By Claire Paradis
Tucked between the Selkirk and Monashee mountain ranges, Nakusp is a hidden jewel on the banks of the Columbia River. If you’re looking for quiet, relaxed natural beauty in a friendly atmosphere, you’ll find it here.
This majestic mountain town has a population of roughly 1,500 and lots to do during the winter. The valley is a getaway for those who historically have really wanted to get away from it all.
Migrations of back to the land hippies have mixed with differing success with deep-in-the-forest loggers and hunters, and now new families who love living and getting active in Nakusp’s natural beauty are flocking to the community.
The area is full of activities, more so if you have four-wheel drive, so pile your truck with gear and head on over for a weekend of snow-filled adventure.
Friday, 3 p.m.
Shake off the week with a soak and dinner at Halcyon Hot Springs and Kingfisher Restaurant
Whether you decide to play hooky Friday to start your weekend early or head out at the regulated hour, Halcyon Hot Springs is a great spot to stop and slough off the week’s work in their naturally heated mineral-rich hot pools.
Those with Scandinavian temperaments can dip themselves in the cold pool, which gives a sharp sensation of contrast and is apparently good for your health.
After the soak, don’t miss your chance to dine at the Kingfisher Restaurant which has spectacular views of the Monashee range across Upper Arrow Lake, dishes created from local farm fare, and an excellent wine and cocktail menu. Definitely keep some room aside for the consistently amazing desserts, you might want to try more than one.
Mountain view, lake view, bar view
If you don’t reserve a room at Halcyon and have time to make drive into Nakusp before you relax into unconscious, there are a variety of bed and breakfasts scattered throughout the area.
Each one is in a unique location, and you may find yourself driving through farmland, a mill yard, up to the Nakusp Hot Springs, into the woods, or down the main street of Nakusp depending on where you decide to sleep.
If you’ve signed up for some heli-skiing with Canadian Mountain Holidays (CMH), you’ll probably be staying at the K2 Rotor Lodge in the heart of downtown, which has a comfortable bar lounge with beer on tap and a very decent wine list.
If you’re in the mood for thin-crust pizza, head to Karl’s Woodfire Pizza just two blocks down Broadway from the blinking light. When he’s not busy in front of the pizza oven flames, Karl is a local pundit who can fill you in on what’s going on around town, jokes included gratis.
Ski the night away
You can get some night skiing in at Summit Lake Ski Area between 6–9 p.m., just past Nakusp toward Nelson on Highway 6. Summit is a family-friendly area that won’t break the bank, and there are runs for all levels of skiers.
If you’re just starting out or have kids, it’s a great place for beginners, and small enough that you won’t lose your ski party. There are also tubing rides and cross-country trails available, and the view of the lake and mountains is often spectacular so you might want to try a daytime ski as well.
What happens at the Leland…
You can close the night down with the locals at the Leland Hotel’s bar, which promises the same discretion that Vegas does, but let’s be honest, it’s a small town so if you get up on the table you’ll leave a story that will circulate for months.
Saturday, 8 a.m.
Fishing for a good time
For those of you who chose to skip the Leland in order to get up early, the can be filled with outdoor fun from sunrise on. If you’re in town with your sled on Feb. 11 or March 18 in 2017, the Arrow Lakes Ridge Riders are hosting their annual Poker Runs.
Across from the ski area, Summit Lake itself is a popular winter activity area, and if the lake is sufficiently frozen, you can take a stab at ice fishing.
Etiquette says you’re welcome to fish in a pre-augured hole, but just ask first if there’s anyone nearby. Fishing is good out on the Arrow Lakes in winter, and the Blue Knuckle Derby is a popular draw. If you’re in town Jan. 21—22, you can find out if you’re tough enough.
There’s also some great outdoor skating possibilities, and if the ice on Summit isn’t quite frozen enough, Bear and Fish Lake between New Denver and Kaslo are excellent spots. It will take about an hour to get there, but it’s a spectacular drive.
Snow time like a good time
Looking for some Nordic skiing fun? Rent skis (and snowshoes) at Shon’s Bikes and Skis on the main drag – it’s the historic building with bicycles hanging on the front.
Heading out Nelson-way, there are ski trails at the Wensley Creek area just outside of town. If you’re into skate skiing, just past Summit Lake the Hills Nordic Ski Club grooms part of the old train route that connects Nakusp to the Slocan Valley.
For a serious vertical climb, go up the Nakusp Hot Springs Road to Vicki’s View. The pullout is about two kilometres from the highway, and the hike leads to a great pop out view of Nakusp and the lake. There’s more trail up for those wanting a bigger challenge.
Hot springs eternal
If you follow the Hot Springs Road up further, there are more XC skiing and snowshoeing areas, and with the altitude there’s often sun too.
Make sure not to miss the Nakusp Hot Springs, a municipally-owned treasure. Nestled in the Kuskanax Valley, it’s a 15-minute drive up the winding mountain Hot Springs Road and there are lots trails to tramp around before you decide to go for a soak.
Take a hike to the source of the original springs, checking out the views of the Kuskanax River from the beautiful timber framed bridge on the way. If you feel like more distance, follow the flagging up to the quiet and remote Kimbol Lake.
Quality over quantity
If you’re recovering from a late night or snow conditions aren’t just the way you like them, you can always spend the day in town perusing the hidden shopping gems.
Just off the main drag on Fourth Avenue is Jennifer Chocolates, and you can watch Jennifer and her lovely assistants make her delicious wares right before your eyes – the Mayan hot chocolate mix is a spicy delight in winter.
Spiritwood, down the street from the credit union, has a dazzling array of crystals, jewels and gifts. Eat Mexican food for lunch while looking at local art at the Broadway Deli, or hang out with the locals trading gossip at What’s Brewing on Broadway, or settle into soup and delicious desserts at Gabi’s Fairytale Café.
Retail therapied out? Curl up with a book at the Nakusp Public Library, housed in the stately Centennial building, or prod the local produce and crafts in the iconic red Old Firehall.
Snow or star watching
Don’t worry, everything is within walking distance. And if you’re looking for a walk, just go down to the waterfront and enjoy the spectacular view.
At night, the walkway is perfectly lit for an evening stroll, particularly when evening comes so early in the Canadian winter. And if you haven’t gone to the Nakusp Hot Springs yet, do it. It’s equally spectacular when it’s snowing or when it’s clear and you can stargaze.
Sunday, 9 a.m.
Last chance to ski
If heli-skiing is your thing and you’re looking for a full day or more, Valkyr Adventures flies out of Burton, which is a 20-minute drive from Nakusp. Or there’s Summit for a quick half day.
If you’ve got some extra time and are an avid birder, the Annual Bird Count in Nakusp takes place Jan. 2, technically a Monday not a Sunday, but hey, it’s a holiday. For more info contact the very knowledgeable and interesting Gary Davidson.
I’m on a boat
Yes, there’s still time to catch brunch at the Kingfisher, it quits at 11, and you’re only about 10 minutes away from the ferry if you have to rush.
Or you can head to the wild Halfway Hot Springs, if you’ve got the vehicle for the conditions. It’s 11 kilometres up a logging road, so ask around town if it’s accessible before you head out.
This article was first published in the January issue of the free Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine.