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Gold Panning at Fort Steele

5 Fun Family Adventures Near Wasa Lake in the East Kootenays, BC

Wasa Lake is the warmest lake in the Kootenays and is a popular summer camping destination.  This Provincial campground has 104 sites (66 of them are reservable), an amphitheatre for parks talks, nature trail, kids (or adventurous adults) bike park, as well as washrooms with flush toilets and showers. Wasa Lake itself is a short walk or bike ride through the campground and has sandy beaches, a playground, boat launch and grassy picnic areas.

BC Parks Scavenger Hunt Prize Jerry the Moose Pin
BC Parks Scavenger Hunt Prize Jerry the Moose Pin

Although the weather was warm when we visited it wasn’t hot, sunny beach weather, so we opted to explore the local area and discovered some amazing places to visit just a short drive away.

Here are five fun things to do in the area.

Explore Wasa Lake Provincial Park

We spent the better part of a day just exploring our surroundings, especially enjoying the small bike park located within the campground. It’s perfect for younger riders with small jumps, obstacles like planks, bridges, rocks, and small ravines to challenge their skills.  Also, be sure to check BC Parks website for contests and things to do. You can also download a pamphlet for Jerry’s Nature Quest which includes some fun games to do in the park.

Gold Panning at Fort Steele
Gold Panning at Fort Steele

Visit Fort Steele

Fort Steele is a heritage town located about 20 minutes drive from Wasa. The town has heritage houses and businesses to explore, gold panning, a bakery, an ice cream parlour and a few restaurants as well.  We spent several hours exploring the town and had a great time.  Be sure to take a ride on the steam train if you go – it’s a fun way to step back in time.

Visit Cranbrook

Cranbrook is home of the Canadian Museum of Rail Travel. At one time this town was the major train hub for the area and is now home to a unique rail museum with restored train cars to wander through and explore. Cranbrook is the closest city to Wasa to restock your supplies and is one of the Kootenays major centres so you’ll find several large grocery and hardware stores, shopping in the mall as well as in the downtown core. It’s a great place to explore on days when the weather just isn’t on your side!

Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook by Destination BC/Kari Medig
Canadian Museum of Rail Travel in Cranbrook by Destination BC/Kari Medig

Hit a Hot Springs (or two)

Fairmont Hot Springs, Radium Hot Springs and Lussier Hot Springs are all close by. Fairmont and Radium are developed hot springs with several pools, change rooms, places to eat and lots of parking. They are both great options for the whole family with Fairmont being the closer of the two at just a short 45-minute drive away.  Lussier Hot Springs is a natural hot springs, so you’ll have to park and hike in – no services, change rooms are available, it’s definitely for the more adventurous campers!

Fairmont Hot Springs Resort hot pools by Destination BC/Kari Medig
Fairmont Hot Springs Resort hot pools by Destination BC/Kari Medig

Bike One of the Loop Trails

Take one of the Loop bike trails and explore a bit more of the Wasa area. There are two bike loops to get you out of the campsite and exploring the area. The first: Wasa Lake Lions way, is a shorter loop that is a good walking trail as well, although at 8 km you’ll need to be sure you have good walking shoes on and water for the walk.  It’s a paved flat trail, great for the whole family as even very young riders can manage this one.  The second loop is the Lazy Loop bike path, and don’t get confused by the name…the path isn’t lazy – that’s the name of the lake the path takes you to.  This route is 33 km round-trip and takes you up into the mountains to get there!

We had a great time at Wasa Lake Provincial Park and exploring the East Kootenays.  We’re looking forward to a return visit next year.

To locate other campgrounds in this area or elsewhere in British Columbia go to the Camping Map.

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Exploring Radium Hot Springs, BC

It had been 20 years since I last visited Radium Hot Springs so I decided to take the family for a 3-night trip in July. Located in the east Kootenays, Radium Hot Springs is an ideal stopover while traveling through the Kootenays, or as a holiday destination, as there is something to do for everyone.

Radium Hot Springs | Photo Alan & Flora Botting via Flickr

We stayed at a partial hookup site in Redstreak Campground, Kootenay National Park. The site was spacious, clean and extremely quiet. While there we were ‘entertained’ by a family of wild turkeys wandering around the campground each evening as well as some bighorn sheep.

Big Horn Sheep in Kootenay National Park | Photo Karen Reid

Leading from the campground is a 1.8 km walking trail that took us into the village. As we walked, we were delighted to see many more bighorn sheep grazing on the grass in an open field in the forest beside the trail.  Once we reached the village, we found a great café with delicious coffee and the children were fascinated with the old-fashioned candy available. Once we had finished our morning cup of java we decided to explore the area and found some unique gift stores filled with interesting local souvenirs.

Radium Hot Springs Mineral Pools

Approximately 3 km east of the village in Kootenay National Park is Radium Hot Springs Mineral Pools Natural Hot Springs. We took the 2.7 km winding and somewhat challenging trail from our campground that led us right to the hot springs. Since we arrived fairly early in the day the pools were pretty quiet and we were able to enjoy a peaceful soak in the hot pools. We were impressed with the stunning treed surroundings and the views of Sinclair Canyon. A wonderful respite to relax and rejuvenate.

Kootenay National Park | Video by K. Walker

In addition to the hot springs, there are an array of outdoor activities, such as hiking and kayaking. One of our favourite hiking trails was the historic Old Coach Trail, which was traveled by model T-Fords in the 1920s. It is a scenic 9 km trail that starts at the visitor centre in Radium and ends at Dry Gulch. We also went kayaking on the Columbia River and enjoyed seeing the many bird species in the area.

Rock Formations near Radium | Photo by Karen Reid

While staying in Radium Hot Springs, we decided to take a couple of day trips. One of our favourites was Windermere Lake, about 15 minutes south of Radium Hot Springs. We packed beach chairs, our kayaks and a lunch so we were able to relax and spend the day swimming and paddling. We also really enjoyed visiting Fort Steele Heritage Town, which is just over an hour south of Radium. Fort Steele dates back to the gold rush in the 1800s. Throughout the town, we viewed heritage buildings, tried gold panning and stopped into the candy store. Since Fort Steele is pet friendly, we were also able to bring our dog with us to explore!

Fort Steele Heritage Town | Photo by Jasperdo via Flickr

No matter how long you decide to stay or what activities you choose to do, Radium Hot Springs is sure not to disappoint! We definitely plan to return in the near future to experience some of the activities that we didn’t have a chance to do on this first trip.

For other campgrounds in the Kootenay Rockies or elsewhere in BC check out the Camping Map.

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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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