Road Less Travelled: Ainsworth Hot Springs, In the Heart of the Rockies
Crossing various mountainous overpasses by foot and car last weekend, I couldn’t help but compare the lush, dense and – sometimes – quasi-tropical environment that is the Kootenays to the vast granular deserts of Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Libya. Located in the southeastern corner of British Columbia, the Kootenays comprise a massive swatch of land that runs North – South from well beyond Golden down to the U.S. border, and West – East from the fringe of the Okanagan Valley (note: fantastic wine country) to the basins that divide B.C. and Alberta. It’s a beautiful segment of Canada’s westernmost province and is home to the majestic Rocky Mountain range along with green rolling hills, sleepy valley towns, robust vineyards, sub-zero temperatures, sub-tropical climates, sulphurous hot springs and raucous rapids.
It’s super alright. Wildly natural. That’s British Columbia.
There’s something quite grounding and hallucinogenic about this part of Canada for me. It’s full of life – birds overhead and bears in the bush – and there’s a hush of the venerable and immeasurable that sifts through the trees, rustles through the meadows and rides on the rapids. While the mountain air is taxing, it’s rejuvenating as well. I find myself leaning into as it comforts me like a lullaby and gently rocks me into a sleepy state of awe and gratitude. Don’t get me wrong, while there is something grandiose and ancient about the deserts of Africa and the Middle East, I have never been able to fully relax or ‘be present’ in the greatness of the لصحراء الكبرى (Sahara).
Regardless of how enchanted I would be by the night sky, the mirages that appeared on the horizon or the way the sand would rollick like ocean waves, I always felt removed from the environment. Removed, absent and alone…even if there were people around me. It’s a landscape that I’d imagine finding on the moon: rocky, desolate, both warm and cold. It’s a place that is void of, and where everything and nothing collide. It’s an environment on Earth that harbours an all-encompassing emptiness that has the ability to leave you open-jawed long enough to suck the air right out of your lungs.
But I digress, that’s a post for another day.
Mama Intolerant is fond of the Kootenay’s. The Rockies are her playground and a source of marvel and inspiration. If she’s not hiking, she’s white water rafting. If she’s not rafting, she’s snowshoeing. If she’s not snowshoeing, she’s up in a 6-seater plane staring agog at the jagged peaks down below. The whole time she’s taking pictures of course, of grass and greenery, flora and fauna.
Perhaps I picked up my British Columbia fervor from her.
Wanting to get away for a weekend and explore some of the unique places BC has to offer (away from the touristy meccas of Vancouver or Victoria…the coast is nine hours too far anyhow), we hopped in a car with my wonderfully Intolerant-friendly aunt and headed northwest to spend some time in Kaslo and the hot springs of Ainsworth.
Now if you’re planning a visit to western Canada anytime soon and are looking for something other than Vancouver to peruse, a visit to the vineyards of the Okanagan Valley (Penticton and Kelowna) ought to be high on your list as should a road trip through the Rocky Mountain pass into the peaked wonder that is Banff National Park.
Trust me, it will be worth the journey.
If you’re heading northbound towards Banff along the Ainsworth – Kaslo – New Denver – Nakusp – Revelstoke route, it’s best to take detour and spend a night at the Ainsworth Hot Springs. Located on the edge of Kootenay Lake, Ainsworth is a small, sleepy town with a population of 50 (so says Wikipedia) and is home to the Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort. The resort boasts 41 newly renovated rooms and features three pools, a 150 foot horseshoe cave with stalactites and a ridiculously cold stream-fed plunge. It’s the perfect place to relax and regroup regardless of whether you’ve been hiking/biking/kayaking all day long, or have spent the better part of the day in your car.
The hotel is clean and comfortable, and quite upscale considering you’re a little bit off the beaten track. The staff are friendly and professional and are quick to help guests when things go awry. Case in point: upon checking in, we attempted to get wifi in our room with no luck. We tried on one laptop and two smart-devices, but nothing would give. We called down to the concierge who came up to help us get sorted, and once it was determined that the room we were in was anti-wifi, we were moved to another (equally nice) room and received a reduction in the rate due to the inconvenience incurred of having to switch rooms.
Now that’s what I call service.
For the rest of the afternoon and early the next morning we three splashed in the pools and basked in the luxury of a good steam in the caves. The water comes into the resort at 47ºC and is cooled down to 42ºC before it is released into the caves. Because of the enclosed environment it becomes a combination of steam room/sauna: the water falls from the roof of the caves, dripping off primeval stalactites, into the warm pool below. In the outdoor lounging pools the water temperatures hovers around 35ºC, while the stream-cold plunge must be well around the zero mark.
The beautiful thing about the hot springs is that as you float around in the pool you are able to take in the scenery that surrounds you: boats zipping by on the Kootenay Lake below and the glaciers of the Purcell Mountains winking in the distance. Once you’ve had enough of the caves and are done with turning yourself into a human prune, you meander back to your room to freshen up and then amble down for a bite in the dining room for some quality casual dining fare.
Though the decor is a slightly dated, the service is fantastic and the menu has plenty of options that can speak to any guest: both Intolerants and gluten/dairy loving food fanatics alike. Before you know it, the sun will slink beyond the mountains and that clean BC air will start placating you, urging you to sleep.
It’s enchanting in many ways and while I wouldn’t stay for more than a weekend (this Intolerant gets restless), it’s a place that’s certainly worth an overnight detour.
My well soaked muscles and quieted mind agree wholeheartedly.
**Note: photos of this Intolerant in the pool were taken by Journeying with Joy.
Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort