Kootenay National Park, located right beside Banff National Park, is a stunning, less-visited park than its neighbor. This is a shame, as Kootenay has some exceptional hiking, skiing, snowshoeing and sight-seeing, and the drive to Radium is a pleasure in summer.
Located in southeastern British Columbia, Kootenay National Park is an often overlooked destination in the Canadian Rockies – often bypassed on the way to the more popular Banff and Jasper National Parks. We’re here to tell you that they’re missing out.
Kootenay National Park sits in the Eastern Kootenay Range of the Canadian Rockies, and while not as large as Jasper or Banff, it is 543 square miles of classic Rockies peaks, rivers, lakes and even hot springs. The main attraction is often the Vermillion River, which is located entirely within the park, as well as Radium Hot Springs. The Kootenay River and the 11,234-foot Deltaform Mountain are also located within park boundaries.
For this trip, we’re based in the village of Radium Hot Springs, where camping abounds. Another option is to base yourself in Banff, a short drive away, where there are some more comfortable lodging options.
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What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Kootenay National Park?
The park is open all year, but June through September are the most popular months for visiting, as the weather is the warmest and most of the snowpack will have melted by late May or early June. Services in the park are mostly open mid-May through mid-October.
If you’re experienced in winter mountaineering and activities, and have 4-wheel drive, then winter and early spring can still be great times to visit. It will feel like you have the entire park to yourself. And autumn is, of course, sublime, though the weather will be starting to get colder and the days shorter. Snow is common throughout the park starting in October.
Getting to Kootenay National Park
Driving to Kootenay National Park
The drive from Calgary to Kootenay National park takes around 2 hours. Getting from Kelowna to Kootenays National Park is around 5 hours drive
There is no transportation within the park, so you’ll need to rent a car to explore Kootenay National Park.
Flying to Kootenay National Park
If you’re thinking of flying to Kootenay National Park, Calgary is the nearest major airport, and is serviced by hundreds of flights and dozens of airlines from all over the world. If you’re coming from far away, flying to Calgary and then renting a vehicle at the airport and is the best option.
Where to stay depends on what you want to see. We recommend a base in either Radium or Banff, as there is very limited accommodations within the park.
Kootenay National Park Accommodations
The selection isn’t huge when it comes to Kootenay National Park accommodations. Storm Mountain Lodge is a charming collection of historical cabins located just off the highway. While the road can be heard during the day, after dinner traffic goes down to almost none, and you have a tranquil evening in stunning log cabins. Dinner in the main lodge is often a highlight, with really great food. Note that Storm Mountain Lodge has reduced hours in winter.
Find a Hotel in Kootenay National Park
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Kootenay Park Lodge, located near Vermillion Crossing, also offers a cabin experience, though the cabins aren’t as charming as Storm Mountain Lodge. The location is beautiful, and it’s only an 8 minute drive to the Floe Lake trail.
Trail of the Stanley Glacier Hike in Kootenay National Park, Canadian Rocky Mountains
Footbridge along the trail on the Stanley Glacier Hike in Kootenay National Park, Canadian Rocky Mountains
Getting accommodation in Radium is a great choice if you want to explore Kootenay National Park. Radium Hot Springs is just west of Kootenay National Park and it’s a great option if you want to spend some time on one of the warm lakes nearby or else save some money. Radium has tons of cheap lodging options, great camping, and you’re only a short drive from either Kootenay or Banff if you’re feeling extra adventurous one day.
Radium also offers easy access to Invermere, as well as Windermere Lake (we love Kinsmen Beach) during the summer, both just a short drive down Highway 95.
To begin with, Redstreak Campground overlooks the village. There are 242 sites for full hook-up, semi- hook-up and primitive camping, as well as a small selection of tent cabins that can be rented on a per-night basis. Some of the sites are truly spectacular here, though many are just average.
An awesome place to stay near Radium is The Getaway, which is located on Hwy 93 between the village and the park. It’s an affordable motel with basic, but clean and cozy rooms - and family suites with a kitchen. Coffee and breakfast are available, and most of the rooms have expansive mountain vistas right outside the window. The Getaway also has a beautiful chalet style with flower-lined balconies, reminiscent of the Alps.
Another cozy place to stay – at a good price – is the Radium Chalet. Though not “upscale,” this mountainside chalet offers clean and modern rooms with some epic views of snow-covered peaks in the distance. The suites come with kitchenettes and fireplaces for warming up after a long day hiking or cross-country skiing. There’s also the Misty River Lodge; again, not fancy, but offering simple, clean and cheap rooms a few minutes from the park entrance.
