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Road Trip Guide to Kootenay National Park

British Columbia is full of natural beauty that demands attention and awe. While there are many splendid regions, my personal favourite is the Kootenays crowned by the incredible Kootenay National Park. Come meander with me with this road trip guide to Kootenay National Park, from Radium Hot Springs to Banff National Park, where nature's wonders and fascinating history await your discovery.


Unveiling the Treasures of Kootenay National Park

Kootenay National Park, nestled in the heart of the Canadian Rockies, boasts a rich history dating back to the indigenous Ktunaxa (k-TOO-nah-ha) people who inhabited the region for thousands of years. The park was first established in 1920 as part of an agreement with the federal government to build a road through the Rocky Mountains. Here, you'll find stunning glacial mountains, rushing rivers, hot springs, and wide alpine meadows. While the drive through the park can be done in about 90 minutes, I urge you to plan to spend the day exploring. Make some stops along the way to stretch your legs, explore trails and points of interest, and sit and enjoy the views. Be prepared for changing weather conditions as you drive through the park.

a wooden boardwalk over a wetland area with mountains in the background
Paint Pots Trail, Kootenay National Park

National Park Pass

Everyone who wants to stop along the way will need to purchase a Parks Canada Pass. You can choose to get just a day pass, but this area is surrounded by National Parks, including Yoho, Glacier, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Mount Revelstoke, so for those planning to explore further, I recommend getting the Discovery Pass which gives you access to all National Parks for a year.


Day Pass: Adult $11 Senior $9.50 Family $22

Discovery Pass: Adult $75.25 Senior $64.50 Family $151.25

Canadian Military, Youth under 17, and new Canadians are free


Before visiting, order your pass online, or at the entrance in Radium or Banff National Park. You will need it to park everywhere inside the park.


The Parks Canada app is a treasure trove of great information. Kootenay National Park is one of the parks that includes a mobile tour where you can download a narrated tour as you drive. As you approach each point of interest, the app provides interesting facts. Former park employees and locals share personal stories between stops, which I found fascinating.

A Parks Canada Discovery Pass hanging from a rear view mirror
Parks Canada Discovery Pass

Accommodations

I travel in my much-loved converted van, Wanda, and do not use hotels, B&Bs, or hostels on my road trips, so I cannot give advice on particular accommodations. At either end of the drive, there are many options available in Radium and Golden. This route starts in Radium, and I would recommend staying there.


No wild camping is allowed within national parks. If you plan to camp, you must choose an official campground. Due to the popularity of this park, it is unlikely that you will find a first-come, first-serve front-country site, so reservations are strongly recommended (reservations open in January and sell out quickly). Be aware that Fire permits are required whether you plan to have a fire or not. Fire permits cost an extra $11 on top of the campground fee.

Front Country Camping

I am a 'front country' camper, which means I want to drive into my site. "Backcountry" campgrounds are hike-in and require campers to carry everything in and out. There are options for both in Kootenay National Park. I have not stayed in any of the campgrounds, mainly because my road trips tend to be very flexible. I change plans to fit weather and wildfire conditions, making definite dates difficult to determine.

Redstreak Campground

Redstreak is the biggest campground in the park and closest to Radium. The hot springs pool is within walking distance of the campground. It is open from late April to mid-October. There is a range of camping options, from unserviced tent sites to RV sites with full hook-ups. Campers can also stay in one of the glamping tents unique to Parks Canada. oTENTiks are large cabin-style tent structures with all the comforts of a self-catering cottage.

a large canvas cabin on a wooden platform with a picnic table in front deck
oTENTik in Redstreak Campground. Image credit: Parks Canada

McLeod Meadows

McLeod Meadows campground is located in the valley on the banks of the Kootenay River near the Dog Lake Trail. The open meadows burst with wildflowers during the early summer and are a great place to view wildlife. The campground is open from early June to early September.


The sites here are not serviced and not suitable for larger RVs.

An a-line rustic cabin with log and plank benches in front
McLeod Meadows

Marble Canyon Campground

Marble Canyon Campground, like the name suggests, is close to Marble Canyon. While the forested sites with spectacular mountain views are a very attractive feature, it is the many trails in the area that make it ideal for those who want to explore the canyon more.


