Lake Windermere sits in the Columbia River Valley in southeastern British Columbia. You’ll find it nestled between the magnificent Rocky Mountains to the east and the Purcell range to the west, with breathtaking views on every hand. At 17.7 km in length (almost 11 mi.), it is one of the largest lakes and also one of the warmest in the Kootenay region.
But… When is a lake not a lake? When it’s Lake Windermere!
The truth is that Lake Windermere, beloved by locals and the tens of thousands of visitors who flock to its shores each year, is really a widening of the Columbia River, only a few miles from its headwaters in Columbia Lake. From Lake Windermere, the river flows northwest to Golden, then gradually south into Washington and Oregon in the US. There it empties into the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, Oregon, 1,243 mi (2,000 km) later. But, to us, it is indeed a lake, our favorite spot on earth to play. We swim in it, boat on top of it and enjoy great fishing – in summer and, yes, we enjoy it just as much in the wintertime too!
Some interesting trivia
- Lake Windermere wasn’t always called what it is today. It was first named Lower Columbia Lake.
- The average depth of the lake is only 15 ft (4 ½ m).
- Windermere and Invermere were named after regions in Britain.
- The Lake Windermere area enjoys 2,000 hours of sunshine annually.
Tens of thousands of years ago, most of the Rocky Mountain Trench, as we know it today lay under about 6,000 feet of ice. As the ice gradually melted, it left behind lakes, rivers and streams in the valleys between the mountain ranges. One of these waterways was the Columbia River.
The earliest recorded humans in the area were the Ktunaxa people whose hunting grounds ranged through several of the northwestern United States and into the Columbia Valley. They were a nomadic tribe, moving wherever they were able to find food and the Columbia River was a major spawning ground for the ocean-going Chinook salmon.
In 1807, explorer/cartographer/fur trapper David Thompson came through, mapping the area and trading with the indigenous people. Next came hundreds of settlers, mostly from Europe, but the Columbia Valley and Lake Windermere were almost unknown to tourism until the Banff-Windermere Highway was completed in 1923.
Today, the thriving town of Invermere sits at the northwest corner of Lake Windermere and the quaint community of Windermere can be found a very few miles south on the eastern shore of the lake. Being only about a 3 hour drive from Calgary, Lake Windermere is a mecca for tourists, who swell the population to about 3 times its regular size during the summer months. The area is dotted with cottages, campgrounds, parks (including nearby Kootenay National Park), 3 public recreational beaches, at least a dozen golf courses and various other tourist attractions. Many of the visitors have built summer residences near the lake and return year after year.
But it’s not just in the summer that Lake Windermere shines. The Lake Windermere Whiteway (the longest of its kind in the world) is a 30+ km maintained track on the ice between Invermere and Windermere every winter. The track forms 4 loops of varying lengths where individuals and families can skate-ski, cross-country ski, snowshoe, ice skate, walk the dog and run or ride a fat bike. Ice fishing huts dot the lake too. Add in a couple of skating rinks for pond hockey and family pleasure skating and you pretty much have every winter ice-related activity covered.
In January, the world-famous Bonspiel-on-the-Lake brings enthusiastic curling teams from as far away as Washington and Montana to compete for the coveted glass curling stone from the local Bavin Glass. There is an annual ice-fishing derby and a snow golf tournament too.
Lake Windermere is a 4-season paradise for fishermen. You can cast your line and come up with such game species as:
- Northern Pike
- Brook Trout
- Cutthroat Trout
- Rainbow Trout
- Mountain Whitefish
And Lake Windermere is one of the few lakes where bass fishing is allowed in the region. They’re elusive but you can add Largemouth Bass to the list.
Lake Windermere is part of the Columbia Wetlands which, at 15,000+ hectares, is one of the longest intact wetlands in North America. It is habitat for at least 300 wildlife species, some of which are endangered, including the peregrine falcon and the American badger. More than 250 species of migratory birds have been recorded in the wetlands. There’s nothing quite so peaceful as paddling a canoe or kayak into the wetlands to explore its immense biodiversity.
So many of our happiest memories are of times spent at Lake Windermere. We’ve swum, boated, water-skied, fished, picnicked, ice-skated and just soaked up the wonderful Columbia Valley sunshine with family or friends and nearly all of our favorite memories took place at one of the following places:
James Chabot Provincial Park
Lake Windermere Whiteway
Windermere Lake Provincial Park
Invermere on the Lake
The Columbia River Wetlands
Here are some of the exciting events that occur on Lake Windermere each year. Note that events with past dates have not yet been scheduled for the coming year, but there’s still lots of useful information on their pages.
Kinsmen Fishing Derby
BC Pond Hockey Championships
Bonspiel on the Lake
Snow Golf Tournament
Lake Windermere Summer Splash!
The Lake Windermere Ambassadors is a registered society comprised of individuals representing key community sectors including: business, government, First Nations, recreation, second homeowners, full-time residents, youth and non-government organizations. They firmly believe that the lake is:
- A crucial natural resource that contributes to the health and well-being of the local wildlife and ecosystem
- A cultural resource
- A strong contribution to the local economy
This group directs regular lake water quality monitoring and conducts education and stewardship programs in the community. They also also lobby for the implementation of the policies and guidelines of the Lake Windermere Management Plan. Their work has garnered high praise and is used as a model for community-based water stewardship by Living Lakes International, Living Lakes Network Canada and Friends of Kootenay Lake.
The Ambassadors are assisted by an army of eager community volunteers on the occasions of the semi-annual shore cleanups and their ongoing shoreline restoration efforts. And to help us celebrate all the reasons why we love our lake, they throw an annual Summer Splash party for the community. It’s a fun, free event, combining education with water competitions for every age.
To learn more about the work of the Lake Windermere Ambassadors, visit their very informative website at: http://lakeambassadors.ca