These British Columbia Mountains Have a 530-mile Natural Hot Springs Trail — How to Plan Your Trip

How to find the best hot springs in British Columbia's Kootenay Rockies.

The city of Nelson alongside Kootenay Lake

Ryan Dury

The Kootenay Rockies in southeast British Columbia is a four-season recreational wonderland of under-the-radar repute, home to the heli- and backcountry skiers’ paradise known as the “Powder Highway,” four national parks, and a UNESCO World Heritage fossil site. The sylvan landscape also runneth over with alpine lakes, meltwater rivers, torrential waterfalls, and burbling hot springs that offer soothing, mineral-rich hydrotherapy for muscle-weary adventurers. While the whole hot springs circuit through the Kootenays (pronounced Koot-neez, this area is the shared traditional homeland of the Ktunaxa, Sinixt, Secwepemc, and Sylixt nations) clocks in at 530 miles, opting for a more focused hop to the region’s most prized geothermal spas allows for deeper exploration of bohemian hamlets, off-the-beaten-path hotels and restaurants, and hidden waterfall hikes.

An even bigger perk? More soaking, less driving — a motto ironically suited for a car bumper sticker. Whether you squeeze these stops into a three-day road trip or take a more leisurely pace, don’t waste time getting the show on the road: fly into the region (Air Canada makes trips from Vancouver International to Castlegar’s West Kootenay Regional six days a week) and rent a car at the airport. 

Here's how to plan a wellness-focused hot springs hop of British Columbia's Kootenay Rockies.

Halcyon Hot Springs

Halcyon Hot Springs Resort

Mitch Winton

From Castlegar, it’s a two-hour drive to Halcyon Hot Springs, the northernmost stop on our hop — over the duration of the trip, you’ll ease back south toward the airport from here. It's located in the town of Nakusp (you can break up the drive by stopping at the friendly Camp Cafe in Silverton for quiches and cakes of the homemade and heartfelt variety, plus fresh-brewed caffeine). The modern hot springs resort reimagines the property’s history as a late-1800s public sanatorium developed by a wealthy steamship captain with the help of the Ktunaxa and Sinixt nations — the land’s hot springs are naturally rich in lithium, reportedly a panacea for the body and brain. Halcyon’s pandemic-era renovations include new King Cottages with fireplaces, Nespresso machines, and luxury bathrooms with walk-in steam showers. 

Soaking is otherwise encouraged at the property’s public springs, where hot (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and warm (99 F) jetted pools — plus the requisite 58 F polar plunge for your immunity-boosting pleasure — are enhanced by a panoramic view of Upper Arrow Lake’s turquoise waters. (The resort’s new-and-improved lakefront hiking trail embeds you even deeper into the scenery.) Owing to Halcyon’s remote location, its rebranded restaurant, Alcédo Kitchen & Bar, aspires to be a self-sustaining, farm-to-table affair with much of the vegetables grown on-site in the greenhouse. Even so, hearty proteins seem to be chef Darryl Crumb’s specialty — the red wine–braised lamb shank with lentils or brown butter–roasted salmon with wild rice are especially delicious and comforting before or after a steamy steep.

Nakusp Hot Springs

Located in the Kuskanax Valley about 40 minutes south of Halcyon and eight miles off the main highway along a forest road, Nakusp Hot Springs is the most secluded spot on our hop. Wisps of fog frequently cling to the densely timbered foothills, a stunning backdrop for the community-owned and -operated bohemian thermal oasis, where two mineral-rich pools (107 F and 100 F) are fed by a natural source set in the surrounding woods. After bathing, an easy five-minute jaunt through the old-growth Western Red Cedar forest leads to a cinematic sight: a beautiful covered footbridge made of Douglas fir that spans the mighty Kusunax River. 

The resort encompasses an RV park and campground, but the A-frame chalets are cozy and full of woodsy character, with kitchens and spiral staircases that lead to lofted bedrooms. If dining out is on the agenda, head to nearby Valley of the Springs Winery for lunch, where grazing boards are crammed with local cheese and charcuterie, and off-menu fish tacos are made with freshwater burbot. For dinner, the Spanish restaurant Bella Soriah on Nakusp’s slow-tempo main drag serves patatas bravas, garlic prawns, and pan con tomate to rival the backstreet tapas bars of Barcelona.

Ainsworth Hot Springs

Ainsworth Hot Springs along Kootenay Lake

Kari Medig

The centerpiece of Ainsworth Hot Springs, on the shores of Kootenay Lake, is a natural horseshoe-shaped cave flowing with steamy mineral water that originates in the mountain slopes above the recently renovated, 1930s-era resort. As a hydrotherapy course, consider repeating this relaxing routine: warm soak (in the 96 F lounging pool), hot wade (in the cave’s shallow, 108 F waters), cold plunge (filled by the phenomenally frigid Munn Creek). 

An après-springs meal at the property’s signature restaurant, Ktunaxa Grill, will be one of the most delicious and enlightening of the trip. Sticking close to the locally sourced ingredients and cooking traditions of the native Ktunaxa people, chef Cory Chapman thoughtfully crafts beautifully seasonal dishes like pan-roasted Fraser Valley duck breast with foraged-elderberry glaze and crispy-skin steelhead trout with cedar-dill sauce. To ward off food coma, head to nearby Fletcher Falls, where a moderately challenging wilderness trail leads to a lush cascade whose substantial spray isn’t just refreshing but also reaps rainbows.


The city of Nelson alongside Kootenay Lake

Ryan Dury

This bustling mountain town, a 45-minute drive southwest of Ainsworth, is as cosmopolitan as communities get in the Kootenays. Stop in for retail therapy at indie book shops, consignment clothing boutiques, candy stores, and galleries like Craft Connection, stocked with wheel-thrown ceramics and handmade jewelry by Kootenay artists. Take a self-guided mural tour through town with the help of Nelson’s Mural Tour app, which locates and identifies more than 40 works of art splashed across the town’s 350-plus historic buildings. As a hub for international skiers, the restaurants here span a global spectrum. At Red Light Ramen, the soulful noodle bowls, ladled with nourishing bone broth, are inspired by herbal medicine, while at Marzano, a wood-fired forno, blisters pies are topped with local ingredients like Two Rivers pepperoni. Book it to the Library Lounge at the historic Hume Hotel to sip classic cocktails in a scholarly setting.

Camping tents under a milk way starry sky

Dustin Lalik

For one last adventure to cap off the hot springs hop, float on a raft or paddleboard down the lazy Columbia River with Endless Adventure, during which the guides will point out river wildlife. You might see from century-old sturgeon swimming in the shallows to great blue heron and black bear foraging along the banks. After about an hour, you’ll moor at Zuckerberg Island — a heritage park named after the original landowner, Alexander Zuckerberg, a schoolteacher and 1930s international man of mystery, for a picnic lunch. (Request the fresh and hearty vegan boxes from The Roasted Chickpea). Midway between Nelson and Castlegar, the Stargazer glamping tents at the Bear Spring Eco Retreat (which has an on-site peony farm) are 13 feet in diameter, so you can fall asleep while watching the night sky.

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