Radium Hot Springs
One of two main western gateways to the Canadian Rockies is the small town of Radium Hot Springs (population 700), which lies at the junction of Highways 93 and 95, 140 kilometers (87 miles) north of Cranbrook and a spectacular two-hour drive through Kootenay National Park from the famous resort town of Banff.
Its setting is spectacular; most of town lies on a plateau above the Columbia River, from where the panoramic views take in the Rockies to the east and the Purcell Mountains to the west. As well as providing accommodations and other services for mountain visitors and highway travelers, Radium is a destination in itself for many.
Aside from the town’s namesake, the area boasts a wildlife-rich wetland, two excellent golf courses, and many other recreational opportunities.
On the east side of the highway, just south of the Highway 93/95 junction, is the Radium Hot Springs Visitor Info Centre (7556 Main St. E, 250/347-9331 or 888/347-9331, www.radiumhotsprings.com, daily 9 a.m.–7 p.m. in summer, daily until 5 p.m. the rest of the year). This building is also home to the national park information center.
Columbia River Wetland
From its headwaters south of Radium, the Columbia flows northward through a 180-kilometer-long (110-mile-long) wetland to Golden, continuing north for a similar distance before reversing course and flowing south into the United States. The wetland near Radium holds international significance, not only for its size (26,000 hectares/64,250 acres), but also for the sheer concentration of wildlife it supports.
More than 100 species of birds live among the sedges, grasses, dogwoods, and black cottonwoods surrounding the convoluted banks of the Columbia. Of special interest are blue herons in large numbers and ospreys in one of the world’s highest concentrations.
The wetland also lies along the Pacific Flyway, so particularly large numbers of ducks, Canada geese, and other migratory birds gather here in spring and autumn. The northbound spring migration is celebrated with the early May Wings over the Rockies Bird Festival (www.wingsovertherockies.org). At any time of year, use the festival website to source the valley’s best birding spots.
Kootenay River Runners (4983 Hwy. 93, 250/347-9210 or 800/599-4399), offers white-water rafting trips for adult $69, child $53 for a half-day trip, and adult $97, child $81 full-day. Transportation and wetsuits are provided, and the full-day trip includes lunch. This company also offers a more relaxing evening float through the Columbia River Wetland in large and stable voyageur canoes, which depart daily at 5:30 p.m.; the cost is adult $49, child $35.
Accommodations and Camping
Radium, with a population of just 700, has more than 30 motels, an indication of its importance as a highway stop for overnight travelers. Those that lie along the access road to Kootenay National Park come alive with color through summer as each tries to outdo the others with floral landscaping. When booking any of these accommodations, ask about free passes to the hot pools.
Kootenay Motel (250/347-9490 or 877/908-2020, $60 s, $68 d, $5 extra for a kitchenette) is along Highway 93, up the hill from the junction of Highway 95. Up the hill a little farther, and a little and across the road is Apple Tree Inn (Hwy. 93, 250/347-9565 or 800/350-1511, www.appletreeinnbc.com, Apr.–Oct., $80–140 s or d), with a pleasant outdoor barbecue area. Continuing toward the national park entrance there is the Gables Motel (5058 Hwy. 93, 250/347-9866 or 877/387-7007, www.gablesmotel.ca, from $75 s or d), where each of the 17 smallish rooms has mountain views and is well furnished.
Three kilometers (1.9 miles) south of town, Radium Resort (250/347-9311 or 800/667-6444, www.radiumresort.com) is surrounded by an 18-hole golf course and holds a wide variety of facilities, including a health club, indoor pool, restaurant, and lounge. Guest rooms overlook the golf course and are linked to the main lodge building by a covered walkway. Regular motel rooms range $160–190 s or d, while kitchen-equipped condos sleeping up to six people start at $240 per night. Check the website or call for specials (rooms are often sold for around $100, even in the middle of summer). Additionally, golf, ski, and spa packages lower rates considerably, especially before and after summer’s peak season.
Prestige Radium Hot Springs (7493 Main St. W, 250/347-2300 or 877/737-8443, www.prestigeinn.com, $170–210 s or d), sits at the town’s main intersection. Facilities include a fitness room, indoor pool, gift shop, spa services, an Italian restaurant, and a lounge bar.
Within Kootenay National Park, but accessed from town off Highways 93/95, is Redstreak Campground. The closest commercial camping is at Canyon RV Resort, nestled in its own private valley immediately north of the Highway 93/95 junction (5012 Sinclair Creek Rd., 250/347-9564, www.canyonrv.com, Apr.–Oct., $27–37). Treed sites are spread along both sides of a pleasant creek, and facilities such as showers, laundry, and a playground are provided.
For breakfast, head to Springs Course restaurant (Stanley St., 250/347-9311, daily 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Apr.–Oct., $11–24), at the golf course on the west side of the highway. The view from the deck, overlooking the Columbia River and Purcell Mountains, is nothing short of stunning. The food is good and remarkably inexpensive; in the morning, for example, an omelet with three fillings, hash browns, and toast is just $10.
Back in town, Back Country Jack’s (Main St. W, 250/347-0097, daily 11 a.m.–11 p.m., $8–16) is decorated with real antiques and hard-bench seats in private booths. There’s a wide variety of platters to share, including Cowboy Caviar (nachos and baked beans) and a surprisingly good barbecued chicken soup. For a main, the half-chicken, half-ribs, and all the extras for two ($28) is a good deal.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition