British Columbia "Hot Springs" Tour

July 1998

Hugh and Denise at the top of Rogers Pass.

Last summer (1998) my wife, Denise, and I completed a British Columbia bike tour. I believe the route we followed is known as the "Silver Triangle" by the local bike clubs but we dubbed it the Hot Springs Tour. It's just west of Banft National Park. We avoided the Park due to the serious climbing and crowds.

We traveled on two SWB bikes which I made. They are a monotube design having 20 inch 406 wheels front and rear. They now have Sachs 3x7 hubs along with triple cranks for some serious low gears. A recent addition was Ballistic suspension forks. The bikes collapse for public transit and we've traveled with them to New Zealand and Australia. But I digress.

We drove to Bonners Ferry, Idaho and left the car at a long term storage facility outside town. We've found this works well for such a loop tour, some $30-$40 a month and they'll usually prorate for a week or two. We rode back into Bonners Ferry and spent the night, it was July 9 and very hot. We set up camp then off to an air conditioned cafe, read and drank ice tea all afternoon.

There's quite a hill leaving town north on 95 but then nice rolling hills until 95 leaves 1. It was hot again, which turned out to be the story of the trip. After sitting out a rain storm in a Forest Camp we rolled into Eastport and Canada where the Boarder Guard was more interested in our bikes than counterband. In the rain we found our Sierra Designs tent is no longer quite waterproof. It has served us well, over the last four years or so we've lived in it for a total of some 6 months.

The rain cooled things nicely and we continued up 95 with good shoulders and a great tail wind. Good riding with rolling hills but a chip sealed surface, good to have those suspension forks. Coming into Cranbrook you look out to see the Rockies to the east, beautiful. Cranbrook is a larger town and we stocked up on supplies and washed clothes before continuing north on 95.

Camping at Wasa Lake Denise made us pasta for dinner. While draining off the water she dumped it all into the fire pit. She had to repeat the whole process, including dumping it into the fire pit again. She was literally not a happy camper, so I made the third batch.

Stopped at Skookumchuck for snack. (Had to mention Skookumchuck just `cuz it sounds so cool.) We half planned to bike into a hot springs we'd heard about along here but the 22 km of uphill gravel roads with trucks was too much. We did see two people touring on recumbent bicycles going south but didn't get a chance to talk with them.

95 follows the Kootenay River through here. It's wonderful cycling with mountains off to the east. At Canal Flats we left the Kootenay and started following the Columbia River from its source. Seems like there should be a hill between these rivers but it's just a big flat. They once tried to connect them with a canal (thus Canal Flats) but it didn't come to be.

We stopped overnight at Dutch Creek Camp & Resort just short of Fairmont Hot Springs. It was almost deserted but did have an Osprey in the back yard. In the morning we biked to Fairmont Hot Springs for a soak. From the highway it was 2 km straight up to the hot springs, nearly too steep to bike. Nice soak in the pools then a blinding decent back to the highway, lunch at the Far Side Pub and north to Radium.

We spent two days at Radium Hot Springs just inside the National Park. It was getting hot again so in Radium we bought groceries including cokes and a tiny bottle of rum. The campground was a mile or so straight up out of town (9-10%). In camp we bummed some ice and celebrated with rum & cokes. It's expensive to enter the Canadian National Parks costing us $52 for two nights of entry and camp fees. If most of the tour were in Parks, like thru Banft and Jasper, their seasonal pass would be well worth it.

We spent a day off at the Radium Hot Springs, a nice 2.3 km hike from the campground, soaking and reading. That night we polished off the rum with hot cocoa.

Leaving Radium we saw wildlife! Across the road was a giant tom turkey who seemed to be watching us. As we approached he crossed the road, at great personal risk, and tried to join our flock. He stood as tall as Denise was on her bike, came quite close and started bobbing his head. She'd found an admirer! When she cycled on he chased after her and then chased me as I went past. He certainly wanted to join our band but that turkey just wasn't fast enough.

