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Located amongst Canada’s Rocky Mountains, Kootenay National Park is a stunning destination in British Columbia. It’s full of amazing scenery and tons of wildlife – I’ve even seen a grizzly bear here!
There are colorful mineral pools (including an orange one!), some of the best hot springs in BC, and more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) of hiking trails, cliffs, canyons, forests, and valleys galore! One of the best ways to see the park is by driving right through it – and stopping along the way of course.
The Banff-Windermere Highway (Highway 93) is 106 kilometers long (65 miles) and goes directly through the center of Kootenay National Park and connects to Banff National Park. If you drive from Banff National Park into Kootenay and towards Radium, this is the route you’ll follow. You’ll also drive through Kootenay National Park on road trips from Calgary to Radium or Invermere.
To help visitors, I’ve put together a list of things to do in Kootenay National Park. They are listed from the park entrance on the border of Banff National Park all the way to Radium. That way, you’ll know the next adventure that awaits you!
Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Kootenay National Park.
Important Info About Visiting Kootenay National Park
Before we cover all of the best things things to do in Kootenay National Park here’s a quick list of things to take note of.
Cell service: There’s no cell service in the park, so download any maps or directions you need ahead of time.
Parks Canada Pass: Make sure you buy a Park Pass. Daily passes start at $10.50 CAD per adult, but if you’re planning to stay longer or visit more than one national park, pick up a Discovery Pass. These are around $72.25 CAD for unlimited entry to all national parks for a year and can be purchased online and mailed out to you. This is especially handy because Banff National Park and Kootenay National Park are right next to each other, so it makes it easier to visit both!
Bear spray: Those who plan to go hiking at all or stay in one of the campsites should always carry bear spray. You should also make lots of noise and store food appropriately.
Fuel: There are no fuel stations between Lake Louise and Radium anywhere in Kootenay National Park. Although not long-distance, it’s best to be repaired and fuel up beforehand.
Are There Tours to Kootenay National Park?
Yes! But unlike the other three National Parks inside of the Canadian Rockies (Banff, Yoho, and Jasper), the tour options to Kootenay National Park are quite limited. However, there are still a few day trip options that would be great if you only have time in your itinerary to spend a few hours or one day in Kootenay. Guided tours are also for those who want to learn more about the area from a guide or want a break from driving.
Here’s a rundown of the few Kootenay tours on offer.
- Kootenay National Park Day Tour from Calgary – if you’re going to be based in Calgary at any point in time this tour is for you! It is the only one I know of that spends the entire day visiting multiple places inside of Kootenay including Marble Canyon, roadside views of Mitchell and Vermillion mountain ranges, Radium Hot Springs, Sinclair Canyon, and the Redwall Fault. For its inclusions I find the $200 CAD price to be very reasonable!
- Stanley Glacier Valley Guided Hike – One of the most breathtaking trails inside Kootenay National Park! Waterfalls, caves, a glacier, and more! This hike is only 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) long and well-maintained so most able-bodied people should be able to complete it the signage isn’t the best so having the guide leading this tour will help! The departure for this tour is located halfway between Lake Louise and Banff and this 4-hour outing costs $110 CAD.
- Canadian Rockies Hidden Gems – This tour includes a mix of the lesser-visited landmarks inside two national parks – Yoho and Kootenay! You’ll view Emerald Lake and have the option to add on canoeing, then admire the Spiral Tunnels before exploring Takakkaw Falls and Marble Canyon. It’s an awesome teaser for all that you can see in the Rockies! Hotel pick-up for this tour is from Banff, Canmore, or Lake Louise and the cost per person is $292 CAD.
15 BEST Things to Do and See in Kootenay National Park
1. Boom Lake
Boom Lake is a beautiful lake surrounded by glacier-capped peaks and an amazing view of the north side of Boom Mountain. While it isn’t technically in Kootenay National Park, it’s right on its doorstep and worth a stop.
