From the serene shores of Okanagan Lake Provincial Park to the rugged beauty of Christina Lake in the Kootenays, and the captivating vineyards above Rossland, I've soaked in the essence of this majestic province. Along the way, I've made delightful pit stops at quaint towns, enjoyed some wonderful hikes, seen breathtaking views, driven winding mountain roads and stayed in campsites -- private, provincial, and municipal. Today, I will be sharing Nakusp, a small hot springs town on Upper Arrow Lake in the Kootenay region of British Columbia, Canada's most western province.
During my summer road trips, I travel in my converted Sprinter cargo van, Wanda. Wanda and I have been together for three years now and I am delighted to embrace the van life -- at least during the summer -- to explore my beautiful home province of BC. To read about my previous adventures all across Canada, I encourage you to check the "Canada" category on this blog. For Wanda's adventures, click on the category labelled "Wanda".
This blog post marks the sixth installment of my 2023 Summer Van Life Road Trip series, where I've been sharing my experiences, discoveries, and insights from this year's journey. If you've been following along, you'll have read about the unforgettable stops at Okanagan Lake Provincial Park, the beautiful and refreshing Christina Lake, the picturesque and peaceful Columbia Gardens Winery, the serene town of Salmo, BC, and a night at Lockhart Beach Provincial Park. Last week, I shared some of the Stories and Learnings gathered during the first month of this year's summer van life road trip.
BC Summer Van Life Road Trip, so far...
Today brings me to yet another amazing destination – Nakusp, a hot springs town that beckons travellers with promises of tranquillity and rejuvenation. I have always loved hot springs and have spent a lot of time at Harrison Hot Springs in the Fraser Valley and have soaked in hot springs in countries around the world. It was an easy decision for me to follow the Hot Springs Circle Route and plan a 3-day stay in this lovely town.
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My route from Lockhart Beach Provincial Park had me following the scenic Highways 31 and 6. I found myself captivated by the beauty of British Columbia's landscape, adorned with lush forests, meandering rivers, and mountains reaching for the heavens.
Nakusp is more than a dot on the map; it holds a rich history and profound significance as a sought-after haven of hot springs. The locals here take immense pride in preserving their heritage. Nakusp is a near-perfect blend of old-world charm and contemporary comfort.
Of course, my visit wouldn't be complete without a dip in the famed Nakusp Hot Springs. My day included following the hot springs trail, crossing a stunning footbridge, and venturing to the source of the springs. The afternoon spent in the public baths was an indulgence sorely needed and greatly appreciated.
But Nakusp offers much more than its healing waters. There's a myriad of activities waiting to be explored around town – from scenic hikes to captivating sightseeing spots. It's a treasure trove for adventure enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
As a retired solo female traveller, I've found Nakusp a welcoming and safe haven. The Nakusp Municipal Campground, in particular, provided the perfect sanctuary to unwind, with its well-equipped facilities and location in town.
So, fasten your seatbelts and let's check out Nakusp and beyond. The road awaits, and the possibilities are boundless. Adventure calls – will you answer?
Getting to Nakusp
Nakusp is a place that feels like a well-kept secret among travellers. Tucked away in the heart of the Kootenays, this charming hot springs town sits on the eastern shores of Upper Arrow Lake, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding Selkirk and Monashee mountain ranges. The moment I arrived in Nakusp, I knew I had stumbled upon a place of unparalleled beauty and serenity.
To reach Nakusp from Lockhart Beach Provincial Park, I followed Highways 31 and 6. Wanda and I weaved through dense forests, meandered alongside pristine rivers, and climbed gently sloping hills, revealing one mesmerizing vista after another. This road trip is not just a transportation route but is an adventure in itself, where each turn offered a new postcard-worthy landscape.
Summer travellers need to be aware that this is the season for road construction and repair. You will encounter delays. This is not an unusual sight. Sometimes the crews are working on the road surface, but more often it is highway improvements, rock slide clean-up or slope stabilization.
Road Trip Stop 1: New Denver
I made a short stop in New Denver, a town that once held immense historical significance but, unfortunately, left me somewhat disappointed in its modern state. Nestled in the heart of the Slocan Valley, New Denver's history traces back to the late 1800s when it served as an essential hub during the Slocan Silver Rush.
