Kootenay National Park is located in southeastern British Columbia near the Alberta border. It is one of the seven parks that make up the Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. Kootenay National Park is bordered by Banff, Yoho, and Mt. Assiniboine National Parks. The park is a land of diversity; fast-flowing glacier-fed rivers, mineral hot springs and bubbling paint pots, mountain peaks, alpine meadows, lush forests, valleys, and grasslands. The park is famous for its mineral hot springs which are located within its boundaries, near the village of Radium Hot Springs. Radium Hot Springs was originally established in order to accommodate visitors to the pools. The Banff-Windermere Parkway crosses through Kootenay National Park, travels through valleys and over mountain passes connecting Radium Hot Springs to Banff in an exceptionally scenic drive.
Best Time to Visit Kootenay
The park is open to visitors year-round but depending on the activities you want to do and the sights you want to see you may want to plan around seasonal weather and closures.
The spring season lasts from mid-March, when the first snow begins to melt at lower elevations, through to May. Daytime temperatures vary wildly during this time of transition from below freezing in March to an average high of 18°C (64.4°F) in June. Many park services such as campgrounds and the visitor centre begin to reopen in May.
The summer season begins in June and lasts through August. Tourism peaks in July and August, the warmest months of the year. Daytime temperatures begin to climb above 20°C (68°F) in June and can reach average highs of 25°C (77°F) through July and August but typically stay in the low 20’s C.
Fall begins in September and lasts through October when the daytime temperatures begin to decrease. Leaves change colour and fall, and animals begin their southward migration in preparation for the long winter. Daily temperatures may be anything from freezing to a high of 18°C (64.4°F). Many park facilities begin to close in mid-October including the visitor centre and campgrounds.
The long winter lasts from November through to mid-March and brings a lot of snow to the park. As hiking trails become impassable visitors must switch their hiking boots out for cross-country skis or snowshoes to make use of the trails. Temperatures can drop below -10°C (14°F) and rarely climb above freezing until March. The scenic Banff-Windermere Parkway is maintained by Parks Canada in order to remain open all year.
It’s always a good idea to start any National Parks trip with a stop at a visitor centre. Here you can speak to park rangers, purchase a daily or annual pass, or pick up gifts, maps, books, brochures, and backcountry permits. Learn about evening programs at the campground theatre, take some time to view the exhibits on the park’s cultural and natural history, and listen to the Ktunaxa creation story. The visitor centre is open from May through mid-October.
Visitor Centre – 7556 Main Street East, Radium Hot Springs BC.
Getting To / Around Kootenay
Highway 93 is the only major route into Kootenay National Park and it runs through the centre of the park. It is accessible via Highway 1 (the Trans-Canada) from Banff, Alberta 40 km (24.9 miles) to the east, or via Highway 95 at Radium Hot Springs, B.C.
From Calgary AB
Drive west from Calgary International Airport (YYC) 277 km (172 miles) for 3 hours via Trans-Canada Hwy/AB-1 W and BC-93 S to arrive at the Visitor Centre in Radium.
From Kelowna BC
Drive northeast from Kelowna International Airport (YLW) 436km (271 miles) for 5 hours via Trans-Canada Hwy/BC-1 E to arrive at the Visitor Centre in Radium.
Things to Do and Main Attractions
Drive along the 94km (30.4 miles) Banff-Windermere Highway (Hwy 93) which will take you through valleys and over mountain passes. Listen to the guided audio tour to hear stories from park rangers and learn the best spots to stop for a view or a picnic. Stand on the continental divide and follow some short (or long) hiking trails.
Drive 18.5 km (11.5 miles) south of Radium to see the Kootenae House National Historic Site, the first fur trading post which was built in the Columbia Basin in 1807. The North West Company built the post when they began trading with the Ktunaxa (Kootenay) people. Interpretive signs share stories from Canadian history.
The prime hiking season in the park lasts from July through mid-September. Outside of these months, many mountain passes are covered in snow and are an avalanche hazard. There are trails for all levels in the park ranging from interpretive walks to multi-day treks. Take a picnic to the Olive Lake day-use area. The forested emerald-green lake at the summit of Sinclair Pass is encircled by a boardwalk. The Fireweed Loop trail is an easy 30-minute interpretive walk through an area regenerating from a fire. Paint Pots trail is an easy walk that will bring you to three iron-rich mineral pools that stain the earth vibrant colours.
The Juniper/Sinclair trail leads from Radium and takes you through an open Douglas fir forest along the edge of the canyon to Sinclair Canyon Falls. The trail to Stanley Glacier is rated moderate and takes you through a regenerating forest to see glaciated peaks. There is an option to hire a guide for the Burgess Shale Fossil Hike to Stanley Glacier. Your guide will show you trilobite, brachiopod, and sponge fossils along the way and teach you about the area’s geological history. There are two longer backpacking trails in the park, Verdant Creek Trail and the Rockwall Trail, a 3-4 day trip traversing multiple alpine passes, creek crossings, meadows, a lake, and the famous “Rockwall”.
