Kootenay National Park offers awe-inspiring backcountry experiences. Hiking and camping in the backcountry allows you to explore further, and appreciate the beauty and wilderness of the park.

Pre-trip planning is crucial when considering travel in the backcountry. Use the information below to help you plan a safe and enjoyable backcountry experience.


Safety

Safety is your responsibility. There are always hazards associated with outdoor recreation. Even short trips can have serious consequences. Minimize your risk by planning ahead.

  • Check the weather forecast, current trail conditions, warnings and closures or visit a Parks Canada visitor centre.
  • Be prepared for emergencies and changes in weather. Mountain weather changes quickly and it can snow any month of the year. Dress in layers, bring extra food and warm clothing.
  • Study descriptions and maps before heading out. Always choose a trail suitable for the least experienced member in your group.
  • Bring your own water. Surface water may be contaminated and unsafe for drinking.
  • Carry a first aid kit and bear spray.
  • Tell a reliable person where you are going, when you will be back, and who to call if you do not return: Parks Canada Dispatch – 403-762-1470.
  • Ticks carrying Lyme disease may be present in the park. It is important to check yourself and your pet after hiking.
  • Avoid wearing earbuds or headphones. Be alert at all times.
  • In case of EMERGENCY, call 911 or satellite phone: 403-762-4506. Cell phone coverage is not reliable throughout the national park.

Snowy trails

Snow can remain on some trails well into the summer. When trails are snow covered, route finding can be difficult and travel through deep snow or on hard snow and ice can be unsafe. Be prepared and check trail conditions before heading out.

Seasonal avalanche risk

Trails above tree line (2,000 m) may be exposed to avalanche hazard at any time of the year and especially from November through June. Steep slopes that are snow covered have the potential to avalanche. For more information on the avalanche hazard, visit a Parks Canada visitor centre or check the Mountain Safety section.


Recommended Packing List

This is a list of items common to many backcountry packing lists. It takes time to learn what works best for you.

Shelter

  • tent, lightweight with groundsheet and fly 
  • sleeping pad 
  • sleeping bag 
  • repair kit

Clothing 

  • hiking boots and camp shoes 
  • socks and underwear 
  • pants and/or shorts 
  • short and long-sleeved shirt 
  • insulating base-layer and outer layer 
  • rainwear or shell, and gators 
  • hat and gloves (in the summer) 
  • basic toiletries & toilet paper

Dry clothes go a long way to making you feel comfortable. Pack light but bring something dry to change into when you reach camp.

Food & cooking 

  • water treatment or filter  
  • water bottle or camelback, 1L minimum 
  • food and beverages 
  • stove and fuel, with waterproof matches or a lighter 
  • cooking and eating utensils 
  • water storage container 
  • garbage bags and baggies 
  • sturdy food sack

For your safety and that of wildlife, your food must be suspended from the food storage cables in your campground. Ensure you have a sturdy food sack that will stand up to wind and the elements. To stay safe and protect wilderness, manage your food, food smells and garbage.

Safety essentials

  • bear spray
  • sunglasses & sunscreen 
  • headlamp or flashlight 
  • pocketknife or multi-tool 
  • rope & carabiner (enough to hang a food sack – approx 40 m) 
  • trip plan (left with a friend or family member) 
  • insect repellent 
  • map & compass 
  • first aid and blister kits 
  • whistle

It is recommended that you carry bear spray and know how to use it.

Other items you may find helpful...

  • camera with charged batteries and an empty memory card 
  • notebook and pencil 
  • deck of cards 
  • fishing permit 
  • binoculars 
  • biodegradable soap 
  • camp towel 
  • watch or alarm clock 
  • change of clothes and sandals for the drive home
Trail Etiquette

Show courtesy to fellow trail users!

