Kootenay National Park protects 347,430 acres in the Canadian Rockies. It borders Banff National Park on the northeast and Yoho National Park on the northwest. Kootenay National Park was established in 1920 as part of an agreement to build the Banff-Windermere Highway, the first motor road across the Canadian Rockies. Since it was a short travel day, we stopped on the way for a hike along the aqua, glacier-fed Simpson River.
This area burned in 2001, opening up terrific views along the entire trail. Fire is not always a bad thing in a forest. Ironically, fire suppression in the 20th century led to an unnatural buildup of ground clutter that resulted in raging, highly-destructive wildfires. 21st century forest management now includes regular natural and controlled-burn fires to reduce ground clutter, control pests such as the pine beetle, and open up mature forests for new growth to perpetuate the natural forest cycle.
Our dogs love to walk in the ice-cold streams. It’s great for us too because then we don’t have to carry water for them as we did in the desert.
One advantage of coming to the Canadian Rockies in late May is the mountains are still heavily covered in snow, which seems to emphasize their grandeur and beauty.
We saw six black bears along the road while driving through Kootenay (yes, black bears can sometimes be brown). For more information, please check out our blog article about bears.
This was our first attempt at dispersed camping in Canada. After much research, Theresa was able to find highly-detailed forest road maps for the area. But unlike the maps provided for free by the U.S. Forest Service, these relatively expensive Canadian Backroad Mapbooks do not explicitly label along which roads we can dispersed camp. But a knowledgeable ranger in Kootenay Park recommended a road along an overlook above the small town of Radium Hot Springs, where we found this terrific camping spot. It had a great view of the entire valley, and we could even see Kootenay National Park peeking through the mountain slot shown in the middle of the photo above.
This is looking up from the valley wetlands to our dispersed camping spot. Click on the photo above to view a larger version and see if you can spot our RV on the bluff in the center of the photo. The only downside to this camping spot was our dog Shadow ate something there that made him so ill one night that he cried and whined for hours. He was so sick that we were worried we’d wake up in the morning and find him dead in his bed. It was a long night for all of us, and he was still wobbly and somewhat sick the next day, but he was fine by the following day.
Driving along Highway 93, the Banff-Windermere Highway, was a true visual delight, with snow-covered mountains on both sides of the road along the entire 58-mile route.
Cobb Lake is a pretty little lake below Mount Sinclair. We had the lake all to ourselves and enjoyed our lunch along the soggy shore. Fortunately there was a log on which to sit.
One thing we noticed is how clear the water is in Canadian lakes and rivers. In many cases you can see down to the bottom and even make out individual rocks and other debris along the lake floor. The lakes and rivers are often glacier-fed and as a result tend to be vibrant shades of aqua, or in this case, green due to the algae.
Speaking of aqua water, the Kootenay River was an unreal bright blue color that looked as if someone dyed it. The swift-current Kootenay River runs alongside the Banff-Windermere Highway through the southern half of Kootenay Park. In the background rises the 9,776-foot Mount Harkin.
Radium Hot Springs is the largest hot springs pool in Canada. The Earth’s crust fractured along a fault about 2 miles below here, allowing groundwater to seep closer to the Earth’s core heating, where it’s pressurized and returns to the surface at 114 degrees F. The mineral-rich water is then filtered, chlorinated, and enters the pool at a comfortable 103 degrees F. The springs got its name from small traces of Radon in the water, though it emits less radioactivity than an ordinary watch dial. We spent about 40 minutes in the hot, soothing pool, which felt great in the cool 50-degree air and subsequent cold rain that poured about half the time.