Going north on 95 is wonderful biking, good roads and beautiful mountains on both sides. Following the Columbia is reasonably flat considering one's in the Canadian Rockies. We stopped in Hargate at the General Store/Cafe/Post Office/Camp for a break. Not an overdeveloped campground, closer to "backwoods" than "tourist trap". Our kind of place so we decided to spend the night since we weren't sure where the next camp was. It was Denise's birthday so we got cleaned up (I went for a dip in a nearby beaver pond), dressed up (for bike tourists) and went to the Hargate Cafe for dinner.

Coming into Golden there looked to be a storm closing in. We had sun above but very dark ominous clouds and lightning all around. The wind picked up and the prospects were not good. We ducked into a wildlife viewing area where there was a covered porch for viewing. We sat with our bikes dry under this roof as wind and rain pelted the world around us. We ate lunch and waited out the storm, at least this portion of it. The sun came out, the wind died down and we were off to Golden.

Just south of Donald, our northern most point, we were hit with another incredible storm. It's the first time I've been literally blown off my bike, we heard later the winds were up to 60 mph. Then the skies let loose, one of those rain storms that drenches you in minutes. This time we were caught in the middle of it. We got a room that night at an RV Park/Motel. The motel portion was a trailer set-up with small rooms and a communal bathroom/showers and communal kitchen/activity room. The storm had knocked out the power at the RV Park/Motel so no water, heat or lights for a couple of hours.

The next morning it looked iffy. We waited, had coffee and the rain seemed to stop. The weather report on TV said it was a fine day everywhere so off we went.

We followed Canada 1 through Glacier Provincial Park and over Rogers Pass. There was heavy traffic here and at times no shoulder. The snow sheds (tunnels) were a little nerve racking, but the scenery was beautiful. We ate lunch at the summit in a very expensive cafeteria, chowed down on lotsa condiments. The ride down the other side was very nice. Flying down hill we noticed the shoulders were good and wide unlike those up our side. We camped before Revelstoke at Canyon Hot Springs and soaked our tired bodies.

We soaked in the hot pool before starting off around 11:00. Could have eaten lunch before setting off but I figured there would be cafes on the way into Revelstoke. It's a large town and there are surely restaurants as we get closer, right? You'd think by now I'd know better! Then, instead of stopping and eating some of our food, I kept going looking for that cafe. Well, it never appeared. By the time we pulled into Revelstoke I was very hungry and irritable. But as these things always go, we found food, ate and I was immediately revived to sanity. I Hope I can learn these basic touring rules before senility sets in but it's doubtful.

We noticed a cultural difference in Canada, they do not give re-fills on ice-tea in restaurants. This is almost universal in the US and we've come to expect it. This fact was driven home again and again by the hot weather. We drank lotsa ice water and I found I could ask for a glass of ice, order coffee, & combine for ice coffee. I could get re-fills on coffee and could ask for more ice up to twice before the waitresses started giving me strange looks. Ah, foreign countries and exotic ways.

Revelstoke is a larger town so we stocked up on supplies before heading south on 23. These secondary roads have more hills than 95 or 1 (neglecting Rogers Pass). We climbed up then coasted down to Shelter Bay stopping along the way at a nice stream for lunch. When we arrived at Shelter Bay a camper asked if we'd seen the bear. Apparently there was a bear just where we'd stopped for lunch. Denise was disappointed not seeing it/them. Some of the locals in Revelstoke said this portion was pretty and it was. It was pretty scenic, pretty hilly, pretty lonely, pretty hot and pretty much lacking cars. A good ride.

Shelter Bay has no cafe, store nor any other facilities but a campground. We're glad we brought food! There are a few ferries that are part of the highway system and free. Our first took us across Upper Arrow Lake and we continued down 23. We termed the traffic red light/green light, a stream of cars every half hour when the ferry let out but little otherwise. This section included good road and nice scenery, but was hilly with no services. Good riding.

Somewhere along we started buying ice. It was so hot we'd load our camel backs and bottles with ice water and try to start early. Usually found a place to camp where we could swim or at least soak in a river. We had very little rain, compared to what it can be in this area, but the heat was problematic. We stopped by a waterfall along here and filled our camel backs from the faucet. Good cool water but we suspect this is where we picked up the giardia.