  • Leave what you find —it is the law. Natural and cultural resources such as rocks, fossils, artifacts, horns, antlers, wildflowers and nests are protected by law and must be left undisturbed for others to discover and enjoy. 
  • Dispose of human waste at least 100 m from any water source. Bury solid human waste in a hole 15 cm deep. Pack out your toilet paper. 
  • To prevent damage to vegetation, stay on designated trails at all times. 
  • Trails are used by a variety of outdoor enthusiasts. Be sure to yield to others. 
  • Leave no trace. Pack out everything you pack in.
Wildlife and people

Kootenay National Park is home to wildlife including elk, wolves, cougars, grizzly bears and black bears. To successfully raise their young and sustain a healthy population, wildlife need access to as much quality habitat with as few human surprises as possible.

Be aware of possible encounters with wildlife in all areas of the park, including paved trails and roads.

Tips

  • Always carry bear spray, ensure it is accessible, and know how to use it before heading out.
  • Make noise. Being quiet puts you at risk for sudden wildlife encounters. Be alert through shrubby areas and when approaching blind corners. Travel in tight groups and always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Report bear, cougar, wolf and coyote sightings and encounters to Parks Canada Dispatch when it is safe to do so: 403-762-1470.
  • Keep dogs on leash and under control at all times.

More information

Trail Ratings

Easy

  • Suitable for those with little or no trail experience.
  • Flat to gently rolling with no obstacles.
  • Little or no elevation gain or loss.

Moderate

  • Suitable for those with basic trail experience.
  • Gently rolling with short, steep sections and infrequent obstacles.
  • Moderate elevation gain or loss.

Difficult

  • Suitable only for those with trail experience.
  • Long, steep sections with frequent obstacles.
  • Major elevation gain or loss.
Estimated time to complete these trails ranges depending on trail distances, fitness levels, weather and trail conditions.
Map: Kootenay Trail Guide
Kootenay National Park Trail Map 
 (PDF, 8.29 MB)

 

 

Reservable Rockwall Trail
First come, first served Verdant Creek
Closed Closed for 2021

Campgrounds

There are six backcountry campgrounds in Kootenay. Five are located along the Rockwall Trail, while the sixth is on the Verdant Creek Trail.

Campgrounds are equipped with:

  • tent pads
  • dry toilets
  • communal picnic tables
  • food storage cables or lockers

Backcountry campgrounds in the Shadow and Egypt Lake areas of Banff National Park are also accessible from Kootenay National Park via the Verdant Creek trail.

Backcountry camping reservations

Reservations for the 2021 summer season begin on April 16, 2021 at 8 am Mountain Time.

Any dates for the entire hiking season may be made, there will no longer be a 3 month limit window. Maximum group size is 10 people, including guides and leaders. Demand is highest in July and August, book early to avoid disappointment. Reservations or same day permits will also be available at Parks Canada Visitor Centres

Reservations for overnight stays in the backcountry that are not entirely at designated campgrounds must still be made by contacting a Parks Canada Visitor Centre. (This includes but is not limited to random camping, bivouacing, Alpine Club huts, and nights outside the national park boundaries etc...)

Wilderness Pass requirements

A Wilderness Pass is required for overnight trips in the backcountry at any time of year. 

Quick facts about Wilderness Passes:  

  • Making a reservation in advance, as opposed to same day permits, are recommended to avoid disappointment.
  • Daily wilderness passes may be purchased and fees may be paid at reservation.pc.gc.ca.
  • Your fees support the ongoing maintenance of campgrounds, trails and other backcountry facilities.

See a complete list of fees 

To book or learn more, call 1-877-RESERVE (1-877-737-3783), or reserve online

For backcountry campground trip counselling and general information, not available at reservation.pc.gc.ca, contact or visit a Parks Canada Visitor Centre.

The Rockwall

The Rockwall Trail is a 54 km (34 mile) superlative-laden feast, traversing three alpine passes through subalpine meadows and past impressive hanging glaciers. The trail’s defining feature is a single, massive limestone cliff, towering in some locations more than 900 m (2,953 feet) above the trail below.

