Not long ago, our senior editor Valerie Berenyi — her hubby and “ancient” VW Westfalia in tow — explored the Kootenay Hot Springs loop in British Columbia. Given the season, we thought it timely to share our Q&A with her about the experience. Summer’s coming and with it, throughout Canada, the waters are calling. Enjoy! T&C
Q: How did you and your husband gear up for this hot springs tour?
A: We packed bathing suits and two thirsty beach towels, and hit the road in our ‘83 burnt-orange Westy. She runs like a top (mostly) and we keep her well stocked with camping gear, Irish whiskey and Jiffy Pop. Other essentials: hats for when you’re soaking outside under the glorious spring and summer sun (bring toques in winter). Speaking of accessories, minerals in some hot springs can tarnish silver jewelry, so I left mine at home.
Q: Where did you go, exactly?
A: The beautiful Kootenay region in southeastern B.C., one of our favourite places on the planet.
The area is full of lakes, mountains, cool little towns and steaming-hot hot springs, making for a great loop of a road trip. We hit a handful of the area’s best-known hot springs, each of which has a different vibe. We started at Radium Hot Springs in Kootenay National Park, and we eventually (after stopping along the way at the lovely Riondel Community Campground), put-putted southwest to Ainsworth Hot Springs near Nelson. We then headed north to the idyllic Halcyon Hot Springs near Naskup. Our final destination was Canyon Hot Springs, east of Revelstoke off the TransCanada Highway.
Q: Can you tell us about a trip highlight?
A: There’s something magical about camping at Redstreak Campground and walking to Radium Hot Springs. The gentle 4.6-kilometre (return) trail is wonderful: amazing forest smells, the sound of a trickling creek and a little peace park in a dark, quiet pocket of cedars. Don’t miss it!
Radium Hot Springs appeals to everyone, and we marinated with a veritable United Nations of visitors in the 39°C mineral water while a soft rain anointed our heads. That night we slept like babies in an oTENTik, Parks Canada’s part-tent, part-cabin version of glamping. There are 10 oTENTiks here, set between trees and grasslands, and they have knockout views of the surrounding mountains, which we enjoyed from the iconic red Adirondack chairs perched on our little deck.
Q: Was there one experience that brought you close to hot springs nirvana?
A: Yes! I couldn’t get enough of hanging out in the steamy, U-shaped cave at Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort. Hot, 43°C mineral water drips from stalactites and flows from openings in the cave’s walls and ceiling, which are rich shades of brown, cream, blue, green and rust. It was enough to inspire a spiritual moment. Maybe that’s why a sign at the cave entrance asks people to refrain from moaning, chanting and OM-ing. It’s pure, tingling bliss to leave the cave, plunge into the stream-fed cold pool, then return to the cave, again and again.
Weak in the knees, we ate lunch at Ktunaxa Grill, the resort’s restaurant. Bannock short-rib tacos and a kale quinoa salad with roasted hazelnuts and dried blueberries were capped by a killer cherry pie. The food reflects the owners’ heritage; in 2015, the hot springs and surrounding properties were purchased by the Lower Kootenay Band of Creston, B.C., returning this treasured place to the Ktunaxa people.
The icing on the cake was camping in our ol’ Westy for a couple of nights at nearby Kokanee Creek Provincial Park with its white-sand beach, old-growth forest, wildlife and redfish spawning channel. No question, the whole experience will hit home with the soulful soaker.
Q: What about the other hot springs that you visited? Who will they appeal to?
A: Halcyon Hot Springs is more upscale, with a white-robe spa vibe. Here, we ditched our Westy for a night and slept in a tidy cabin with a bathroom and king-size bed, real luxuries after vanning it. The day was scorching, so we cooled off in the seasonal mineral swimming pool (30°C) before having dinner at the resort’s Kingfisher Restaurant. We noshed on lovely fresh salads and tapas, drinking in stunning views of Upper Arrow Lake and the Monashee Mountains. The next day, in the cool of the early morning, we sampled the hot (40°C) and medium (37°C) pools, a pretty languorous way to greet the day.
Canyon Hot Springs, on the other hand, is for multi-generational families. There were lots of reunions underway and get-togethers of folks who camp here year after year. Water from a mountainside spring located a couple of kilometres away is piped in to fill a hot mineral soaking pool (40°C) and a large swimming pool (32°C), which was always teeming with kiddies. The lush, green forest setting of the campground is worth the price of admission alone.
Q: Any noteworthy roadside attractions worth flagging for our readers?
A: Three come to mind, and they’re wildly different. We braked for yummy merlot at the Baillie-Grohman Estate Winery in Creston, and visited the Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre in the Village of New Denver for a sobering reminder of how Japanese-Canadians were treated during WWII. And we relived our childhoods during a visit to the Pipe Mountain Coaster with a screaming fast ride down the hill at Revelstoke Mountain Resort.
Q: What did you learn about hot springs traditions on this trip?
A: Humans around the world have always loved soaking in hot water. Think of Japan’s onsens or Europe’s thermal spas. Hot springs are known to improve circulation, reduce stress, improve sleep, relieve pain and heal skin problems. History runs deep in waters around Canada, too. The springs at Ainsworth were first used by the Ktunaxa people as healing waters to ease the pain of wounds after battle, to soothe arthritis and to rejuvenate themselves after hunting, fishing and foraging for food.
Q: Who should do the Kootenay hot springs loop?
A: Pleasure seekers, swimmers, adventurers, those with aches and pains and anyone fond of a good hot bath.
Editor’s note: There’s more soaking to be had in the Kootenays. To learn about the area’s hot springs and to see a map of the loop, visit this page at Kootenay Rockies Tourism. Thanks to our partners in tourism for supporting our writer in the field.
For other stories by senior editor Valerie Berenyi, check out Living the life in rural Quebec, Postcard perfect P’tit Train du Nord, Winter joy in Jasper, AB, Wilderness City and Beyond, Puss ‘n (hiking) Boots, From juke joint to jazz club, Cold Land, Warm Heart, Hotel Arts: The smart hipster’s sexy new hang-out, and In the suitcase with Pierre Lamielle.