Nelson, B.C. & Ainsworth Hot Springs Road Trip

Skiing and snowboarding may not be for everyone, but who wouldn’t love to sink shoulder deep in mineral-rich hot springs water with an amazing lake and mountain view spread out before you? A road trip to Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort and Nelson, B.C., is a classic Inland Northwest winter getaway. The three-hour-and-change drive from the Spokane area is like a trip back in time, but without losing any of the modern amenities and cultural sensibilities. North of the border, traffic, freeways and urban sprawl give way to scenic highways, expansive mountain vistas and laid-back small towns. And this winter the currency exchange rate has been 30% and higher in favor of the U.S. dollar, meaning you will save on everything you buy in Canada, from hotel rooms and eating out to hot springs passes and Patagonia jackets.

Nelson, B.C.

A scenic town of 10,000 built up on the hillside above Kootenay Lake, Nelson is the urban and cultural hub of the Kootenay region. With over 350 preserved heritage buildings and a dynamic arts and culture scene in a stunning natural setting, you can easily occupy several days without ever leaving sight of town. Eclectic restaurants, bars and shopping options are tucked into nearly every block of the beautiful downtown. Nelson also boasts more restaurants per capita than Manhattan or San Francisco. No fast-food chain restaurants here, but you will find organic bakeries, coffee houses and locally owned eateries specializing in authentic cuisines from around the world. If you’re looking for arts and entertainment events to plan your trip around or lodging and day-trip outing option information and travel deals, visit

Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort

First visited by the Ktunaxa First Nations people, the hot springs were eventually developed with new additions and amenities added as this natural wonder changed hands over the years. Today, Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort, about a half hour north of Nelson, includes a large pool, a steamy horseshoe-shaped cave you can wade through, a cold-plunge pool, plus a newly-remodeled hotel and a restaurant.

Photo courtesy of Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort.
Photo courtesy of Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort.

The hot water works its way down through fractures in the rock, increasing in temperature as it goes, from its source at the nearby Cody Caves area. The final result is hot, steaming water piped straight from nature with all of the natural minerals, including calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium, that are believed by many visitors to have healing properties.

The first pools and the cave at Ainsworth Hot Springs were developed in the 1920s and 1930s after the town started to decline as a mining center. In the early days, the pool was open 24 hours a day and a swim cost 10 cents. Once the local mines closed, the hot springs owner Yale Lead and Zinc Co. sold the property, including the pool, cave and lodge. After changing hands several times, major renovations were made in the early 1980s, followed by the construction of the present hotel in 1987. In 2015 the resort and surrounding properties were purchased by the Lower Kootenay Band of Creston, B.C., returning the Ktunaxa people to this important site on Kootenay Lake. Major room renovations have since been completed and the new owners will no doubt be ushering in other improvements and innovations that will leave their own mark on the popular resort.

Border Crossings & Driving to Nelson/Ainsworth

Over the past several years, crossing the border into Canada (with the proper identification) has become even easier. No passport? No problem. There is a cheaper and more easily obtainable option. Washington is one of a handful of states offering an enhanced driver’s license, and its youth counterpart, the enhanced ID. Both are faster and cheaper than getting a passport. If you already have a passport, make sure it hasn’t expired and get an enhanced ID or fast-track a passport renewal if necessary. Once you are on the road, Highway 20 and 31 in northeast Washington offer the fastest and safest route north to the border on your three-plus hour drive to Nelson. (Be sure to leave fresh fruits, firearms and other contraband at home to avoid unwanted border crossing delays.) //

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