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August 15, 2023

Where to See Wildlife in the Kootenay Rockies

As I pull my exhausted body up the last stretch of trail before ridgeline, I am overcome with the sensation of being watched.  I glance around at the rugged, steep terrain above me, and there I see them. Not more than 30-metres (98 ft.) away, on a rocky outcropping just off the trail, a herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep looks down at me.

They’re so close I can almost hear them ask themselves what a lonely human would be doing in their neck of the mountains.  I wait and watch as they contemplate their next move, will they move away and let me pass?  Or kick rocks down onto me and watch me flee?  Thankfully, the majestic creatures decide to back away. Once again, I’m left with another incredible wildlife encounter in the Kootenay Rockies.

Some of the Bighorn Sheep herd in Radium Hot Springs; photo by Field & Forest

The best part about the Kootenays is you don’t need to climb the steepest mountainsides or dive to the bottom of the deepest lakes to experience the wildlife in their natural habitat.  A short drive outside of Radium Hot Springs, you might catch a glimpse of those same bighorn sheep gracing the roadside hills. 


Travel between Kimberley and Cranbrook and you may meet the resident elk herd.  Spend enough time in the Elk Valley and you’ll likely catch a glimpse of a Grizzly foraging for berries.  And, with countless other species present, including rare birds, large ungulates and numerous species of fish, there’s more than enough in the Kootenays to keep wildlife watchers happy for a lifetime. 

Stretching from Golden in the north to Cranbrook in the south – the Columbia Valley Trail is full of outdoor adventure opportunities and plenty of birding.


If you’ve been wanting to see a grizzly bear but don’t want to risk an encounter in the wild, stop by the Grizzly Bear Refuge on Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden.  Boo, the resident orphaned grizzly bear, roams his 8-hectare (20-acres) of habitat, free to forage and play as he pleases.

Boo the resident Grizzly Bear at the Kicking Horse Refuge.


From mid-August to late September, thousands of bright red Kokanee salmon flood the Kokanee Creek Spawning Channel as they make their way back to their spawning grounds. Witnessing the return of this landlocked relative of Sockeye Salmon is a sight to behold.  Follow the self-guided interpretive tour along the boardwalk and learn more about the migration of the Kokanee.

View the underwater cams to see the Kokanee Salmon.

Salmon Run at Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, photo by Kari Medig


In the fertile Creston Valley, the Kootenay-Columbia Discovery Centre leads guided canoe trips through the wetlands of the Kootenay River.  Or take a self-guided tour of the boardwalk where you could catch a glimpse of one of the over 300 bird species, mammals, fish and reptiles that inhabit the area.

Touring the boardwalk; photo by Jeff Banman


The Kootenay Trout Hatchery rears up to 3 million baby trout each year to enhance recreational fishing opportunities. The species raised here are Rainbow, Cutthroat trout, Brook Char and Kokanee to enhance recreational fishing opportunities. In addition, the red-listed White Sturgeon are raised here for conservation purposes.  A tour guide is on hand daily from May through August. An extensive interpretive area with aquaria, educational models, displays and a turtle pond is open every day from 8am to 4pm for self-guided tours. 

Kootenay Trout Hatchery, photo by Kari Medig


This 1.5-km Waldie Island Trail in Castlegar takes you through a protected Blue Heron bird Sanctuary.  Watch for this magnificent bird from the bird viewing platform along the shores of the Columbia River.


The Wings Over the Rockies Festival takes place in the Columbia Valley (every year, the second week in May).  Attendees participated in the festival from the comfort of their own homes with streamed presentations. Alternatively, join interpretive guides on hikes and paddles at various locations across the Columbia Valley while you watch for local wildlife. 

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