Kootenay National Park, British Columbia Offers Great Vistas, Hiking & History

Continental Divide, Kootenay National Park

Continental Divide, Kootenay National Park

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.

Viewpoint, Kootenay National Park

Viewpoint, Kootenay National Park

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.

Paint Pots Trail, Kootenay National Park

Paint Pots Trail, Kootenay National Park

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.

    Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park

    Marble Canyon, Kootenay National Park

  • 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.

    Dog Lake Trail, Kootenay National Park

    Dog Lake Trail, Kootenay National Park

  • 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.

    Sinclair Canyon, Kootenay National Park

    Sinclair Canyon, Kootenay National Park

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.

For more campgrounds in and around British Columbia check out the Camping Map at Camping & RVing BC.

Check out more blogs in the National Parks & Historic Sites series:

A Primer to Canada’s National Parks in BC.

Explore Fort Langley & Gulf of Georgia Cannery Historic Sites and Check Out Some of BC’s Fascinating History

BC’s Gulf Islands National Park Reserve Offers Rich Opportunities for Exploring

BC’s National Historic Sites Offer a Glimpse into the Past – Here are 3 to Explore

Kootenay National Park, BC Offers Great Vistas, Hiking & History

Visit Mount Revelstoke National Park in August for its Stunning Vistas & Wildflowers

Yoho National Park, BC – A Jewel in the Canadian Rockies

Glacier National Park: A Special BC Destination

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve – A Great Place to Visit in the Off Season

Share your BC camping and travel photos using hashtag #campinbc

Published: July 6th, 2017

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Kimberly Walker by Kimberly Walker

Kimberly is a Special Education, Elementary School teacher in Hope, BC. Previously having worked ten years at the Hope Visitor Centre & Museum promoting tourism in Hope and British Columbia, Kimberly worked on many local history projects in the museum as well as researching and writing articles for the local newspaper. Kimberly loves travelling with her husband Dale and their dog Alpine. In the fall of 2014, they spent the first 78 days of married life travelling and camping their way across Canada - just the two of them and the dog - travelling in a Hyundai Elantra! Kimberly loves various outdoor recreation types and exploring our beautiful province.

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