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Follow the Trail: Kootenay Hiking Adventures

Some of the most spectacular Kootenay landscapes are also some of the most fragile.  In  high alpine basins and on soaring ridges vegetation clings to thin layers of poor soil, as plants struggle to establish in the short alpine summers in the wake of retreating ice. These delicate alpine mountain areas are easy to love, but they also needs our protection to keep them sustainable.

The best way to enjoy these Kootenay gifts is to practice no-trace travel with one of the Kootenays’ respected backcountry outfitters, whose passion and knowledge can help ensure you get the most out of your mountain time, and leave things intact for the next visitors to enjoy as well.

Taking only pictures, leaving only footprints on dedicated trails and camping at established campsites, avoiding fires in the alpine, managing human waste responsibly, and only going out with licensed, permitted professional guides who know and love their tenures are all key ingredients to a no-trace Kootenay holiday.

The Kootenay cordilleras, the Valhallas, Cariboos, Selkirks, Purcells, and the Rockies all have their own unique geology and human history. All share the juxtaposition of fragility framed in seemingly immutable rock and ice.

If the Rockies are your playground, Brisco-based Back 40 Outdoor Events offer courses on everything from no-trace travel to wilderness first aid, based from their nearly 250-hectare basecamp near the internationally significant Columbia wetlands.

Views of the Columbia River; photo courtesy of Back 40 Outdoor Events

What better way to get into the mountains than to, well, literally get into the mountain? Cody Caves Tours offer spelunking tours of the famous Cody Caves in the south Selkirks near Ainsworth Hot Springs. Underground wonders take hundreds of years or more to form, and can be destroyed in a careless second. An adventure with Cody Cave Tours is the only way to safely, and legally explore this local treasure.

Inside Cody Caves; photo by Jody Wall

For a luxury Rockies basecamp experience, Island Lake Lodge, situated in a rare old-growth interior temperate rainforest valley, transitions from world-class cat-skiing in the winter to lodge-based hikes in the summer months.

Hiking at Island Lake Lodge; photo by Mitch Winton

For the more adventurous family, Invermere-based Playwest Mountain Experience offer everything from local hikes to avalanche courses.

Late fall Larch Tree Hike to Brewer Summit; photo courtesy of Playwest Mountain Experience

One of the Kootenays’ original backcountry lodges, Purcell Mountain Lodge offers luxury-based ski tours and hikes on a network of carefully built trails in the northern Purcells. Bald Ridge, on which the lodge sits, is a fragile, flower-covered plateau with one of the best views on the planet.

Alpine wildflowers; photo courtesy of Purcell Mountain Lodge

Valhalla Mountain Touring is a perfect base to explore the Valhallas. This family-run, all-season lodge offers a deep knowledge and love of place that only a multi-generational operation can offer.

Summit hike in the Valhallas; photo courtesy of Valhalla Mountain Touring

As the numbers of boots in our fragile alpine continues to grow, it is increasingly critical to practice no-trace mountain travel – please follow these best practices:

  • Avoid building fires
  • Stay on legal, marked paths
  • Camp in existing campsites (wherever possible)
  • Do not leave human waste or toilet paper near trails, campsites, or water sources
  • Pack out, what you pack in

Often the easiest approach is to go with a local guide, someone who knows the history of the area, the best trails and campsite, and has all the legal permits and licenses to ensure that you ‘follow the trail’. 



Know Before You Go – Plan ahead so you can travel safely and responsibly. Familiarize yourself with weather, road conditions, general alerts for travellers and provincial health orders & recommendations.

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Top/cover photo: Alpine Guided Hiking; courtesy of Purcell Mountain Lodge.

Words by Dave Quinn. Born in Cranbrook, BC; Dave is a wildlife biologist, educator, wilderness guide, writer and photographer whose work is driven by his passion for wilderness and wild spaces. His work with endangered mountain caribou and badgers, threatened fisher and grizzly, as well as lynx and other species has helped shape his understanding of the Kootenay backcountry and its wildlife.

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