Some 200 kilometers (124 miles) of 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.
Interpretive Trails and Easy Walks
The most popular trails in the park lead to the Paint Pots and through Marble Canyon. At the other end of the park, the area between Redstreak Campground and the hot springs is laced with trails. One particularly scenic loop is the Juniper Trail (3.2 km/2 mi, one hour round-trip), which can be picked up just inside the park boundary. Named for the abundance of juniper berries, it provides good valley views with minimal exertion.
From McLeod Meadows Picnic Area, the Dog Lake Trail (2.6 km/1.6 mi, 40 minutes one-way) is an easy walk that ends at a small lake hidden from the highway by a forested ridge.
On a sunny day, the trail to Stanley Glacier (4.2 km/2.6 mi, 90 minutes one-way) is my favorite in the park. Beginning in the far north of the park, just seven kilometers (4.3 miles) west of the Continental Divide, it climbs steadily for two kilometers (1.2 miles), then levels off and winds through a massive U-shaped glacial valley, with the sheer face of Mount Stanley rising 500 meters (1,640 feet) above the forest to the west.
Although the trail officially ends atop a moraine after 4.2 kilometers (2.6 miles), it’s worthwhile to continue 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles) to the tree-topped plateau visible higher up the valley. 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.
The elevation gain (1,050 m/3,445 ft) on the strenuous hike to Kindersley Summit (10 km/6.2 mi, four hours one-way) will be a deterrent for many, but views from the summit will make up for the pain endured along the way. From Highway 93, two kilometers (1.2 miles) west of Sinclair Pass, the trail climbs through a valley, then switchbacks up across a number of avalanche paths and through more forest before emerging at an alpine meadow on Kindersley Pass. This is where the scenery makes the journey worthwhile, with views east to the Continental Divide and north over the Kootenay River Valley.
Of all the lakes in Kootenay National Park, none are as beautiful as Floe Lake, which, unfortunately, requires a strenuous day trip to reach (10.4 km/6.5 mi, 3.5 hours one-way, elevation gain 730 m/2,395 ft). From the trailhead eight kilometers (five miles) north of Vermilion Crossing, the trail descends through a forest devastated by a 2003 wildfire, and then parallels Floe Creek almost the entire way. Nestled in a glacial cirque, the 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.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition