Kootenay National Park Travel Guide
Shaped like a lightning bolt, this narrow 140,600-hectare (347,300-acre) park lies on the British Columbia side of the Canadian Rockies. The park’s northern section is bordered by Banff National Park and Assiniboine Provincial Park to the east and Yoho National Park to the north. Highway 93, extending for 94 kilometers (58 miles) through the park, provides spectacular mountain vistas. Along the route you’ll find many short and easy interpretive hikes, scenic viewpoints, hot springs, picnic areas, and roadside interpretive exhibits. The park isn’t particularly noted for its day-hiking opportunities, but backpacker destinations such as Kaufmann Lake and the Rockwall rival almost any other area in the Canadian Rockies. Even if you never leave the highway, the scarred hillsides from wildfires that swept through the park in 2001 and 2003 will be obvious. The fires jumped the highway in places, burnt bridges and information booths, and forced the closure of some trails due to the danger of falling trees; check at local information centers for the latest updates.
Kootenay has the fewest services of the four contiguous mountain national parks. Day-use areas, a lodge, and three campgrounds are the only roadside services inside the park. The small service town of Radium Hot Springs, at the junction of Highways 93 and 95 near the park’s west gate, has a permanent population of well under 1,000 but offers a range of accommodations, cafes and restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores (see the Columbia Valley Travel Guide for details).
The park is open year-round, although you should check road conditions in winter, when avalanche-control work and snowstorms can close Highway 93 for short periods.
Planning Your Time
Just one highway passes through Kootenay National Park, and you can travel from one end to the other in under two hours. But plan to spend at least a full day in the park. Traveling from Banff to Invermere, an itinerary may look like this: Leave Banff early in the morning and be the first on the trail to Stanley Glacier. Make stops at Marble Canyon and the Paint Pots, then enjoy a late lunch at one of the many riverside picnic areas along the Vermilion River. Spend the afternoon leisurely making your way up and over the park’s two highway passes before stopping for a soak at Radium Hot Springs.
Bighorn sheep: One of the most reliable places in the Canadian Rockies to see bighorn sheep is on the approach to the town of Radium Hot Springs.
Paint Pots: These naturally occurring ponds make a colorful stop on the scenic drive along Highway 93.
Radium Hot Springs: After a long day hiking, the best recipe for soothing aching muscles is a soak in these mineral waters, along Highway 93 just outside the town of the same name.
Stanley Glacier Hiking Trail: Although it takes around 90 minutes to reach the end of this hiking trail, the stunning views are worth every step.
The Rockwall: This is the domain of serious hikers, but those willing to make the effort are rewarded with one of the most awe-inspiring geological formations in all of the Canadian Rockies.