There are four access points to the Rockwall Trail along Highway 93 South:

  • Helmet Creek Trail, access via Paint Pots trailhead 
  • Tumbling Creek Trail, access via Paint Pots trailhead 
  • Numa Creek Trail, access via Numa Falls trailhead
  • Floe Lake Trail, access via Floe Lake trailhead

Recommended time of year to hike this trail: Mid-July to early October.

Note: The higher sections of the trail are snowbound until early to mid-July. Parks Canada does not book sites at Floe Lake campground until July 10. Autumn snowfalls may make hiking difficult in late September/October.

A table and graph show the distances between and elevation of campgrounds on the Rockwall Trail.
Distances and elevation of campgrounds on the Rockwall Trail
Multi-day trails in Kootenay National Park
Trail Distance
(one way)
Estimated time (return) Elevation gain* Elevation loss*
trail rating = easy Helmet - Ochre Junction
5.8 km 2 days 235 m 150 m
trail rating = easy Numa Creek
6.3 km 2 days 385 m 250 m
trail rating = moderate Tumbling Creek
10.2 km 2 days 700 m 245 m
trail rating = moderate Helmet Creek and Falls
14.2 km 2-3 days 795 m 465 m
trail rating = difficult Tumbling - Helmet - Ochre Loop
36.9 km loop 2-3 days 1,885 m 1,885 m
trail rating = difficult Tumbling - Floe
37.7 km 2-3 days 2,470 m 2,565 m
trail rating = difficult The Rockwall  54.1 km 3-5 days 3,405 m 3,500 m
trail rating = difficult Honeymoon Pass and Verdant Creek 16.7 km 2 days 1,285 m 470 m

*Note: On most hiking trails you will gain and lose elevation before you reach your destination. Elevation gain represents all the up and elevation loss all the down you will experience on a one-way hike.


Trail descriptions

 Easy trails

 Helmet-Ochre Junction

This day hike leads to the Helmet / Ochre Junction backcountry campground. It is the northernmost access point for the popular Rockwall multiday backpacking route.

Length (one way): 5.8 km
Estimated time (return): 2 days
Elevation gain: 235 m | Elevation loss: 150 m
Trailhead: Paint Pots parking lot, 84 km east of Radium Hot Springs.

Habitat: Forested trail with lush ground cover leading to a river.
Description: A good backpacking destination for beginners through lush forest. Alternatively, a 4-hour day hike.


Two campers set up a tent at Numa Creek backcountry campground
Numa Creek backcountry campground
 Numa Creek

This trail leads to the Numa Creek backcountry campground and is a middle access point for the popular Rockwall multiday backpacking route.

Length (one way): 6.3 km
Estimated time (return): 2 days
Elevation gain: 385 m | Elevation loss: 250 m
Trailhead: Numa Falls parking lot, 80 km east of Radium Hot Springs.

Habitat: A forested, creekside trail opening into prominent avalanche paths.
Description: An easy, forested, creekside trail. Good backpacking destination for beginners. Alternatively, a 4-hour day hike.

Note: This trail gets heavily impacted by avalanche debris year-round and may be closed. Check the latest trail report for updates.

 Moderate trails

 Tumbling Creek

This trail leads to the Tumbling Creek backcountry campground. It is one of the northernmost access points to the popular Rockwall multiday backpacking route. The initial portion of the trail is shared with the Helmet / Ochre Junction trail.

Length (one-way): 10.2 km
Estimated time (return): 2 days (round-trip)
Elevation gain: 700 m | Elevation loss: 245 m
Trailhead: Paint Pots parking lot 84 km east of Radium Hot Springs.

Habitat: Forested trail with lush ground cover opening into prominent avalanche slopes.
Description: Hike alongside fast, rushing water and stop for a photo at Tumbling Falls.


