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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, 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 Vermilion River, which is located entirely within the park, as well as Radium Hot Springs. The Kootenay River and the 3424m Deltaform Mountain are also located within park boundaries.
Activities include everything from camping to stunning backcountry hiking and backpacking, as well as mountain biking and just relaxing in the mineral baths.
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.
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.
How to Reach Kootenay National Park
By Car: Highway 93 is the only major route through Kootenay NP, running right down the center of the park. You can access Highway 93 from the south via Highway 95, right at Radium Hot Springs, or from the northeast at Banff, via Highway 1.
By Bus: There is no transportation within the park, so you’ll need to rent a car to explore Kootenay National Park.
By Air: 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 When Visiting
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.
Accommodation within Kootenay National Park
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.
Kootenay Park Lodge, located near Vermilion 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.
There is extensive camping within Kootenay National Park, though most of the campgrounds are very basic, with Redstreak (located near Radium) having the most services.
Base yourself in Radium Hot Springs, just west of Kootenay National Park, 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 staying in Banff.
Staying in Banff will be more expensive, though the town is charming and the level of services makes it a great option.
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 look what’s available on Booking.com or Hotels.com and find what’s available for our dates.
Redstreak Campground is only a 1.6km walk from the village, where all the amenities you could ever want are located, and a 2.7km walk from the Radium Hot Springs Pool.
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.
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).
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 at we will often pick up food at Nester’s Market and have a picnic in Central Park, overlooking the Bow River.
When we do eat in Banff, we love places like Eddie Burger Bar, Block Kitchen + Bar, Nourish Bistro (for Vegetarian fare) and Coyotes. The Grizzly House is also a great fondue option. If you’re up for a walk, the Banff Springs Hotel has two great options: Grapes Wine Bar and The Waldhaus, which has our favourite fondue in Banff.
Things to Do While You’re in Kootenay National Park
We hit up Kootenay NP 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 and Backpacking
Need we mention that Kootenay NP is a hiker’s paradise?
Whatever your experience level, there’s plenty of hikes for you here.
If you’ like to embark on a real, multi-day backpacking odyssey, do The Rockwall. This 55.0km 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 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. It’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 3.0km 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.
Other Things to Do in Kootenay
Even if hiking and mountain biking aren’t your thing, there’s plenty to do at Kootenay NP. 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.
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 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.
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.
- Pay attention to avalanche conditions, especially at higher altitudes.
- 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.
What Else to Know About Visiting Kootenay National Park?
- Campfires are only allowed on campgrounds with provided fireboxes. On all other campsites a backpacking stove is required.
- 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.
- Make sure you bring bug spray – especially for long hiking trips.