Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Best of the Columbia Valley (Radium Hot Springs to Invermere - and beyond)

The Town of Radium Hot Springs is easily reached in a three hour drive from Calgary.  It's close enough for a weekend jaunt, or just far enough away to justify spending a full week.  It's also a good jumping off point for exploring the Columbia Valley and the towns of Invermere or Fairmont Hot Springs to the south.

We love exploring this sunny valley to the west of us in British Columbia and usually visit in spring or autumn when days are getting cooler here in the Rockies.  This summer though we decided to spend a full week camping in Radium Hot Springs. We've been exploring the valley now for the past 10+ years and I'm starting to feel like it is my second home.

The Columbia Valley and our Second Home

 

Where to Camp in the Columbia Valley


I'm not even going to touch the subject of hotels and motels because we always stay at a friend's condo or else we camp. Most people I know do the same and rent a condo in the off-season, or camp in the summer.

While there are many private campgrounds to choose from, we always stay at Red Streak, the Kootenay National Park campground in Radium Hotsprings for several reasons.

Camping at Red Streak Campground, Kootenay National Park


Highlights of Camping at Red Streak
Hike from Red Streak to the hotsprings and back on the Redstreak Campground Trail (2.7km one way from the top corner of the H Loop.)

Hike the Juniper Trail from Redstreak (7.4km loop with the Redstreak Campground Trail and Sinclair Canyon.  Stop at the hotsprings along the way.)

Hike the Redstreak Loop Trail from camp (2.2km loop - great for that time right before bed when you want to tire the kids out!)

Hiking in Kootenay National Park from Red Streak Campground

Bike towards the golf course from the E Loop. (The trail starts behind site E5.)  Bike downhill to the fence and then bike back up on the gravel road to the day use/overflow parking area at Redstreak. Loop is less than 3km.

Proximity to the Radium Hot Springs Pool!  And there is a cold pool complete with slide and diving board!!

Proximity to the Town of Radium Hot Springs with restaurants, coffee shops, mini-golf, ice-cream, and one of the best bike parks in the valley.

Some loops have power which means no generators!! I'd pay extra for a power site just to get away from the annoying things!

The view from our campsite in the E loop

Playgrounds!  Many/most national park campgrounds don't have playgrounds so this is a treat.  We love the E loop which has both a playground AND power sites.

Comfort Camping is an option for families who would rather sleep in an oTENTik cabin than a tent.

Read more about our experiences camping at Redstreak here: Why We LOVE Camping at Redstreak Campground, Radium Hot Springs. 

Views from the Red Streak Campground Trail down to Sinclair Canyon near the Hot Springs

Best Hikes in the Valley  


We certainly haven't done all of the hikes in the valley (something we'll be working on over the next many years) but we've definitely found a few family favourites between Radium Hot Springs and Fairmont Hot Springs.

1.  Mt. Swansea (Invermere) - This is one of the only mountains where you can drive most of the way to the summit! (high clearance vehicle recommended)  The upper parking lot takes you to within 500 metres distance of the summit with only 100 metres of height to climb.

Read the full story of our hike here with photos at Exploring the Columbia Valley Wetlands by Boat, Bike, and Hike.

Views from the top of Mount Swansea over the Columbia Valley

2.  Findlay Falls (Fairmont Hot Springs) - This cute little hike takes you to a lovely set of waterfalls and is only 2km round trip with minimal elevation gain/loss.  It is located near the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort so plan a trip to the pool while you are in the area.

More photos can be seen in my story:  Want Spring?  Go West to the Columbia Valley.