The Boom Lake Trail is a relatively easy hike that is about 3-4 hours roundtrip and is best done anytime from June until October. You’ll travel through a forested area to your final destination – a pristine lake with an impressive mountain backdrop. This hike is especially good in the summer as it’s relatively shady (although it can get muddy in parts) and you can swim in the lake, but it’s very cold!
Once you reach the lake, it’s surrounded by huge rocks thanks to an old rock slide. This means there are lots of good places to sit down and enjoy the view. You can often hear loons calling here or even spot an eagle while you sit and watch. This lake offers a gorgeous view of the north face of Boom Mountain which is right on the border of Alberta and British Columbia.
2. Stanley Glacier Trail
Stanley Glacier Trail is a must-do activity in Kootenay National Park – it’s described as a great mix of fire and ice. The hike takes you through an area burnt in forest fires in 1968 and 2003 that is currently re-growing with beautiful wildflowers, willows, and lodgepole pine trees. Then the upper part of the trail has a great view of the Stanley Glacier and glacier meltwater falls that tumble down huge rock walls.
The hike is a 4.2-kilometer (2.6-mile) walk to the end of the trail and should take about three hours round-trip It opens up to a huge area with rocks to sit on and enjoy the view of Stanley Glacier and one of the waterfalls. It is possible to keep walking across the boulder field to get a closer view of the glacier once you are here!
While the majority of the trail is relatively easy to moderate the ending loop to the summit is taxing on the body because of all of the climbing on the rocks that you will do so it’s probably not a great hiking option if you have knee issues or don’t have the best balance. Also, keep an eye out for bears in this area as they are frequently spotted nearby.
Did you know that you can also hike the Stanley Glacier Trail on a guided tour? This exact one will allow you to learn so much about the area’s history, wildlife, geology, ecology, geography, flowers, and more! Some of the trail isn’t always well marked so if you are newer to hiking this would also be very helpful. You will need to meet at Castle Mountain Chalets but round-trip transportation is provided from there. It costs $110 CAD for a 4-hour experience.
3. Marble Canyon
Marble Canyon is one of the best Kootenay National Park attractions because it’s easy to get to and absolutely spectacular to see. Park in the Marble Canyon parking lot right off the highway and start your walk along the bright, blue waters of Tokumm Creek.
The trail along Marble Canyon is less than 1 km (0.6 miles) and lets you hike along the edge of the canyon and across seven different bridges. These bridges let you view the steep drop into the canyon where the powerful waters of the creek have carved out the limestone rock walls.
At the top of the trail, there’s a stunning waterfall. You can stand right above it and watch the water as it disappears into a large hole in the rocks below. It’s incredible to see!
If you’re starting out in Calgary I’ll let you know that this full-day tour explores all the main attractions inside Kootenay National Park including Marble Canyon! The best part is that it is priced reasonably at $200 CAD.
4. Go camping
This is the perfect way to relax and enjoy the nature surrounding you at Kootenay National Park. There are four front-country campgrounds to choose from – Marble Canyon, McLeod Meadows, Crook’s Meadow (only available for group camping of 20+ people), or Redstreak. All are close to nice walking trails and beautiful scenery. Make sure to pick up a park entry pass and a camping permit beforehand!
If you don’t want to travel with all the camping gear, consider renting an oTENTik for a night or two in the Redstreak campground. It’s part tent, part cabin, and includes beds with foam mattresses to sleep on, an indoor sitting area, and a private picnic table and fire pit. For these luxuries, you will definitely pay a premium price of $128 CAD but if you don’t need camping gear you can land a basic unserviced site for $29.25 CAD.
Typically, campsites can be reserved from June to September, but it varies depending on the campground. Any dates you can’t reserve are first come, first serve. There are lots of critters (big and small!) around here, so make sure you keep your campsite tidy and don’t leave any food out at night or when you leave. Park workers patrol campgrounds and can cancel permits if you don’t.
5. Paint Pots
These mineral-rich pools of water are an array of colors – like nature’s pots of paint. The trail is an easy walk of less than 2 km (1.2 miles) and should only take about 30 minutes. This whole area also holds cultural significance and is sacred to Ktunaxa people who have made ochre paint here for generations.
