Creston to Nelson in the Kootenays

Mileage Today: 109 miles Total Mileage: 4875 miles

We headed north from Creston along Rt 3a, a very picturesque road that soon hugged the eastern shore of Kootenay Lake, a long fjordlike lake running north to south and bordered by steep green clad hills. It is a widening of the Kootenay river and is 105km in length and 3 – 5 km wide. The lake is sandwiched between the Selkirk and the Purcell mountain ranges and the different branches of the river and lake are striated by the mountains. Behind the first range are much higher snow capped peaks. There are houses and hamlets dotted along the shore but it is pretty quiet and feels remote. The drive is a lovely one, quiet with winding roads and amongst beautiful forest alongside the lake.

We tootled along really, taking our time because we were going for the 1220 ferry. The ferry from Kootenay Bay to Balfour is a totally free ferry and the crossing takes around 35 minutes. More about that later…

We had a couple of stops on the way at viewpoints and we also paused just past Sanca to view the Glass House. This is a bonkers attraction. The house was built in 1952 by David H. Brown, who after retiring from the funeral business decided to use his now-useless collection of embalming bottles for something practical, or at least creative. He decided to use them to build a house! His next great achievement was persuading his wife that this was a good idea. While he didn’t have enough bottles of his own to build an entire house, he had plenty of friends in the business willing to lend him a hand, and hand over their bottles. The final tally of bottles used came to 500,000. You can tour it but we just stopped in the pull off opposite and viewed the outside. It is actually a whole lot more attractive than you might imagine.

The Glass House#

Crawford Bay is an interesting place. A small hamlet of maybe 200 people, it is a centre for arts and crafts. We saw studios showcasing artists, potters, weaving, a decorative blacksmithery and most intriguingly an artisan making handcrafted corn brooms. We had to stop there. It was amazing inside, two young men making wonderful brooms with both twisted and straight carved wooden handles. They have made quite a lot for the Harry Potter films and for book launches as well as for people who just want a traditional broom, or frankly a piece of art to hang on their walls. Just gorgeous. And a lovely smell in there of the wood, the broomcorn and linseed oil used on the handles….

We headed a few more miles north to Kootenay Bay ferry dock. The car ferry can take about 80 vehicles and I suppose thee was about 50 on ours. We waited about 30 minutes to board. This time of the year, they run about every 90 minutes. And as I said, It’s Free!!!! What a bargain! A lovely trip across the lake with great views in every direction.

Once off the ferry, we headed south towards Nelson our stop for the night. We pulled up at one point alongside the lake for our picnic of course.

Nelson is quite a large town, and very historic. There are lots of Victorian wooden houses and because it is built up the side of a pretty steep hill rising from the lake, it has a bit of a San Francisco vibe. We parked up on Baker Street, the main shopping hub and walked its length on both sides, visiting as many interesting shops that were open as possible. It is a very artistic community, many resident artists, potters, weavers and jewellers. We saw a lot of their work and could easily have bought a trunkfull.

Very attractive town with an interesting past. It was a silver rush town in the 1860s, a railway town later in the 19th century, a logging town later still. In the 60s a lot of American draft dodgers fled here to avoid fighting in Vietnam and this changed the vibe of the town towards the artistic and liberal. A marijuana growing industry grew up here which reputedly funded the town’s relaunch. Today, it seemed a lovely and prosperous town, lots of pavement cafes and coffee shops.

We were still a bit early to check in at our hotel, the Alpine Inn & Suites. so we continued south a bit on Rt. 6 as far as Ymir. I’d considered staying the night here instead of Nelson when I was planning the trip because I was intrigued by the sound of the place. A gold rush town with 10,000 miners at its height in the mid 1800s complete with all the accompanying saloons, brothels, opium dens and gambling that such towns normally had. Now it is a tiny mini hamlet, scarcely more than 2 hotels beside the creeks. The Ymir hotel is described as a cross between a western saloon and a flop house designed by Bela Lugosi….. I really wanted to see it. Actually it looked really nice and we both agreed we would have been happy to spend the night there. Fascinating little place.

Came back to Nelson and checked in to our hotel. Very welcoming manager and a nice cottage with kitchenette. Again a bbq area for use. He said they had a bear up a tree here last week.

Tomorrow we have a longish drive north again – and another ferry – to the Kootenay Rockies and the town of Revelstoke.