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Fresh off a soothing dip in an elevated outdoor hot tub with postcard-worthy views of sparkling Kootenay Lake, I sprawled out on the crisp white linens draped over my bed and let out a happy sigh, feeling the stress of a busy travel day melt away. The double-doors leading into my room at The Sentinel near Kaslo were flung open, letting the sunlight stream in between the groves of trees just an arms-length away. The rhythmic sound of waves lapping at the shoreline below were accented by the bright staccato of birds chirping from somewhere in the surrounding forest, and in the reflection of the glass windows I could see a row of brightly-painted Adirondack chairs perfectly arranged on a plateau, looking directly out onto the lake and Purcell Mountains looming in the distance. This spot was serenity at its finest; a hidden retreat in the heart of the Kootenays and the perfect base for a few days of adventures exploring Nelson, Kaslo and all the best places in between.
WATCH: The best spots between Nelson and Kaslo, B.C.
Despite being a popular year-round destination thanks to its proximity to majestic waterfalls, lakes, hiking trails and dramatic glaciers, this area of B.C.’s Kootenay Rockies never feels too busy even in the summer months. Perhaps it’s the laid-back vibe of the locals, the small-town feel, or that there’s just so much wilderness to explore that quiet is easy to come by for those who seek it. Whatever it is, the area has a magnetic charm that draws people to return year after year, with many choosing to stay for good in favour of a lifestyle that’s big on community and healthy living. For those planning an adventure of their own, these highlights from Nelson to Kaslo tick all the boxes when it comes to spectacular scenery, adrenaline-filled activities, rest and relaxation.
The village of Kaslo might be best known for the annual Kaslo Jazz Festival, which features a floating stage on the banks of Kootenay Lake and sees the population of this tiny community swell overnight. However, there’s plenty to do once the event wraps up, from wandering along the length of the serene Kaslo River Trail to hitting the beach or heading out on the glass-like water for a sunset paddle with Kaslo Kayaking to see ancient pictographs etched into granite cliff faces.
While many business in this heritage town shut down by dinner time, there’s a great dining scene worth checking out including the beautifully-decorated Taqueria el Corazon restaurant which is famous for its tacos, and Angry Hen Brewing which serves up fresh beer and local snacks.
Just a 10-minute drive south of Kaslo is a hidden gem that’s astoundingly easy to access: Fletcher Falls. An inconspicuous sign marks the entrance off Highway 31, and from there it’s just a five-minute walk from the parking lot down an easy trail to get to the impressive waterfall.
A thick grove of trees surrounds the site, and brave visitors can even swim right under the frigid torrent of water, which actually proves quite refreshing in the summer heat. The pathway continues down to a beach which has a day-use area for picnics, fishing or swimming in the glacier-fed lake, and is also set up for camping.
Ainsworth Hot Springs
One of the best spots in the area to indulge in some R&R is found about 20 minutes down the road, at the Ainsworth Hot Springs. The healing waters are in the traditional homelands of the Ktunaxa people, and have been used for centuries as a way to ease ailments. Hot mineral water flows through the pool in a phenomenon that sees it naturally change six times a day, and visitors can soothe their muscles while admiring views of the surrounding mountains and Kootenay Lake.
A highlight is wading through the atmospheric caves, where mineral waters rising up from the earth create a natural steam bath, and stalactites cling to the side of the cave making for a surreal scene. There’s also a chilly plunge pool, and guests are encouraged to do a hydrotherapy circuit by alternating between the three pools which is thought to increase circulation.
Top tip: Guests who book at a room at the adjoining Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort are allowed to access the hot springs a couple hours before the general public.
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is the gateway to outdoor adventures, playing host to a range of activities like mountaineering, hiking and even flying high above the forest canopy with Kokanee Mountain Zipline. There are a couple entrances into the park, but the long, winding, unpaved forestry roads mean it’s slow-going. It’s worth the effort though, as the half-hour drive in from the highway rewards visitors with breathtaking views of the rugged Selkirk Mountains, the Woodbury and Kokanee glaciers and a rich tapestry of emerald lakes, waterfalls, rock slides, cirques and wildflowers.
The park’s crown jewel is Kokanee Lake, which lures visitors to its gem-toned surface framed by mountain peaks and surrounded a quiet alpine valley. A popular day trip, the family-friendly, moderate hike can easily be done in a few hours and offers several striking vantage points along the 4.6km route. Back at the bottom of the trail, serene Gibson Lake is the perfect place to cool off with a dip in the tranquil water while admiring the surrounding panoramic views.
Other notable spots within Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park include an easy trail that winds through the old growth cedar forest, and the Kokanee Glacier Cabin run by the Alpine Club of Canada which is a fabulous base for backcountry adventures.
Fun things to do in Nelson, B.C.
With a longstanding reputation as a bit of a hippie town, Nelson is an eclectic mix of free spirits and hardcore adventurers. The kind of place where everyone knows each other, locals joke that if they’re in a hurry to get somewhere they need to cut through the alleys, otherwise running into someone and ending up in a long conversation on the main street is inevitable.
