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Kootenay National Park

Quick Facts

A Protected Area

  • Kootenay National Park is one of five national parks that represent the Rocky Mountains Natural Region of Canada. Of these five parks, Kootenay and Yoho lie on the western side of the Continental Divide, while Banff, Jasper and Waterton Lakes lie on the eastern side.
  • As one of seven national and provincial parks that comprise the 26,583 sq. km Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site, Kootenay National Park (1,406 sq. km) is part of a vast protected area of global significance.
  • Kootenay National Park also forms part of the core area of the Central Rockies Ecosystem. This greater regional ecosystem is larger than the areas protected by the national parks alone.
  • For thousands of years the area which is now Kootenay National Park was part of the traditional lands of the Ktunaxa (Kootenay) and Shuswap First Nations people. Archaeological evidence suggests the mountains were used primarily as seasonal hunting grounds. Groups also travelled across the mountains periodically to hunt bison on the plains east of the Rockies. Some sites have spiritual significance.
  • Kootenay National Park was established in 1920 as part of an agreement between the provincial and federal governments to build the Banff-Windermere Highway - the first motor road to cross the Canadian Rockies. A strip of land 8 km wide on each side of the 94 km highway was set aside as a national park. This resulted in the long, narrow shape of the park. The completion of the highway in 1922 expanded the new age of motor tourism in the Canadian Rockies. Today, the highway is known as the Kootenay Parkway.
  • From dry, southwest-facing slopes of the Rocky Mountain Trench in the south to lofty glacier-clad peaks of the Continental Divide in the north, Kootenay National Park represents a diversity of landscapes, elevation, climate and ecology. This diversity is captured in the park's interpretive theme statement: "From Cactus to Glacier" .
  • Kootenay National Park contains unique and representative examples of the natural features characteristic of the Rocky Mountains: sedimentary rocks and thrust-faulted mountains; landscapes sculptured by glaciers and water; and plants and animals typical of alpine, subalpine and montane ecological zones.

The Mountain Landscape

  • The Rocky Mountains were formed by forces originating in the moving plates of the earth's crust. The forces, which came from the west, resulted in the compression of massive layers of sedimentary rock which were folded, broken and thrust skyward in a series of mountain ranges. Subsequent erosion of the mountains by ice and water have sculpted the mountains and created valleys, canyons, lakes and rivers.
  • Kootenay is the only national park that represents the Western Ranges of the Rocky Mountains - the western edge of the Rockies. Characterised by overturned folds of sedimentary rock, serrated ridges and rounded crests, the Western Ranges are geologically complex structures found in the south-western section of the park. The Eastern and Western Main Ranges are represented in the northern sections of the park.
  • Kootenay is also the only national park that represents the Rocky Mountain Trench. The trench, visible from space as a long linear valley stretching from the U.S. border to the BC/Yukon border, is a major break in the earth's crust. In this region the trench separates the Rocky Mountains from the much older Columbia Mountains to the west.
  • The soothing waters of Radium Hot Springs, in a spectacular canyon setting, have long been a natural draw - from the first pool scooped out of the gravel by Aboriginal people to today's extensively developed pools facility. The hot springs, and their associated features of Sinclair Canyon and the Redwall Fault, are significant geological features. The Redwall Fault - visible as towering cliffs of iron-rich rock - is the best example of fault breccia (shattered and reconsolidated rock) in the Rocky Mountain parks.
  • The cold, iron-rich mineral springs of the Paint Pots are a point of unique geological interest and a site of cultural and spiritual significance to First Nations peoples. In earlier centuries, Aboriginal groups would travel here from the plains and foothills in the east, and from the Columbia and Kootenay valleys in the west, to gather the "red earth" for paint. Later, at the beginning of the 20th Century, Europeans mined the ochre commercially.
  • Marble Canyon is an excellent example of a landscape feature resulting from the powerful erosive forces of moving glaciers and rivers in a dynamic mountain environment. The rock that forms the canyon is limestone and dolomite, some of which is white in colour, resembling Marble.

Plants, Animals and Special Ecological Areas

  • The range in elevation (900m to 3,400m) and associated range in climate within Kootenay National Park results in a variety of ecological zones, each characterised by flora and fauna typical of the western Rocky Mountains. These zones include rock and ice, where little life is found; harsh alpine tundra above treeline; cool, wet subalpine meadows and forests below treeline; and relatively warmer and drier montane valley bottoms. Montane valleys are rich in biodiversity and provide critical wildlife habitat. They are also where most human activity is concentrated and where the greatest conflicts with the goals of protection occur.
  • The south-western corner of the park contains the only example of dry Douglas-fir/ponderosa pine/wheatgrass vegetation in Canada's national parks. This semi-arid area, where prickly pear cactus also grows, provides important winter range for wildlife, especially Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.
  • Wildlife are a highlight of the Rocky Mountains. Characteristic species found within Kootenay National Park include: grizzly and black bear, wolf, coyote, cougar, lynx, wolverine, marten, marmot, white-tailed and mule deer, elk, moose, mountain goat and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.
  • The mountain goat is the park's wildlife symbol. A large population of goats inhabit the slopes of Mount Wardle year-round. This area is one of four "Special Preservation" management zones within Kootenay National Park, which provide the highest degree of park protection.
  • The Vermilion Pass Burn of 1968 is one of the most accessible and studied natural burn sites in the Rockies. It provides an excellent example of the ecological values of forest fires and the important role that fire management now plays in maintaining the park's ecological integrity.
  • The Rockwall Trail provides access to one of the most spectacular backcountry areas in the Canadian Rockies. Special regulations exist to control the levels of use and to protect the fragile high mountain environment and the quality of the wilderness experience.