Lake Koocanusa

Learning all the secrets of Lake Koocanusa

A casual invitation from a friend leads to a lifelong love of Lake Koocanusa

rainbow over Lake Koocanusa, BC
Beauty is always near by at Lake Koocanusa. — Gail Jansen-Kesslar photo

While planning a camping trip with my kids to Sandpoint, Idaho, Tracy Bruder—a friend who lived in Pincher Creek—invited me to join her and her family as they gathered at one of her favourite boating and camping spots, Lake Koocanusa.

Never having heard of the place, (a common occurrence when you mention Koocanusa), I agreed to stop for one night, more out of courtesy than of any desire to see this spot she raved about. 

At first as I turned off Highway 3, and headed past Kikomun Creek Provincial Park, I didn’t think too much of the lake except that it was massive in size. Crossing the bridge over to the western portion of the lake, where the majority of campgrounds can be found, I drove the long route to find the Newgate Sandy Shores Resort. I arrived tired, hot and grouchy from my long journey.

Recognizing my mood at once, Tracy barely let me set up before she whisked me into her husband Blaise’s boat parked on the shore, mere metres away from our site, and the three of us headed out into the middle of the lake, to dive headfirst into the refreshing warm waters that registered at 24 degrees despite it being 7 p.m.  I instantly became a fan.

Just before heading out the next day to continue my journey, we made plans for a longer trip together at Koocanusa the following year.  But little did I know, we’d never make the journey together, as Tracy died unexpectedly the following May.

Shell-shocked and in mourning, her husband decided that seeing as Koocanusa was indeed Tracy’s favourite place in the world, there would be no better place to celebrate her life, and remember the fun times we all had together, and so the plans for the trip continued.

And what a great trip it was. 

With members of the Bruder clan and Tracy’s family and friends all in attendance, we spent our days tubing, water-skiing, swimming and exploring the lake’s many little bays and coves as we dipped our lines in the water to fish and pulled out a treasure trove of Kokanee salmon.

With long daylight-filled evenings and the warmth of the lake helping to extend our daytime fun long past normal, our late nights were filled with still more fishing, the smell of Kokanee salmon sizzling on the barbeque, and laughter-filled gatherings around the fire, where we shared memories and toasted the loss of a beautiful person, taken far too young.  It was one of the best vacations ever, and one that created in me a love for Koocanusa that will never waiver.  A love that’s seen me return every summer since.

Now as I head into my sixth summer visiting Koocanusa, I’ve had so many wonderful experiences: Death-defying leaps on a tube, the full-out power of a speed boat charging across the lake, the peaceful quiet and mirror-like stillness of the water as we headed out for a morning of fishing, the thrill of catching my first fish, the warmth and heat of sunbathing on an isolated sand dune, the fun of mountain biking along some of the surrounding trails and the joy of experiencing all of this in a relatively mosquito-free zone. So many wondrous sights and experiences, but none so amazing as the sight we experienced one night during that first trip we made in remembrance of Tracy.

With dinner over and dusk settling in, we were just about to set to the task of lighting the fire, when we looked up to see the hills across the lake fill with light and come alive with the colours of a rainbow. As we continued to stand there and watch in amazement, a rainbow began to grow from the hills and reached out towards us. 

While I’m sure a meteorologist can explain this phenomenon away, and it may be a common sight seen before and since by others regularly at Koocanusa, to me that colour-filled dancing light was a sign that Tracy’s spirit was alive and well, and lingering at Koocanusa, a place she loved and helped me to love just as much.

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