Like pages ripped from a travel catalog, Kootenay Lake’s beauty lies in every direction, along the lakeshore, on the streets of its neighboring communities, and up toward the dramatic ridges sheltering the region.
Beneath the serpentine-flowing fog, a mountainous terrain of pristine wilderness and resort-style towns await in the Central Kootenay Region of British Columbia. Home to lakefront communities nestled between towering peaks and a picturesque body of water as deep as it is breathtaking, the area is a Mecca of choose-your-own-adventure-style fun for sightseers, visitors and thrill-seekers alike.
The warmer months in particular provide ample fishing possibilities, boat trips, cycling runs, golf excursions, hiking paths and more on or nearby the 90 mile-long, roughly 2.5 mile-wide lake.
As winter thaws and warm weather takes a firm grip on the region, the flurry of spring- and summer-time activities begin ramping up.
The mammoth lake stretches along a north-south swath of Purcell Mountains to the east and Selkirks to the west.
Half a dozen golf resorts are busy grooming the courses for approaching tee times. Local bikers have been out tending to the myriad trails that carve through the wooded hillsides, often along old mining trails. Boat rental shops prep for a plethora of on-the-water activities, like guided fishing trips, lake cruises, kayak rentals and more.
Quoting a popular tourism tagline, Tom Thomson, executive director at the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce, says the area “is a place where opportunity meets lifestyle.”
“There is so much to do here,” Thomson offers. “If you are stationed in Nelson, you could be at six different world-class golf courses within an hour. There are a variety of outdoor activities all around us here and there is something to do for everybody.”
(For golfers trying to name all six courses, they are Granite Pointe, Balfour, Eagle View, Kokanee Springs, Riondel and Castlegar.)
Visitors can find an assortment of accommodations, from smaller bed-and-breakfasts to lakeside hotels and historic downtown digs.
In Nelson, a vibrant community of about 10,000 at the end of Kootenay Lake’s West Arm, which reconnects with the main portion of the lake 30 miles east in Balfour, the Prestige Lakeside Resort and Convention Center offers a perfect hub for a host of activities.
With a restaurant, bar, health spa and more than 100 rooms, including a smattering of region-specific suites such as Africa, Asia and Tuscany, each with their own Jacuzzi tub, walk-in shower and TV-equipped bathroom, the retreat offers magnificent views and is located just a few blocks from Nelson’s historic Baker Street.
Nelson boasts a thriving arts community and shopping district. The lively town is also home to many festivals and celebrations, such as artwalks, Saturday markets, and more, many of which can only be found during the warm weather seasons.
The city and its people continue to honor the area’s past. Nelson includes about 350 well-preserved 19th century buildings with architecture straight from the city’s founding in 1897.
Along Baker Street, a mix of eccentric shops and high-end boutiques line the walkway, a reflection of the melding of a well-known counterculture, a resort-style tourism industry, and the various outdoor-oriented lifestyles. The strip and side streets offer a variety of eateries and restaurants, sport rental stores, bars and many other amenities.
And a tour of the city wouldn’t be complete without a stop by the Hume Hotel, an old Victorian-style building with a restaurant, bar, hand-carved wood interiors, and happening nightlife.
With a handful of bike rental and sales shops in town, and hundreds of active cyclists, visitors are sure to find a suitable path. Trails range from easy-riding railway grades to steep mountainside technical trails. Just beyond the city’s boundaries, riders will find the Kootenay Canal, Gold Creek and other trail systems, where a dedicated crew of builders continually shapes the tracks.
“Nelson is a great base,” says Charles Arnold, manager at Gerick Cycle and Ski. “We have world-class sports nearby, but they are secondary to the town itself… Very few towns have that combination of being a fantastic place to hang out in and then go right to the outdoors.”
Visitors will find any number of outdoor adventures along the scenic Highway 3A. This top-drive destination for motorcyclists across North America winds through many small hamlets, while providing near-constant views of soaring mountains and sparkling water.
After reaching Balfour, visitors have a few options on where to go next.
Via the year-round free ferry that operates throughout the day, visitors can access the west side of the lake at Kootenay Bay, where a burgeoning artisan crowd creates a unique items.
A few miles farther to the west is Crawford Bay, home of the Kokanee Springs Golf Resort, one of Canada’s finest championship 18-hole courses and considered by many to be the flagship of Kootenay golf courses.
The resort’s lodging overlooks parts of the fairway. The resort features 56 luxury rooms, several suites, sundecks, hot tubs and a meeting room, while the Bunker’s Grill offers fine-dining.
Traveling north of Balfour, Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort is a short drive away. In addition to rooms and dining options, the resort offers three pools of varying heat, including the hot springs cave, and panoramic views of the lake and snow-capped Purcell Mountains. Ainsworth also offers golf packages at nearby courses.
Throughout the year, the resort is a popular destination for all ages, according to owners Joyce and Norm Mackie. “It’s always been a family draw. It’s laid back here,” Norm offers. “It’s always the hot water that brings them in, but we have worked hard to create a nice environment in the hotel, and we have an excellent menu.”
It’s the summer beckons the bigger crowds, he adds, thanks in part to the un-crowded beaches and uncontaminated water and backcountry. “It’s still clean and green up here. There’s not a lot of population,” he explains.
At the northern end of Kootenay Lake, farther along Highway 31, visitors find the lakeside town of Kaslo. The small town boasts an impressive and energetic Jazz festival each August, and offers as many activities and outdoor sport companies as many of its bigger-city neighbors. Of course, the main draw is the lake and its inhabitants, including the Gerrard rainbow trout and Kokanee salmon.
“A lot of people come from all over to try and get that big rainbow,” says Karissa Stroshein, co-owner of Barren’s Sports Shop in town, which offers everything from fishing gear to skateboarding items to charter and boat rentals.
The historic mining town that features a museum for the retired sternwheeler S.S. Moyie, now permanently docked near the city park. The village also has other businesses dedicated to outdoor sports, including kayak and bike rentals, houseboat rentals and fishing charters. “Kayaking is really big on the lake, too,” she adds.
At the Kaslo Hotel along the town’s main Front Street artery, Maggie Winters, secretary treasurer of the chamber of commerce, offers her opinion on the appeal of the area. From mountain biking to summer festivals to bikers enjoying the Selkirk Loop to fisherman trolling the lake’s depths, she says the entire valley is an outdoor-lover’s paradise.
And the people of the area are happy to be here.
“For a small town, we are sort of the hub of west Kootenay Lake,” Winters offers. “A lot of people come for the scenery but stay for the people. I think the lifestyle is key to this area. There’s so much to do to keep you here.”