In its heyday, New Denver thrived as a bustling mining town, attracting fortune seekers from all corners of the world. The wealth of silver and lead deposits in the surrounding mountains fueled its growth and prosperity. However, as with many mining towns, the boom eventually subsided, and New Denver's population dwindled over the years.
Despite its past glory, the town today is unremarkable and lacking in recognition of its rich history. The streets, once bustling with activity, now seemed quiet and uninviting. The little museum was charming but beyond that, there was little evidence of the town's vibrant past, leaving me disappointed and feeling that the town is missing an opportunity to attract a greater share of the tourism industry and to show off its important place in BC history.
I was surprised when I passed this magnificent house. The architecture echoes the shape of the mountains and was built of natural, mainly local materials. While I admired this Bed & Breakfast establishment, it did not seem to match the town at all.
After my brief stop to stretch my legs, I carried on up the road.
Road Trip Stop 2: Summit Lake
I took a second break at Summit Lake. This is just a pull-out along the road but it was a glorious day and the lake looked so lovely I decided it was a lovely spot to stretch my legs and get out of the driver's seat for a bit.
There wasn't a real path so I walked as far as I could before finding a bench to sit and admire the view.
Nakusp's History and Significance
Like many of British Columbia's hot spring towns, Nakusp's history is interwoven with tales of ancient healing and reverence for the land that began with the indigenous people. Long before the arrival of European settlers, the indigenous peoples of the region, particularly the Sinixt (Lakes) tribe, knew of the therapeutic powers of these hidden hot springs in the hills. For generations, they regarded these springs as sacred, a place to heal the body, mind, and soul.
image credit: Arrow Lakes Historical Society
The name "Nakusp" is derived from the Indigenous word "Nk̓úšp," which translates to "safe place" or "a place to stay overnight." During the late 1800s, the arrival of European settlers brought new life to the region. The discovery of gold and silver in the nearby hills sparked a mining boom. The hot springs, known locally for their therapeutic qualities, began to attract visitors from far and wide, many seeking relief from various health ailments. In the early 1890s, most passengers and freight arrived by steamboat (during the summer months) or via train.
image credit: Arrow Lakes Historical Society
The construction of the Arrow Lakes Hydroelectric Dam in the early 1900s brought further development to the area, improving access and infrastructure. By the early 1930s, a CP shipyard, forestry headquarters, and two sawmills operated. Forestry has formed the major economic base for the village since the 1950s
Modern Town Amenities and Services
As I arrived in Nakusp, I was pleasantly surprised by the town's ability to strike a perfect balance between its rich history and the convenience of modern amenities. The charm of the past harmoniously coexisted with the contemporary offerings, making Nakusp an ideal destination for travellers seeking both tranquillity and convenience.
Today, the town has approximately 1,500 permanent residents, with logging as the main industry. There is a decent-sized grocery store, an organic health store, multiple restaurants/bars and general stores. It is a favourite place to stop for many motorcyclists. It is very common for groups of bikers to stop and linger in the town. The favourite biker gathering places seemed to be the Leland Hotel and the Three Lions pub.
The heart of the town revolves around Broadway Street, lined with charming boutiques, cafes, and inviting shops. Every street corner is planted with colourful displays. It was a pleasure to stroll through town, where I could feel the warmth of the community and the genuine hospitality of the locals. I enjoyed the historical markers on some of the buildings which told the local stories.
Currently HomeGrown Market and Juice Bar -- a health food store
In search of souvenirs and unique mementos, I visited various artisanal shops that showcased the talents of local artists and craftsmen. From handcrafted jewelry to artwork inspired by the surrounding landscapes, I found delightful keepsakes to cherish and remind me of this enchanting journey.
When coming out of the bright sunshine, I watched as this poor woman got knocked down by a child on a scooter. I was horrified... until I realized she was a mannequin!
One of the aspects that pleasantly surprised me was the town's dedication to eco-friendly practices and sustainability. Nakusp takes pride in its efforts to preserve the natural beauty that draws travellers to its embrace. I noticed several recycling stations, eco-conscious eateries, and a strong focus on minimizing waste.