Finally, if you’re looking for a more resort-like experience, there is the Prestige Radium Hot Springs Resort. This resort has modern rooms with a spa, hot tub and swimming pool, and some great food – but without the high price tag you might be expecting.
If you want to be closer to the eastern side of Kootenay National Park, and simply go into the park for daytrips, then consider getting accommodation in Banff.
Staying in Banff will be more expensive, though the town is charming and the level of services makes it a great option.
Find a Hotel in Around Banff
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Some great places to stay in Banff are Banff Park Lodge, offering great and basic rooms on a budget, as well as the Moose Hotel and Fox Hotel and Suites if you want something a bit more upscale. And you can’t forget the luxury of the Banff Springs Hotel.
If you are looking for a hotel in Banff in summer, book early, as Banff gets sold out most nights. Rather than look for specific hotels we usually find what’s available on Booking.com or Hotels.com for our dates.
Kootenay National Park Camping
Camping in Kootenay National Park is an amazing choice that allows you to stay close to nature.
Redstreak Campground is only a 1.6 km walk from the village, where all the amenities you could ever want are located, and a 2.7 km walk from the Radium Hot Springs Pool. This campground is open from May 2 to Oct 15.
Marble Canyon Campground is located just north of Kootenay National Park. It has fewer amenities than Redstreak but it’s also cheaper. This campground is open from June 20 to Sept 9.
McLeod Meadows is located south of Kootenay National Park. It has flush toilets, disabled access and sani-dumps. It does not have hot showers, but it’s also a cheaper campground. This campground is open from June 13 to Sept 16.
Crook’s Meadow Campground is a group campsite. It’s accessible to registered not-for-profit groups and schools. It can take minimum of 20 people to a maximum of 60 people. It requires advanced registration. This campground is open from late June to early Sept.
For more information on these campgrounds, you can follow this link.
Valley on the Stanley Glacier Hike in Kootenay National Park, Canadian Rocky Mountains
Clouds on the mountain top on the Stanley Glacier Hike in Kootenay National Park, Canadian Rocky Mountains
Where to Eat near Kootenay National Park
In the park, there is not much. Only at Storm Mountain Lodge or Kootenay Park Lodge, both of which are rather upscale can you find a place to eat.
Where to eat in Radium
Radium may be small, but it’s got plenty of good eats – from casual to fine dining.
For a coffee and delicious baked goods, we love the Big Horn Café. It’s a staple morning stop when we’re camping at Redstreak.
For something unique but purely alpine, get some authentic Austrian food at The Old Salzburg Restaurant. Traditional offerings like schnitzel, spaetzle and steaks are served in a lodge that almost feels like you’ve been transported straight to Austria. You can also get good Austrian food at Helna’s Stube Restaurant, a classy but casual restaurant in similar same lodge-like digs.
If pizza is more your style, the Wildside Pizzeria is right around the corner. Fancy? No. But it’s a good place to get some delicious homemade pizza.
There’s Conrad’s Kitchen and Don Agave Cantina, both located inside the Prestige Radium Hot Springs. Conrad’s Kitchen is a great place to grab a burger in casual chic vibes, while Don Agave serves up tasty Mexican food and your choice of Tequila (and more).
Where to eat in Banff
If you’re staying in Banff, it is full of wonderful restaurants. Again, the issue in summer will be finding a table. We often use OpenTable to see availability, though it can be so busy that we will often pick up food at Nester’s Market and have a picnic in Central Park, overlooking the Bow River.
Wild river on the Stanley Glacier Hike in Kootenay National Park, Canadian Rocky Mountains
Beautiful valley surrounded by mountains on the Stanley Glacier Hike in Kootenay National Park, Canadian Rocky Mountains
Things to Do in Kootenay National Park
We visit Kootenay National Park for the same reason we visit most national parks - for the endless outdoor recreation and stunning landscapes. Hiking, mountain biking, camping, fishing, ice climbing – you name it, you can do it.
Hiking in Kootenay National Park
Need we mention that Kootenay National Park is a hiker’s paradise?
Whatever your experience level, there’s plenty of hikes for you here. You can find beautiful mountains, hot springs, waterfalls and lush forests. For those who love nature, Kootenay National Park is a great destination to spot wildlife.
If you’d like to embark on a real, multi-day backpacking odyssey, do The Rockwall. This 55 km round-trip backpack expedition will take you through 5 backcountry campgrounds, alpine meadows, passes, lush forests and multiple waterfalls in a grand tour of Rocky Mountain experiences. It’ll take 3-4 days and be worth every second.