Trail directions: Drive past Fairmont Hot Springs and continue south on Hwy 95 towards Canal Flats. Turn right onto Findlay Creek Road just before the south end of Columbia Lake. Follow for 4.6km until you find the Findlay Falls Day Use Area. (road shows up on Google Maps)


Findlay Falls near Fairmont Hot Springs

3.   The Old Toby Road (Invermere) - This was one heck of an adventure when we last did it!  The drive alone was fun (high clearance vehicle recommended) and then we started out on an old road (on bikes for the first kilometre or so) until we reached a washed out section.  We proceeded on foot until we reached the end of the trail, and a canyon!  Getting up the other side required scaling a sketchy ladder bolted to the side of the cliff.  We opted not to climb the ladder but made it to within half a kilometre of the trail's end at an old bridge site.  I can't recommend this hike enough for a true adventure and a fun little jaunt on an easy trail that has little to no elevation gain.  It is 3km to the old bridge site and the first section can be biked.

To read about our adventure, check out this story: Autumn Mountain Biking in the Columbia Valley

Biking the easy section on the Old Toby Road


4.  Pedley Pass and Bumpy Meadows (Invermere) - This is another great hike that requires a high clearance vehicle.  It's a short 1km walk to Bumpy Meadows (suitably named for the round bumps found throughout the meadow) and then it's another 0.9km to Pedley Pass from where you can either hike along the ridge or hike to a lovely tarn.  We chose to visit the tarn on our last visit but want to explore the ridge next time.

Tarn on the Pedley Pass Hike

5.   The Hoodoos Trail (Fairmont Hot Springs) - We love this early season hike to the top of a cliff lined with giant hoodoo rock formations.  It's an easy 2.9km hike to the end of the trail and much of it is chariot-friendly as you'll start off on a double track road.

Hiking the Hoodoos Trail near Fairmont Hot Springs

For hikes in Radium Hot Springs, read the section on camping above where I've listed the best hikes available from the Red Streak Campground.

Hiking in Sinclair Canyon, Radium Hot Springs

Best Bike Rides in the Valley


This is the easiest section to write because I've already written several stories on this topic and they cover all of our favourite rides in the area.

Favourite Mountain Bike Trails in a Nutshell (with links to the full stories below):

  • The Old Coach Trail from Dry Gulch to Radium Hot Springs (9km one way)

  •  Deja View  - single track trails off of the Old Coach Trail. For the easiest riding, do the loops on the river side of the Old Coach Trail only. The loops on the highway side are much harder!)

  • The Spirit Trail, Fairmont Hot Springs (ride as far as you want towards Canal Flats)

Biking the Old Coach Trail between Dry Gulch and Radium Hot Springs


Information on all trails above:

Kids on Wheels - Biking the Columbia Valley

Autumn Mountain Biking in the Columbia Valley

Kids on Wheels - Nipika Mountain Resort

Autumn biking in Sinclair Creek, Radium Hot Springs


Future Trails we hope to bike:


The Valley Trail at Panorama Mountain Resort (paved)

The Delphine Trail to the Hale Hut, Panorama Mountain Resort

Biking the Junior Johnson at Lake Lillian, Invermere


Bike Parks, Skate Parks, and Pump Tracks


For more fun on bikes, check out the Radium Hot Springs Pump and Jump Bike Park in Sinclair Creek or the Mount Nelson Skatepark in Invermere with its own pump track. 

Biking on the Radium Hot Springs Pump and Jump in Sinclair Creek
Mount Nelson Skatepark in Invermere (great with bikes too)

 

Family Fun in the Valley


Below is my random list of the best of everything in the valley from ice-cream to coffee, restaurants, beaches, and other activities to keep the kids busy.

Best Beach - Kinsmen Public Beach in Invermere (splash park, playground, jumping rafts, slides in the lake.)  Don't expect much sand though as it's primarily a rocky beach.  The town does bring in piles of sand sometimes for the kids to play in.

Jumping Rafts at Kinsmen Beach
The slides at Kinsmen Beach are a lot of fun!

Best Ice-cream - Hopkins Harvest in Windermere (best ice-cream I've ever had!!) - try the lemon flavour (and next time we have to try the pizza!)


