Kootenay National Park blankets almost 350,000 acres (140,600 hectares), where visitors experience a land of startling contrasts, towering summits, hanging glaciers, narrow chasms, and colourful-splashed mineral pools. From glacier-clad peaks in the north to dry, cactus-bearing slopes in the south, Kootenay offers a variety of landscapes and more of an off-the-beaten-track experience. Its lands were ceded to the federal government from British Columbia in 1919. In return, the federal government built the Banff-Windermere Road (Hwy 93) – the first motor road through the Canadian Rockies. After severe construction difficulties, the road was completed in 1922. The road was rebuilt and repaved in 1952, and remains a favoured route for visitors today.
Situated on the west side of the Continental Divide, Kootenay National Park extends across the valleys of the Vermilion and Kootenay Rivers, touches on the Rocky Mountain Trench at Radium Hot Springs, and straddles the Main and Western Ranges of the Rockies. Some of these peaks rise to 11,000 feet (3,355 m).
The 110°F (43°C) waters at Radium Hot Springs come out of the Redstreak breccia fault line, a unique area of red cliffs and shattered rocks. Like most other hot springs, these are well worth relaxing in. You can also find mineral hot springs bubbling out of the canyon of Sinclair Creek. Along the parkway, see the depths of the limestone gorge of Marble Canyon and the bright ochre pool Paint Pots once used by the Kootenay People to decorate their teepees.
The park features three major campgrounds: the biggest one, Redstreak Campground, can only be approached from the south side of Radium Hot Springs, 2 miles (3 km) southeast of the park’s western entrance at the junction of Hwy 93/95. Open May 5 – October 6, there’s a total of 242 sites; 50 fully serviced sites, 38 sites with power only, and 154 unserviced sites, some of which are walk-in. Campground services include flush toilets, piped hot and cold water, showers, kitchen shelters, fire rings and firewood, smoke-free areas, playgrounds, theatre, interpretive activities, walking trails, recycling bins, food storage, sani-dump station, wheelchair-accessible campsites, public telephone. A 30-minute walking trail links the campground with Radium Hot Springs.
McLeod Meadows Campground (vehicle/tent sites) occupies a quiet, wooded area on the banks of the Kootenay River. The wildlife is plentiful, and in early summer, it’s a special treat to see the orchids bloom in the nearby meadows once the snow has melted. Open May 19 – September 5, this campground is located 16 miles (26 km) north of Radium Hot Springs on Hwy 93.
A dense subalpine forest is the setting for Marble Canyon Campground (61 vehicle/tent sites), open June 23 – September 5. It’s 27 miles (43 km) north of McLeod, 9 miles (14.5 km) west of the park’s eastern entrance.
Crook’s Meadow Group Campground is open from May until October and is located 21 miles (34 km) north of Radium Hot Springs on the site of one of the oldest homesteads in Kootenay National Park. Group tenting for 30 tents and parking for some support vehicles is available. Effective immediately, all users of the Crook’s Meadow Group Campground are required to boil their drinking water.
If you can’t get into Kootenay National Park, you might try Dry Gulch Provincial Park (vehicle/tent sites), just 5 miles (8 km) south of Radium Hot Springs on Hwy 93. Dry Gulch Provincial Park is frequently used as an overflow campground for the popular national park nearby.
Two major forest fires swept through the park last century, destroying more than 21,000 acres (8,505 hectares) and affecting the plant community. Glacial erosion has left fascinating patterns everywhere – cirques, moraines, hanging valleys, and more. Especially notable are deep cuts into the limestone at Rockwall and Marble Canyons. If you want the hottest and driest environment in the area, head south into the Columbia and Lower Kootenay Valleys and explore the forests. In the northern area around the Upper Kootenay and Vermilion Valleys, the summers are moderate and the winters severe. You’ll find the alpine zone above 6,561 feet (2,001 m) with its own beautiful flora. Some wetland communities have developed around ponds, beaver dams, and small lakes.
Wildlife is much in evidence. A band of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep have their summer range near Radium Hot Springs, and mountain goats can be spotted in the Mount Wardle area. Two words of warning about elk and bears: the elk population has grown, and in winter they migrate down the valley and congregate along the highway, so please drive carefully. Ask for information on bears from an information officer or a warden. Black bears are present throughout the park, and grizzlies frequent the avalanche slopes in the spring, digging for tender lily bulbs. Finally, the Animal Lick beside Hwy 93 in Kootenay National Park is a natural salt lick, a big drawing card for ungulates.
