Wildlife Viewing in the Kootenays
Crowsnest Highway: The West Kootenays
There is a spawning channel in Kokanee Creek Provincial Park where visitors can observe the remarkable transformation that spawning kokanee undergo in late summer. Their bodies become a deep crimson colour and their heads turn emerald green. Like other Pacific salmon, they die after completing their fascinating spawning activities, drifting downstream to the lake, their dead bodies enriching (and perfuming!) the area. During this time, park interpreters offer daily programs focusing on this important phenomenon.
The name alone is enough to draw visitors to Stagleap Provincial Park, 21 miles (34 km) west of Creston on Hwy 3 at the Kootenay Pass. The highway here, commonly called the Mile High Pass, is at an elevation of 5,820 feet (1,774 m), one of the highest paved roads in Canada. Bridal Lake, the focal point for both summer and winter activities, is surrounded by forests of subalpine fir. Visitors can enjoy the subalpine zone from the luxury of their car or go for a short walk around the lake.
The park is named for the woodland caribou that migrate through this area. These large, majestic animals are related to reindeer and other members of the deer family. These Selkirk Mountains woodland caribou are actually the source of the only population in the United States, as they migrate through this part of BC and into northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, and occasionally into northwest Montana. They are on the US endangered species list. If you’re not lucky enough to see any of the remnant herd that frequent the area, you can check out the park’s interpretive display.
The Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area, a showplace of migratory waterfowl west of Creston on Crowsnest Highway 3, provides opportunities for hiking, biking, bird-watching (265 species), wildlife viewing, canoeing, and fishing. Its interpretive centre, open May to mid-October, offers a variety of wildlife activities and programs, and there is a campground nearby.
Wildlife Viewing in the BC Rockies
Columbia River Valley
Wildlife is well represented and protected in this region, with opportunities for viewing wildlife not restricted to the Purcell Wilderness Provincial Conservancy. Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Park is in a class of its own. Early in this century, Earl Grey, then Governor-General of Canada, crossed the Purcell Mountains from Invermere in the Columbia Valley to Argenta on Kootenay Lake. His route followed a trail up Toby Creek and down Hamill Creek over a 7,401-foot (2,257 m) pass. This route, later named the Earl Grey Pass Trail, had already been well defined by the Shuswap Indians. Despite Grey’s urging to set aside this magnificently scenic area as a park, not much was done until the 1970s, when the area was designated as a ‘roadless tract’ in which the natural environment would remain undisturbed by any development. Consequently, there’s no road access, and all forms of mechanized access are prohibited, including helicopters. Over 85 miles (137 km) of hiking trails, challenging mountaineering, horse riding, and winter recreation await backpackers in the five biogeoclimactic zones spread throughout this central portion of the Purcell Mountains.
The Wasa Slough Wildlife Sanctuary is certainly worth a visit and is easily located south of Wasa Lake along Hwy 93/95. Much of the roadside on Hwy 93/95 between Fort Steele and Wasa is wetland and provides resting, nesting, and feeding stops for large migratory birds such as Canada geese, great blue herons, turkey vultures, ospreys, and eagles.
More of these magnificent birds can be viewed at the Columbia Wildlife Area, a short drive west of Hwy 95 at Brisco. The Great Blue Heron Rookery, beside Hwy 95, north of Radium Hot Springs, is the second-largest colony of its kind in Western Canada.
Canada geese nesting platforms dot the marshier sections of the Columbia River on the 25-mile (40-km) stretch of Hwy 95 from Parson to Golden. Finally, the Animal Lick beside Highway 93 in Kootenay National Park is a natural salt lick, a big drawing card for ungulates.