It’s a glorious early mountain evening when we roll into Radium Hot Springs, BC. The sky is clear and blue, and the sun is just starting to dip below the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies. I go to bed breathing the crisp mountain air, optimistic about an exciting week of family fun ahead.
When I wake up, the world is white. A thick layer of snow is on the ground, and big, fat flakes continue to mock me silently. It’s foggy and cold and wet and miserable.
How am I going to keep two 3-year-olds entertained in this?
Our visit to the Columbia Valley was mid-March – Spring ski season – but my girls hadn’t yet been on skis. So here we were, well over a month before the start of high season, (when golf, hiking, cycling and fishing bring more tourists, and increased tourism options, to the region) wondering what to do with our time. With a little digging, we discovered the Columbia Valley offers plenty to keep families occupied. Here are my top 6 picks for off-season fun in BC’s Columbia Valley.
It took one trip to the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort pools, and our girls were hooked! The crisp mountain air is a stark contrast to the warmth of the water. An off-season bonus is that the pools are quiet! The girls were able to jump and splash without disturbing other guests. We spent several afternoons hopping back and forth between the spacious warm and hot pools. Fairmont isn’t your only choice – don’t miss the Radium Hot Springs pool, to enjoy a relaxing soak in a picturesque basin surrounded by evergreens and mountain peaks.
In all the years I’ve visited the Columbia Valley, I’ve driven past Valley Alley dozens of times, but never stopped. To enter is a trip back in time. 70’s classic rock blasts through this old-school, five-pin bowling centre. The gentleman working the counter dug out shoes tiny enough for the girls, put up gutter bumpers, and even found a ball ramps for our newbies. We had a blast! If you’re hungry, snack on hot dogs, nachos, and as my daughter was quick to observe, an impressive selection of ice cream. Don’t forget to check out their retro toys and décor, and before you visit, check their website for a free game coupon.
No matter where you are staying or visiting, you will be close to a world-class park. Our favourite is Radium Park, which was walking distance to our resort. It has an exceptional modern park, complete with toddler park, but also offers a few cool retro features, including tire swings, and a 5-person teeter totter horse. Parents can even sneak in a workout at the adjacent adult fitness park. The Fairmont area offers some great park options – two at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort, two at Mountainside Villas, and two at Riverside Villas. Invermere is also home to some playgrounds – Our top pick is Lions Park, which is four parks in one – a kids’ park, a toddler park, a mini version of the adult workout park, and a fantastic rope climbing structure!
Next time we hit the Columbia Valley during the offseason (or, for that matter, even during high-season) I will make the Invermere Public Library one of our first stops. We visited on our last full day in the Valley, and as soon as we walked in, I spotted a bulletin board that listed a variety of community activities, including drop-in crafting and a play program, that exhaustive internet searches hadn’t revealed. The library staff team was warm and welcoming, and we felt right at home joining their interactive storytime event.
Whether you enjoy shopping for sport or are merely looking for a souvenir or something to keep your little ones occupied, there are lovely destination shops in the Columbia Valley. My favourite is The Purple Cow gift shop in Fairmont, which offers a unique selection of toys and games, as well as jewellery, accessories, bath products and housewares. Main Street Fun and Games in downtown Invermere has a couple of big fans in our household. The girls busied themselves with playthings that are left out for kids to try, while I marvelled at the walls of Playmobil toys and puzzles. Grandparents keen to sugar-up their grandkids (Hi Mom!) have two great choices – Invermere’s Candyland or Radium’s Olde Tyme Candy Shoppe. Both feature traditional offerings as well as rare finds – did you know you can get Dr Pepper flavoured gummy pop bottles AND liquorice?!? There’s no shortage of other cute boutiques to poke around in – two more top picks are Invermere’s Rainbow Donkey for kids’ clothes, and Her Public for women’s clothing and accessories.
My girls couldn’t wait to open the blinds each morning to see if any critters were hanging out on our deck, and they loved observing, counting and naming their new friends. Bighorn sheep and deer were our most common visitors, but we also spotted at least a couple species of interesting birds. Who needs a zoo when mother nature offers a showcase like this right outside your window! (Friendly reminder: feeding the animals is prohibited, and caution is urged when walking or driving in the vicinity of animals.)