We passed Halcyon Hot Springs. They were building a new resort or something there, at least a lot of construction, and the hot springs were closed. We were also going to stop at Nakusp Hot Springs but it was off the road and up hill. Being so hot, hot springs weren't too appealing so we just went into Nakusp and swam in the lake, then out to dinner.

Hot and hilly to New Denver. We ate at the Apple Tree, a new age kinda restaurant. Denise asked for ice for her ginger ale and they seemed quite put out, "what, isn't your drink cold?", but she finally obtained some, "Yes, but I want ice!". I said we noticed the cultural differences, but Canada is close enough to home that we don't necessarily honor them. "Met" three bike tourists in the restaurant, or at least spoke to them. They acted aloof and, although going the way we'd just come, didn't want info on the roads ahead. Amazingly out of character for bike tourist.

A good climb out of New Denver up 31A to Bear Lake and Fish Lake at the summit. The horse flies were a pain during the climb, literally, but insect repellent helped. Beautiful lakes at the summit. From here it was a wonderful downhill run along a river to Kaslo. We'd heard a lot about Kaslo and were looking forward to re-entering the 60s as we were told we would. We were disappointed, it was Sunday so few shops were open but you could tell they were mostly tourist shops. Worst of all, the grocery was closed. The campground looked poor so we ate lunch and went on.

We stayed over at the campground at Mirror Lake. It turned out to be a family oriented place with screaming children all over. Far from a restful night. We were amazed to find, in the morning, a big bird was struting around camp so we took his picture.

You'd think the highways, 31 and 3A would be fairly flat along a lake but you'd be wrong. The roads climb up along the hills and drop down to lake level each time a creek comes into the lake. A lot of climbing without summits. Around Kaslo we started running into signs to boil your water. I hate to do this but we started buying water. We did what we could to avoid giardia but, as noted above, it was to no avail.

It was hot but we stopped at Ainsworth Hot Springs anyway, hey this is the Hot Springs Tour. It was probably not the best thing to do since hot springs tend to be dehydrating. It also put us on the hilly road to Balfor in the heat of the day. Camped outside Balfor.

The next morning we bought food and ice in Balfor, then ferried across Kootenay Lake. The ferry was pleasant, cool out on the water and fast compared to our biking pace. A heck of a hill just off the ferry then right back down to Crawford Bay. Looked like an interesting tourist town but we didn't stop. We started seeing signs for the Windwalker Stables and Bakery. Sounded strange enough that we made it a point to stop. It was a bakery with great food. We ate lunch and bought cinnamon rolls for breakfast. This section was quite pleasant, rolling hills along Kootenay Lake, not too much traffic and good roads.

After a pleasant afternoon on the beach at Lockard Provincial Park we stayed there overnight. A thunderstorm came thru during the night and seemed to cool things off. Well at least untill we got out from under the canopy of trees and onto the road in the morning. After drying the tent some we were on the road around 9:30 and it was already hot.

It was a pleasant ride but hot into Wynndel, just short of Creston. Traffic was getting heavier as we approached Creston and outside town we could see a monster hill ahead, bummer. We had ice cream and fruit and learned about a secondary road into Creston. This road followed the base of the hill that the highway went over and was dead flat. It was wonderful considering that hill we missed. When we arrived in Creston it was boiling, some 100 F. Denise decided we were to get a motel room with AC, so of course we did. It was a good idea. Dried the tent in the parking lot, drank beer, watched TV and enjoyed being out of the heat.

It was a nice ride from Creston, not as hot as the previous day. It was fairly flat till the boarder, then a little hilly until we joined up with Hwy 95. Traffic was very light till then also. Rolling hills and good riding till we joined Hwy 2. From there, only a few miles to Bonners Ferry, was quite busy with traffic. We had lunch in Bonners Ferry with ice in our drinks, re-fills on ice tea, etc. Then off to the storage facility and our truck.

All in all a great tour. We saw little wildlife but for a few eagles and a bunch of osprey. We were looking for bear but didn't see any. All in all, 606 miles in 22 days for a whopping 27.6 miles/day. Never said we were quick but we enjoy it and read a lot of junk novels along the way. We recommend the tour but don't forget to use a water filter, even if the water comes out of a faucet. Also, carry food for those few long stretches without serviecs.

Good touring.