The bear was so close I could hear him breathe.
As he tore into his food, I noted the bear’s large, round face, small ears, distinctive hump and grizzled fur. Definitely a grizzly bear. I knew he had already caught our scent with his keen sense of smell. I had no idea grizzly claws could be as long as 4 inches. My heart was pounding as I held my children close.
My family escapes the daily grind by getting outside our comfort zone to get our hearts pounding — like a visit to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort’s Grizzly Bear Refuge in Golden, B.C. — or to surround ourselves with peace in nature to calm our souls. Sometimes, an adventure can do both.
A road trip away from Washington, deep in the British Columbia Rockies far from the crowds of Whistler or Banff, here are two thrilling outdoor adventures and two peaceful experiences to check out this summer.
Kicking Horse Mountain Resort
In the summer, the winter skiing thrills at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort turn to warmer ones with a grizzly twist.
First, the Golden Eagle Express Gondola took us up to 7,700 feet in 12 minutes, with a gentle ride past tall jagged pines, stunted shrubs and finally rocky alpine terrain. Stepping out of the gondola, I pulled my fuzzy jacket hood over my head and zipped up my windbreaker as the cold wind at the summit whirled around me. Directly ahead, mountain bikers dropped into a bowl and appeared farther downhill on twisting mountain trails. Kicking Horse Mountain Resort boasts one of the steepest slopes in North America with more than 3,700 feet of vertical drop, attracting mountain bikers looking for a rare ride through an alpine landscape. After admiring the endless mountain vistas from the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant, we set off on a knife-edge trail toward Terminator Ridge for a short exploratory hike on top of the world.
Back at the base of the mountain, the Catamount chairlift took us to the 20-acre Grizzly Bear Refuge, the largest grizzly enclosure in the world. The refuge was built specially for Cari and Boo, two grizzlies named after British Columbia’s Cariboo mountains, where they were born, whose mother was killed by a poacher in June 2002. Sadly, Cari didn’t survive his first winter, but Boo has become a grizzly ambassador. A keystone species, grizzlies disperse seeds, till the land, fertilize forests and help regulate prey species. Boo is powerful but playful, splashing in his pond. We felt like we were sharing space with an ancient wise man. Indigenous peoples considered the grizzly bear a brother, mentor, guide. Boo gave us a greater understanding of how alike we are to each other.
10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Thursday-Sunday June 3-19, daily June 20-Sept. 8, Friday-Sunday Sept. 9-25; 1500 Kicking Horse Trail, Golden, B.C.; kickinghorseresort.com; 800-258-7669; CA$26.95-$62.95 ($21-$49)
Golden is a small mountain town, a popular base for outdoor pursuits because it’s surrounded by six of Canada’s most spectacular national parks. The Golden Skybridge, Canada’s highest suspension bridge, opened last year. I found out it was the highest bridge in all of Canada just minutes before stepping out into what felt like open space, with the world way down below my feet. A massive waterfall looked like a tiny trickle from where I swayed, only wood and cables separating me from the canyon floor 426 feet below. I walked across nearly 4,000 feet of canyon more slowly than my fearless children, who showed no remorse for each reverberation they sent my way. If that doesn’t get your heart thumping enough, you can level up by zooming across the canyon on zip lines on your return trip. With four lines running parallel, you can turn it into a sky race and try to beat your friends or kids across the canyon. And this summer, the Canyon Swing debuts: Riders will free-fall over the canyon edge and sway side to side above the canyon floor. Designed for two, I recommend you share that experience with someone you love. (Or, alternatively, someone you don’t.)
10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; 503 Golden Donald Upper Road, Golden, B.C.; goldenskybridge.com; 800-270-1238; CA$37-$56 ($29-$44)
The Columbia Wetlands is one of the largest undisturbed wetland ecosystems in North America. Over 110 miles long, it is one of the few remaining intact portions of the Pacific Flyway used by 250 species of migrating birds. In 2005, the Columbia Wetlands were recognized as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance.
The Columbia Wetlands Outpost, home to the world’s largest paddle according to Guinness World Records, offers self-guided eco-tours through a natural living treasure. On the way to the dock, my family passed a tree decorated with blue paddles pointing toward major global cities and crossed a long suspension bridge built from surplus equipment from tall ships. Next to the dock and boathouse, deck chairs provide a place to sit and soak in the views of the Purcell and Rocky mountains guarding the wetlands. At the dock, you have a choice of kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and pedal boats to take for a quick, quiet paddle into another world. Keep your eyes open for the 216 species of birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and mammals that call this area home. Currently, 300 pairs of great blue herons breed here. You might find birds’ nests in the cattails or catch a beaver swimming home. Farther on, the mighty Columbia will rush and crash, but here it slowly winds through the wetlands, setting the pace for us. Sitting in the quiet and looking up at the high peaks of the mountains surrounding us, we find how small we really are.
10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, June 1-Sept. 4; 2581 Highway 95, Golden, B.C.; columbiawetlandsoutpost.com; 888-244-7117; CA$10-$150 ($8-$117), depending on rentals
Radium Hot Springs
The perfect end to this trip is a soak in one of British Columbia’s top natural hot springs.
The first recorded visit to the Radium Hot Springs was in 1841, when George Simpson, the governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company, bathed in a gravel pool just big enough for one person. The springs became more popular when permanent European settlers came to the area, which later became a part of Kootenay National Park. Now the hot pool is expansive — and paired with a cooler swimming pool beside it. The rock faces, trees and canyon walls around us combined with the warm mineral water to relax my body and spirit.
After hanging between cliffs, walking atop the world, experiencing a grizzly encounter, and paddling in one of nature’s most beautiful places, all the experiences melted together as I looked up at the red cliffs and closed my eyes, letting the warm water envelop me.
11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; 5420 Highway 93, Radium Hot Springs, B.C.; hotsprings.ca/radium; 800-767-1611; CA$6.75-$8 ($5.25-$6.25)