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.
Valley Wildlife Management Area, a showplace of migratory waterfowl
west of Creston on Hwy 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
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 Provincial
Conservancy 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.
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,
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
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.