Helmet Creek warden cabin sits in front of the towering Helmet Falls
Helmet Falls
 Helmet Creek and Falls

This trail leads to the Helmet Falls backcountry campground. It is the northernmost access point to the popular Rockwall multiday backpacking route. The initial portion of the trail is shared with the Helmet / Ochre Junction trail.

Length (one way): 14.2 km
Estimated time (return): 2-3 days (round-trip)
Elevation gain: 795 m | Elevation loss: 465 m
Trailhead: Paint Pots parking lot 84 km east of Radium Hot Springs.

Habitat: Forested trail with lush ground cover opening into prominent avalanche slopes.
Description: Follow the trail through lush vegetation and emerge near the base of Helmet Falls. At 300 m high, this waterfall is definitely worth a visit.

 Difficult trails

A hiker travels on the Tumbling Pass trail with towering peaks and glaciers in the background
Tumbling Pass
 Tumbling - Helmet - Ochre Loop

This trail takes in three backcountry campgrounds on the northern portion of the popular Rockwall Trail, multi-day backpacking route.

Length (one way): 36.9 km loop
Estimated time (return): 2-3 days
Elevation gain: 1,885 m | Elevation loss: 1,885m
Trailhead: Paint Pots parking lot, 84 km east of Radium Hot Springs. Entry and exit from Paint Pots parking lot. No shuttle required.

Habitat: Forested trails opening into high, alpine meadows.
Description: An abridged loop version of the Rockwall Trail with its famous high meadows.


Two campers prepare food at a picnic table overlooking a lake.
Floe Lake backcountry campground
 Tumbling - Floe

This trail takes in three backcountry campgrounds on the southern portion of the popular Rockwall Trail, multi-day backpacking route.

Length (one way): 37.7 km
Estimated time (return): 2-3 days
Elevation gain: 2,470 m | Elevation loss: 2,565 m
Trailhead: Paint Pots parking lot, 84 km east of Radium Hot Springs OR Floe Lake parking lot, 72 km east of Radium Hot Springs. Entry/exit via Tumbling Creek and Floe Lake. Shuttle required.

Habitat: Forested trails opening into high, alpine meadows.
Description: An abridged version of the Rockwall Trail with its famous high meadows.


Two hikers travel on the trail over Rockwall Pass
Rockwall Pass
 The Rockwall

This route takes in a maximum of five backcountry campgrounds.

Length (one way): 54.1 km
Estimated time (return): 3-5 days
Elevation gain: 3,405 m | Elevation loss: 3,500 m
Trailhead: Multiple trailheads, from north to south: Paint Pots parking lot, 84 km east of Radium Hot Springs; Numa Falls parking lot 80 km east of Radium Hot Springs; Floe Lake parking lot, 72 km east of Radium Hot Springs. Shuttle required.

Habitat: Forested trails, multiple alpine passes, creeks, waterfalls, meadows, large lake.
Description: One of the finest backpacking routes in the Canadian Rockies, featuring high passes and the famous “Rockwall”.

Note: Numa Creek Trail gets heavily impacted by avalanche debris year-round and may be closed. Check the latest trail report for updates.


 Honeymoon Pass and Verdant Creek

This route leads to Verdant Creek backcountry campground and the Egypt Lake area of Banff National Park.

Length (one way): 16.7 km to park boundary
Estimated time (return): 2 days
Elevation gain: 1,285 m | Elevation loss: 470 m
Trailhead: Vermilion Crossing parking lot 64 km east of Radium Hot Springs.

Habitat: Thickly forested, rough trail with prominent avalanche slopes. Watch for bears.
Description: Fireweed flowers and burnt trees offer striking contrasts on this rough trail for skilled backpackers. Backcountry campground at 7.6 km. Access to trails in Banff National Park.

Note: The trail past the campground has been heavily impacted by 2017 wildfires, leaving long sections of trail undefined and covered by deadfall. Advanced routefinding skills and river crossings required.