Out There: The ultimate Kootenay experience

Allyson Kenning
By Allyson Kenning
September 15th, 2010

Out There is a column for the Telegraph that focuses on adventures outside of the Mountain Kingdom [editor’s note: is there anything beyond Wedding Cake corner and the Nancy Green Junction? We’ve all heard the rumours, but I thought they were just rural myths…] Without sounding too Star Trek-like, our mission is to seek out new life and boldly go where probably lots of people have gone before, and maybe a few spots where they haven’t. This week Allyson Kenning explores her “Ultimate kootenay experience.”


What does the ultimate Kootenay weekend involve? For everyone that is going to be different. I don’t ski, so it does not involve hopping from ski hill to ski hill. Actually, it doesn’t involve snow at all.  For me, it’s taking in the simple but rewarding sights of the nature we are surrounded with and indulging in unique experiences you simply cannot find anywhere else. And taking pride in the fact that we have all this neat stuff to do around here while hearing the foreign accents and languages of people who have come from all over the place to check out what we have to offer.

My sister-in-law and I have a tradition of going camping in September, when the parks are quieter and you don’t have to pay extra for a reservation. For the last two years, we have gone to Syringa Creek, but this year we decided to go somewhere different, just for a change of scenery and the option of a day trip somewhere else. We chose Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, which is about 15 minutes up the lake from Nelson, and boasts 113 campsites and a shower building. As a kid, I camped at Kokanee Creek quite often; the beach there is fantastic. In the fall, we sometimes took a day trip to the spawning channel to see the fish do their thing. The Kokanee Creek spawning channel is an attraction of high interest: the annual Kokanee salmon run up a purpose-built channel designed to keep the Kokanee population steady by providing them with ideal spawning conditions. This draws thousands of tourists every year and is a one-of-a-kind experience you won’t see in any other part of the world.
Kokanee Creek is located in some of the most stunning landscape the Kootenays has to offer: lakes, mountains, rivers, trees, and forests galore, not to mention excellent wildlife sighting opportunities. There are also a lot of attractions around there that offer a taste of what unique experiences the Kootenays has to offer.
Who doesn’t love hot springs? I personally adore a good long soak in warm, mineral-rich water, especially when there is a nice view involved.  Of the mountains and lake that is!  For a couple of gals roughing it for a few nights, a trip Ainsworth Hot Springs was quite luxurious, and only about a half hour’s drive away from the campground.  Ainsworth is another place I used to go to as a kid, but I hadn’t been there for many years until this recent camping trip. Ainsworth is known for its horseshoe-shaped caves, where you can have a steamy, sauna-like experience in 40C water.  If you wear glasses, you will be blind in there, I can tell you. My sister-in-law pretty much had to lead me around by hand. 
As we soaked, moving between the hotter pool and the 35.5C “warm” pool (with a brief dip on my part in the 12C cold plunge pool), I noticed a lot of people with accents from far away, and a couple of unfamiliar languages spoken as well. We met a guy from Montreal there who told us this was his second hot springs in one day; he’d spent the morning at Halcyon, then driven to Ainsworth, and was planning on hitting some other soaking spots as he drove across BC and into the States. Even though I don’t live in Ainsworth, I was happy to see the place bustling with tourists, because hot springs are just so cool. They offer a really unique experience to visitors, and the number of hot springs we have access to here is just another thing that makes the Koots unique.
After becoming sufficiently pruney, we decided to drive up the highway a bit further to Kaslo and find a place for a hot meal not infused with smoke and ash. I hadn’t been to this town in ages, so I had very little memory of it. I was charmed. It had a Rossland-like feel to it, surrounded by mountains, boasting some nice historical elements and buildings, and it had some nice shops where we spent some time poking around. 
While checking out dining options, we stumbled upon a place called The Rosewood Cafe, located at the end of one street in an old pink house. After perusing the menu board outside, we went in to find a table – and an interesting dining room that was filled with antiques, local historical memorabilia, and Victorian-esque decor. We had a spectacular lunch there and were very impressed by the amount of homemade or locally made menu items, including organic venison sourced from the area. For a chilly, showery day, Kaslo was certainly bustling and we had a hard time finding a place to park. Again, I encountered accents from afar and even saw a few faces from the hot springs we’d just come from. I found some nice stuff at a store selling Canadian-made crafts, so I left Kaslo a very happy camper.
It was actually the next day we went to see the spawning channel at Kokanee Creek. We had heard from park staff and some other campers that there were bears in the park due to the abundance of fish, but as is typical, I didn’t see a single bear myself. Even when I was watching and photographing hundreds of bright red and green fish in the channel and someone yelled out ‘bear!’ down the path, I got there too late and didn’t see a thing. It was very upsetting, doubly so when my brother said he’d had a second bear sighting, again while I was taking photos somewhere else. The tourists who saw the bear – and there were plenty of people about – I’m sure were thrilled to bits (well, they should have been, anyway) and I hope some of them got the ultimate Kootenay souvenir: a wicked wildlife shot.
On our final day of the trip, we packed up our camp in the rain and headed to New Denver, in the rain, to go to the Hill’s Garlic Festival. This is an event I’d always wanted to go to but had never had the chance, and despite the downpour and mucky conditions, it was a great time. The festival is basically like a big giant farmer’s market, only the common thread is garlic. For people like me, who adore garlic, this was heaven. And even if you aren’t so into garlic, there is lots of other stuff, too, like local artisans, baking, crafts, and tons of food stalls.  Not all the vendors were local to the Kootenays, but I did come across some vendors from Rossland and there was tons of local colour there as well. Again, this festival is a huge tourist draw for not only people from around here, but for out-of-town visitors as well. Again, I heard the accents and languages of people from far away.
Rediscovering and reconnecting with the Koots after such a long separation from this place is becoming one of my great adventures and pleasures, and it makes me happy that so many people are coming here to holiday and have their own Ultimate Kootenay Experience, whatever that entails for them.

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