Sites here are unserviced and not suitable for larger RVs and trailers.


Kootenay National Park Road Trip Guide

This drive can be done in either direction but I prefer the Radium to Banff route. For those coming from Alberta, simply reverse the stops as I listed them. As you drive, keep an eye out for wildlife along the road. Kootenay Park is home to elk, bighorn sheep, brown and grizzly bears, deer, and many species of birds.



Radium Hot Springs

Radium Hot Springs is a small village nestled between the Purcell Mountains and the Rockies. Its main attraction is the hot mineral pools for which the village is named. The area also features hiking trails, picnic areas, and stunning mountain views of Sinclair Canyon. Radium Hot Springs relies heavily on tourism, drawing visitors year-round to support local businesses.

A large sculpture in the form of big horn sheep horns
Radium Hot Springs Village. Credit: Radium Hot Springs Village

The village Visitor Centre has a small museum with exhibits explaining the area's history, geology, and wildlife. You can buy your park pass here.

A taxidermied young big horn sheep
Radium Visitor's Centre

Radium Hot Springs has a long history. Indigenous peoples used it for healing. European settlers found the springs in the 19th century and developed into a tourist centre by the early 20th century. Kootenay National Park's establishment in 1920 increased its popularity. In 1951, the Canadian government renovated the pools, making them more modern.

a pool with soaking people with a rocky cliff in the background
Radium Hot Springs Soaking Pool

I suggest heading to the Springs the day before your road trip so you can soak as long as you like. Amenities include change rooms, a day spa, and a gift shop. The natural hot springs are piped into the hot pool, so while you won't be soaking in a natural pool, you will experience the benefits of a mineral soak. Visitors can rent bathing costumes and towels if those items aren't on your packing list. For a bit of fun, you might want to rent a 1920s-style suit for some 'vintage' photos.


Sinclair Canyon

Sinclair Canyon is a dramatic entrance to the park when approached from the south via Highway 93. The canyon, with its towering red cliffs, provides a natural gateway to the village of Radium Hot Springs and the hot springs themselves


The road through Sinclair Canyon, known as the Banff-Windermere Highway (Highway 93), was a tremendous engineering feat. The canyon was initially carved by water but widened when the road was built. Despite challenging terrain, the construction team created a route that showcases the area's natural beauty. There is a place to park on the far side of the canyon. Stop here to walk along the pedestrian path for photos and learn more about the canyon via an interpretive display at the lookout.


Olive Lake

Olive Lake is a small lake right beside the highway. An easy path follows the lake edge. The crystal clear water allows visitors to glimpse the fish swimming beneath the surface.



Kootenay Valley Viewpoint

This will be a brief rest stop with one of the best views in the park. One of the interpretive panels tells a warning tale of French Fry, the Grizzly Bear who a passing driver fed french fries to. French Fry soon began approaching others for a tasty snack, leading Parks staff to implement hazing strategies to persuade her to move out of the area. It worked, but some bears resist the hazing and must be destroyed after being fed by humans. Please don't be tempted to feed the wildlife.

3 snow capped mountains behind two forested mountains
Kootenay Valley Viewpoint

You will likely spot a black bear or big horn sheep along your journey. Parks staff prefer that you don't stop,--- but if you do, take photos through the window and remain in your vehicle at least 100m from the animal.


Dolly Varden Picnic Site

This is rest stop with a terrific exhibit demonstrating how Parks Canada helps local wildlife safely cross the highway using underpasses. These underpasses, combined with fencing have dramatically reduced animal fatalities.

A small overpass playground with a playground size underpass
Dolly Vaden Picnic Site

Families with young children will find it a great place to stop for a picnic and an opportunity for kids to run around.

Numa Falls

A lovely stop with a short walk over a bridge to Numa Falls, part of the Vermilion River. Look along the water's edge to discover potholes and smooth curved stones created by the rushing waters. Continue walking to get to the falls.


Paint Pots

The Paint Pots trail is my favourite along this route. These natural ochre beds were used by the indigenous people for ceremonial purposes. From the parking spot, there is an easy trail that leads to an open meadow with small ponds brilliantly coloured red and green. A boardwalk leads over the wetland, allowing visitors to get close without damaging this delicate ecosystem.