My Favourite Nakusp Activities
When reading recommendations from any travel enthusiast, I think it's important to know who is making the recommendations to assess how valuable the tips are likely to be for the reader. So here goes: As you know, I'm a retired music teacher who travels solo and with an Approved Travel Buddy. My kids are adults and live independently. I'm healthy financially but my funds are not unlimited. I'm too scared to do extreme adventuring of any type. I will never be described as a party girl. Hiking and meandering around towns give me equal joy. I like driving through interesting landscapes. I'm all about the journey because the destination changes, sometimes daily. I have an interest in Canadian history. I have a particular fascination with BC's history. I love taking photographs but I make no claim to have more than a middling amount of skill and talent. Having said that: here are my recommendations on things you should do while visiting Nakusp. The order follows a walking route around Nakusp from the campgrounds. Starting at the campground, walk across the field to the path at the end of the field. This will lead you through a fabulous children's playground.
Beside the park is a small railway display featuring the original train shelter from the nearby community of Brouse. The display also includes three train cars including two cabooses and a spreader.
This was an interesting route. It served mainly to transport ore between Sandon and Nakusp and was disconnected from the main Canadian Pacific lines. To connect to the main lines, cars were moved by rail barge.
Until roads were put through the area, the line also carried passengers until sometime in the mid 1950s. The route was closed in 1988.
I was fascinated by this giant snow plow that was in use as recently as 10 years ago. These types of plows are attached to the front of the train with a crew member riding above keeping watch. Snow drifts are easily pushed off the line, even if they occasionally needed to take a second run at it. If you look closely, you might be able to see where there are wings that can extend out further to clear snow accumulating beside the line.
The beach is right across the street. It is a wide, sandy beach with lots of space to spread out your blanket. Above the beach is a grassy area with some trees for those who prefer some shade. Whether you choose to swim, to idly enjoy the views from the beach across Upper Arrow Lake, to watch the kids playing or the groups floating in the water everyone will have something to fill your beach time. (It also looks like a great wedding venue!)
Nakusp Waterfront Walkway
The Nakusp Waterfront Walkway is a paved walkway that winds along the waterfront from the beach to the Leland Hotel. It has multiple benches, lovely plantings and terrific views of the lake. There is usually a bit of a breeze right next to the lake.
I started near the beach. I had previously noticed the Japanese arch at the end of small road on the hill at the end of the beach but had assumed it belonged to a private home. To my delight, I discovered it was the starting point of the walk and the entryway to a tiny Japanese garden.
The walk goes by residential homes of all types and styles. From the older rustic cabins tucked in the trees to charming summer cottages with inviting gardens and even a stunning award-winning "passive construction" townhouse development.
Passive construction is a design technique that achieves exceptional energy efficiency and superior thermal comfort.
I thought this was a very touching tribute to a local grandmother.
At the end of the Waterfront is the historic Leland Hotel. The hosts at my campsite suggested that I would enjoy an afternoon drink on the patio of the Leland Hotel -- the oldest hotel in BC. Built beside the picturesque shores of Upper Arrow Lake, the Leland Hotel in Nakusp exudes an aura of timeless elegance and hospitality.
The Leland Hotel's history is steeped in the town's legacy. Established in 1892, it has been an integral part of Nakusp's identity. The hotel was quite modest when first built but it expanded into a Victorian-style waterside inn. The lobby of the Leland Hotel is all wood and is adorned with vintage photographs and artifacts, that explained the history of the hotel and town. It is well worth your time to read every sign and look at every vintage photo.
A highlight at the Leland Hotel is the little lakeside garden walk. While not extensive, it is heavily planted with scented plants so it smells heavenly. The trellis overhead creates a cool shade to linger and enjoy the views.
After my little walk in the garden, I returned to the hotel entry. The parking area was full of large motorcycles who were enjoying their afternoon in the bar. Most of these riders are not the scary biker-gang type, but more of the touring type. The following weekend, however, there was a large gathering of Hell's Angels planned in the Lower Mainland and so there were some more dodgy characters. Having said that, at no point did I experience any discomfort or safety concerns.
The patio was pure bliss. I ordered a cold drink and a snack as I sat back to enjoy the view. It was the perfect way to unwind on a hot summer day after a day of driving. Upper Arrow Lake, with its smooth waters reflecting the surrounding mountains, created a serene tableau that removed any tensions of the day. (the drink might have had a bit to do with that, too)
Coffee Shops and Restaurants
I love my coffee so I was eager to find the town's best coffee. I enjoyed What’s Brewing on Broadway – they serve Kicking Horse brand coffee and serve all the barista coffee drinks. I especially enjoyed their berry biscuits -- simply scrumptious!
