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Hiking the Rockwall Trail – A Must-Do Bucket List Adventure

I’ve set out to hike the Rockwall (in Kootenay National Park) on four previous occasions. Three times I’ve been turned back by rain or weather and once by my sick pup. I was super excited to have been invited to join a group (BCA Tours – who offers this tour each season), heading out this past summer to hike the trail that has eluded me since my childhood. It is a hike that is truly spectacular that offers everything from big mountains views, sprawling meadows, huge waterfalls and itineraries to suit everyone. I was rewarded this year by finally ticking off a hike that has been on my “bucket list” for years.

If the Rockwall isn’t on yours, it should be!

My preference is to start the trip at the Paint Pots trail head. This gets a longer day in the trees out of the way early. You will gain elevation and distance casually to get your hiking legs under you and get used to the weight of a larger pack. The best thing about starting at the Paint Pots is that you don’t have to do it on your final day which can be a bit of a buzz kill. After 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) you are rewarded with a killer view of Helmet Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the country pouring 352-m (1,154 ft.) over a headwall just beyond the campground.

The second day takes you up rapidly out of the valley as you ascend up and over the spectacular Rockwall Pass and under the massive wall of limestone that makes up the Northern portion of the trail’s namesake (Limestone Peak at the North end of the wall and Mount Drysdale at the South). You will have an opportunity to detour quickly to Wolverine Pass before descending to the campground at Tumbling Creek.

Day three will blow your mind as you ascend quickly from Tumbling creek to five star views at Tumbling Pass. The Tumbling Glacier falls down the face of Tumbling Peak like a train wreck that is impossible to look away from. If you’re doing the trip in five days, it’s a great place for a long lunch, some reading or even a nap as this will be the shortest day of the trip and the only you will need to worry about is descending to the next campground just a few kilometres away. Take it all in before you descend through meadows, a large slide path and into the forested Numa Creek.

From Numa Creek you will once again climb out of the trees under the towering Mount Foster before gaining another mind blowing view at Numa Pass. It will be your first glimpse of the iconic Floe Lake and one last chance to look North at the terrain you’ve passed to this point. It is the highest point on the hike before a short descent to one of the most beautiful alpine lakes and postcard worthy scenes in the Canadian Rockies.

Your last day is all downhill as you leave the Rockwall gradually shrinking in the rear-view. However, thanks to the Mother Natures’ Hawk Creek fire of 2003, the forest is clear and offers big views of Mount Ball as you descend to the highway. The final highlight is crossing the spectacular Vermillion River before chucking your gear in the backseat and searching out a shower.

Driving directions:

From Radium Hot Springs: drive east on Highway 93 into Kootenay National Park. It is 72-km to the Floe Lake Trailhead (southern start) or 84-km to the Paint Pots Trailheads (northern start). There are large parking areas at each end with information boards and outhouse facilities.

Suggested Itineraries

5 days
Day 1 — Paint Pots Trailhead to Helmet Falls Campground (14.7 km)
Day 2 — Helmet Falls Campground to Tumbling Creek Campground (12.5-km)
Day 3 — Tumbling Creek Campground to Numa Creek Campground (7.7-km)
Day 4 — Numa Creek Campground to Floe Lake Campground (10-km)
Day 5 — Floe Lake Campground to Floe Lake Trailhead (10.7-km)

4 days
Day 1 — Paint Pots Trailhead to Helmet Falls Campground
Day 2 — Helmet Falls Campground to Tumbling Creek Campground
Day 3 — Tumbling Creek Campground to Floe Lake Campground
Day 4 — Floe Lake Campground to Floe Lake Trailhead

3 days
Day 1 — Paint Pots Trailhead to Helmet Falls Campground
Day 2 — Helmet Falls Campground to Numa Creek Campground
Day 3 — Numa Creek Campground Floe Lake Trailhead

Also Check Out
~ Goodsir Pass — day hike from Helmet Falls Campground
~ Helmet Falls — short detour from the trail near Helmet Falls Campground
~ Wolverine Pass — short detour from the trail between Helmet Falls and Tumbling Creek
~ Tumbling Creek Trail (check for closures) — offers opportunities for shorter trips or emergency escape route if weather turns
~ Numa Creek Trail (check for closures) — offers opportunities for shorter trips or emergency escape route if weather turns

Know Before You Go – The seven principals of Leave No Trace provide an easily understood framework of minimum impact practices for anyone visiting the outdoors. They are easy to follow and are easily implemented. The seven principals are:  Plan Ahead & Prepare, Travel & Camp on Durable Surfaces, Dispose of Waste Properly, Leave What You Find, Minimize Campfire Impacts, Respect Wildlife and Be Considerate of Other Visitors. Consider these principals and put them into action on your next adventure! Want to learn more?  Leave No Trace Center is an excellent resource for actions in reducing your footprint while being outdoors.

Related Stories
~ 3 Legendary Kootenays Hikes you May Have Never Heard Of
~ Best Summit Hikes in the Kootenays
~ Easy Kootenay Hikes: 360 Degree Vista Views
~ How to Prepare for a Kootenay Backcountry Adventure
~ Kootenay Hacks: Tips Before you go Exploring
~ Out Your Back Door: Kootenay Community Treks 

All photos and words by Steve Tersmette.

Steve Tersmette – relocated to Kimberley after college to escape the soul sucking pace of the city and to be closer to the mountains. He grew up hiking and playing in the Rockies with his father and brothers. His outdoor evolution has taken him all over the mountains of western Canada to climb and explore. In 2017 he completed the first traverse of the Purcell Mountains on foot with his best friend. A husband and father of two, he is keen to share the mountain life with his family and community. Steve is an ambassador to Crowfoot Media, manages the Dirtbag Festival in Kimberley BC, and is a director and volunteer with the East Kootenay Climbing Association. He keep his friends close and his hiking boots even closer. He enjoys long walks in the snow, craft beer and topographic maps. Usually found in his natural habitat with camera in hand but occasionally has to work to pay for food.

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