A view of a stream through red coloured mud with a meadow in the middle ground and a snow capped mountain in the background
Paint Pots Trail

Marble Canyon

Marble Canyon is a spectacular dolomite canyon carved and sculpted by Tokkum Creek over thousands of years. Follow the 1.5 km trail that zig-zags across seven bridges to reach the waterfall.


Look for the iconic Parks Canada Red Chairs near the trail's end. These chairs can be found in many national parks and are situated to take advantage of spectacular views.


Continental Divide Rest Stop

This rest stop is a great photo opportunity and is the highest elevation on this road. This is where the Rockies separate the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. From this point, the waters flow towards both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Look for the white marker and pour a little water to see how the water flows. Get a picture of yourself with one foot in each province.

A faded sign showing the point of the Continental Divide and boundary between BC and Alberta
Continental Divide

Final Thoughts

This road trip from Radium Hot Springs to Banff National Park offers more than just stunning landscapes; it invites you to explore a region of diverse ecosystems. From the therapeutic waters of Radium Hot Springs and the dramatic entrance of Sinclair Canyon to the serene beauty of Olive Lake and the captivating Paint Pots, each stop reveals a new facet of the park’s unique charm. Whether hiking the trails, soaking in the hot springs, or marvelling at geological wonders, Kootenay National Park promises an unforgettable adventure.

A view of rust and green coloured ponds in a mountain wetland meadow
Paint Pots Trail

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Are you ready to start on a solo road trip through Kootenay National Park? Share your thoughts and experiences below!

12 opmerkingen


Emma Gilbert
Emma Gilbert
a day ago

How beautiful is Kootenay Valley Viewpoint? What a spot. And a reminder that I haven't spent nearly enough time in this area, with nothing more than the briefest of stops, for all the times I've been to the Rockies now. More trips needed I think, including the Paint Pots trail and Olive lake. I have to admit I love those wildlife underpasses they have around that area. Ingenious!!

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
13 hours ago
Reageren op

We really do live in a beautiful province! I haven't done a lot of stopping on my previous trips through KNP, I am so glad I took my time on this journey. The app tour was really well done and very interesting!

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Gast
5 days ago

Nature has been generous with Canada and you continue to give us wonderful articles in which you show us not only the natural beauty but also the culture of the country, region by region.

The views from the Kootenay Valley Viewpoint, Paint Pots and Marble Canyon are breathtaking!

Great tips on passes and lodging! Angela | Blonde Around The World Travel -

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
5 days ago
Reageren op

This is one of my favourite park drives for the stunning beauty. The Parks Canada drive app with the stories and information that played as I drove was a real treat. I hope they develop more of these for other parks.

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I've been looking forward to seeing where your road trip will take you this year. I never cease to admire the gorgeous Canadian countryside. Olive Lake and Marble Canyon are just stunning. And, as someone who's a bit of a geography geek, do love seeing a continental divide! I also appreciate the practical info about travelling, especially the requirement for park passes and the useful app.

Mitch and Colin from https://www.verytastyworld.com/

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
5 days ago
Reageren op

😂 I'm glad to know at least one of my readers is also a geography geek! I can spend a ridiculous amount of time revelling in my recognition of geological formations!

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Whilst i love city visits to admire the architecture and history of the building, it's good to also get out into the countryside and admire nature.

The area certainly has lots to see with such a mixture of mountains, lakes, hiking trails and even a natural spring pool.

Like you, I'd explore this area by van - it seems so huge that hiking would mean I only get to see a small part of it.

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
13 jul.
Reageren op

I agree. I love history, art, and architecture but I find being in the wilds connects me to the earth. I guess that's why my travel experiences are so eclectic!

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Gast
10 jul.

The more I look at the pictures the more I'm drawn to the Marble Canyon. What a pretty sight! Plus the Radium Hot Springs call out to me. Canada doesn't run out of surprisingly stunning landscapes and geological wonders and the best way to experience them is to soak in all the nature - slowly #flyingbaguette


Jan - https://flyingbaguette.com/

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
10 jul.
Reageren op

Marble Canyon is beautiful! I really enjoyed it. The depth of the canyon carved by the water is immense. It is always mind-blowing that water is such a powerful carver of stone. Hot Springs are always a treat! There will be plenty on this trip!

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