by Allen Cox
Just across the border from the Idaho Panhandle and Northwestern Montana, you can explore a region of mountain peaks, deep valleys, endless forests and vast lakes. This is British Columbia’s Kootenay Rockies, and it’s just made for a road trip in any season, even the winter months. A 540-mile loop circles the Kootenay Rockies with stops in historic small towns, a free ferry trip across a lake, snow sports and a healthy dose of relaxation at some of the best hot springs resorts in North America. What better way to soak away the highway tension?
Pack your bathing suit and plan on four to seven days to drive the entire loop, depending on how many days you wish to stay at your favorite hot springs. This allows plenty of time to explore and relax along the way.
Cranbrook to Fairmont Hot Springs – 77 Miles
Begin the loop in Cranbrook, B.C., a 184-mile drive from Spokane. Cranbrook is the largest city with the largest airport in the Kootenay Rockies, so you may choose to fly in and rent a car.
When you reach Cranbrook, you may be tempted to press on to the first hot Springs—Fairmont Hot Springs Resort—but be patient. Spend some time discovering Cranbrook’s heritage buildings and early railroad history at attractions like the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel.
About an hour from Cranbrook, the next stop on the loop is the alpine town of Kimberly. If you are looking to hit the slopes, the Kimberly Alpine Resort has achieved night-skiing fame as home to the longest lighted run in North America. Or simply explore the town and then drive on to your lodging for the night: Fairmont Hot Springs Resort.
Fairmont Hot Springs has been a haven, in one form or another, for those seeking the health benefits of natural mineral springs for well over 100 years. Today’s resort encompasses Canada’s largest hot springs where guests can enjoy a soaking pool, swimming pool and dive pool, each with a constant flow of fresh spring water that is naturally heated deep within the earth.
The resort is also home to Fairmont Hot Springs Ski Area with 14 runs, rentals and a ski chalet for dining and relaxing.
Lodging at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort takes the form of resort rooms, lodge rooms, cabins or family villas. For dining, choose from a number of on-site restaurants and cafes, serving all meals and libations.
If you’re visiting in December, you’ll experience the resort’s Holiday Lights & Winter Nights Festival—think holiday spirit, festive light displays, a Christmas market, hot chocolate and mulled wine.
With these amenities, you might elect to extend your stay at Fairmont Hot Springs Resort for a few days.
Fairmont Hot Springs to Revelstoke – 184 Miles
Heads up, ice skaters and Nordic skiers: The neighboring towns of Invermere and Windermere are home to the longest groomed track in the world, at 21 miles long. After you bid farewell to Fairmont Hot Springs, in 15 minutes you’ll come to the Lake Windermere Whiteway. Strap on your skates or skis and take off on a scenic journey on the ice.
Your next stop is Radium Hot Springs in Kootenay Rockies National Park, where you can spend a few hours in the natural mineral pools to warm up after your adventure on the ice.
Drive on to the scenic mountain town of Golden, where winter is a reason to celebrate. Head to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort to hit the slopes or take the gondola up to 7,700 feet for a meal with a view at Canada’s highest elevation restaurant, Eagle’s Eye.
Once you leave Golden, you’ll cross Roger’s Pass and descend to the historic railway town of Revelstoke. Explore this mountain town, it’s many heritage buildings and the Revelstoke Mountain Resort. Bunk down for a luxurious night at Sutton Place Hotel at the ski resort. Alternatively, stay at one of the contemporary boutique hotels in town, like Grizz or Stoke Hotel.
Revelstoke to Halcyon Hot Springs – 44 Miles
Today’s drive is a short one, so spend the morning exploring Revelstoke, learn what put Revelstoke on the map at the Revelstoke Railway Museum or ski the slopes at Revelstoke Mountain Resort. Grab lunch at a local farm-to-table café, like Terra Firma’s Kitchen, before heading out of town.
Today’s destination is all about relaxation: Halcyon Hot Springs. This resort sits on the shore of Upper Arrow Lake with stunning lake and mountain views from the four natural pools. A variety of accommodations are available, from chalets to cottages. Enjoy the mineral pools, indulge in a 90-minute hot stone massage at the spa, and then enjoy dinner at the resort’s fine dining restaurant, Alcédo.
Rest up for the final leg of your journey, a full day of quaint historic towns and, yes, more hot springs.
Halcyon Hot Springs to Cranbrook – 237 Miles
After breakfast at Alcédo, you’ll drive to the village of Nakusp on the shore of Upper Arrow Lake and the community owned Nakusp Hot Springs. You are driving a hot springs loop, so why not indulge? Here, you can choose from two spring-fed mineral pools for a relaxing therapeutic soak.
The drive between Nakusp and your next hot springs—Ainsworth—goes through the historic lakefront towns of New Denver and Kaslo. While the museums and heritage sites are typically closed in the winter months, the towns are still worth a break from the drive to look around.
Ainsworth Hot Springs is your last mineral pool indulgence. Yaqan Nukiy, the Lower Kootenay Band of Creston, B.C., which owns Ainsworth Hot Springs, has been welcoming guests to the mineral pools since the 1930s. Enjoy lunch at the Indigenous-inspired Ktunaxa Grill before continuing your drive.
After Ainsworth Hot Springs, you will board the free ferry to cross Kootenay Lake and drive along the scenic lakeshore before looping back up to Cranbrook to complete the journey.
When you go
Go to kootenayrockies.com to plan your hot springs loop drive through the breathtaking Kootenay Rockies.
What are you soaking in?
Check these websites for the mineral content in each of the hot springs:
Fairmont Hot Springs: fairmonthotsprings.com/hot-springs/hot-springs-and-your-health
Halcyon Hot Springs: halcyon-hotsprings.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Water-Analysis-2022-1.pdf
Nakusp Hot Springs: nakusphotsprings.com/about-the-hot-springs/water
Ainsworth Hot Springs: ainsworthhotsprings.com/our-water