Monday, September 18, 2017

Family Touring around Nelson and the West Kootenays, British Columbia

We'd been wanting to spend some time camping in the West Kootenay area of British Columbia for years now. We finally added it to the calendar this summer and chose to camp near Nelson so that we could spent lots of time at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park (even if we couldn't get a campsite there.)

The amazing Sandspit Beach at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park

By staging our West Kootenay summer vacation out of the Nelson area, we would also be able to try biking a new rail trail, we'd get the opportunity to paddle a section of the TransCanada Trail, and we'd be super close to Ainsworth Hot Springs (my favourite hot springs in all of BC.)

Biking across a trestle bridge on the Great Northern Rail Trail outside Nelson

Below are our highlights from four nights camping in the Nelson area this past summer.

Beach Time at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park

We had hoped to camp at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park but apparently you can't show up on a Saturday of a long weekend or even make a reservation unless you can commit to being there on Friday as well. We were coming from Kelowna and unfortunately had planned poorly to be arriving in the middle of the August long weekend. Fortunately for us, there are tons of private campgrounds around and so we camped 10 minutes away from Kokanee Creek, and made day trips to Sandspit Beach.

A little sandy island in the middle of Kootenay Lake, Sandspit Beach

The highlight of our time in the West Kootenays was spending afternoons at Sandspit Beach in Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. True to its name, there is a giant sandspit stretching out into Kootenay Lake. You can walk out into the lake for several hundred metres before the water goes anywhere near knee deep.

My  boys running across Kootenay Lake (the beach way in the background)

It was absolutely surreal to be able to walk across a lake, to be able to play games of catch or tag in the middle of the lake, and to just have fun playing in the extremely shallow water. Step off the sandspit though, and the water immediately plunged much deeper.

This was in the middle of Kootenay Lake on the Sandspit

My son made a friend at the beach and the boys loved playing on their own little private island they found out on the sandspit. They built sand castles and fortresses, and I created my own little hot tub. It was magical and we can't wait to go back next summer!

Our own private island in the middle of Kokanee Lake

Biking the Great Northern Rail Trail

One of our summer goals was to bike a new rail trail. Lucky for us, there are several to choose from in the West Kootenays.

Riding across a trestle bridge between Cottonwood Lake and Nelson

We decided to do a section of the Great Northern Rail Trail from Cottonwood Lake down to Nelson. This is a section of the TransCanada trail that crosses our entire country. The biggest challenge in the end was finding information on the trail.

Through a combined assortment of resources and research, I finally put together some basic beta on this ride.

Cottonwood Lake to Nelson: Cottonwood Lake to the parking lot at the top of Elwyn Street in Nelson - 8 km one way at a 3% rail grade all downhill.

We enjoyed awesome downhill coasting from Cottonwood Lake to Nelson (we barely had to pedal) and we were in town in no time! We "truck dropped" the trail with my husband riding back up to get the truck once we reached the Nelson city limits. (which made my son and I very happy.)

On our ride we crossed 3 trestle bridges (of note because the Visitor Centre told me there were none on this section!)

One of the trestle bridges we rode over on our way to Nelson

While waiting for my husband to meet us at the parking lot at the top of Elwyn Street in town, my son and I decided to ride a little bit further to see how far we could get towards Troup Beach (the end of the trail.)

Nelson to Troup Beach: Starting at the top of Elwyn Street in town, it is an 8 km ride one way downhill to Troup. This is again rail grade, and you'll have to bike back up again because there is no parking lot or road access for Troup Beach.

The bridges were definitely a highlight of the ride

We rode 6 km towards Troup Beach, stopping a couple kilometres short of the end. We rode over 3 more trestle bridges (for a total of 6 bridges) and then turned around to bike back up to Elwyn. The return ride was uphill, but never steep. It was very doable for my son and I, and we never struggled with the easy rail grade.

In total, I'd estimate we rode 20 km and only had to bike 6 km uphill. The rest was all down. (and note, I use the word "estimate" because I didn't have anything on me tracking our distance, and I've found conflicting numbers in my research.)

Happy Biker on the Great Northern Rail Trail

The Rosemont Mountain Bike Park in Nelson

We love visiting mountain bike parks, skills parks, and pump tracks when we travel. And the one in Nelson was something else!

The Rosemont Bike Park was rather "Epic" for a bike park. And I'd highly suggest elbow and knee padding for the kids (possibly a full face helmet.)

Flowy downhill riding at the Rosemont Mountain Bike Park in Nelson

This park has a nice pump track but it would be very dangerous to just play around on it without starting at the very top of the park and riding down. Older riders bike up a steep course to ride down one of several mountain bike trails, ending at the pump track (which they circle before finishing.) If you have young children wanting to just play on the pump track, make sure no older kids are riding down from above.

This park is basically a miniature "downhill mountain bike park" as you'd see at a ski resort. (without a chairlift.) Ride up, choose your path, and bike down. Repeat multiple times.

Riding down one of the intermediate features at the bike park

There are many different technical trail features, wooden features, and paths to choose from. (all rated as beginner, intermediate, or advanced.)

There is also a really fun skate park beside the mountain bike park. My son enjoyed riding on both.

The Rosemont Skatepark, Nelson

Paddling on Kootenay Lake - TransCanada Trail Paddle Route

Most people don't realize that the TransCanada Trail, a fabulous network that crosses our entire country, is made up of both land and marine sections. And while we've hiked several sections of the trail network, we had never paddled a section until this trip out to Nelson.

Kayaking along the West Arm Paddle Route outside of Nelson

We kayaked a very short section of the West Arm Paddle Route between Balfour Bay and Kokanee Creek Provincial Park. In total, this route is 29.63 km from Balfour to Nelson. And some day it would be fun to do the whole thing.

Kayaking from Balfour Bay along Kootenay Lake

I would have loved to have done our short outing on my stand up paddleboard, but I had a shoulder injury I was dealing with the whole time we were in Nelson, and so had to content myself with playing princess in the bow of our tandem kayak.

Kayaking down Kootenay Lake from Balfour towards Nelson

Ainsworth Hot Springs

The Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort was at the top of my list for places I wanted to visit on our trip. While I always love hot springs, I especially enjoy these ones because of the natural cave located beside the hottest pool. You can swim/walk through the cave, crawl up into little rocky nooks (giving you a sauna type experience,) and stand under a hot waterfall inside the horseshoe shaped cave. It's truly a magical experience to walk through a cave filled with hot mineral water!

Standing in the hot pool at Ainsworth in the entrance to the natural cave

I also like that the water at the Ainsworth Hot Springs is actually HOT. I find some hot spring pools to be too chilly for my liking. Ainsworth however, has three different pools, and the hottest one is just perfect for me at 42 degrees Celsius. (the same temperature as it is in the cave.)

For those who don't want a prolonged soak in 42 degree water, there is also a main lounging pool that's only 35 degrees Celsius. (much more comfortable for extended soaking.)

And, in between walking through the cave, soaking in the hot pool, or relaxing in the main pool, one definitely has to take a quick dip in the plunge pool (with water straight from nearby Munn Creek, and freezing cold!)

Paradise at Ainsworth Hot Springs

We only had four nights in the Nelson area, so we only covered a very small amount of activities that one can actually do in this area of the West Kootenays. For more information or travel suggestions, consider visiting the Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism website.

Parting shot of Kokanee Creek Provincial Park and Sandspit Beach

Disclaimer:  This trip was not sponsored by any tourism bureau, park, or business. All opinions are my own.


  1. Where did you camp that was 10 minutes away?

    1. It was an RV Park. I believe it was the Birch Grove RV Park.