Most visitors have heard of Alberta’s Banff and Jasper National Parks, and the crowds there reflect their popularity! Many people are unaware of their nearby neighbor, Kootenay National Park, which is absolutely stunning.
If you want to avoid crowds and see amazing things that aren’t as Instagram-worthy (but no less worthy), Kootenay National Park is a great addition to your British Columbia or Canadian Rockies itinerary! It has incredible hot springs, sweeping views, hikes, and more without the crowds of nearby Banff and Jasper. Aside from the park itself, there are numerous other amazing places to visit nearby.
Where is Kootenay National Park?
Kootenay National Park is located in Canada’s southeastern British Columbia. It is close to Banff National Park. When you pay for admission to any of the four parks nearby (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, and Kootenay), you can visit any of the four for the days you’ve paid for. To visit Kootenay, you’ll need a car.
Kootenay National Park is approximately a ten-hour drive from Seattle (going through Spokane and north through Idaho and into British Columbia). It’s about a 9-hour drive north and east from Vancouver, passing through Kamloops (a very scenic drive).
You could fly to Spokane (5 hour drive) or Calgary for a shorter drive (2 hours). Driving through Calgary entails passing through Banff, which is also extremely beautiful!
What is the best season to visit Kootenay National Park?
I’ve visited Kootenay several times, always in September. I believe this is the best time to visit because the summer crowds have dissipated (in Kootenay, but NOT in nearby Banff, which is still extremely crowded) but it is not yet winter. I prefer less crowds to good weather, so the rainy weather I experienced there in September was ideal! If you prefer warmer weather (but keep in mind that this is the rocky mountains!) The months of June through August are ideal for a visit.
I’ve never visited Kootenay in the winter, but I’d love to. The hot springs are open all winter, and Radium has lodging and food available all year. There are also opportunities for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Things to do in Kootenay National Park
Boom Lake is well worth the effort!
Boom Lake is a beautiful lake surrounded by glacier-capped peaks with an amazing view of Boom Mountain’s north side. While it isn’t technically in Kootenay National Park, it is close by and well worth a visit.
The Boom Lake Trail is a relatively easy 3-4 hour roundtrip hike that is best done between June and October. You’ll pass through a forested area on your way to your final destination, a pristine lake with a stunning mountain backdrop. This hike is especially enjoyable in the summer because it is mostly shaded (though it can get muddy in places) and you can swim in the lake, though it is very cold!
When you arrive at the lake, you’ll notice that it’s surrounded by massive rocks due to an old rockslide. This means there are plenty of places to sit and take in the scenery. While sitting and watching, you may hear loons calling or even spot an eagle. This lake provides a stunning view of the north face of Boom Mountain, which is located on the border between Alberta and British Columbia.
Trail to the Stanley Glacier
The Stanley Glacier Trail, described as a great mix of fire and ice, is a must-do activity in Kootenay National Park. The trail takes you through an area that was burned in forest fires in 1968 and 2003 and is now regrowing with beautiful wildflowers, willows, and lodgepole pine trees. The upper section of the trail then offers spectacular views of the Stanley Glacier and glacier meltwater falls that cascade down massive rock walls.
The hike to the end of the trail is 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles) long and should take about three hours round-trip. It leads to a large area with rocks to sit on and gaze out at Stanley Glacier and one of the waterfalls. Once you’ve arrived, you can continue walking across the boulder field to get a better look at the glacier! Bears are frequently spotted in this area, so keep an eye out for them.
The Marble Canyon
Marble Canyon is one of the best Kootenay National Park attractions because it is both accessible and breathtaking. Start your walk along the bright, blue waters of Tokumm Creek by parking in the Marble Canyon parking lot just off the highway.
The Marble Canyon trail is less than 1 km (0.6 miles) long and allows you to hike along the canyon’s edge and across seven different bridges. These bridges allow you to see the steep drop into the canyon where the creek’s powerful waters have carved out the limestone rock walls.
This is the ideal way to unwind and enjoy the natural beauty of Kootenay National Park. Marble Canyon, McLeod Meadows, Crook’s Meadow (only available for group camping of 20 or more people), and Redstreak are the four front-country campgrounds to choose from. All are close to nice walking trails and scenic views. Make sure to get a park entry pass and a camping permit ahead of time!
Campsites can typically be reserved from June to September, though this varies by campground. Any dates that you are unable to reserve are first come, first served. There are many critters (both big and small!) around here, so keep your campsite clean and don’t leave any food out at night or when you leave. Park employees patrol campgrounds and can revoke permits if you do not.
Seeing as much wildlife as possible is one of the best things to do in Kootenay National Park! The best times to see larger animals like deer, elk, and moose are at dawn and dusk. The most common deer to be seen along the highway are white-tailed deer. Bears, mule deer, wolves, cougars, lynx, ground squirrels, porcupines, and mountain goats are among the other animals that may be seen.
While grizzly bears are uncommon, this park is home to a large number of them. We once saw a grizzly bear here, and it was quite a sight! Because of the possibility of encountering a bear, always carry bear spray and avoid leaving food out while hiking in this area.