Not as famous as the other Nationals Parks in the Canadian Rockies, Kootenay National Park is nevertheless filled with stunning landscapes and fantastic hikes to do. On top of that, the park is mostly packed with easy, moderate, or difficult hikes, which can therefore correspond to everyone. In this blog post, I share with you the perfect hiking day in Kootenay National park with two of the most beautiful hikes in the region.
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How to get to Kootenay National Park?
Kootenay National Park is part of the Canadian Rockies and is located in the Southeastern part of British Columbia. In other words, Kootenay National Park shares one of its borders with the very well-known Banff National Park. Consequently, it’s very easy to access this National Park. Indeed, different roads lead to the different entrances of the park:
- from Radium Hot Springs (British Columbia)
- from Banff village (Alberta)
- from Lake Louise village (Alberta)
How to move around Kootenay National Park?
As you can imagine, all the National Parks across Canada are vast, with no exception for Kootenay National Park. Moreover, the trailheads of the different hikes are at various locations and the distances from your accommodation to the hike can be long. Thus, to be able to discover the region autonomously, it seems to me essential to have your means of locomotion. Not to mention that it is always nice to explore the park at your own pace through these beautiful mountain roads.
Honestly, I don’t see how it would be possible to visit the park without a means of transportation. Indeed, there are no public buses as such. Of course, you can surely find tour companies that will take you on some hiking trips. But do you want to hike with other people all the time and be dependent on them? And frankly, you won’t find a tour company for every hike you want to do.
For all my backpackers out there, another important thing to note is that hitchhiking is illegal. In fact, as per the law, it’s forbidden to pick up a hitchhiker and the driver could be fined. So you can imagine that you won’t easily find a kind soul to help you.
This is why, as per my own experience, you have three different options to move around Kootenay National Park:
- by car
- by camping cars or van
- by electric bike or classic bike (it may surprise you but we met so many of them along the roads!)
“For anyone visiting Kootenay National Park from Banff or Lake Louise, I recommend filling up at the Petro Canada gas station located in Lake Louise village as this is where we found the cheapest gas in all the Rockies.”
How long to stay in Kootenay National Park?
As mentioned above, Kootenay National Park offers a variety of day hikes and even multi-day hikes. As a result, you can stay for several days to explore the park in depth. To give you an idea, the multi-day hikes range from 2 days up to 5 days for the longest (called “the Rockwall”). Find all the info for the backpacking hike here.
Regarding the day hikes, more than half of them are considered from an easy to moderate level. As a result, it can allow you to combine two hikes per day for example. The rest of the day hikes are of a more challenging level with much higher distances such as 20 km (return).
If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, I can recommend spending a full day in Kootenay National Park to discover two of the most beautiful hikes (see section “what to do” for all the details). Otherwise, for travelers with more time on their hands, you can easily stay between three days to two weeks in case you want to explore more or do multi-day hikes.
Where to stay in Kootenay National Park?
- in case you’re traveling through the Rockies mountains by staying in hotels/Airbnb, it may be a good option to stay at Banff village. Indeed, this will also allow you to visit Banff National Park without changing accommodations. Check out my full Banff National Park travel here.
- in case you’re traveling through the Rockies mountains by staying camping, it may be better to stay in one of the five front-country campings inside Kootenay National Pak. You can find all the details about the campgrounds here.
- in case you’re planning to do multi-day hikes, there are six backcountry campings in Kootenay National Park. Five out of six are along the Rockwall trail, which is the longest of the park (110 km – return). Just keep in mind that backcountry camping spots are usually booked 3 months in advance, so book your spot as soon as possible to avoid any disappointment. Check the backcountry campgrounds in Kootenay National Park here.
Things to know before visiting Kootenay National Park
- in 2003, almost 20’000 hectares were burned through Kootenay National Park. Even though it’s been years since this terrible wildlife happened, you can still see the damage and the burnt forest that hasn’t recovered yet.
- Kootenay National park is one of the parks in the Rockies that is prone to ticks during the summer months. Therefore, I recommend you hike in long pants and apply anti-mosquito spray.
- as with any mountain environment, there is a risk of avalanches. It may surprise you, but avalanche warnings can still be active until the end of the summer (August). It’s therefore essential to check the condition of the trail before each hike. To do so, click here to get the trail conditions.
- trails are not maintained between October and May. In other words, trails are most likely not in good condition or even not practicable with fallen trees, avalanche debris, etc.
- campings operate from mid-May to early October only.
- if you want to camp in a backcountry campground, you need to book your spot way in advance to avoid any disappointment. Usually, the spots are open in a 3-month advance window. To book, go to the government website, create an account with your data and that’s it.
- wild camping is prohibited in Canada. You must camp only in a designated area with a valid pass, always. There are five front country campgrounds and six backcountry campgrounds inside Kootenay National Parks.
- as its name indicates, Kootenay is a National Park. As a result, you must use a pass to enter the park. The price for a day pass is CAD 10,50 per adult, free for youth until 12 years old, and CAD 21 for a family in the same vehicle (up to 7 people). Therefore, if you plan to visit the Rockies mountains and its National Parks, I highly suggest you buy an annual pass (also called a “discovery pass”). The discovery pass will be paid off after 7 days of use in any national park. This pass gives you access for a full year to all the National Parks and historical sites of Canada. You can either buy a family pass, which works for 7 people in the same vehicle (CAD 145,25), or an individual pass (CAD 72,25). The pass needs to be displayed in front of the windshield at all times. In addition to saving money, you will save time at the park entrances by using the fast line.
- Most of the parking at the trailhead is small. Thus, I can recommend you enough to start the hike early as possible. As per my experience, the parking lots get full starting from 10:00 am.
- Wildlife is everywhere in Canada. While encountering a wild animal, always keep a safe distance. Remember you are in their home, you are only a visitor.
- Remember you are hiking in a bear country. So always make noise while hiking and have your bear spray with you at all times. You can find bear spray at the MEC store (around CAD 50). If you don’t want to buy bear spray, you can rent one in some tourist places like Banff or Lake Louise Visitor Center.
What to do in Kootenay National Park in a day?
Now that you know all about Kootenay National Park, it’s time to share with you two of the best hikes you can take during a day in the park. Please always check the conditions of the trail here before hiking.
Stanley Glacier Trail
Located in the Vermillion river area, the Stanley Glacier trail offers spectacular views along the way. Indeed, you will have the chance to hike through a beautiful valley, offering spectacular views of mountain peaks, rivers, and fir trees. Not to mention the Stanley Glacier at the end of the hike.
The officially maintained hiking trail is 10,4 km roundtrip (out and back). In other words, after 5,2 km, you will see a sign indicating that the trail is no longer maintained from that point on. That doesn’t mean that it is forbidden to continue the trail, but simply that the path might be more difficult and potentially more dangerous with many rocks, deadfall trees, etc. Therefore, if you feel confident about the trail condition, I suggest you continue to the top because the view gets better and better. On top of that, you will be able to see the Stanley Glacier up close, which is the whole point, isn’t it?
The trail starts with switchbacks surrounded by fir trees with a breathtaking view of the surrounding mountains (from there, you can even see the burned forest from the 2003 wildfire). Then, the further you hike, the more you will be in the middle of the valley, surrounded by impressive mountain cliffs. From the sign mentioned above, you will gain even more height to finally finish the hike at the top with a clear view of the whole valley.
I would consider the Stanley Glacier trail as a moderate hike. However, the last part of the trail (after the sign) would be considered very difficult for me. Indeed, the last kilometer or so is very steep along the edge with many small rocks, which makes the path very slippery.
As the trail is located in a valley, be well aware of the avalanche risk. Always check the trail conditions before hiking.
“There are two different ways to get to the summit after the sign. Since we hiked it both ways (we went up one side and down the other), I would highly recommend hiking only on the right side as it seems to me that the trail is a little less rocky.”
10,4 km (return) - 615 m elevation gain
Marble Canyon trail
The Marble Canyon Trail is a perfect hike to combine with the Stanley Glacier Trail. The trailheads are only a 3-minute drive from each other. On top of that, since this trail is easy and short, it’s a great way to end the day.
The trail is well-marked so it is surely suitable for kids or anyone that want to have fun along the Vermillion river and its canyon!
“If you still have some energy to spare, you can extend the hiking trail to the Paint pots. Indeed, after 200 meters on Marble Canyon trail, you will see a sign saying that the paint pots are located 2,9 km away on the left hand side. This detour will add 5,8 km to your initial hike.”
2 km (return) - 65 m elevation gain
To sum up, Kootenay National Park is one of the many National Parks of the Canadian Rockies mountains that offers fantastic, postcard-perfect scenery. From day hikes to multi-day hikes, the park provides hiking options for everyone. Moreover, it’s easily accessible from any part of the Canadian Rockies and its National Parks.
I sincerely hope I have inspired you to add Kootenay National Park to your list next time you visit Canada. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out! I would love to share more with you.
Anyway, don’t forget to check out all my posts related to Canada here to get more inspiration!
Sending you lots of love,