Kids and Canada seem naturally to go hand in hand. Cities like Montreal, Quebec City and Vancouver are well-known for being family-friendly destinations, but part of the fun of a family vacation is discovering something new. Located in the southeast corner of British Columbia, the Kootenay Rockies have a reputation for winter sports and stellar ski conditions, but some of the best family adventures here take place when there’s no snow on the ground.
Just 30 minutes from the West Kootenay Regional Airport, Nelson has quirky small-town charm with big-city perks. Downtown is home to trendy boutique shops, colorful street art and 50 restaurants and cafes. (That’s more per capita than San Francisco.)
Just a couple of blocks from downtown, families can hop aboard Nelson’s Streetcar #23. With a Kootenay history that dates back to 1924, it now spends summer and fall days rolling along the waterfront to Lakeside Rotary Park.
The park is located at the foot of the Nelson Bridge, affectionately known as Big Orange Bridge, or BOB. Have a camera for the view and a swimsuit to splash and play on the sandy beach. Along with stretches of grass and trees for shade, there’s a playground, bathrooms and a summer concession stand.
The Ktunaxa First Nations peoples were the first to visit Ainsworth Hot Springs. Today visitors of all ages flock here to relax and unwind in the mineral water. In the main lounging pool, the water temperature averages 96°F; water in the warmer horseshoe caves (complete with stalactites) reaches triple digits with an average temperature of 108°F. The hot springs are loaded with minerals the likes of calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium, but unlike some other natural hot springs, there is no odor.
Changing rooms and complimentary storage lockers are available for day guests. Hot springs access is complimentary for families staying at the onsite hotel. The property features 39 rooms, including a number of accommodations ideal for families that are designed to sleep four and five people.
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One of the best ways to soak in the scenery of the Kootenay Rockies is to spend time out and about on its extensive network of hiking trails. Loaded with short, easily accessible family-friendly walks, there’s an adventure waiting for kids of all ages and stamina.
If nearly 6 miles of easy walking trails to explore isn’t enough, from mid-August to mid-September, Kokanee salmon return to Kokanee Creek Provincial Park to spawn. Elevated boardwalks make it easy to spot salmon in the spawning channel, and sometimes even the bears that come to feast during the salmon run.
The Kokanee Creek Nature Center is typically open mid-May through the end of September. In addition to an interactive Discovery Room for kids, docents are on hand to answer questions and, depending on the day, lead guided tours. As an added bonus, the visitor center boasts a nice coffee shop.
As you make your way along Highway 31, pay attention: The sign for Fletcher Falls is easy to miss. And when you pull off the roadway to park, there isn’t a big lot, just street parking. But don’t let that fool you.
Located on the shores of Kootenay Lake just outside of Kaslo, the hiking trail leading to Fletcher Falls runs downhill. It’s not stroller-friendly, but it is easy to follow. You’ll hear the water before you see it, but it only takes 5 to 10 minutes of walking to get your first peek. A wooden platform in front of Fletcher Falls makes it easy to get a good up-close view.
From the falls viewing area it’s just a couple of minutes’ walk to a long sandy beach that runs along Kootenay Lake. Pack a picnic — there’s a handful of wooden tables with a view — and a towel to dry off sandy feet before heading back up the trail.
The village of Kaslo is only about a 10-minute drive from Fletcher Falls. The shop- and restaurant-lined downtown has a charming feel and lovely views of the Purcell Mountains and Kootenay Lake.
Kaslo is also home to the world’s oldest passenger sternwheeler, the SS Moyie. Launched in 1898, she was a regular on Kootenay Lake through the late 1950s. Kids will love seeing the engine room and passenger cabins. The SS Moyie is open daily mid-May to mid-October.
The Kootenay Rockies has a vibrant craft beer scene, boasting nearly a dozen stops on the BC Ale Trail. One of these, Angry Hen Brewing, is located almost directly across the street from the SS Moyie. For families needing a place to sit for a spell, the brewery has a big outdoor patio where parents can enjoy a quick beer or grab a growler to go.
From rafting and kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding, families traveling with older kids have lots of opportunities to make a splash during their time in the Kootenay Rockies. May through June, river operator Endless Adventure offers a rare chance to paddleboard on the Columbia River with sturgeon. Clear water provides close views of the prehistoric and sometimes monstrous fish. The Sturgeon Search Tour is recommended for kids age 12 and up.
Accommodations in the Kootenay Rockies run the gamut from hip and historic to rustic and luxurious. It really comes down to geography and where your family wants to be.
Located in the heart of Nelson, the Hume Hotel & Spa dates back to 1898. The property features 45 guest rooms; unusual floor plans include split rooms that use the bathroom to separate beds, providing families with both space and privacy. The hotel’s family-friendly General Store Restaurant onsite serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Nearby Savoy Hotel offers a dozen rooms, including a junior suite with a kitchen, which sleeps four. The views from the rooftop hot tub are worth packing a swimsuit for. Interestingly, a nightclub operates in the property’s basement on Friday and Saturday nights. I didn’t stay on an evening it was open, but it’s worth inquiring when making plans.
Farther south in Rossland (about half an hour from the border of the United States and Canada), The Josie is a fun and colorful full-service hotel with 106 rooms and suites. Set at the base of RED Mountain Resort, its two bedroom suites come with valley and slopeside views. Its location also makes it ideal for winter ski getaways.
The West Kootenay Regional Airport is located in Castlegar; there are daily flights from both Vancouver and Calgary. Families can also fly into Spokane International Airport. From there it’s about a 2 1/2-hour drive to the U.S.-Canada border.
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Editor’s Note: Dana’s stay was hosted by Kootenay Rockies Tourism. As always, our opinions are our own on Ciao Bambino. Photos by Dana Rebmann except where noted.
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