The Canadian Rockies is blessed to have a spectacular array of national parks worth exploring. Inevitably, visitors will head to this part of Canada in hope of experiencing the amazing natural attractions throughout Jasper and Banff National Parks but we would argue that there is a third option that you cannot afford to miss out on – Kootenay National Park. After spending an amazing few days in the aforementioned parks, we opted to take the drive from Banff to Kootenay National Park to enjoy a day trip exploring British Columbia.
If you read our recent post on the drive from Jasper to Banff National Park, you will know that this region of Alberta isn’t short of natural beauty. In fact, it’s blessed to have a myriad of amazing attractions waiting for you to discover. The same can be said when you head across the border between Alberta and British Columbia to explore Kootenay National Park.
The Continental Divide bordering the two provinces may be an imaginary line but it’s certainly a significant location for more reasons than you may know…more on that later! Hopefully, after reading our post, you will be inspired to add Kootenay National Park to your itinerary.
Kootenay National Park – A Hidden Gem
Let’s just face the facts, if you asked anyone to name a national park in the Canadian Rockies, the likelihood is that 99.9% of responses would contain the names Banff or Jasper National Park. How many would realistically name Kootenay National Park when asked this question? Kootenay National Park is located in southeastern British Columbia and covers an area of over 540 square miles.
Kootenay National Park is located in southeastern British Columbia and covers an area of over 540 square miles. Established in 1920 when an agreement was made to form a road across the Rockies connecting British Columbia with Alberta, Kootenay offers a distinctive blend of unique contrasts, ranging from gorgeous panoramic vistas to breathtaking icy mountain rivers.
Drive from Banff to Kootenay National Park
The start of the drive from Banff to Kootenay National Park is relatively painless (unless you stumble across a burning vehicle as we did after leaving the Trans-Canada Highway 1) and it doesn’t take long before you arrive at a plethora of amazing spots you will want to explore.
We will share a few of the attractions that we experienced during our road trip but how much time you have to spend here will determine just how much of Kootenay you want to explore. The drive from Banff to Kootenay National Park along Highway 93 leads all the way to Radium Hot Springs, before connecting with Highway 95 that heads north-south through southeast British Columbia.
Whether it’s the Continental Divide where you can capture a selfie at a spot that marks the divide between two drainage basins or a variety of overlooks that you cannot help but fall in love with when you see the beauty in front of you, this part of the Canadian Rockies is an untouched wilderness that is the epitome of breathtaking elegance.
Although driving through Kootenay National Park is an incredible experience, we strongly encourage you to spend some time enjoying the various hiking trails throughout this landscape.
There is so much to see along the way, you can’t help but get out and stretch your legs! (Parks Canada)
Let’s take a look at some of the iconic spots you can enjoy along the drive from Banff to Radium Hot Springs.
How cool is it to stand at an invisible location knowing that you are at a point where the water starts flowing in different directions? The Continental Divide is a point from which water flows to both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and as you approach the entrance to Kootenay National Park, you have the opportunity to grab a quick selfie and also learn more information about the history and geology of this landmark.
The Continental Divide is also commonly referred to as the “Great Divide” and the Canadian Rocky Mountains is the perfect spot to learn about this geological phenomenon because of the height of the land.
Visiting this landmark is a cool experience but don’t worry, you likely won’t need to spend much time here because the beauty of Kootenay National Park awaits!
Marble Canyon offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the geological development of this area in addition to a microcosm of the Rocky Mountains in general. For over 500 million years before the Rocky Mountains formed in this region, a shallow tropical sea covered this part of Canada. The carbonate sediments deposited during this time are what we now see forming the limestone and dolomite rock formations throughout the canyon.
Learning about the history not only puts into perspective the beauty of Marble Canyon but it also enables you to have a much greater appreciation of your surroundings. Take a moment at the start of the trailhead to relax by the banks of the Kootenay River and enjoy the spectacular landscape in front of you.
If you are brave enough, take this opportunity to remove your socks and shoes and feel the arctic cold glacial water flowing downstream. It will certainly awaken your sense!
The round-trip walk along the self-guided trail takes around 30 minutes though you may want to spend longer here if you find spots to enjoy the scenery. Although it’s a pretty popular spot in Kootenay National Park, you certainly won’t have to deal with the number of visitors that you likely experienced at attractions in Jasper and Banff!
Numa Falls is a controversial location in Kootenay National Park that I contemplated not mentioning simply because of the dangers associated with this spot. However, the beauty of this spot is such that I felt everyone deserves to know about it and you can all make your own judgment as to whether it’s worth experiencing.
Let’s start with the dangers associated with this location. When you see Numa Falls, you will know exactly what I am referring to. The power of the water flowing down the gorge is such that any slip could be costly.
The trail to reach Numa Falls was closed during our recent trip because of the bridge crossing the river was washed out. Signage around the trail indicated that “Numa Creek Trail was closed because of a bridge wash out.”
However, despite the sign showing the obvious dangers, the trail wasn’t actually closed and we soon entered an area of forest that was easy to navigate. As we approached the end of the trail and noticed the bridge was washed out, we realized exactly why the sign was there. The drop off the edge of the rocks was pretty intense but even from a safe distance, you can enjoy stunning views of Numa Falls.
Effective May 1, 2017, until further notice…
The Numa Trail is not accessible for use from either the lower or upper access points due to the bridge being washed out over the Vermilion River. (Parks Canada)
***We are NOT encouraging you to dismiss the above notice and you should always follow the guidelines and signage.***
Hopefully, this area of Kootenay National Park will be renovated in the near future and Numa Falls will be accessible from the trail. If you visit Kootenay National Park in the near future, please let us know if the Numa Falls trail is reopened by commenting below!
The drive from Banff to Kootenay National Park is predominantly alongside the Kootenay River and you will stumble across several opportunities to enjoy the beauty of this natural attraction. Our final stop before heading back to Banff was a gorgeous picnic area on the banks of the Kootenay River.
A bridge crossing the river provided a perfect focal point for pictures of the river and also enabled us to explore the other side though it’s the amount of gorgeous scenery surrounding you that makes Kootenay National Park such an amazing destination worth visiting.
Other Areas to Explore
Regardless of which spots you choose to visit, simply exploring Kootenay National Park will leave you speechless. When you have the opportunity to admire stunning panoramic scenes such as the one below, it’s difficult to leave this behind.
Rather than driving all the way to Radium Hot Springs, we actually turned around and headed back to spend more time at Marble Canyon and enjoy the gorgeous Kootenay River. There are plenty of spots along this drive that you may want to revisit or simply enjoy lunch before continuing your journey.
Here are some other spots that we would love to explore the next time we experience Kootenay National Park:
- Radium Hot Springs – At the south entrance of Kootenay National Park, Radium Hot Springs is a small village that is predominantly renowned for the natural hot springs that visitors can enjoy. The world-famous mineral pools are surrounded by natural rock walls and are the perfect place to relax. Arriving in Radium Hot Springs, visitors are greeted with the following and I think it’s fair to say, Kootenay National Park certainly achieve this goal.
The mountains shall bring peace to the people
- Olive Lake – An impromptu visit to Olive Lake as you approach Radium Hot Springs will offer a rewarding experience with an easily accessible trail taking you to an overlook across the lake.
- Sinclaire Canyon – The hike to Sinclair Falls is a short trail from the Juniper Trail that is within the Sinclaire Canyon. A number of switchbacks make this a relatively easy and accessible trail.
- Kootenay Valley Viewpoint – A visit to the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint offers a stunning panoramic view across the national park. If you driving through Kootenay National Park in the opposite direction, you will likely catch a glimpse here of everything you will enjoy later.
I am sure you will agree that Kootenay National Park will never have the same appeal as Jasper or Banff but that should take nothing away from the beauty this part of the Canadian Rockies possesses. If you have time while exploring Banff, we strongly encourage you to consider taking a day trip or even just a few hours, to enjoy the drive from Banff to Kootenay National Park.
We opted to drive about half way into Kootenay and this was sufficient for us to capture a sense of the beauty throughout the park. Aside from Numa Falls which is potentially still inaccessible for visitors, the beauty throughout Marble Canyon and along the Kootenay River is something you cannot afford to miss.
Our adventures in Kootenay National Park support our claims that the Canadian Rockies is an unbelievable destination that should be on everyone’s radar. We are already planning a return trip to this part of Canada and we hope you will too!
Have you experienced the Canadian Rockies and in particular, Kootenay National Park?