A Fall Getaway to the Kootenay Lake Region

No matter the type of getaway you are searching for, you'll likely find it in the Kootenay Lake region, which includes Nelson, Balfour, Kaslo, Ainsworth Hot Springs, East Shore and North Kootenay Lake

No matter the type of getaway you are searching for, you’ll likely find it in the Kootenay Lake region

Being raised in Quebec, I remember that the stunning fall colours always took centre stage each autumn. That is one of the reasons why fall has always been my favourite season. So, imagine how excited I was when I arrive in the Kootenay Lake region to witness forested evergreen slopes blanketed by foliage busting with hues of yellow, orange and red. Surrounded by some of the country’s most spectacular natural settings, the words “pretty” and “beautiful” don’t seem to do this part of the province justice.

The Kootenay Lake region includes Nelson, Balfour, Kaslo, Ainsworth Hot Springs, East Shore and North Kootenay Lake, and I recently got to experience many of the highlights of the area this autumn…

So it begins in Kaslo

Our first stop after flying into Castlegar on a brilliantly sunny, cool day was Kaslo. With its downtown streets lined in grand oaks and maples, I was immediately enchanted. We meet up with Cheryl King, owner of Kaslo E-Kruise for a two-hour cycle, starting with a downtown tour showcased by tranquil, foliage-dense roads that eventually merge into the most picture-perfect Kootenay Lake views.Kaslo E-Cruise CycleBefore long, we meander onto one of two covered bridges, Unity Bridge, which unites the north and south sides of the Kaslo River Trail. But the best part of the e-bike experience was yet to come. As we cycled into the forest along the north bank, King told us to park our bikes because where we were headed could only be accessed by foot. Before long, the forest is transformed into a mythical wonderland through a series of eight playful concrete sculptures nestled into the woods and rocks. These impressive sculptures dubbed ‘Hide and Seek’ were created by the Koots Artist Collective.Hide and Seek Sculptures in KasloMichelle HopkinsHungry, we make our way to the Kaslo Hotel Pub & Restaurant. We were in luck because the next day the pub/restaurant was closing for renovations. If you love small towns and appreciate homemade pub food, you’ll want to plan a visit to this spot. They feature everything you want from pub food, like wings, fries and beef dip. But take it a step further with healthy, tasty salads and soups. Bonus? The lake and mountain views are equally impressive.

Later that day, we checked into The Sentinel for two nights. Perfectly positioned on the shores of Kootenay Lake, with impressive views of Loki Mountain, people come here for yoga and meditation retreats, leadership training, journaling, sketching and more. The brainchild of husband-and-wife team, Richard Kay and Gillian Maxwell, we were here to unplug. That first night, we couldn’t resist donning our bathing suits and heading to the outdoor cedar-lined hot tub and the wood-fired sauna. Under the starry sky, this was an ultimate fall indulgence. In addition, our waterfront suite gave us front row seats to its famous vistas. Compact, the room was perfectly comfortable, with two twin beds, bathroom with heated floors and a desk. We didn’t lack for anything here.The Sentinel viewsMichelle HopkinsThe main lodge, with its wood-burning fireplace was perfect for reading a book or kibitzing with other guests. It was also where we enjoyed communal dining. Showcasing the ultimate farm-to-table lifestyle, both our breakfast and dinner the following night consisted of organic ingredients straight from The Sentinel’s backyard garden, or from locally sourced merchants. Served buffet-style, we savoured each delicious bite.Sentinel Hot Tub

Next is Nelson

Nelson, B.C.Michelle HopkinsThe next morning, we head into Nelson for a hike and to discover its many gems. Oozing with charm, Nelson is an idyllic mountain town famous for many things, including its 350 heritage buildings, murals, fabulous independent shops and restaurants. Then, when you factor in its Instagram-worthy scenery, it’s no wonder people say it’s akin to a fairy-book town. And can I add, everyone seems so happy here. Dubbed the “Small Art Town in Canada”, I was captivated by everything about Nelson.

One of my favourite ways to spend a sunny autumn morning is by taking in the bursts of fiery fall colours while hiking. Considered Nelson’s most popular hike, Pulpit Rock Trail is a steep rocky trek (think mini–Grouse Grind) that takes you to a towering summit which offers some jaw-dropping views of Nelson and Kootenay Lake.Pulpit Rock TrailMichelle HopkinsAfter our hike, we lunch at the Main Street Diner. Like most small towns, each one seems to have its own community dinerthe one where everyone feels welcome and where locals are greeted by their name. With such an extensive menu, I was a little skeptical at first that we would leave raving about our meal—but we did. A downtown Nelson mainstay for nearly four decades, the atmosphere is one of hometown friendliness with a good dose of comfort food thrown in.Nelson MuralMichelle HopkinsAs we meandered through the downtown core, we spent time snapping photos of our favourite murals. The push to have murals adorn town centre buildings began in 1969; driven by the Nelson Provincial Art Council. Each year, they host the Nelson International Mural Festival, where local, national and international muralists are invited to come and beautify Nelson’s alleys.

Time for a dip in Ainsworth Hot SpringsAinsworth Hot SpringsMichelle Hopkins

Then, it was off to Ainsworth Hot Springs, a 40-minute drive from Nelson in (you got it) the historic village of Ainsworth Hot Springspopulation 20 (no, this is not a typo). I digress. I’m claustrophobic, but the idea of missing out on the cave pushed me to carry on. Iridescent mineral deposits surrounded us as we strode in waist-deep water into the dimly lit cave. Stalactites dripped condensation onto our faces. Soon, I’m elated because we found a spot where the geothermally heated water cascaded from a rocky crevice close to the cave’s opening.Ainsworth Hot Springs caveKootenay Rockies TourismAfter drying off, we head upstairs in the Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort for dinner in the Indigenous inspired Ktunaxa Grill. Against a mountain backdrop and overlooking the pool, I had to go for the Creston Valley’s Yaqan Nukiy Farms burger, a fabulously messy medley of premium local beef smothered in tomato jam, sage mustard, house cheddar sauce and arugula on a hemp heart brioche bun… are you salivating yet?

Before leaving, we stopped to pick up groceries as our home for the last two nights was at Logden Lodge, a woodland retreat in Ymir.

Last stop: Ymir

This former mining boom town’s claim to fame was the 2012 filming of The Tall Man, starring Jessica Biel and William B. Davies. Located 30 minutes outside of Nelson, Ymir is home to 230 residents. What it lacks in residents, Ymir more than makes up in natural beauty.Logden Lodge Cabin ExteriorWe stayed in a cozy rustic log cabin nestled on 42-acres of pristine forest. The wrap-around decked cabin featured a loft, a second bedroom on the main level, a wood-burning fireplace, a full kitchen and bathroom. If you long for peace, quiet and solitude, then sit back and enjoy the wide expanse of nature that surrounds you.Logden Lodge Cabin

The next morning, we strap on our hiking boots and drive to Kaslo’s Wardner Lookout Trail. Precipitous but not difficult, this winding picturesque forested trail rewards us with sweeping vistas of Kaslo and Kootenay Lake.

It was an unforgettable experience—followed by a delicious dinner back at one of Nelson’s best restaurants, Marzano. Packed with enthusiastic foodies like us, we were equally delighted by the modern design and the cuisine. Marzano serves up a huge dose of New York chic decor along with old school Naples’s artisan wood-fired pizza and mouth-watering pasta entrées.

Bright and early the next morning, we head to the airport for our flight home. I can’t say enough about how much I loved exploring the Kootenay Lake region. It was a journey I will likely never forget and one I promise myself to revisit very soon.