot Springs, Nakusp Hot Springs, and Halfway Hot Springs. The first two are resorts, the latter a forested escape. When I asked for help deciding at the visitor center, as we only had time for one, she described them as follows: Halcyon was luxurious, Nakusp was great if coupled with a hike in the area, and Halfway was an experience. Zach wanted the experience.

Halfway Hot Springs – with both a campground and day-use area – was located 11 km up a well-trod dirt forest service road. Unlike in the US, forest service roads in British Columbia have mostly been created by logging companies. While they are open to public use, there may be active logging sites along the road, and it’s important to be aware of the potential hazards. We made it to the day-use parking lot with no problem, changed in the car, and made ourselves a snack before heading down the path. It was simple to follow, and yet, we still managed to miss the obvious sign for the springs and ended up at the campground… We eventually found the correct path. Situated on a slight slope above the Halfway River were three pools and a nice newly built changing area. When we got there two of the pools were fairly full, so we hopped into the third, less crowded pool.

On the right path now!

The springs attracted a mix of people. There were local residents who griped about the overcrowding of what used to be a word-of-mouth place. There were tourists like us just stopping for a soak, and there were campers down for one of many soaks. The pools weren’t the cleanest – I don’t necessarily enjoy stewing in other people’s grime – but it was all about the atmosphere. We hung out for a while, eavesdropping on conversations – I love hearing people talk about Texas! – and tried two of the pools. As more and more people arrived, we decided to make our exit.

Rather bright here, but there are three pools snaking up the slope
Alone for a BRIEF moment

Shortly after we left, only 2 km from the campground, we began to pass through an active logging site. No workers were present, but the evidence of their work was clear. Suddenly, we noticed a tree blocking the road. Not from the logging site, as you might expect, but from the opposite side of the road. It was simply a dead tree which had picked an inopportune moment to fall. It was elevated just enough that we couldn’t drive over it – we built a makeshift ramp and made an attempt – and its trunk remained tangled in other trees. We decided to drive back to the campground and see if the host had an axe or chainsaw. He seemed perturbed by our request, and told us he’d come down after he finished his current chore. He never did.

We drove back to the tree; by that point another couple was also trying to leave. They didn’t have a chainsaw either, so Zach resorted to using the small axe we carry for chopping up campfire kindling. He and the other man began hacking away at the tree, trading off once the other got tired. Slowly, they made progress, and as two more cars pulled up, they gained more muscle toward the effort. It was all very amusing – definitely an experience! – and got even better when another group showed up on the other side of the tree to help.

If you zoom in, you can see just how small Zach’s axe is!

They arrived in pieces – first two girls, then a man on a dirt bike roared up, and finally another man rolled up in a red GMC pickup – and formed an eclectic bunch. By far, the dirt bike rider was the life of the party. He was loud, tattooed, missing teeth, and friendly as hell. Every other word was an expletive, so much so that it wasn’t vulgar, just humorous. He promised quick deliverance; his buddy was just behind him with a chainsaw. But when he arrived, they realized they didn’t have any gas! He ripped the cord over and over and over and over, to no avail. Every time it seemed to work, it quickly sputtered out. Our dirt bike friend found this HILARIOUS. He could not stop talking about what a bunch of idiots they were. Zach and his crew continued to whack at the tree. Finally when it was apparent the chainsaw wasn’t an option, one of the guys announced that they had a chain and could drag the tree out of the way – I’m not entirely sure why this wasn’t the first suggestion! With only inches to go, the chain and truck combo easily snapped the tree and dragged it to the side of the road. A communal cheer erupted, and we all returned to our cars.

It’s a party!

We felt jubilant the remaining 9 km back to the highway. I guess Halfway Hot Springs was all about the experience after all. We returned to Nakusp as dark clouds filled with rain rolled over the lake. We stopped for burgers and fries at The Hut and continued toward the next campground.

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