The trail starts through the Ochre Beds – the vibrant, yellow/orange soil leads the way, with wooden boards to help avoid the soggiest parts of the path. The Paint Pots themselves at the end of the trail are formed by iron oxide bubbling up from cold mineral springs in the area.
The pools are full of iron ore and are rich in colors like green, yellow, and orange. It’s amazing that these colors are completely natural!
6. Numa Creek
Hiking the Numa Creek Trail is a great way to explore Kootenay National Park. It’s also easily accessed from the highway and while it isn’t quite an easy trail the terrain isn’t too difficult for beginners.
The trail takes you along Numa Creek with some dramatic views of mountain peaks and the cascading waters of Numa Falls. While the waterfall isn’t extremely large, it’s set in the Vermillion River and surrounded by rugged landscape – you’ll still want a few photos!
You can just park a walk a few hundred meters to the bridge where you will find the viewpoint of the waterfall (pictured above) – it’s even able to be reached in the winter months!
Or if you want to make a day of it and hike the entire 13.8-kilometer (8.6 miles) of the trail it takes most people between 4 to 5 hours to finish it with the intensity gradually increasing the further you go.
7. Rockwall Trail
The Rockwall Trail is a 54 km (34-mile) journey through Kootenay National Park that is a multi-day backpacking adventure! The Rockwall Trail is actually a series of trails strung together and typically takes three days and two nights to complete, with the highlight being Floe Lake. You’ll stay in some of the five campgrounds along the way as you hike.
The best time to do this hike is between mid-July to early October. This is one hike that you need to plan in advance for as you need reservations to make sure you have a place to stay along the way. Reservations can be made on the Parks Canada website and you’ll need to book each individual campsite for the hike.
The extra planning is worth it though – the horseshoe-shaped trail takes you past amazing glaciers, stunning blue lakes, meadows full of wildflowers, and another highlight, the Rockwall! The Rockwall itself is a series of sheer cliffs that stretch up almost 914 meters (3,000 feet)!
If you are an adventure junkie this hike should definitely be on your bucket list of things to do in Kootenay National Park!
8. Floe Lake Trail
Floe Lake is a stunning alpine lake at the bottom of a huge rock face. It’s one of those spectacular views you just have to see in person. Floe Lake is one of the highlights of Kootenay National Park and the Rockwall Trail! In fact, those who don’t want to hike the entire Rockwall Trail can opt to instead hike up to Floe Lake and back down.
The Floe Lake Trail is about a 21-kilometer (13 miles) roundtrip (out and back) from the Floe Lake parking lot. The trail officially ends at the Floe Lake Backcountry Campground where you can opt to stay if you have a booking or enjoy some time at the lake and hike back to your car. If you are planning to do this in one day, leave early so you have the most time at the lake. It’s a very hard trail to do in one day!
I recommend doing the overnight trip if you can. This gives you more time to enjoy this stunning lake and see it at the most magical times of day – especially for photographs – sunrise and sunset. This is when the lake can look almost like glass and show the reflection of the mountains on it. To stay overnight, you’ll need a camping reservation by booking on the Parks Canada website. Camping is very reasonable – less than $12.75 CAD per person, per night, and a reservation fee of around $12 CAD.
9. Whitewater rafting on the Kootenay River
As you will start to notice a lot of the things to do in Kootenay National Park are hikes, natural formations, and viewpoints. However, right outside of the official national park entrance, there’s a chance for a thrill with a whitewater rafting tour on the Kootenay River with a view of the Rockies!
The rapids here range from class 1 to class 3 so these rapids will not be overly intense and I can honestly even recommend this activity for entire families, even those with younger kids as long as they are at least 5 years old.
If however, you have already had some experience with whitewater rafting I would suggest a rafting tour on the Kicking Horse River if you want a bit more of a thrilling challenge. This tour does depart from the small town of Golden though which is an hour’s drive south.
