What to do when Banff is full – The Kootenays

Banff is full… what now?

As you might have heard, access to all national parks in Canada is free this year…which is kind of amazing. On the other hand, news of the free parks has spread like wildfire, and the whole world seems to be descending on Banff. Pretty much every weekend for the entire summer, Banff is set to be overflowing with tourists, and the vacancy rate is….. well..let’s just say there aren’t even campsites, let alone hotels..

On top of the hotels being full and the campsites being full, Banff has also recently started a daily $5 bus shuttle from Calgary to Banff….Awesome news if you’re visiting from Calgary but definitely not helping the overcrowding!

So if you don’t like crowds, can’t find a room or even just want to try something new, what are the alternatives?

Well one option you might want to consider is heading South into the Kootenays. It’s a little off the beaten track if you’re not from around here (about a 3 hour drive from Calgary), but it packs just as much of a punch as Banff – only with far fewer people!

Here are 5 reasons why you should visit Radium and the Kootenays this summer:

1.Hot Springs

If you haven’t read any of our other posts, it’s no secret that we’re obsessed with hot springs. Aside from some of the hot springs in the deep dark BC interior, and the famous Sulphur hot springs in Banff, the Kootenays are probably our favourite place to come hot spring hunting.

Our favourite public hot springs in this area are Radium and Fairmont Hotsprings. To the untrained eye, these just look like regular outdoor swimming pools, but they’re actually both heated entirely by natural spring water. You might not find these to be the idyllic ‘all natural’ hot springs you were hoping for, but I can tell you they’re a godsend after a long day of hiking. Top tip: Avoid Saturday evenings if you want to avoid the crowds, especially during ski season!

 

Also look out for the secret hotspring waterfall at Fairmont – looks awesome but not sure it’s too hygienic to bathe in.

Fairmont Hot Springs

Now if you’re looking for something completely natural, then you’re going to have to work a little harder. The best hot springs we’ve found in the area are Lussier Hot Springs which are a good 16 or 17km down a logging trail. Watch out for enormous logging trucks coming the other way and be prepared to dive into the ditch if you see one coming. They don’t like to stop!

Lussier hot springs

4×4 cars are recommended as the road isn’t great, especially if you’re going to attempt it in winter. Unfortunately this place isn’t as deserted as it used to be, so be prepared to share it with other people!

Side note: There’s also Ainsworth hotsprings if you want to swim in a hot spring cave! We haven’t been there yet hence why we haven’t written more 🙁 Will update when we get around to it!

Sweet stop after a hard days ride!

A post shared by Anthony Neufeld (@neufaloof18) on

If you plan on hitting a bunch of hot springs in one go then we’d definitely recommend staying in Radium, Invermere, Windermere or Fairmont as they’re slap bang in the middle of everything.

2. The hiking

The hikes in Kootenay and the Purcells are incredible. Not only do you pretty much get the trails entirely to yourself, but the alpine lakes and mountains easily rival those of Banff and Jasper. Our top picks? Check out Lake of the Hanging Glacier and Welsh Lakes.

We also really liked Fisher Peak – which is the highest peak in the Eastern Kootenays –

Fisher Peak

and Stanley Glacier – which is a nice 5 hour hike up into a beautiful mountain valley along the 93.

Stanley Glacier

As we said though, these parts of the wilderness are far more secluded than Banff or Jasper. Many of the hikes require driving for miles and miles down bumpy logging roads. It might seem obvious, but if you do plan on venturing into the wilderness, always make sure you pack appropriate supplies and equipment, drive an appropriate vehicle and let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back! (No cell service)

3. Golf

The drive between Banff and Radium is about as mountainous as it comes, so where does golf fit in?

Actually, just before you reach Radium, the Highway 93 spits you out of the mountains into a stunning river valley. The perfect place for a round of golf or two!

Radium and Invermere are actually famous for having some great golf course resorts, like the one we stayed at recently; Copper Point Resort in Invermere. Thanks to Leavetown and Copper Point for putting us up, we were able to experience the other side of this area that we often miss when we’re too busy hunting for hot springs!

Leavetown is a great site if you’re looking for accommodations and activities in a certain area, especially if you’re adventure lovers like we are.

Honestly, if you’re looking for a luxury retreat away from the crowds then we might have found the ideal hotel. We had a chance to check this place out and its probably the most luxurious resort we’ve ever stayed in this close to mountains. It was so nice to come back from a long day of hiking to soak in the spa (indoor/outdoor pools and hot tubs!), play a round of golf and grab a bite to eat at their delicious Elements Grill restaurant.

Copper Point Hotel

It’s also within walking distance of a popular authentic Austrian restaurant “Black Forest Steak and Schnitzel”, something that seems to be strangely popular in this part of the province. I think I’ve seen one in Calgary, but as soon as you hit Radium they’re practically every second restaurant?!! It’s no bad thing though because there’s nothing better than a good schnitzel and some European beer after a long day on the green!

4. The Epic Drive through the Kootenays.

I know we’ve raved about the Icefields Parkway (93 North) and how amazing a drive it is, but this highway (93 South) is honestly just as good. Be prepared to see a fair amount of wildlife including bears (especially in the 5 minutes before you reach radium) and wolves, several pullouts that showcase epic views and great picnic spots and campgrounds along the way.

bears

5. Great stops along the way.

This is kind of similar to the previous point but we couldn’t help mentioning a few of  the really great (and quick) attractions along the way. I would highly recommend checking out:

  •  Marble Canyon – a great walk in winter or summer that gives you an awesome top down view of a beautiful slot canyon and waterfall.

Marble Canyon

  • Paint Pots – Paint pots or ink pots are typically pools of water that build up different mineral deposits and end up being different colours as a result. These ones are a great place to stop along the way if you want to check out a pretty unusual natural wonder!
  • Storm Mountain Lodge – This hotel is about as rustic as it gets. Log cabins in complete and utter seclusion from technology and a hotel that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the trapper days.

Storm Mountain Lodge

Still haven’t booked your trip yet? Why not check out our instagram feeds for some of our other favourite spots in the Kootenays!

All opinions expressed in this post are our own!

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