We have been to a handful of US national parks but Kootenay National Park, British Colombia was our first in Canada and there were some definite differences. The scenery was beautiful! The folks that live in those parts are given a high bar for other places to match.
Our routine for going to a national park usually goes something like this: Go to the visitor center to pick up maps, get the girls’ Jr Ranger booklets, ask about family friendly hikes and must sees, learn about the area in the museum portion of the visitors center, get a sticker for Wobbles (our camper) door and read all the great children’s books in gift shop. It takes the better part of an afternoon but we look forward to this. It get’s us excited about the park and leaves us wanting to see and do more!
Things were a bit different here in Canada. They are much more relaxed about their parks. Upon arrival at Redstreak Campground within the park they gave us an Xplorers book for the girls, which is the Jr Ranger equivalent in Canada. The books were fun for the girls to do but didn’t really teach them anything. We’re used to it being really like a mini homeschooling lesson on the park’s geography, history, local wildlife and plant life, prominent features and such. These booklets were word searches, spot the differences in pictures and things along those lines. I was a bit disappointed because there are always more things to learn and the park missed a good opportunity to teach new explorers in a fun way.
Restoration Loop Hike
In the Xplorers book there was a set of fun looking Geocaches (scavenger hunt) using GPS coordinates. The booklet told us to look “just off the trail” for clue boxes using GPS coordinates which contained information and a stamp to collect. The girls were feeling pretty tired as it was the end of the day but we rallied the girls on the hike, hyping up how cool the Geocaches would be. Between scattered showers we looked high and low for those silly boxes! We were surprised by the fact that the booklet instructed us to go off the trail to look for these. It is a hard and fast rule in US National Parks to “Stay On The Trail!” The booklet told us to “look thoroughly all around the GPS coordinate location.” We followed instructions and went off trail looking for the clues. An hour and 45 minutes later we hadn’t found any of them!
The hike wasn’t a total bust though. It was really beautiful scenery and demonstrated the forest thinning that the park had been putting into action. They thin the forest to keep fires at bay by cutting down some close growth as well as enacting prescribed burns.
We also saw an Osprey bird and munched on ground strawberries. Eventually we gave up and went back to the camper. We later found out, when we asked about it, that the clues weren’t actually hidden. The ranger we talked to said they sometimes don’t hide them. So, we trampled off a national park trail for nothing. Might be good information to give visitors, no?
Kootenay Visitor Center
The visitor center was in the town of Radium Hot Springs that is just on the border of the park and though it didn’t have any books, it had a nice little museum. The girls got to hold a bighorn sheep horn there. They are so heavy! Together they weigh 60lbs! Imagine holding a 60lb dumbbell on your head every day and throwing it around with a flick of your neck when you are disgruntled. Strong necks!
In the US when the girls finish their Jr Ranger books the ranger goes through it page by page to make sure they did the activities and asks them questions about it or engages them in some way. The girls also have to take a pledge to help preserve the parks and do what they can to help. They then get a badge and sometimes a sticker or embroidered patch. In Canada it was a bit different. When the girls told the rangers they finished their booklets the ranger just said, “okay” and gave them a dog tag with the park’s name on it. Neat little necklace but strange experience for us.
Radium Hot Springs
Our stay at Kootenay was short but we were able to fit in some special things on our second and last day. Justin and I each took one kiddo to do separate but special things. My youngests’ skin has a hard time in chlorine for more than a couple consecutive days so she and Justin did some exploring on their own while my oldest and I went to the Radium Hot Springs. While Justin and my youngest were exploring they saw big horn sheep scat, fur stuck to trees, and then a big horn sheep ewe up close and personal. They had their backs turned while our little one was working on her Xplorers book on the ground and turned to see the big horn sheep a mere 20 feet from them! What a special moment. The sheep are all shedding their winter coat so they are looking a little disheveled but really amazing creatures.
At the hot springs they had one giant sized pool that was their “cool pool” which was the temperature of a warm heated pool. The other giant sized pool was the temperature of a hot tub fed by the hot spring. Even though we weren’t snuggled up on a mountainside in the rocks like I always picture when I think of natural hot springs, it was pretty incredible. They kept the hot pool at 102* which was just lovely to swim around in! The pool was bordered on two sides with the natural rocky mountain so that was really neat. We even spotted a big horn sheep on the distant cliff side while we were soaking. We did use the cool pool twice to cool off a bit and that was fun too.
And, because we were in Canada, we had to let the girls taste poutine in town at the Snack Bar which was gluten free friendly. We tried their marinara vegan poutine as well as their traditional gravy topped poutine. We gave it two thumbs up.
Off to Banff we went. The drive the Banff took us through Kootenay where we enjoyed spectacular road-side views!