For an added challenge on your adventures, try to find the Park’s Canada red chairs! The park has placed sets of red Muskoka chairs at various viewpoints throughout the park. Some will be easy to find and others will involve more of a challenge, but the scenic locations will be worth the effort!
The Rockies are full of remote and challenging climbing routes. There are hundreds of peaks and glaciers that will certainly be rewarding to the mountaineer and alpine climber but you should not climb them if you are not an experienced climber. There are also excellent sport climbing routes ranging from 5.5 to 5.14 in difficulty.
Cycling in the park can be a thrilling adventure. Try biking 100 km (62 miles) from the west boundary to the east boundary of the park along Highway 93 S. There are plenty of opportunities for mountain bikers as well. Try the 10 km (6.2 miles) Dolly Varden Trail which leads to an abandoned mine and the Kitsault River.
Wildlife is plentiful in Kootenay National Park. Visitors may commonly come across moose, deer, elk, or snowshoe hare along the main route through the park. Beavers inhabit the streams and ponds in the valleys where they build their lodges. Red foxes and badgers live in the meadows and grasslands found in the southern end of the park. Black bears and grizzly bears live throughout the Rockies so remember to practise bear safety. Hikers in the higher elevations are likely to spot marmots, pikas, mountain goats, or big-horned sheep. There are even elusive cougars, lynx, and wolverines that are less likely to cross your path.
Visitors can cross country ski and snowshoe on some hiking trails in the winter. Parks Canada does not maintain any trails in the winter and not all signed summer trails will be safe and accessible. Remember to check-in at the visitor centres for advice on the best places to go.
After a long day of hiking, biking, climbing, or skiing there is nothing better than relaxing in a hot or cold pool filled with 100% natural mineral water. The hot springs are located 3 km northeast of the village of Radium Hot Springs on Hwy 93. The hot springs operate on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Where to Stay in Kootenay
Kootenay Park Lodge – The lodge was originally constructed in 1923 by the Canadain Pacific Railway. The cozy heritage cabins surrounding the lodge stick to the basics for a rustic but comfortable mountain experience. Homemade meals are served from the lodge and the general store is stocked with grab-and-go items, snacks, and coffee. Kootenay Lodge is the perfect basecamp for hikers and explorers or those who simply want to sit by the fire with a cup of tea and enjoy the views and passing wildlife.
oTENTik – These cabin/tent hybrids are perfect for those who want the camping experience without giving up any comfort. All oTENTik’s have heating, beds, and furniture for up to six people and are available for reservation in Redstreak Campground.
There are four front-country campgrounds within the park which all operate from mid-May until early October.
Redstreak Campground – A large campground with wooded campsites located on a sunny plateau with views of the Columbia Valley and Purcell Mountains. A 2.7 km (1.7 miles) forest trail leads to Radium Hot Springs and a 1.8 km (1.1 miles) trail leads to the restaurants and amenities of Radium.
Marble Canyon Campground – A high-altitude campground located at the north end of the park. This campground is a great base camp for hikers wanting to go to Stanley Glacier, Floe Lake, and Ball Pass. This campground is close to Banff and Yoho giving easy access to day hikes on the Iceline, Taylor Lake, Bourgeau Lake, and Twin Lakes trails as well.
McLeod Meadows Campground – A quiet wooded campground located in the centre of the park. This sanctuary near the Kootenay River has easy access to a variety of hiking trails and is only a short drive from the amenities at Radium Hot Springs.
Crook’s Meadow Campground – A group campground accommodating between twenty to sixty people. The campground is the site of the oldest homestead in the park and its open meadow is a likely place to see wildlife.
You must reserve one of six back-country camping spots in advance. Five are located along the Rockwall Trail, and the sixth is on the Verdant Creek Trail. Each of the campgrounds is equipped with tent pads, dry toilets, communal picnic tables, and either food storage cables or lockers.
Things to Remember While Visiting Kootenay
- Follow ‘Leave No Trace’ principles.
- Follow the speed limit and drive cautiously through the park to decrease wildlife collisions.
- Amenities including restaurants, groceries, and gas stations are available in the village of Radium Hot Springs, outside the park’s west entrance.
- Kootenay Park Lodge operates a small general store seasonally.
- There is no cell coverage in Kootenay National Park.
- There is no public wifi available in Kootenay National Park.
- Pets are allowed on trails in the park. They must be on a leash at all times for their safety and the safety of park wildlife.
- Be prepared for a variety of weather conditions. Raingear and layered clothing are essential.
- Respect wildlife from a distance: don’t feed or approach them or let them approach you.
- Human food has a serious impact on wildlife. Don’t feed wildlife, keep camps free of all traces of food, store food in an animal-proof food locker, and place all garbage in an animal-proof trash can. Follow the ‘BARE’ campsite program.
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