Most of the action is found in the downtown core, specifically on Baker Street where rows of historic buildings hold the likes of eco-friendly clothing boutiques, a cannabis dispensary, antiques and book stores, and plenty of cafes and restaurants. In fact if there’s one thing Nelson residents love it’s eating out, and there are an impressive amount of eateries including Cantina Del Centro which one could argue serves up the best tacos and margaritas in the entire Kootenay region.
Coffee connoisseurs will be happy to hear Nelson’s cafe culture is huge—you won’t find a Tim Hortons here, with locals instead preferring spots like Empire Cafe, No 6 Coffee Co. or Oso Negro, a coffee roaster which is often lined up out the door and has a sun-soaked garden. The city also boasts a lively craft brewing scene, thanks to a handful of standout spots including Backroads Brewing Company which has a great outdoor patio, and the Nelson Brewing Company which serves up organic ales.
Some other fun things to do in Nelson include heading to the beach along Lakeside Park, admiring the waterfall that runs through Japanese-themed Cottonwood Falls Park in the Railtown district, and crossing the aptly-named Big Orange Bridge (affectionately known as BOB) to do the Pulpit Rock hike. This 1.6 km forested trail is particularly popular with early risers and trail runners, since it takes as little as half an hour to get to the top and enjoy a birds-eye view of the entire city below.
The perfect way to wrap up a trip through the region is unwinding at a spa, and there are over a dozen in the area. In Nelson, head to the fabulous Aura Spa in the iconic Hume Hotel, which only uses organic or all-natural ingredients including some sourced from B.C. Signature treatments include the heavenly Halo-Therapy Body Treatment where a green-tea salt scrub helps the body release toxins, and is followed by a conditioning scalp treatment, revitalizing eye treatment and lymphatic drainage massage. Clients also love the rejuvenating Face-Lift Facial, which uses natural botanicals including vitamin C, plant stem cells and tri-retinols to combat the signs of aging and improve skin tone.
Once the blissful treatment is over and both mind and muscles are sufficiently relaxed, grab a glass of champagne and cheers to an epic adventure exploring some of the best spots in the Kootenays.
Where to stay around Kootenay Lake
Some of Kaslo’s best lodging options are actually found a short drive outside the village, and top picks include:
The Sentinel– This retreat opened in May 2018, and quickly earned high praise thanks to its idyllic setting on the waterfront, gracious hosts, epic breakfast spread and wellness offerings. Those looking for the ultimate place to unwind are sure to love every minute here; in fact, some guests occasionally change around their vacation plans to extend their stays because they don’t want to leave! Click here to book
Wing Creek Resort– This beautiful, lakefront property is made up of cozy cabins and suites, where guests can enjoy a luxe getaway but still feel like they’re in the great outdoors. There’s a spa onsite, as well as guided tours and packages that include activities like golf, kayaking, ziplining and fishing. Click here to book
Kaslo Hotel– This historic hotel is found right on Kaslo’s main street, and the large rooms have been tastefully decorated and some even boast unobstructed lake views. Click here to book
There are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to Nelson hotels, to suit all tastes and budgets. These three all have great locations within the city:
Prestige Lakeside Resort– Some rooms in this waterfront property have lake views, private balconies and walk-out patios, and the on-site dining gets rave reviews. The Prestige is also pet-friendly, and kids can play in the outdoor pool. Click here to book
Hume Hotel & Spa– A Nelson icon, the Hume has been a mainstay in the city centre for decades, and the elegant decor is maintained throughout. Rooms are huge, and the property gets extra marks for the wonderful staff, free parking and breakfast. Click here to book
Adventure Hotel– This pet-friendly hotel has a great location just a block off Baker Street, and has a range of options including budget-friendly, funky euro-style rooms. Guests love the sunny rooftop patio and sauna.Click here to book
Globe Guide experienced Nelson and Kaslo as a guest of the destination. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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Such a great article about our little paradise! Next time you are through Kaslo, look up our brand new experiential tourism company, Between a Lake and a High Place! We are all about highlighting what makes this part of the world what it is….nature, culture, stories, people. Thanks.
Very impressive coverage of the Kootenay treasures surrounding Nelson & Kaslo. From a long-time visitor and geology nut who visits annually on a boys’ fishing trip, you have nailed the spirit of the place, found hidden gems like Fletcher Falls and made me want to visit again for a more romantic escape with my wife to the Sentinel. Nailed it!
Thanks Kevin! It’s a great place, isn’t it!
The world’s longest free ferry ride from Balfour to the “other side” is beautiful. Can be backed up in the Summer. East shore has lots to explore.
Such a great tip!
Thanks for the shout out Tamara! We would be thrilled to host you at Wing Creek Resort next time you visit the area! Thanks for profiling our spectacular part of the world!
Wow! You’ve done a wonderful job on this guide. Check us out at Lake Therapy next time you’re visiting the Kaslo area.
Thanks so much!
Great article and for those on a budget Airbnb’s offer more affordable stays. Also Kaslo offers Buchanan Lookout and Kaslo Bay also Cottonwood falls and Crystal Caves in Nelson.