British Columbia’s Kootenai Rockies and the International Selkirk Loop
By Marguerite Cleveland
Last month our road trip ended in Christina Lake at the lovely Sunflower Inn B&B. The next destination is Rossland and continues with a few days in the Kootenay Rockies before connecting with the International Selkirk Loop, the only multi-national scenic drive in North America. Even doing just a portion of this 280-mile scenic drive is worth it. Gorgeous lakes and rivers with crystal clear water surrounded by towering mountains makes for a beautiful drive. There are also cute little towns and the world’s longest free ferry crossing.
Day 4: Rossland, British Columbia It is just a 60-mile drive from Christina Lake to Rossland, British Columbia, so enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the Sunflower before starting your day. Once you arrive, grab a coffee or other beverage from one of the downtown coffee shops and explore the town. Historic photos sized like a mural line the main street. You can stand by an historic monument and have the same view as one of the photos taken in 1913. There are a variety of shops and galleries worth taking a peek at.
The Rossland Museum is located on the site of the historic Le Roi Gold Mines. There are 5 acres to explore with mining exhibits located on the grounds. The museum also serves as Rossland’s official visitors’ center.
Next head out to the Red Mountain Resort. Plan to do a mountain hike. The Josie Hotel has a jazzy, modern vibe. On-site is the Velvet Restaurant and Lounge, which is kicking out some rather good chow. Executive Chef Marc-Andre Choquette is an Iron Chef alum and the menu is heavy on seasonal, hearty food. For an appetizer that should be called dessert, try the candied bacon. It lives up to the hype. Dine inside with views of the mountain or out on the deck. A great way to spend the afternoon.
Enjoy the scenic drive into Nelson, which is your stop for the night. The Adventure Hotel is a fun place to stay and is geared to those who love the outdoors. It has a bright, modern interior and is centrally located to all there is to see and do in Nelson. After checking in, take a walk to Baker Street to partake of the restaurants, many with sidewalk seating. Cantina del Centro is immensely popular with the locals. Fresh Latin American cuisine is served up with 70 varieties of Tequila and Mezcal, as well as beautifully crafted cocktails. The street tacos are memorable with a variety of choices. Choose two or three to make a meal.
Day 5: Nelson Get an early start today so you have time for breakfast and kayaking before checkout time at the hotel. Oso Negro is a great place to start your day. This indoor art gallery and breakfast stop serves up more than 20 different blends of coffee to enjoy with seasonal breakfast options. Eat among the works of talented local artists or outside in the garden.
The Prestige Lakeside Resort is located on the banks of the west arm of Kootenay Lake and offers boat rentals from their dock which is home to Nelson Paddleboard and Kayak. Rent your watercraft of choice and head out on the lake. Morning hours often have no wind and the scenery has mountains that come almost to the edge of the lake. Very tranquil.
After a quick stop at the Adventure Hotel to freshen up and check out, head into town to visit Touchstones Nelson Museum of Arts and History to learn about the town and surrounding areas. A popular hike in the area is to Pulpit Rock for its spectacular views of Nelson Kootenay Lake.
Highly recommended by locals is the little town of Kaslo. It is just north of Ainsworth Hot Springs, your stop for the night, so you will have to double back—but so worth it. The scenic drive along Highway 31 is truly impressive. It is hard to imagine how the road was even built when the mountains run right to the lake. Kaslo is a quaint town that is like a step back in time. Perched on the banks of a beautiful lake, the historic town is well worth the detour with breathtaking views everywhere you walk, cute shops and many choices to grab a meal.
Head back to Ainsworth Hot Springs Resort for the night. The hot springs get crowded, so plan to go in the morning when it is only open for hotel guests. Located near the hotel is the JB Fletcher Store, a museum and local artisan shop. Worth the trek down the hill. The Ktunaxa Grill, the on-site restaurant, has great service, and the indigenous-inspired menu is constructed of fresh, local ingredients. Reservations are a must.
Day 6: Bonners Ferry, Idaho First thing in the morning, visit the Ainsworth Hot Springs. It is so nice without all the crowds. The complex includes a pool fed by the spring, a cold plunge pool fed by Munn Creek and a dimly lit cave. It is not for the faint of heart as it is like a dark tunnel. Have breakfast at the hotel before checking out.
Head to Balfour to catch the Kootenay Lake Ferry to Kootenay Bay. You are now on the International Selkirk Loop. There are no reservations, so check the times and arrive early for the 35-minute ferry crossing. This is the longest free ferry in the world—and one of the most scenic. While you wait there are plenty of shops, restaurants and a bakery at the ferry landing.
Once you arrive in Kootenay Bay, follow Highway 3A south to Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Along the way enjoy the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake. Stop at Crawford Bay, a unique community of artisans’ studios. As you continue south there are small towns, shops and beaches for photo ops. Before crossing the border make a detour in Creston to visit two wineries, Skimmerhorn Winery and Vineyard and the Baillie-Grohman Winery, that are thriving in the microclimate of the area.
Cross the border into Idaho and head to Bonners Ferry for the night. The Best Western Plus Kootenai River Inn Casino & Spa is in a great location next to the river and has a pedestrian tunnel to access the downtown area. There are restaurants on-site, or head through the tunnel to access the visitors’ center and local downtown eating establishments.
Day 7: Last Day In the morning, head 6 miles east to the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge. There is a visitors’ center with a hike nearby to a waterfall. Additional hikes are available as well as a 4.5-mile auto tour. There is a good chance you will see moose, elk, deer, or rarer a bear. Birds are abundant including bald eagles and migratory waterfowl. After spending time in the refuge continue to explore the U.S. side of the International Selkirk Loop or head home. You are about a six-hour drive to Seattle, Washington, which is a major airline hub.
An unforgettable family road trip adventure awaits. It’s time to start planning.
Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge - FWS.gov/refuge/kootenai