The sticky snow clung to the branches of the thick forest surrounding us, the result an enchanting winter wonderland worthy of an artist’s paintbrush. Thick plumes of steam swirled up through the chilly December air, creating a haze that clouded our view of the sun-kissed cliffs jutting out of the mountain range. The only pop of colour was the brilliant turquoise hue of the Radium Hot Springs, which my friend Steph and I were fortunate enough to now be soaking in.
The natural springs were the last stop of our girls’ getaway out to the Invermere area, which is found in British Columbia’s picturesque Kootenay Rockies region. The timing of our quick trip couldn’t have been better: with the hustle and bustle of Christmas celebrations just a couple days behind us, a mountain escape from the big city was the ideal way to unwind before ringing in the new year.
The heat of the thermal bath was the perfect antidote to the stress of the season, and we marvelled at how the steaming mineral pools were seamlessly tucked into the cliffside, the towering rock walls providing both shelter and scenery. It’s no surprise that Radium is a popular destination year-round, not only for tourists but also wildlife such as bears, deer and bighorn sheep which frequent the area—the latter being a common roadside attraction.
Just before plunging into the pool, Steph and I had indulged in an activity that’s pretty much mandatory for any successful ladies’ weekend: a trip to the spa. Conveniently located in the same complex as the hot springs, Pleiades Spa & Wellness is a welcoming retreat operating more like a sanctuary than a salon, offering yoga classes, nutritional consultations and energy balancing treatments including reiki and reflexology. Practitioners only use all-natural products including some sourced from Invermere—in fact, Pleiades doesn’t offer spa-standards like manicures and pedicures, in an effort to keep out toxins.
After changing out of our robes and enjoying a quick trip to Pleiades’ hot tub and steam room, Steph and I were ushered into treatment rooms to enjoy deep-tissue massages. I’d selected the Christmas Signature Treatment, which has proved to be so popular that it’s now offered year-round by request. The two-hour session starts with a hot stone massage using the Hawaiian method, and I melted into the warm blankets wrapped around me as the therapist Diane expertly traced the path of my muscles with smooth Basalt stones. A soothing foot, face and scalp massage followed, the finale being a reflexology session where Diane pressed on certain spots on my head and feet, paying special attention to the digestion system which had gotten a bit of a workout given the holiday season.
Meanwhile, Steph emerged from her treatment looking like she’d just enjoyed a seven-year slumber, praising the skills of her massage therapist saying it was “one of the best massages I’ve ever had!” Sounds like high praise, but it’s even more remarkable since Steph just so happens to be one of the pickiest people on the planet when it comes to booking a massage (think phone calls in advance to double-check the RMT’s credentials, and investigate the techniques of the school they trained at). When she says something is good, you can bet it is!
It was fortunate that our morning of pampering and relaxation was planned for day two of the trip, since the first day of our foray into Invermere was much more active. There’s no shortage of outdoor activities in the area such as skiing, snowmobiling, showshoeing and dog sledding, but given our limited time we’d settled on an afternoon of exploring the town followed by a sunset skate.
First up was a quick jaunt through the compact core, to check out the numerous shops, art galleries and the pretzel-topped bakery. Of note was Om Organics (which supplies Pleiades Spa), where staff make all of the natural skincare products in-house, in small batches to ensure quality. Just down the street, the bright blue facade of the Do Nothing Floatation Centre urged us inside, where we found that they offer relaxing massages and float tank sessions and also house the Resonate Organic Juicery. Their cold pressed juices and green smoothies are a hit in the Columbia Valley, with the organic blends being locally-sourced whenever possible and infused with the likes of ginger, wheat grass, chia, rose hip and hemp.
The energy boost was just what we need to tackle the next activity—a spin around the world’s longest skating trail. The Lake Windermere Whiteway links the towns of Windermere and Invermere, offering more than 30 kilometres of groomed ice as well as skating rinks, hockey rinks and ample space for activities like walking the dog, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
With multiple paths to choose from Steph and I knew we wouldn’t be able to complete the whole circuit before the sun went down, so we opted to take off down the 12 kilometre Windermere Loop. Our blades made a satisfying swishing sound as they glided through the ice, the rhythmic tempo slicing the silence as we coasted along the frozen lake while the dark mounds of the Purcell Mountains served as our backdrop.
An hour quickly passed, and with the light disappearing and our toes starting to go numb it was time to go warm up. We drove towards the outskirts of town to one of its most famous inhabitants: Kicking Horse Coffee. Few people realize that the well-known Canadian company is based in Invermere, and their flagship location not only houses the production facility but also a cafe for sampling the brews.
Being a bit too late in the day for a caffeine jolt, we instead opted for another bevy popular with Canucks—beer. The Arrowhead Brewing Company is conveniently located across the street from Kicking Horse Coffee, so we soon found ourselves pulling up a chair inside their eclectic tasting room and ordered a tray featuring a flight of their craft beers. Our favourite? The raspberry wheat ale, naturally.
Continuing on our quest to eat and drink our way through Invermere’s culinary scene, our last stop turned out to be one of the most impressive: dinner at Birchwood Restaurant. The cozy, candlelit eatery was the perfect place to escape winter’s chill, and trying to decide on which of the hearty, seasonal entrees to tuck into was nearly impossible—particularly when we saw Steak & Lobster Mac and Cheese was on the menu. After much deliberation it was finally decided: apple braised pork belly and pan seared scallops for Steph, and a beef duo consisting of a perfectly-cooked tenderloin and braised short rib for myself. Suffice it to say it wasn’t long before we found ourselves in a blissful food coma, yet somehow managed to find enough room in our bellies to fit in a few bites of sweet creme brûlée to top off the evening.
With that it was settled: in our minds, Invermere was the perfect spot for a wellness weekend. Wildlife sightings, incredible food, spectacular mountain landscapes, activities galore, natural hot springs and a fabulous spa were the ingredients of our memorable girls’ getaway, combining for a wonderful winter escape in the heart of the Columbia Valley.
IF YOU GO:
How to get there: Invermere is a three hour drive from Calgary, off scenic Highway 93 which winds through Kootenay National Park. It only takes about two hours to get to the US border between B.C. and Montana. The Radium Hot Springs are a 15 minute drive north of Invermere.
Where to stay: Book a room at Copper Point Resort, which is located right off the highway and only a couple minute’s drive from downtown Invermere. The luxe resort has nearly 200 rooms and suites with fireplaces and full kitchens, making it an ideal spot to hunker down for a few days. Its Elements Grill restaurant has a huge outdoor patio with views of the adjoining golf course, and there’s also a full service spa, fitness centre, playground and indoor and outdoor pools.
Don’t miss: Panorama Mountain Resort, nestled in the glorious Purcell Mountains just a 20 minute drive from Invermere. There are nearly three-thousand acres of skiable terrain, a full village of accommodations, as well as Canada’s largest slopeside hot pools which are located just outside the main lodge.
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Globe Guide explored Invermere in partnership with Destination BC. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.