10. Spot Wildlife
One of the best things to do in Kootenay National Park is to see all the wildlife you can spot! Dawn and dusk are the best times to see the larger animals like deer, elk, and moose. White-tailed deer are the most common to spot along the highway. Other animals you could see include bears, mule deer, wolves, cougars, lynx, ground squirrels, porcupines, and mountain goats.
While grizzly bears are rare to spot, there are quite a few of them who call this park home. We saw a grizzly here one time – it was quite the sight! Because of the risk of coming across a bear, make sure you always have bear spray while hiking in this area and don’t leave food out.
11. Kootenay Valley Viewpoint
This is a quick stop at a pullover bay right along the highway. It’s really easy to get to and the view is beautiful of the valley below and the Mitchell and Vermilion mountain ranges. The view is particularly epic on a sunny day. If you’re traveling with a group of friends or family, this is also a good spot to take a group picture!
As you drive towards Radium you’ll see the viewpoint on your left. You’ll know you’re approaching it because the speed limit drops down to 60 kph/37 mph. There is a parking lot on both sides of the highway as well as a pedestrian crossing.
12. Cobb Lake
The hike to Cobb Lake is fantastic on a hot, summer day as the trail mostly goes through the forest, so there’s plenty of shade. Make sure to check the Parks Canada Bulletins page as this trail (and others in the park) can often close temporarily because of bears in the area.
The hike takes you near the top of Sinclair pass, then downhill for a little while, before leveling out along the creek that leads all the way to Cobb Lake. The lake itself is a perfect spot for a picnic once you arrive, so bring lunch along!
13. Olive Lake
One of the Kootenay National Park attractions that is a nice stop near the end of the drive is Olive Lake. It’s an emerald green-colored lake that is so clear you can see the bottom and the fish swimming around!
The short walk to the lake starts in the trees and is well marked. Then once you reach the lake, the trail turns into a boardwalk with a Y junction leading right and left. Both paths are nice and lead to a viewing platform with great views of the lake. There are also good picnic areas with tables to sit at.
Olive Lake is a popular spot and can get quite busy. If you want to avoid the crowds, try to stop here early in the morning or later in the day.
14. Radium Hot Springs
Radium is a cute mountain town nestled between the peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the Purcell Mountains. There is so much to see and do in Radium! There are great hiking trails, you can paddle down the Columbia River, skate on the Lake Windermere Whiteway, or ski at Panorama Mountain Resort. However, in Kootenay National Park, the main attraction is the Radium Hot Springs.
The Radium Hot Springs pools are naturally heated with mineral waters and surrounded by open rockfaces. While relaxing in the pools, you can sometimes even see bighorn sheep grazing or wandering nearby! In the winter, it’s especially magical to swim under the stars and enjoy the mountain views. Admission to the pools is $16.50 CAD per person.
15. Sinclair Canyon
This canyon is right on the border of Kootenay National Park and Radium Town. It’s a unique spot where you drive right through the canyon with the walls rising up on either side of the road.
There’s a nice viewpoint of the canyon here. Keep an eye out for a small parking lot right after you pass through the rocks. You’ll be able to walk up to an impressive viewpoint of the deep canyon and marvel at the highway built through it!
There are also lots of longer trails in the area here that wind along Sinclair Creek. The Juniper Loop trail is a great one at the edge of the park that has an impressive view peering into the Columbia Valley. This is also a great spot to see some bighorn sheep! The trail starts and ends at Radium Hot Springs, so you can end the hike with a soak in the hot springs.
Where to Stay in Kootenay National Park
If you want to stay in Kootenay National Park camping is your best bet. As I previously mentioned, there are four front-country campgrounds to choose from including Marble Canyon, McLeod Meadows, Crook’s Meadow (only available for group camping of 20+ people), or Redstreak.
All of the campgrounds aside from Cook’s Meadow have fire pits, flush toilets, and sani-dumps. Redstreak is the only campsite that offers hot showers.
Typically, campsites can be reserved from June to September, but it varies depending on the campground. Any dates you can’t reserve are first come, first serve.
If camping isn’t your thing, you can stay in Radium. While it isn’t actually in Kootenay National Park, it is the closest town with access. You can choose from a variety of hotels in Radium.
