Dreaming about exploring the Canadian Rockies? There’s a good chance that Banff and Jasper national parks in Alberta are at the top of your list.
Just over the Great Divide, however, British Columbia’s Kootenay Rockies region is home to four mountainous national parks that rival their more famous cousins in terms of the natural beauty, outdoor adventures, and historic sites. Whether you plan to hike, camp, ski, climb, cycle, or just sightsee, BC’s Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke national parks are definitely worth a closer look.
Bonus: in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Confederation, admission to all of Canada’s national parks is free in 2017 with a Discovery Pass. Be sure to plan well ahead, especially if you’re considering camping.
From towering waterfalls and glacier-fed lakes to ancient fossil-beds and a historic railroad, Yoho National Park sure packs a lot of attractions into its 1,310 sq. km (507 sq. mi). For starters, the Burgess Shale is one of the most important sites of its kind in the world, containing fossils that preserve the hard body parts and soft tissues of creatures that lived over 500 million years ago.
Start the day early or finish it by visiting the 384 m (1,260 ft) Takakkaw Falls. This is a must-see stop on Yoho Valley Road, 17 km (10.6 mi) northeast of the village of Field. Aptly named Emerald Lake beckons walkers, paddlers, snowshoers, and cross-country skiers.
Along with Banff, Jasper, and Yoho, Kootenay National Park is part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks world heritage site recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Things to do here include hiking, fishing, picnicking, wildlife viewing, cycling, back-country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice-climbing.
At 37 to 40 degrees Celsius (98 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit), the mineral-rich waters of the park’s Radium Hot Springs are a top draw. Backpackers will want to tick the Rockwall Trail, a 55-km (34-mi) trek below a towering limestone cliff (and part of the long-distance Great Divide Trail), off their list. More moderate hikers may want to take a guided hike to the Stanley Glacier Burgess Shale fossil bed.
North of Invermere, Kootenae House National Historic Site preserves the remains of a colonial fur trading post built by the North West Company in 1807 to conduct business with the Ktunaxa people of the Columbia Basin.
According to Parks Canada, Glacier National Park is the “birthplace of mountaineering in North America.” Canada’s second-oldest national park protects 1,349 sq. km (521 sq. mi) in the rugged Selkirk Mountains.
Glacier is home to Rogers Pass, a linchpin in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway and Trans-Canada Highway, and a national historic site. A short trail allows you to walk through the ruins of Glacier House, a railway hotel that opened in 1886.
For ski tourers, Rogers Pass boasts legendary powder and 1,500-m (4,900-ft) descents. Topping out at 3,284 m (10,774 ft) above sea level, Mount Sir Donald is a beacon for mountain climbers. Hikers, however, settle for tackling the 5.1-km (3.2-m) Mount Sir Donald Trail, which still gets the heart pumping. Meanwhile, the Hemlock Grove Boardwalk Trail offers a family-friendly and barrier-free walk among old-growth trees.
Also nestled in the Selkirk Mountains, Mount Revelstoke National Park contains 65 km (40 mi) of hiking trails and seven km (4.4 mi) of cross-country ski trails. In summer, visitors can drive or cycle 26 km (16 mi) up the narrow and switchbacking Meadows in the Sky Parkway to Balsam Lake and its subalpine wildflowers. Another 30 minutes on the Upper Summit Trail puts hikers atop Mount Revelstoke, where there’s a historic fire lookout at an elevation of 1,933 m (6,342 ft). Wildlife watchers might be lucky enough to see a mountain caribou, pine marten, or golden eagles.
World records in ski jumping were set in 1920, 1921, 1925, 1932, and 1933 at the historic Nels Nelsen ski jump on lower Mount Revelstoke, the only place in Canada that has ever had ski jumping records set. A new exhibit will open this summer to commemorate that history. At the base of the ski jumps, the Soren Sorensen loop trails are prime geocaching and snowshoeing territory.
Opening image: Hiking Mount Revelstoke National Park. Photo: Ryan Creary
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