Need a weekend getaway? Already done Seattle, Ellensburg, and Glacier National Park? Then head north.
Just over three hours from Coeur d’Alene is charming Nelson, British Columbia, nestled deep between forested mountains, with familiar lakeside vistas and the conveniences of a tourist economy. Last weekend marked our family’s 10th foray; we have it down to a science.
Visually, Nelson is stunning. We take the shorter route in (up Highway 41, through Newport, then mostly a straight shot through the border crossing at Metaline Falls). Mountains hug most of the drive, with the Pend Oreille River tagging along. Trees — evergreen and deciduous — keep the scenery soothing. This is actually half of the scenic International Selkirk Loop; I’ll get to the other half shortly.
Nelson sits on the arm of 64-mile Kootenay Lake, drawing fishermen, hikers, and skiers. It’s 22 miles from Ainsworth’s hot spring caves and for less-adventuresome types, has a quaint shopping district and plenty of dining. We start summer Saturdays at Cottonwood Falls market. Don’t miss the falls’ mini-Japanese garden set against the sounds of crashing water. Favorite eateries include top-rated Sage bistro, with its balcony view and tapas, and a yummy new discovery — Tandoori Indian Grill. Or try the quaint Outer Clove for fresh, creative, and locally grown. Sage was booked for a wedding, so we tried Pitchfork for the first time. Great food (although higher price range), and surprisingly good Canadian wines, which are gaining esteem.
The exchange rate is very favorable now — one U.S. dollar buys about 1.25 Canadian (most places take credit or U.S.). Shops abound, including an old-style hardware store-come-curio shop and far more unusual perusals. My favorite is Love of Shiva, like entering an Asian marketplace. Streetcar #23 is fun — more than a century old and all-volunteer, ending at a beautiful lakeside park and rose garden. There’s an unusual personal art collection in nearby Ymir we haven’t yet seen, but heard is eclectic and impressive.
Did I mention the bear and coyotes spotted along the highway?
Accommodations are plenty, but we recommend the beauty, comfort, and chef-quality breakfasts — complete with hummingbirds — at Cedarwood Cottage B&B (sleeps 3). Owner/hostess Marika Korompai keeps an immaculate home, lush gardens, and separate guest quarters just a few kilometers south of town. We’ve grown to love her like family, as have most of her guests, judging by the comments in her 20-year autograph collection. Cedarwood Cottage is also a good value; currently just over $80 per night, it’s a bargain and more scenic than most places in town. If you see Marika, please say hello from me.
This was the first time we had a brief delay at the border, due to a local fire (now under control). Bring a U.S. state ID or passport, don’t plan to transport agricultural products or weapons, and you’ll sail through.
Consider taking the longer way back, completing the Selkirk Loop. The top anchor is the Balfour Ferry, not far from Nelson and crossing Kootenay Lake, a lovely and free half-hour ride. Just beyond its landing at Crawford Bay is a colony of artisans. Watch old-style blacksmithing, broom-making, weaving, glass-blowing, jewelers, leatherwork, and copper enameling. Another half hour or so near Boswell, don’t miss (it’s easy to) the Glass House, built by a retired embalmer with 500,000 embalming bottles.
The loop continues to follow Kootenay Lake’s winding shores, then jogs through Creston, B.C., and joins Highway 95 into Bonners Ferry. This half of the loop is longer than the Newport-Nelson half, but worth the experience.
For more information see Selkirkloop.org and Discovernelson.com. For more information on Cedarwood Cottage, contact Marika at email@example.com.
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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.