You’ll need a Wilderness Permit for any overnight trips in the backcountry, all year round, and you can make reservations for campgrounds online starting in January for the entire hiking season.
If you’re itching to get on the trail on two wheels, Kootenay has options for you. You’ll only be able to mountain bike here from May to mid-October, but you can explore a few trails in the Park. Many cyclists like the road ride from Banff to Radium, though the hill from Castle Junction is a tough one.
Scenic Drives and Points of Interest
A peaceful way to spend an afternoon is to enjoy the park’s many scenic drives, stopping along the way for a picnic.; This is a great way to spend some time if you’ve brought the kids. Driving from Radium to Banff on Highway 93 – right through the park – only takes about 90 minutes, but if you take your time to stop and enjoy the views and have a picnic, could be stretched into a leisurely day trip.
Points of interest throughout the park include the Continental Divide; Sinclair Canyon, which Highway 93 passes through and offers some short hiking opportunities with great views of both the canyon and Redwall Fault Cliffs; and the Redstreak Restoration Area, which offers expansive views of the Columbia Valley and wide-open grassy plains that show exactly what happens after a wildfire. There’s an easy but scenic hike for the whole family.
Relaxing in the Radium Hot Springs Pools
What better way to warm up after a chilly day on the trails than a swim in a radioactive hot spring?
The Radium Hot Springs Pools are located just 3km east of Radium on Hwy 93, in Sinclair Canyon. The warm, naturally-heated and mineral-rich waters of the Springs - traditionally used to ease pain and other healing properties – are a sublime, relaxing experience.
And yes, the water really is radioactive – slight levels of radium can be detected in the water.
But don’t be alarmed. The amount you’re subject to over a short dip in the pool is practically negligible and won’t cause any harm.
Climbing in Kootenay National Park
Even if hiking and mountain biking aren’t your thing, there’s plenty to do at Kootenay National Park. If you’re experienced in rock climbing and ice climbing, there are ample opportunities all 12 months of the year. It’s all pure backcountry stuff, though, so you need to be properly prepared and equipped – as with any backcountry expedition.
Winter activities in Kootenay National Park
Ski touring and snowshoeing are also possibilities in winter. Many of the backcountry trails are safe for exploring in the winter, but many of the higher elevation ones aren’t; many are at risk for avalanches. Checking with the park rangers when you get there can help make a safe selection.
Fishing in Kootenay
Fishing is also quite popular at the many rivers and streams running through Kootenay National Park. A fishing guide with regulations is published on the Parks website.
Trail on the Stanley Glacier Hike in Kootenay National Park, Canadian Rocky Mountains
Stanley Glacier trail is one of the best hikes along Icefields Parkway
Dangers in Kootenay National Park
Never feed or approach wildlife. Always carry bear spray.
When in the backcountry you must use the food storage cables or lockers provided to suspend or secure all food, garbage, toiletries (e.g. deodorant) and cooking equipment.
Watch out for ticks and check yourself after every hike.
Even though it may look pristine, make sure you boil, treat or filter all water before drinking it.
Weather can change quickly. Make sure to bring multiple layers.
The roads may be very crowded during peak seasons. Pay attention to wildlife, especially at dusk and dawn.
Always bring sunglasses, a hat and wear sunscreen — even in winter. The sun at the alpine altitude is very strong.
The nights can get very cold — even in summer. Pack a warm sleeping bag.
More things you might want to know about Kootenay National Park
Campfires. Campfires are only allowed in campgrounds with provided fireboxes. At all other campsites a backpacking stove is required.
Preservation. Law protects all rocks, fossils, horns, antlers, wildflowers, mushrooms, nests and any other natural or historic object within the park. Leave them in their nature setting.
Insects. Make sure you bring bug spray, especially for long hiking trips.
What is Kootenay National Park known for? Kootenay National Park is known for its archaeological significance and its beautiful landscape. The park was designated as part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage site in 1984.
Do you need a park pass for Kootenay? Yes, like most national parks in Canada and the US, Kootenay National Park has an entry fee. The fee is CAD$10.00 for an adult, CAD$8.40 for seniors, $20.00 for a family or group in one vehicle. Or you can use your Parks Canada Discovery Pass. Find out more about the rates here.
What does Kootenay mean? Kootenay takes its name from the Kootenay River. The river was named for the Kutenai First Nations people.
How big is Kootenay National Park? It consists of 1.406 km2 of land.
What are the main attractions on Kootenay National Park? In addition to amazing hiking and backpacking opportunities, people are drawn to Kootenay to explore Marble Canyon, Sinclair Canyon, the Radium Hot Springs, and Paint Pots.