January 28, 2009 in Awayfinder destinations

Ainsworth Hot Springs a warm trip for cold weather

Mike Brodwater Awayfinder Correspondent
The Spokesman-Review photo

(Full-size photo)

IF YOU GO Season: All Year Rates: Winter Season: Nov 1–Dec 18, Jan 5–Feb 28 Rooms: non-view begin at $95 Sat-Sat and $118 Fri-Sat Holiday Season: Rates start at $128 Entrance Rates (included in room rate) Day Pass: Adult $11.50, Student $10.50, Child (3-12) $8.00 Phone/Reservations: 1-800-668-5600 Web Site: www.hotnaturally.com Driving Time: Est. 3.5 hours

How cool is this, or rather, this is a really HOT idea! Take a developed hot spring with odorless warm water and include a U-shaped cave with waist deep water. It’s like getting into a balmy steam room, which can sound really great on a bone chilling winter weekend.

Ainsworth Hot Springs in British Columbia can provide that kind of comfort.

Originally, naturally occurring hot springs flowed out of a 7-foot cave on the hillside. The Kootenai Indians traveled up to Kootenay Lake to fish for spawning Kokanee salmon and pick huckleberries. They more than likely used the cave and hot springs.

The location is dramatic overlooking a large lake with the Purcell range of mountains rising up on the opposite side of the lake. It’s hard to imagine this tranquil setting transformed into a mining town powered by the discovery of silver, lead and zinc in the vicinity.

In 1882 George Ainsworth was a steam-boat captain who bought the surrounding land including the hot springs. Several working mines in the area caused the town, originally called Hot Springs Camp, to eventually grow with several hotels, saloons and brothels.

Most of the town has since been destroyed by the decline of the mines, time and disastrous fires, including blazes that destroyed 13 of the hotels.

In the 1930s the cave was enlarged into a horseshoe-shaped cave with two entrances. The hot spring facilities continued to evolve through a series of owners into a destination resort. Now the town itself is just about nothing but a memory with a few of the original town buildings still standing. Tranquility has returned to the area.

As the water enters the cave it is so hot, 114 degrees, that it has to be cooled to a still hot but comfortable 104 degrees. The water drips off the ceiling and is in the process of building up stalagmites and stalactites and producing enough hot vapors to create a natural steam room.

A second large pool large enough to swim in is kept at a cooler 96 degrees F. Finally a third plunge pool is at an icy cold temperature for those who like to test their bodies. The water flow is ample enough to recharge the pools six times a day which means visiting soakers use clean, hot fresh water.

The pool has been built up on the side of the exposed caves overlooking the lake and distant mountains. It was constructed to allow someone soaking to watch a sunset or later in the evening the stars over the lake and the mountains. This can be a romantic place to visit.

There are rooms available with unlimited access to the hot springs included, and visitors staying at other motels in the area can pay a one-time use or day use fee. The restaurant at the resort is open for breakfast lunch and dinner. Dinner prices (Canadian) are moderate. For example, you can get an eight ounce Newport steak ($23.95), Chicken Ainsworth ($20.95), wild B.C. salmon (21.95) or pork tenderloin ($19.95). The salmon is baked with a citrus herb parmesan crust and drizzled with a light pear dressing. Other entrées have similar extra preparations.

Using Ainsworth as a destination, there is a beautiful, fun loop to follow from the Inland Empire including a free ferry ride. The northern route on Highway 20 out of Newport follows the banks of the Pend Oreille River to Metaline Falls.

After crossing the Canadian border (have a photo ID and birth certificate with you) take Route 6 to Nelson and Route 3A north to the hot springs following the banks of Kootenay Lake. When it’s time to go home, drive a short distance back down to Balfour and take the free ferry across the lake. This is a 35-minute cruise touted as the longest free ferry ride in the world and has magnificent views of both the Purcell and Selkirk Mountain Ranges.

Driving down the east side of the lake there is a glass house made of embalming bottles that can be a fun stop. Following the shoreline for 78 KM (50 miles) the town of Cranbrook will be reached. South from Cranbrook and across the U.S. border is Bonners Ferry and points south.

Ainsworth Hot Springs is a hot idea for a cold weekend trip. The hot water, good food and accommodations will send almost anyone home relaxed, warm and ready to face the world again.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email