Best family-friendly pub - The Station Pub in Invermere (because who doesn't like a pub that takes kids!  The food is surprisingly good too.) And NEW addition for 2016 - I have to add that the Horsethief Pub and Eatery in Radium Hot Springs is also great with kids! They have a great menu and kids are allowed during the day and early evening. (Contact the pub directly to inquire about adults-only hours later on.)


Our favourite place to have lunch - The Blue Dog Cafe in Invermere (love this place!)


Best Coffee shop in Radium Hotsprings - Meet on Higher Ground in Radium Hot Springs (conveniently located just down the street from the trailhead for the Old Coach Trail.  We head here at the end of our ride to wait for my husband to bike back for the truck at the trailhead at Dry Gulch.) AND they have cinnamon buns to die for! Just make sure you go early because they'll be sold out by 9:30am.


Best Coffee shop in the Fairmont Hotsprings Area - The Smoking Waters Coffee Company is located behind the highway and is a bit hidden - but worth looking for! One cinnamon bun is big enough to feed a family!  For real!  Just go early.  They sell out by mid-morning if not earlier.


Our favourite upscale restaurant - The Hoodoo Lounge and Grill in Fairmont Hot Springs.  Try the dill pickle soup. (yes, really!)


Best picnic spot - Lake Lillian outside of Invermere on the way up to Panorama Mountain Resort.  There are few picnic tables with fire pits and the lake is small enough for paddling without the noise of motor boats found on the larger Lake Windermere. There are also mountain bike trails across the road.

Family paddling at Lake Lillian, Invermere
Swimming at Lake Lillian, Invermere

Best Playground - Radium Hot Springs Main Park Playground (located two blocks west of Main St. on St. Joseph St.)


Best "off the beaten path" place to spend the day - This goes to Lake Lillian  mentioned above under "picnic spots."  Go for the day with bikes, boats, a picnic, hot dogs, and marshmallows.

Our favourite place in the Columbia Valley:  Lake Lillian, Invermere

And NEW for 2016, we also like Lake Enid near Invermere for a short 3 km hike and picnic. For directions, follow this link to Google Maps or stop in at a Visitor Centre.

Lake Enid in October

Best Natural Hot Springs  - Lussier Hot Springs, Whiteswan Provincial Park.  Real authentic hot springs without any commercial properties. We love it here.  Unfortunately, so does everybody else so don't expect to get them to yourself. There are several pools of varying temperatures from glacial cold to scalding hot.  Kids will love climbing on the rocks between the pools.  It is a short 2 minute hike down to the pools and there are two out house bathrooms for changing in.

Lussier Hot Springs
Off the beaten path at Lussier Hot Springs

 Best Commercial Hot Springs - Radium Hot Springs. We love coming here year round but especially enjoy this pool in the summer because of the separate swimming pool (complete with diving board and slide.) This way, I get to soak in the hot pool while my boys swim and play in the other pool. Win win for all.

Most hot springs don't have diving boards! Win for Radium Hot Springs!!

Best way to explore the Columbia Valley Wetlands - Rent a canoe, a couple of kayaks, or stand up paddleboards from Columbia River Paddle in Invermere and explore the Columbia River between Invermere and Radium Hot Springs.  Shuttles can be arranged with the company and the paddle is very easy.  It's perfect for novice paddlers.

Family paddling on the Columbia River
Easy paddling on the Columbia River between Invermere and Radium Hot Springs

Best Place to Explore in Autumn - Brisco Falls. NEW for 2016, we just visited these gorgeous waterfalls over Thanksgiving. We got to see Kokanee Salmon spawning, enjoyed a very lush hike (I felt like I was in an old growth forest or something) and then had a huge reward when we reached the falls (in under a kilometre of walking.)