Most of the park’s waters are glacier-fed and are too cold to provide sufficient nutrients for fish growth. However, some of the lakes have been stocked, and you might try for whitefish and native dolly varden, or for stocked trout in the rivers.
On your rambles, you might justifiably feel a part of history. Archaeological evidence shows that the mountain passes and river valleys have been major Native trading routes for thousands of years, and pictographs near the hot springs suggest its role as a gathering place. Hudson’s Bay Company traders also travelled through here.
Other facilities at the park include an aquacourt and fully developed pool area. There are also several good picnic sites and swimming spots, including Sinclair Creek, Olive Lake, Kootenay River, Dolly Varden, Hector Gorge, Wardle Creek, Numa Falls, Paint Pots, Marble Canyon, and Tokumm Creek. The park offers self-guided trails, warden stations and backcountry warden-patrol cabins, and more than 124 miles (200 km) of hiking and cross-country ski trails. Two trails in particular are worth mentioning: Floe Lake/Hawke Creek (6 miles/10 km) leads west to a glacier-fed lake; Stanley Glacier Trail is a short, strenuous, 3-mile (5-km) hike that leads to a hanging valley and glacier. There are short interpretive trails, with trailside exhibits, at the Continental Divide (Fireweed Trail), Marble Canyon, the Paint Pots, Olive Lake and Redstreak Campground (Valley View Trail). Longer day hikes and overnight trips are described in the Kootenay National Park Backcountry Guide. This guide can be obtained free of charge by contacting the park. Powerboats are not allowed anywhere in the park; other boating is permitted only on the Kootenay and Vermilion Rivers. Note: Only experienced paddlers should attempt to canoe on the Kootenay River.
Arrangements must be made in advance for some activities. Backcountry hikers, campers, and mountaineers require a park use permit from a park officer to make overnight trips. Registration is required at the park information office or with the warden for group camping at the Dolly Varden Picnic Area, for using the winter vehicle trails, and for winter camping and snowmobiling. To purchase Wilderness Passes and to reserve campsites, please contact the Kootenay National Park Information Centre.
There are several maintained picnic areas in Kootenay National Park. Many have fire rings, firewood and kitchen shelters. Picnic tables, water and wheelchair accessible toilet facilities are available at all sites. The peak season in the park is during July and August. Be sure to book your accommodation in advance if you are planning a trip to Kootenay National Park during these months.
The most overwhelming viewpoints in the East Kootenays are dotted along Hwy 93 between Radium Hot Springs and the British Columbia-Alberta border in Kootenay National Park. In fact, this entire stretch of highway is one big viewpoint. Standouts include the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint, about 9 miles (15 km) east of Radium Hot Springs on Hwy 93, the Hector Gorge Viewpoint, 29 miles (46 km) east of Radium on Hwy 93, and the main event, the Continental Divide, about 60 miles (95 km) east of Radium Hot Springs at the British Columbia-Alberta border. Simply put, with scenery like this, it should be illegal not to stop in the Columbia Valley north of Invermere.
Kootenay National Park is open year-round. The western entrance to the park is located in British Columbia at the junction of Highways 93 and 95 in the town of Radium Hot Springs. Radium Hot Springs is located 64.5 miles (104 km) south of Golden and 88.5 miles (143 km) north of Cranbrook. The park’s eastern entrance is located at Vermilion Pass in Alberta.
Two seasonal information centres operate in Kootenay National Park. From May 19 to October 4, the Kootenay National Park Visitor Centre, located in the Village of Radium Hot Springs, provides park information, maps, brochures, passes, permits, and backcountry reservations: 250-347-9505. Kootenay Park Lodge, located at Vermilion Crossing in the north end of the park on Highway #93, offers most Parks Canada information services and interpretive exhibits.
The Parks Canada administration office in Radium Hot Springs is open year-round, except holidays, from Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. till noon and 12:30 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. Telephone 250-347.9615.
Nearby Regions & Towns
Parks Canada – British Columbia