I also visited Mountain Top Coffee Co which served my favourite coffee in town. It is a fairly new establishment and serves not only coffee but great pastries too. I enjoyed several fresh-roasted espressos from Mountain Top that were deliciously smooth with no lingering bitterness.
I walked by Bella Soriah several times. This is a Mediterranean-style restaurant with an incredible patio. Each time I went by, delicious smells emanated from the crowded patio. Unfortunately, I didn't visit it mainly because I never went by at a time I felt like stopping. Next time I visit, I will make a point of it.
I did stop for a late lunch/early dinner at the Three Lion's Pub. I went straight to the shaded patio where I had a nice cold beer and an amazingly delicious club sandwich along with a lively conversation with a group of bikers travelling through the area.
Nakusp Hot Springs
The actual hot springs are located about 20 minutes outside of town up an unpaved former Forestry Service Road to Kuskanax Creek. At the top of Hot Springs Road, there is a parking lot, the public baths, and a trailhead that leads to a couple of different hikes from a simple and easy hike to the footbridge to the longer and more complicated in-and-out Hot Springs Trail.
This is a day that requires a post of its own, which will be published later this week, so don't forget to come back to read about my day spent trekking and soaking in the mineral-rich public baths.
I found plenty to keep me interested and active in Nakusp, finding it to be a treasure trove of activities that catered to my desire for adventure, relaxation, and a touch of history and cultural enrichment, making it an ideal destination for solo travellers.
Review of Nakusp Municipal Campground
While in Nakusp I stayed at the Nakusp Municipal Campground, located next to the community park in the heart of the town. There are a total of 40 treed sites (10 with power), plus a large overflow area on an open field. Serviced sites cost $35 per night whereas unserviced sites are $27 per night. There are camp hosts on site who are happy to share their recommendations.
Location:🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ I don't think it is possible to have a better location for a municipal campsite. The community park includes a busy baseball diamond that hosted games every evening. The walk to the beach took about 5 minutes. An additional 5 minutes take you into town.
Amenities: 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️
There are excellent amenities available for campers including some powered sites, a clean wash house with hot showers, a sani-dump, and fresh water. There are no laundry facilities on site but there is a (very expensive) laundromat close by. There are some outlets in the washhouse for the discrete charging of small electronics.
Campsites: 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️
The campsites were fairly well-separated within the trees providing some privacy. The sites were well-sized that can accommodate much bigger rigs than mine. Each site included a firepit and a picnic table. At the time of my visit, there wasn't a provincial fire ban and wood could be purchased from the hosts.
Nearby activities/services: 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️
The activities and services nearby are plentiful and easy to access. There is a lot to keep any style of traveller occupied. Noise levels: 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️
It could get a bit noisy during the early evening hours during the baseball games but it was the sound of the game and an involved group of spectators and fans. Other than that, it was a quiet campground with generator hours and quiet times enforced.
Aesthetics:🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️
The aesthetics of the campground are neither spectacular nor ugly. It is fairly typical for a municipal campground. I had a site facing the baseball field and quite enjoyed it.
Nakusp is a charming hot springs town that gifted me with more than just relaxation and picturesque landscapes. I enjoyed the small-town friendliness and the artsy vibe.
As I explored the activities in and around Nakusp, I discovered a world of adventure and leisure. From scenic hikes and captivating sightseeing spots to watersports on the lake and cultural experiences, Nakusp had offered a delightful tapestry of experiences that catered to all types of travellers. In this 2023 summer van life road trip in British Columbia, Nakusp was a highlight. Come back later this week to take a day trip to the Hot Springs with me.
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To all fellow travellers and wanderers, I extend an invitation to embrace the magic of Nakusp and embark on your road-tripping escapades. Whether you're a solo explorer seeking tranquillity or a retiree looking for new experiences, Nakusp is a special place that deserves a spot on your BC road trip itinerary. ... and for those looking for a public power outlet because you chose a shady non-serviced campsite and you need to keep your fridge running: there are a bunch of outlets behind the Ministry of Transportation office in town.
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