Planning some fall or winter respite? These hot springs are all within driving distance - InfoNews

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Planning some fall or winter respite? These hot springs are all within driving distance

Nakusp Hot Springs in the winter.
Image Credit: Submitted/nakusphotsprings.com
November 09, 2019 - 7:00 AM

There’s nothing like gazing at the frozen wilderness while soaking in a soothing open-air hot spring in the winter.

But for Interior residents, it takes some planning, travel and booking of rooms – unless you’re brave enough to hike into the Angel Springs along the south slopes of Kelowna.

The Hiking Addiction web site says it’s accessible year round via a four kilometre hike off the Little White Forest Service Road in East Kelowna.

It contains plaques describing flora and fauna and is surrounded by 10-metre high tufa deposits.

Unfortunately, the 100ºC geothermal underground heating is cooled by surface water and is best visited in the summer.

Maybe not an ideal winter getaway, unlike some of these spots.

CANYON HOT SPRINGS

This would be a great option for North Okanagan or Kamloops residents with its rustic cabins, campground and RV park.

Water is piped three kilometres to feed a hot pool to 104ºF (40ºC) and swimming pool at 86ºF (32ºC).

There’s only one problem with a winter vacation there. It’s closed until mid-May.

So, what to do?

The only sensible thing is to make plans for a circle tour of the West Kootenay hot spots.

WEST KOOTENAY CIRCLE TOUR

This includes three of the finest hot springs anywhere: Halcyon, Nakusp and Ainsworth.

First up, let’s get the driving done and head to Ainsworth Hot Springs.

It’s about 400 kms and five hours from downtown Kelowna along Highway 33 to Rock Creek, Highway 3 to Nelson then Highway 31A past the Belfour Ferry to Ainsworth.

This is a delightful spot with a horseshoe-shaped 46-metre limestone tunnel carved into the hillside by miners trying to expand the flow of water. It has hot water dripping from the ceiling and running in from one end.

It’s not only on the traditional homelands of the Ktunaxa people but it’s also owned by the Lower Kootenay Band.

"Since time immemorial, the Ktunaxa people have utilized this site as a place for healing,” states the hot springs website. "After battle, warriors would soak in the spirit waters (nupika wu’u) to ease the wounds sustained in the fight to defend this beautiful territory. Those living with other ailments, such as arthritis, would utilize the hot pool to find some relief to their pain.”

In 1882 George Ainsworth, from Portland, Oregon, pre-empted a townsite near the hot springs but it wasn’t until the decline of mining in the 1920s that focus shifted to the springs themselves.

The hotel was built in 1987 and has undergone a couple of renovations. Entrance to the hot springs is through the hotel but you don’t have to be a guest to soak there.

There are few accommodations or eating options available outside the hotel now that the neighbouring Mermaid Motel has closed.

The mineral water enters the system at a temperature of 117ºF (47ºC) before it is cooled to an average of 108°F (42ºC) for the tunnel. The main lounging pool is 96ºF (35ºC).

ON TO NAKUSP

The most direct route is to continue north on 31A through Kaslo and up over the hills before descending into New Denver. It’s about 115 km. and 1.5 hours from Ainsworth to the town of Nakusp. Head north up Highway 23 about 2.4 kms then turn right onto Hot Springs Road for about 12 kms to the springs.

The hot springs comes with a history of disputes since the first efforts to own it floundered in 1894. Residents of Nakusp felt the waters should be open and free for all to use, while others tried staking mining claims over the land.

In 1928, concrete pools were built by hauling materials about 15 kms in by horse or human power from Nakusp. It wasn’t until 1974 that the existing complex was built under municipal control.

The resort includes a campground and chalets with kitchens along with two pools fed with mineral waters piped past the original concrete pools.

The hot pool is kept at 107F (41ºC) in the winter and 103ºF (38ºC) in the summer. The warm pool is kept at 100°F (38°C) in the winter and 97°F (36°) in the summer.

HALFWAY RIVER HOT SPRINGS

Halfway River Hot Springs Provincial Park may not be accessible by car in the winter.
Halfway River Hot Springs Provincial Park may not be accessible by car in the winter.
Image Credit: Submitted/halfwayhotsprings.com

For the adventuresome, the road north also leads to the new (2016) Halfway River Hot Springs Provincial Park.

After leaving Nakusp Hot Springs, turn right on Highway 23, drive north about 23 kms. Just before a short bridge over Halfway River there is a forest service road to the right. Follow it for 11.5 kms to a parking area.

The park has tent camping, outhouses, a change room and two pools.

There is a fee for camping from mid-May to mid-October and lots of poison ivy in season.

The walk down is less than a kilometre and stairs have recently been added.

“The pools are not chlorinated; usage is at your own risk,” states a post on halfwayhotsprings.com. “Despite the healing mineral properties in the water, and the natural sulphur, bacteria and viruses can still grow here. Do not submerse your head in the pools or enter if you have open wounds.”

Of course, there’s another concern in winter – the road may not be plowed so it’s an 11.5 km. snowshoe or ski in from the highway.

NEXT UP IS HALCYON

Halcyon Hot Springs
Halcyon Hot Springs
Image Credit: Submitted/Halcyon-hotsprings.com

While this is an old hot spring, it’s redevelopment that started in 1998 makes it seem like the newest of the three developed hot springs on this route.

It’s about 10 kms north of the Halfway River bridge or 32 kms north of the town of Nakusp.

Robert Sanderson, a steamship operator on the Arrow Lakes, bought 400 acres of Crown land in 1890 and built a hotel.

Over the intervening years it went from a raucous party place to a teetotaller’s paradise focused on healing and relaxation, before burning down in 1955.

It now has a 104ºF (40ºC) hot pool, 99ºF (37ºC) warm pool a seasonal swimming pool at 86ºF (30ºC) along with a cold plunge pool at 58ºF (14ºC) maximum.

It has cabins, cottages and chalets along with the Kingfisher Restaurant. Tenting and RV camping ended last year.

HOME

It’s a 22-km (20 minute) drive from Halcyon to the free Galena Bay Ferry for the 20-minute crossing of Upper Arrow Lake. The ferry runs, from that direction, once an hour on the half hour. It’s about 50 kms to Highway 1 near Revelstoke than another 200 kms (2.5 hours) back to downtown Kelowna.

All told, travel time on the 830 km circle route is about 12 or 13 hours, so it could be done in a day or two. But, to really enjoy the hot springs (not to mention numerous other attractions along the way) three days would be the minimum.

FURTHER AFIELD

Two of the best known B.C. hot springs – Fairmont and Radium – are within half an hour of each other (37 km.) in the Columbia River valley north of Cranbrook.

That loop, from downtown Kelowna, is a good 1,100 km. and 13 hours. A shorter option would be the 280-km, three-hour drive to Harrison Hot Springs near Hope.

For more information on other B.C. hot springs you can look at this 2015 Canadian Traveller article that features 25 hot springs.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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