The next morning we woke to a steady rain and grey skies. I was instantly despondent. I had a couple of ideas for hikes en route to our next base, but I had no desire to hike with poor visibility to either place I’d picked, as each was described as having spectacular views. After so much wet weather – uncharacteristic for the time of year – all I could envision was relaxing somewhere warm and dry. We decided to pack up our site and go into New Denver for a coffee.
We squatted for a while at Nuru Coffee Bar trying to determine our plan for the day. Our next base was an Airbnb in Kaslo, only a 40 minute drive away. The weather was supposed to remain dreary most of the day, though the rain itself would move on. We finally resolved to stop in Sandon, an old mining town, on our way to Kaslo, where we could explore town before a 2pm check-in.
Sandon, the ghost town-turned-tourist trap is on the way to the Idaho Peak trailhead. It was billed as a must-see attraction in the area, and we had several people recommend a visit. Zach and I have visited varying degrees of ghost towns in the US – from Metropolis to Custer – and I definitely expected more from Sandon.
When we pulled up, I was immediately underwhelmed. The town, at the center of silver mining in the region, began to decline with the price of silver and a disastrous flood in 1955 finished it off. Now, there’s a general store with refreshments and low-grade antiques in the original City Hall from 1900 and a private museum, among other decaying ruins and random collections of unrelated items, like 13 Brill buses from Vancouver. We were unimpressed. We walked the length of the “town” to the hillside hydroelectric power plant which was remarkable as the longest running machine in Canada – it hasn’t stopped running since 1897 – and left Sandon behind.
The drive to Kaslo was gorgeous, even with the low clouds and grey skies. When we pulled into the village, we headed straight for the main boulevard. Kaslo is a village on the western shores of Kootenay Lake, an idyllic setting in a valley among towering mountains. It quickly became our favorite town in the West Kootenays. It’s a step up in size and amenities from the villages along the Arrow and Slocan Lakes. Still quiet and quaint, it’s a little livelier with later restaurant hours and a brewery!
We did an introductory stroll through town and ended up at the brewery. What better place to while away an hour or two? Angry Hen Brewing is an intimate space with a nice outdoor patio and stellar beer. In addition to their own offerings, they also had a couple of other regional beers. We sat at the bar and struck up a conversation with Andy, the co-owner. He recommended hikes near Kaslo and restaurants we should try in Nelson and really made us feel welcome in town.
The brewery did its job; by the time we were finished with our beers it was time to check into our Airbnb. Our first indoor home on the trip, it felt palatial. Simply a single room attached to the main house, it was tucked in a lush forest on the outskirts of the village. There was a generous bathroom with an incredible tree cross-section for a bathtub step and a fireplace we didn’t imagine using when we booked the place, but were grateful for now. We settled in, bringing our belongings out of the car for the first time. We didn’t want to sit around though, so we decided to drive to Ainsworth Hot Springs.
Ainsworth Hot Springs is a developed resort perched on a hillside overlooking Kootenay Lake. The springs have been a draw for Anglo visitors since the 1920s at least, but were used by the Ktunaxa (kay-too-naha) people even earlier as a place of healing for wounded warriors and those with chronic pain. The pool and eventual resort has changed hands over the years, but returned to Native ownership in 2015. The Lower Kootenay Band, descendents of the original Ktunaxa people, owns and operates the resort today. I was pleasantly surprised to learn this!
When we reached Ainsworth, the clouds had rolled away to reveal the sun! It was still chilly outside, so the warm water of the pool was a welcome diversion. The main pool is large with several walls to break up the middle and create more alcoves for sitting. The perimeter is lined with benches, leaving some open room for more playful kids and parents. On a warmer day, the main pool would have been enough at 97-100 degrees, but since it was slightly cooler, I was cold with my neck and shoulders exposed. To warm up, we ventured over to the cave. Much warmer at 104-110 degrees, the cave offers a fun experience and a sauna-like setting outside of the main pool. The cave is a loop, so you can simply walk through the waist-high water or sit and steam in one of the few nooks. The cave was fun, but a little claustrophobic for me! I was relieved each time I rounded the final corner and could see the light.
After our soak at Ainsworth, we returned to our temporary home to take a much-needed shower. We assembled a charcuterie board from camping leftovers and enjoyed hanging out inside. Eventually, we ventured back into town for an evening stroll along the lake. As had happened most evenings, the sky cleared up and we had our first good views of the day.
We left the lakeside to admire S.S. Moyie. Before many of the roads were constructed to connect the small towns and villages surrounding Kootenay Lake, sternwheelers provided access and entertainment to isolated communities. Passengers could either light two fires on the shore or wave a flag to attract a sternwheeler. It could easily pull up close enough to drop a gangplank. At one time there were six sternwheelers operating on Kootenay Lake. The S.S. Moyie was the last to be decommissioned in 1957 and is the only intact passenger sternwheeler in the world. Due to the late hour, we couldn’t tour the S.S. Moyie, but it was nice to admire from above.
To round out our walk, we stopped for poutine at Chez Serge, a small shack connected to the gas station in town. It was the perfect cap to the day. The forecast for the next three days was great, which brightened my outlook considerably, especially since I had reserved a whitewater rafting trip for the following day. I also wanted to go up to the Buchanan Lookout and do a nice long day hike in the area, all things that necessitated nicer weather.
Thankfully, we were able to do all three while based in Kaslo. I’ll link those here once I finish writing them up!
- a day on the Lardeau River AND a trip to the Buchanan Lookout
- a hike to Monica Meadows