I was in the Kootenay area for work and had been taking my coworker’s suggestions for places to visit and landmarks to see. My journey brought me to Ainsworth, 45 minutes outside of Nelson BC, to check out their natural hot springs. Whenever I travel, even without an itinerary, I always pack my bathing suit in case. And on this day, it came in handy, as this was a treat.
The drive was easy, but the road signs were confusing. The initial sign was quick to have you turning left, but the hotel and its resort are a good block away. A lesson I learned the hard way, not being able to rely on my GPS and having to depend on the kindness of locals for directions. Be warned, in general where to go and where to park are not clear.
$18 at the resort gives you access to their heated waters: an outdoor pool and a steamy cave. Bring your own towel or otherwise it will be $10 to rent one, with a $5 refund when you return it. And it is advised that you also carry a bottle of water in, as drinking regularly is advised for an extended dip. They also sell bottles of water at the counter, but it is cheaper to fill at their public fountain.
Hotel guests staying at the resort were welcome to the hot springs at their leisure. For everyone else, reservations are recommended as they have reduced days and hours for any given season, and it does get packed. I called ahead and was able to get in at 3pm, avoiding a rush and a packed and noisy pool.
You disrobe and change as needed in the gender specified facilities. Dawning your suit, you then soap up and then rinse off from hair down to your toes. This is to remove any excess oils or scents for the communal space you will be entering.
The rest is at your discretion and at your leisure. Sit and soak, swim a lap, or splash around and chat it up with your friend(s) pool side.
Although the real experience is walking the man-made cave’s tunnel way and seeing how long you an remain therein. The build-up of salt has given the cave’s walls an interesting texture and there are intimate pockets you can tuck yourselves into for some privacy.
Here, your body does heat up fairly quickly, and you won’t be able to tell you are breaking a sweat. The ceiling is constantly dripping water and there are pools of it surrounding you. It is recommended that you limit your time, and then follow it by quickly submerging yourself in the adjacent chilled pool. A shock that is supposedly good for the system.
When you have had your fill of rest and relaxation, and are looking for a bite to eat, you can head upstairs to their resort restaurant: The Ktunaxa Grill. Given the popularity of the landmark, and it being marketed as a spa, I expected more in terms of decor and service. Instead, this was your run of the mill, casual chain the likes of White Spot. Nothing stood out to say you were in BC on vacation.
Similarly, I expected the menu to have a lot more First Nations influences, given the name of the restaurant. I was eager to make the reservation, only to be disappointed by the “family friendly” offerings. I understand the need of a safe choice and to have the ability to accommodate given the number of tourists that stay and eat on property, but there could have been hints of Canadiana. There were no game meats, outside of boar. And only a little foraged fruits and mushrooms on toast and in sauces. At least there was Bannock. For those unfamiliar, as per Google “Bannock is a variety of flat quick bread or any large, round article baked or cooked from grain.”
Coming from the hot springs I was hungry and wanted something hearty. So also looked to some soup to start. Today’s soup special was a Shepard’s pie soup. I got the bowl instead of a cup-sized serving, expecting a pastry crust or some bread to best epitomize the name. Instead, this was a large shallow dish of chunky soup. Ground beef in larger chunks than the potato, carrots, onion, and celery combined. It was creamy, but not as rich as I would expect from a take on the filling of shepherd’s pie. I liked the pepperiness of the hearty broth, but found the sausage displaced and the dish missing some carbs. I would later get far too much Bannock for the dish below and wished I got the loaf earlier to enjoy here too. But alas, I got and finished the soup first.
For entree, I got the most diverse dish of the lot. Skillet Roasted Salt Spring Island Mussels with wild boar sausage, grape tomatoes, rosemary, shallots, garlic, caper berries, white wine, lemon, and butter. Served with Bannock. It came to the table still sizzling, set atop a riser. This is best shared, as this is far too much shellfish for one person, and one toned taste that gets tiring fast. The tomato helped for freshness, but the olives on stem were jarring as a companion to the mussels. For the mussels, I found the deeper their orange hue, the more flavourful they were. And finally, the crispy and cakey loaf of Bannock made for the ideal bite in between to help cleanse the palette from all the salt of the shellfish.
In closing the Ainsworth Hot Springs are a must visit, and probably the most memorable thing I did on my trip. However I will go for the water and maybe pass on the restaurant.
Ainsworth Hot Springs
3609 Balfour-Kaslo-Galena Bay Hwy Ainsworth Hot Springs, BC V0G 1A0, Canada