A beaver Dam on the Columbia Wetlands.
Cradled in the Canadian Rockies, Golden is often bypassed for Banff, but it too offers access to Canada’s six national parks, has great dining and a variety of activities –without the crowds.Those who do visit often come for the adrenaline-packed adventures, such as white-water rafting the Kicking Horse River, but these three days were all about kicking back and relaxing.We booked a “home away from home” with Lush Mountain Accommodations, which offers several homes near downtown Golden, including Stags’ Hollow Chalet, set on five acres with mountain views, a private pond and not one neighbour in site.The only problem was getting an early night. We had shuffleboard and a pool table in the expansive living room, a fully-equipped kitchen and barbecue, hot tub and outside fire pit all to ourselves. (If you’re arriving late or prefer to have dinner and fall into bed, make arrangements with Lush to have your fridge stocked— the lasagna and salad is decent.)Day 1We started the day at the Bluebird Café – go for the breakfast burrito with handmade tortillas and massive bowls of berry-yoghurt parfait, grabbed pre-ordered brown-bag lunches and headed to the Columbia Wetlands Adventure Outpost (kayak and canoe rentals) to meet ecologist Maggie Romuld.
Kicking Horse Pedestrian Bridge, the longest freestanding timber frame bridge in Canada.
The Columbia River is ideal for leisurely paddling. And birding. It meanders through the Columbia Wetlands, one of the longest protected wetlands in North America (more than 180 kilometers) and home to about 250 species of birds and other wildlife. After a short woodland stroll, we crossed a suspension bridge to the dock, and a trail flanked by 15-meter-high Aspens led to a meadow of equisetum (horsetail) and a hidden oasis where birds rest and nest.Romuld said it’s a major flyway, just as we saw two trumpeter swans glide by. A boardwalk led us to Adirondack chairs positioned to take full advantage of the view – a beaver dam to our left, a solitary heron to our right and the Purcell Mountains as backdrop.Even though the highway and railway are nearby, we only heard gentle lapping water and birdsong.The Wetlands—about 20 kilometers south of Golden– is recognized as one of the most undisturbed river sections in North America. “Some birds are successful here but not so much ducks and ground nesters as the water can rise a few feet,” explained Romuld. “You’ll see more heron rookeries—in both evergreens and cottonwood trees, eagles and osprey.
Crystal Clear Lake in the Columbia Wetlands
“The first time my husband and I kayaked here we were hooked on the Wetlands,” added Romuld. “ An elk crashed out of the bush, crossed the channel in front of us and climbed back into the bushes. Most evenings we see beavers crossing the stream and sometimes river otters and muskrats…”Down the road is the “Organic Sports Ranch” where for $10 each, you can play a game of 55-hole disc golf, beach volleyball, outdoor ping pong and visit barnyard animals.Infinity Solstice is owner, course manager and guide. As his name suggests, he’s a self-proclaimed hippie, but he also built on this 60-acre property a clay tennis court (it’s one of a few clay courts in western Canada and Infinity is a ranked senior player.) Bring a picnic and bathing suit – at the bottom of the property you can take a dip in the river.
Disc Golf Fairway
Back in town we rubbed shoulders with the locals at Whitetooth Brewing Company—the place was hopping (pun intended) at 4 pm. The tasting room only seats 44 so arrive early.The duck shepherd’s pie is one of Eleven22 restaurant’s calling cards—a local favourite and now mine. Another great dining spot is the Whitetooth Mountain Bistro, with a rooftop patio alongside the Kicking Horse River. Like Eleven22, the menu offers fresh and local ingredients and a good selection of Pacific Northwest wines.Day 2Matt Nichol with Canadian Wild Tours picked us up at 5 am (better chance of seeing wildlife) to tour the backcountry of Golden. Nichol guaranteed that we would see a bear and true to his word, we did catch the tail end of a grizzly running down the logging road. Even if you don’t spot a bear, Nichol’s wildlife tales are reason alone to spend four hours in his van.
A marmot seen off one of the trails
We slowed down to chat with a marmot ambling down the road. If you miss a bear or wolf sighting, Kicking Horse Mountain has Boo – its resident grizzly bear. Boo’s custom-built, 20-acre refuge is the largest enclosed grizzly habitat in the world. And you can walk with the wolves (by appointment) at the Northern Lights Wolf Centre, which has promoted wolf conservation for years.There are many hiking trails in the backcountry that don’t see much traffic so Nichol advises that you take bear spray. It isn’t needed for front country hikes (meaning off the highway) and one of the best hikes is six kilometers from the OB campground to Thompson Falls – easy to find on Golden’s hiking map.These milky waters (turning brilliant blue by late summer with pure glacial meltwater) are so mighty that sitting on a rock with the falls way below, I felt cool spray on my face.This writer was a guest with Tourism Golden, which neither read nor approved the article before publication. For more information and hiking maps, visit tourismgolden.com and HelloBC.com.