Red Kokanee Salmon swimming up stream at Brisco Falls

To find this "off the beaten path" spot, drive from Radium Hot Springs towards Golden until you reach the small Village of Brisco. Then follow this link to Google maps to guide you the rest of the way. You'll know you're there when you reach the yellow bridge on Brisco Road and the sign telling you that Bugaboo Provincial Park is still 45 km away. Park beside the bridge and follow the creek upstream.

And I've heard that the best time to see the salmon spawning is actually a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving so go late September.

Brisco Falls in October

Other Suggestions from Local Families

Sinclair Canyon, Radium Hot Springs

"We love Kicking Horse Cafe and Fuze in Invermere as well the toy store has an awesome games section and super knowledgeable staff to help you find the perfect game. They also had family game night too on Thursdays." - Sharon

"We love to eat at the Greek place in Fairmont." - Heila

"The Fairmont Pizza and Ice Cream Parlour had lots of good flavours including Dairy Free options." - Candace

"Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park has a quiet and beautiful lake at the top. We enjoyed a picnic, threw stones and watched the fishing boats." - Candace

"We love Sinclair Creek in Radium Hot Springs for an easy hike for our kids.   It is especially cool when the wetlands are frozen in winter because you can explore and even snowshoe in places you can't access in summer." - Breffney 

"My kids' favourite hike is Mt Swansea because you can drive most of the way up, so for littles they get the thrill of reaching the summit without as much of the effort. Also, about 50 m down from the top parking lot there is an abandoned mine you can walk into the mine shaft. We didn't have the proper equipment so we only went maybe 50 ft in because without proper lights, etc. it wasn't very safe. But my 6yo still talks about how cool it was." - Breffney

"AG Valley Foods in Invermere is well stocked with their own baking, BC fruits and dairy, and many unique dry goods." - Candace

"Hopkins Harvest in Windermere is awesome!! They have smoked cheeses and meats (the place smells sooo good!), BC fruits and goods, and they sell all of the D Dutchman Dairy Ice Cream!! It's a must stop for us." - Candace

"Gerry's Gelati is our favourite for ice cream in Invermere." - Jill

"The little Mexican restaurant, Leo Burrito, in Radium is good." - Jill

"Baptiste Lake at Edgewater just north of Radium has beautiful mountain biking." - Chad

"One must stop in at Rolf's Home of a Thousand Faces in Radium. It's a very unique experience! Check out his woodcarvings, feed his goats that live up in the treehouse and the rooftop grassy meadow, 'carefully' open the doors in his outdoor fun area. It was featured on TV show Weird Homes. " - Crystal

"We like biking at Panorama Resort so adults can do lift-access mtn biking and there's a great swimming pool area for kids." - Crystal

"We like the 'blue hole' swim spot for cliff jumping, rope swing and a nice short hike.  Best to get directions and free map at the invermere info centre on the hwy that is just down from Tim Hortons. Its about a 10 min drive then 15 min hike. Turning in at the Giant bowling pin you see between invermere and Windermere." - Crystal 
 
Relaxing on Lake Lillian, Invermere


Additional Resources


Visiting this fall or in the winter?  Check out these stories:

For information on Wasa Lake Provincial Park (further south in the valley), read this story:  Camping Across British Columbia - Wasa Lake Provincial Park 

Wasa Lake Provincial Park, South of Invermere

Best Books on the Valley:
  
Disclaimer:  This story was not sponsored or endorsed by any of the companies or businesses mentioned.  All opinions are entirely my own.

5 comments:

  1. Wow.. Great blog! Next month, I am planning SF Muir Woods Tour with my family.I would love to try all these adventures.

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  2. We have grown to love radium and surrounding area of the last couple of years! RedStreak Campground offers great Otentiks which is a good break from tent camping for us and we did many of the hikes you have mentioned but look forward to trying new ones you have listed!! And my one vally suggestion for food is From Scratch A Mountain Kitchen by Fairmont. You HAVE to go!!! And it's kid friendly.

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    Replies
    1. I'll have to check out that mountain kitchen.
      Thanks.

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