Kootenay National Park, British Columbia Offers Great Vistas, Hiking & History
Kootenay National Park, an often-overlooked neighbour to Alberta’s more popular Rocky Mountain Parks of Banff and Jasper, makes the perfect daytrip when exploring the region. It also offers enough to keep you busy for a weekend all on its own if you like stunning vistas, great hiking, and interesting history.
An added bonus to Kootenay National Park is that, unlike it’s BC neighbour, Glacier National Park, it offers things to see and do year-round. We visited Kootenay National Park at Easter during a particularly snowy year and still found ample things to do and see – just make sure you pack appropriately for the weather and check in at the Parks Canada visitor centre in Radium Hot Springs to make sure you don’t accidentally tread into avalanche territory if you are planning a winter visit.
What to Do
Kootenay National Park is a relatively narrow corridor stretching from Radium Hot Springs in BC to near Banff in Alberta. Established in 1920, the park provides road access to the Rocky Mountains from the Kootenays and protects a wide variety of environments including steep canyons, grassy meadows, steamy hot springs, roaring rivers, and fascinating ochre beds.
One of the best ways to explore Kootenay National Park is to use the Parks Canada Explora Kootenay App to take a GPS-guided driving tour of the 94-kilometre Banff-Windermere highway. Simply download the app, select if your travels are starting at the Radium Hot Springs end or the Banff end, and use Bluetooth to connect the app to your car stereo system. As you drive, the app will detect your location and provide you with suggestions for stopping points, interesting interviews with Parks staff about flora, fauna, and history, and the perfect amount of silence to help you simply enjoy the views.
When we visited, we actually did the driving tour twice – once listening to the app’s stories, history, and information while making only short stops, and once to visit the locations that required more time. At the Radium Hot Springs end of the road, there are a lot of stops close together and I found it a bit overwhelming at first, so doing it twice really helped to cut down on the feeling of having to do everything in a rush.
Here are a few highlights of what you can see and do in Kootenay National Park:
- Sinclair Canyon: As you enter Kootenay Park from the Radium end you will be immediately impressed as you drive through Sinclair Canyon. Park just past the canyon and walk back through it – you will feel tiny as the walls tower above you.
- Radium Hot Springs Pools: Bring your bathing suit and soak your cares away in the hot pool or get your exercise swimming laps in the cool pool.
- Kootenay Valley Viewpoint: Make sure you stop for a photo at this stunning location overlooking the Kootenay River.
- Dog Lake Trail: A less busy but completely worthwhile walk crossing the Kootenay River via suspension bridge and carrying on to Dog Lake. If you are short on time, turn around at the second bridge.
- Paint Pots: Take a walk back in history to orange ochre beds used by local First Nations and later European miners. Keep your eyes out for the mining equipment left behind.
- Marble Canyon: One of the most popular sites in Kootenay Park is this deep and narrow gorge where you can cross and re-cross the canyon on walking bridges.
- Lightning Alley: As you drive through the park, you will notice the landscape of wildfire over and over again. Use the Explora App to hear an interview with firefighters and Parks staff about this unique corridor.
- Continental Divide: Stand with one foot in BC and one in Alberta – and perhaps more interestingly, stand with one foot where all water runs to the Pacific Ocean and one foot where all water runs to the Atlantic Ocean.
In the Area
One of the benefits of visiting Kootenay National Park is the close proximity to so many other things to see and do. In the area, plan a visit to Invermere for the perfect afternoon treat at Gerry’s Gelato followed up by sampling a flight at the very funky Arrowhead Brewing.
Continue south and take a hike in the Hoodoos Trail near Fairmont Hot Springs for spectacular views – just stay away from the edge! If you still have time, carry on to visit Fort Steele Heritage Town near Cranbrook. On your way back, stop by Lussiar Hot Springs – a natural spring that bubbles out near the edge of the Lussiar River in Whiteswan Lake Provincial Park.
Where to Stay
Kootenay National Park offers a number of frontcountry and backcountry camping options. The Redstreak Campground near Radium is the largest and accepts reservations, but first-come first-served camping is also available at Marble Canyon and McLead Meadows during the summer months. For backcountry excursions, plan a multi-day hike along the 55-kilometre Rockwall Trail – just make sure to make your reservations in advance for this classic Rocky Mountain trek.
Kootenay National Park provides an excellent reprieve from the hustle and bustle common in Banff and Jasper without losing anything in terms of scenery or things to do. It is definitely one of my favourite parks to visit in the Canadian Rockies.
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Published: July 6, 2017
Last Updated: April 29, 2020
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