Personally, the Radium Chalet is my favorite go-to. It is super affordable while still providing some awesome features including rooms with amazing mountain views, fireplaces, kitchens, a minibar, and more. It is located just on the edge of Radium Village, so it’s a quieter option while still being central.
But if you’re looking for a pure luxury resort that’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, then you can’t pass up Prestige Radium Hot Springs Resort. This brand-new resort is simply stunning! It has a pool and hot tub and an on-site restaurant and bar for convenient dining!
Alternatively, there are some amazing holiday homes and Airbnbs to choose from in Radium – read my blog for details about my favorite ones in the area!
Related Read: Head further down the valley to the highly underrated town of Cranbrook. Contrary to what you might’ve heard, there’s plenty to do and see in Cranbrook and its surroundings!
Renting a Car in British Columbia
If you’re arriving in British Columbia via plane, then I can’t recommend getting a rental car enough. British Columbia is a large province, and traveling between the best places to visit in BC requires transport. Although you can use public transport on some occasions, this means your trip will not only require more time but more planning.
Car rental in Canada isn’t relatively cheap, but it’s not that expensive either, especially if you get a budget car. The cheapest car with a pick-up and drop-off in different locations is around $100 CAD per day. The price does vary though, depending on the time of year. For car rentals, I use the website Discover Cars. It’s a search engine with lots of deals with good customer service. In fact, I’ve used Discover Cars all over the world, including in Chile, New Zealand, and Australia.
Another popular option is to rent a campervan or motorhome (only for the brave in winter.) Using Motorhome Republic, you can search hundreds of deals across multiple companies to pick a great vehicle and the cheapest price. Having a motorhome is a stunning way to see Canada, and using crown land and campsites, you can often camp for free or very cheap in the most beautiful places imaginable!
Canada Travel Essentials
Before you decide to head off and explore the gorgeous mountains, lakes, towns, and cities around Canada it’s important to have the right equipment. Of course, it’s likely you’ll have most of the basics already but there are some common items people forget that I never travel without.
Crampons: In winter, crampons are super handy, but what people don’t realize is that they come in handy in summer too. In fact, up until mid-July, you can still expect icy conditions in the mountains. The pair I use is only $37 CAD and they have lasted me 3 seasons so far!
Waterproof shell: Most people will have this item but I thought I’d include it anyway since it’s so handy in Canada. The Columbia waterproof jacket is a lightweight windproof jacket that will seriously save you in many situations. The best part, though? It comes in pink!
Scent-proof bag (for bears): Most people think you only need to keep the smell of food away from you when you’re overnight camping. However, bears can smell the food in your bag while you’re hiking and the best way to avoid an encounter is to use a scent-proof bear bag. Basically, you put your food in the bag and the bear cannot smell it while you’re hiking. This is one item most people never have (I never hike without it) but it could save you and the bear.
Buff: I love my buff! Seriously, I go nowhere without it both in winter and summer. There are a few brands around but I always buy the original Buff (you know, the one from Survivor!) They’re a little more expensive but the material is good quality and both breathable and quick drying.
Dry bag: I have expensive camera equipment, so I always travel with a dry bag large enough to fit some of my equipment. It can be a camera, book, binoculars, or even my keys. Regardless, a dry bag gives me peace of mind! The MARCHWAY bag is really good quality, and when not in use, takes up only a small amount of room.
Binoculars: I love my binoculars! Seriously they have come in handy so many times, especially when I’m looking for wildlife. The best part is, I use a set that only costs $28 CAD and they serve my basic needs without any issues!
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
Kootenay National Park is a gem in the Rocky Mountains with beautiful scenery around every turn. From spectacular canyons and waterfalls to peaceful lakes and quiet camping spots, it’s easy to plan a fun getaway here.
With the highway running right through the park and so many nice spots just off the road, it’s a great drive to add onto a trip in the area or make this drive (and the stops along the way!) a trip all on its own. I hope this list gave you some ideas for your epic trip to Kootenay!
If you enjoyed this guide, be sure to check out some of our other Canada posts!