“We’re here already?”
Those were the first words I uttered as we passed through Radium’s famous Sinclair Canyon and the Redwall Fault. Even though our GPS told us the drive would be about three hours from our home in Calgary, I somehow didn’t believe it. The Columbia Valley is so far away, or at least that’s what I thought.
If you’ve been to the Rocky Mountains over the past couple of years, you’ve no doubt noticed how much busier they are. Tourism is up and people are staying close to home more, which are all good things. But if you’re looking for a quiet getaway to the mountains, it can become tricky with packed hotels and busy ski resorts. Which is why I was surprised by how close Columbia Valley is. As Calgarians, lots of people have no problem with the idea of driving to Edmonton, which is also three hours. But for some reason Highway 93 makes people think things are further than they actually are, and I don’t need to tell you that the drive to Radium is just a little bit nicer than Edmonton.
Of course, one of the best parts of exploring Columbia Valley is the drive there, that’s because there’s a chunk of the highway that is completely free of cell-service. During the time, you can almost feel the stress of having a phone lift off your shoulders. In a way, it’s sorta like a portal, a portal to relaxation, if you will. When there’s nothing to distract you from the open road and beautiful snow-capped mountains, you really get to take it all in. But fret not, once you arrive to Radium, there’s more than enough cell service to start making all your friends jealous of your trip on social media.
So when we started working on our trip to Columbia Valley, we had one goal in mind: Relax. Of course, the word relax means different things for different people. For my boyfriend, that means finding great places to enjoy cocktails and spend as much time in front of a fireplace (any fireplace) as possible. For me, it involves sitting down for about five minutes, and then hopping in the car and trying to see as many different things in possible. Luckily, Columbia Valley has plenty to please both parties, no matter kind of relaxation we’re chasing.
In all the years I’ve lived in Alberta, I regret that I haven’t been to Columbia Valley more. I went a few years ago in the spring, where we went white water rafting and spotted more bears than I never knew existed, but in the winter, the place is even more magical, simply because the area seems to embrace winter in a way similar to Winnipeg, which in recent years has basically said: “Yeah, it’s cold, so what?” and filled every weekend with countless events and activities.
This particular weekend that we were in Columbia Valley, it was one of those weekends where it seemed like everywhere we looked there was something fun happening, including the Snowflake Festival, which included a curling bonspiel, live music, lots of food sampling and entertainment, all capping off with a firework show, all while standing on a very frozen Windermere Lake.
I’ve never played curling, nor did I know anyone playing in the bonspiel, but we stayed for a while and kept watching the teams playing. Not only did they look like they were having fun, it was also an insanely beautiful place to play curling. Especially, when the sun started setting and the lights came on.
Speaking of Lake Windermere, did you know in the winter time, they turn it into the WhiteWay, the Longest Skating Path in the World! The path is 34 kilometers and takes you on a stunning tour of the lake. It’s maintained by Toby Creek Nordic Ski Club, so the ice is pretty smooth and easy to skate on. We’re basically the worst skaters in the world, and we were able to do it without falling down. A big win in our books. You can bring your own skates, or you can rent some. There’s some skates for rent in the concession stand, or you can go to Inside Edge where they have a bit of a bigger selection. Though we didn’t skate for long (because we are literally the worst at it,) it was so amazing to see so many different people skating, walking, cross-country skiing and yes, even biking on the pathway. Probably the most Canadian thing I’ve seen in a really long time. The WhiteWay is a completely unique way of enjoying Canadian winter, surrounded by the rockies, on while skating on a beautiful lake.
After (attempting) to skate, we headed to the hot springs. Now, there’s a few to choose from, but we chose to head towards Fairmont, because I was curious to see the resort and area. The hot springs were exactly what I needed after a long twenty-minutes of skating, and afterwards, we stayed for some dinner and drinks in the lodge. It’s definitely on our must-return list as there seemed so much more to the resort including the ski hill, which is just a few minutes away.
One of the main reasons we kept trying to stay busy, was mostly because we couldn’t stop eating. There was so many different choices, but here are some of my favourite: You have to check the Invermere Bakery, which offers a variety of fresh breads that are baked daily, including a shockingly-wide selection of gluten free choices. We also loved the food served up at Fuze, which is definitely a locals favourite. There’s only a few seats, but take one and enjoy amazing bowls and smoothies. We almost went back twice in our trip, but thought we should explore more of the food offerings. I also think you’d be foolish to go to the area and not enjoy the nostalgic-goodness that is the Black Forest, they simply don’t make restaurants like that anymore, which is a shame. Because the food is great, the costumes of whimsical and the whole experience makes dining what it rarely is anymore: Fun. We also had a great meal at Rocky River Bar & Grill, where while the food was great, I remember how nice the service was. It just felt like you’re friendly neighbourhood restaurant, which is always a good feeling when you’re away from home. There’s honestly so many more restaurants in the area, that we could have spent a month there and I don’t think we would have seen them all.
And if you’re thirsty? Well Columbia Valley has you covered. Of course, the area is often celebrated by coffee drinkers because it’s the home of Kicking Horse Coffee with its massive HQ, which includes a café, with fresh coffee prepared more specifically than you could ever dream of and fresh baked-goods and treats. Across the street, you’ll actually also find Arrowhead Brewing Company, which has been brewing in the area for six years and features six permanent beers, as well as, three to five seasonal varieties. If you want to take some to go, you can buy the beer in the shape of both cans and growlers. While you’re out dining in the area, you’ll no doubt notice Taynton Bay Spirits, which is distilled right in Invermere. There’s a tasting room on the shores of Lake Windermere, where you can sample their cocktails.
And so here we are, over 1,000 words about Columbia Valley and I feel like I barely scratched the surface of all the things there are to see and do, I haven’t talked about our cozy hotel at the Bighorn Meadows Resort or the amazing skiing at Panorama, so I think I’ll break those off into separate posts, because a place as beautiful of Columbia Valley is certainly worthy of more than one post, and definitely more than one visit.