Kootenay National Park Hiking
Some 200 kilometers (124 miles) of hiking trails lace Kootenay National Park. Hiking opportunities range from short interpretive walks to challenging treks through remote backcountry. All trails start from Highway 93 on the valley floor, so you’ll be facing a strenuous climb to reach the park’s high alpine areas, especially those in the south. For this reason, many hikes require an overnight stay in the backcountry. The following hikes are listed from east to west (from Banff toward Radium Hot Springs).
Stanley Glacier Hiking Trail
Length: 4.2 kilometers/2.6 miles (90 minutes) one-way
Elevation gain: 350 meters/1,150 feet
Trailhead: Highway 93, 7 kilometers (4.4 miles) west of the Continental Divide
Although this glacier is no more spectacular than those alongside the Icefields Parkway just a few minutes’ drive away, the sense of achievement of traveling on foot makes this trail well worth the effort. From Highway 93, the trail crosses the upper reaches of the Vermilion River, then begins a steady climb through an area burned by devastating fires in 1968. After two kilometers (1.3 miles), the trail levels off and begins winding through a massive U-shaped glacial valley, crossing Stanley Creek at the 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) mark. In open areas, fireweed, harebells, and yellow columbine carpet the ground. To the west, the sheer face of Mount Stanley rises 500 meters (1,640 feet) above the forest.
The trail officially ends atop the crest of a moraine after 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles), with distant views to Stanley Glacier. It’s possible (and worthwhile) to continue 1.3 kilometers (0.8 mile) to the tree-topped plateau visible higher up the valley. After reaching the top of the first moraine beyond the official trail end, take the left fork, which switchbacks up and over another crest before making a steady ascent through slopes of loose scree to the plateau. Surprisingly, once on the plateau, you’ll find a gurgling stream, a healthy population of marmots, and incredible views west to Stanley Glacier and north back down the valley. Be especially careful on the return trip–it’s extremely easy to lose your footing on the loose rock.
Kaufmann Lake Hiking TrailLength: 15 kilometers/9.3 miles (5 hours) one-way Elevation gain: 570 meters Rating: moderate Trailhead: Highway 93, Marble Canyon parking lot
This is an overnight backpack trip to a beautiful lake in the extreme north end of the park. The trail follows Tokumm Creek the entire distance, passing through a forest of lodgepole pine before entering an open meadow and crossing many small waterways. Most elevation gain is made in the final two kilometers (1.2 miles), as the trail switchbacks up to the glacial cirque holding Kaufmann Lake. The exquisite lake is surrounded by peaks jutting as high as 3,400 meters (11,150 feet). Two campgrounds lie at the end of the trail.
Rockwall Hiking TrailLength: 54 kilometers/33.6 miles (3 days) round-trip Elevation gain: 760 meters/2,490 feet Rating: moderate/difficult Trailhead: various points along Highway 93
This is one of the classic hikes in all of the Canadian Rockies. The Rockwall is a 30-kilometer-long (18.6-mile) east-facing escarpment that rises more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) from an alpine environment. Four different routes provide access to the spectacular feature; each begins along Highway 93 and traverses a steep valley to the Rockwall’s base.
The most popular trail starts at the Paint Pots and follows Helmet Creek 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) to spectacular 365-meter (1,200-foot) Helmet Falls. A further 2.4 kilometers (1.5 miles) takes you to the beginning of the Rockwall trail and a campground, the first of five along the route. The trail then follows the Rockwall in a southeasterly direction for 30 kilometers (18.6 miles), passing magnificent glaciers, waterfalls, and lakes before ending at Floe Lake, 10.4 kilometers (6.5 miles) from the highway.
The Tumbling Creek and Numa Creek drainages provide alternative access routes to the Rockwall and require similar elevation gains. The elevation gain noted here is for the initial climb from the highway; along the route ascents are made to four additional passes, with elevation gains ranging 280 to 830 meters (920 to 2,720 feet).
Hikers will need to make arrangements for shuttle transportation between the beginning and end of this route—about 13 kilometers (eight miles) apart—or allow extra time to hike back. As elsewhere in the park, all hikers spending the night in the backcountry must register and pick up a permit ($8 per person per night) at either of the park information centers.
Floe Lake Hiking TrailLength: 10.4 kilometers/6.5 miles (3.5 hours) one-way Elevation gain: 730 meters/2,395 feet Rating: moderate/difficult Trailhead: Highway 93, 8 kilometers (5 miles) north of Vermilion Crossing
Of all the lakes in Kootenay National Park, this would have to be the most beautiful. Unfortunately, reaching it requires a strenuous day trip or an overnight expedition. From Highway 93, the trail crosses the Vermilion River then begins its long ascent of the Floe Creek watershed, passing through a forest of lodgepole pine and making many long switchbacks before leveling off 400 meters (1,310 feet) before the lake. Nestled in a glacial cirque, the gemlike lake’s aquamarine waters reflect the Rockwall, a sheer limestone wall rising 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above the far shore. In fall, stands of stunted larch around the lakeshore turn brilliant colors, adding to the incredible beauty.
Dog Lake Hiking TrailLength: 2.6 kilometers/1.6 miles (40 minutes) one-way Elevation gain: 80 meters (260 feet) Rating: easy Trailhead: McLeod Meadows Picnic Area, Highway 93
Dog Lake is no Mona Lisa, but it is a popular and easily reached destination, especially for those staying in McLeod Meadows Campground (if you’re not camping, park at the picnic area 500 meters/0.3 mile to the south). The trail first crosses the wide Kootenay River by footbridge. Then it hops a low ridge over to the shallow lake, which is fringed by marshes at the north end.
Kindersley Summit Hiking TrailLength: 10 kilometers/6.2 miles (4 hours) one-way Elevation gain: 1,050 meters/3,445 feet Rating: difficult Trailhead: Highway 93, 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) west of Sinclair Pass
The elevation gain on this strenuous day hike will be a deterrent for many, but views from the summit will make up for the pain endured along the way. From Highway 93, the trail climbs through a valley for about three kilometers (1.9 miles), then switchbacks up across several avalanche paths and through more forest before emerging at an alpine meadow on Kindersley Pass. The final two-kilometer (1.2-mile) slog gets you higher, to an elevation of 2,400 meters (7,870 feet) at Kindersley Summit, a saddle between two slightly higher peaks. This is where the scenery makes the journey worthwhile. You’ll enjoy views west to the Purcell Mountains, east to the Continental Divide, and, most spectacularly, north over the Kootenay River Valley. An alternate return route to the valley floor follows Sinclair Creek down from Kindersley Summit. This cuts two kilometers (1.2 miles) off the return distance.
Juniper Hiking TrailLength: 3.2 kilometers/2 miles (1 hour) round-trip Elevation gain: 90 meters/295 feet Rating: easy Trailhead: Highway 93, uphill from the west park gate
Named for the abundance of juniper along one section, this trail traverses a variety of terrain in a relatively short distance. You’ll pass Sinclair Creek, an avalanche slope, and a lookout offering views of Windermere Valley and the Purcell Mountains. Beginning on the north side of the road just inside the park boundary, this trail rejoins the highway 1.5 kilometers (0.9 mile) farther into the park. There you can retrace your steps back to the start or return along the highway via Sinclair Canyon.