For years, friends have been telling us, “You should go to Nelson for your next vacation!” and “You would LOVE Nelson! It’s so like you guys.” Instead, my husband Young and I visited Missoula (easier), Portland (foodier) and Seattle (for friends, family and work) and a lot of other places in between. But when the opportunity came to join a paddling trip on Kootenay Lake out of Kaslo, B.C., north of Nelson, I knew that the time had come.
Many visitors to the Kootenays stay in Nelson and explore the area from there. We followed the trend and stayed both nights at the Dancing Bear Inn Hostel on the main Nelson strip. It was economical, homey, clean, quiet and professional. Perfect for our budget and sensibilities. However, as we pulled into Kaslo at 7 a.m. on Saturday morning, I almost wished we had packed our camping gear and pitched a tent at the Kaslo Municipal Campground.
The quiet beauty of Kootenay Lake on the edge of town greeted us as we pulled into one of the gravel parking spaces at Kaslo Kayaking – a small but comprehensive kayak, paddleboard and wind surf rental and tour business located in the front yard of owners’ Dean Thornton and Daphne Hunter’s house. Just a couple short blocks from the lakefront, they were a gem in unknown territory. Thornton outfitted us with a double kayak and all the equipment we needed for the day, and helped us get on the water.
The seven-day free paddle event we were joining for the day had begun three days earlier at Davis Creek Provincial Park at the northern tip of the nearly 65-mile, fjord-like lake. The trip, organized by Nelson Kootenay Lake Tourism, would end the next week with a total of 150 paddlers at Nelson’s Lakeside Park. We joined the others for the Kaslo to Woodbury leg, and I have to say that I have never experienced anything like it.
In addition to outdoor adventures in Idaho and Washington, I have also lived and played in the midst of the Colorado Rockies. Still, the majesty, serenity and imagery of Kootenay Lake blew me away and distracted me to the point that Young had to remind me to focus on my paddle rhythm! The morning start brought a few choppy waves, but by the time we reached Fletcher Falls for lunch, the water was glassy.
“These falls, like the many of the areas around here, are not very highly trafficked,” Thornton had informed us earlier in the day. “You can walk in or boat in, and they’re all great spots.” Kootenay Lake is situated between the Selkirk and Purcell mountain ranges, and surrounded by great hikes, pristine waterfalls, ancient pictographs and fabulous views. The simple grace of Fletcher Falls made me long for more adventures along this majestic lake.
At the falls, the support crew pulled up to the shore on the MV Candide, a 42-foot houseboat that was reminiscent of the steamers that used to run the lake. Throughout the day, they offered support: cooling water gun sprays, food, drinks, and guidance. I also discovered that the Candide, which sleeps six, can be rented through the Kaslo Shipyard Co. for cruising the lake in style.
After a smooth couple of hours following our refreshments, we arrived at the Woodbury Resort and Marina, an unassuming beach with a campground, trailer park and pub. We made excellent time, having paddled 10 miles in four hours (including our stop at Fletcher), despite my inconsistent rowing. From the shore, I could see the village of Ainsworth, the next day’s destination and home of the Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort.
Back in Kaslo after our shuttle ride, we hung out in the shade of the Kaslo Kayaking yard and chatted with Dean and Daphne. “If you continue up the lake a bit,” she mentioned, “there are a couple of beautiful provincial parks.” She talked of excellent facilities at Davis Creek, Schroeder Creek and Lost Ledge, and suggested we check out the butcher, baker and candle maker and other unique shops in Kaslo (the exchange rate right now is around 25% in favor of the U.S. dollar). She also sang the praises of Cornucopia, the local natural food store, as well as the surrounding organic farms and the S.S. Moyie Sternwheeler, the only remaining Kootenay steamboat that has been restored into a unique museum.
As we headed back to the more well-known festivities of Nelson, I was loathe to leave the peaceful, yet adventurous scene we had just experienced. On our next trip to B.C., we may just have to make Nelson a stop on our way to grand undertakings farther north.
To plan your Kootenay Lake paddling trip, check out Kaslo Kayaking (Kaslokayaking.com) and find other travel resources at Nelsonkootenaylake.com. //