The Postcard Rewards of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park

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In my anxiousness to return Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, I tried to tackle the unpaved road to the park twice during ski season. It had been months since I was last in its heights and I was missing how remote it felt, even with its proximity to Nelson and Balfour.

But neither time was I successful. Those equipped with snowmobiles and backcountry skis turn this park into a year-round playground. But not having either on hand during my attempts, I was shut down.

A wooden trail sign at the start of the trail in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, with kilometre markers for Kokanee Lake, Kaso Lake and Slocan Chief Cabin.

The start of something wonderful.

I originally found Kokanee in its prime hiking season — summer — when the snow was melted from its trails and alpine breezes were a welcome part of my experience. It was my first time in a Kootenay alpine arena, and I was sucked in and wanting more, even after my return from the park.

It took a sustained uphill drive to arrive there. The road dead-ends at Gibson Lake, an alpine lake where all the hiking begins. It’s an easy photo stop for those who want to play the tourist, but if you stop here, you’re missing out on the rugged glory above.

The beginning of Kokanee Glacier Trail starts in vegetation that crowds out your view, keeping you guessing on what’s to come. It leads you upwards, crossing back and forth up the mountain and over tiny streams of snowmelt, remaining relatively constant in its grade. This is your testing grounds; if you can handle the aerobic demands of the first five minutes, you’re good for the rest of the way.

And yes, there will be a reward for sticking it out.

A man in a red tank top and beige shorts holding a blue waterbottle in one hand and balancing as he walks across a wooden log in the park, with dense forest surrounding him.

Enjoying a playful moment on the easier section of Kokanee Lake Trail.

Once you cross a wooden footpath crossing a creek tumbling down the mountainside — not quite a waterfall, but worth a pause and picture — you are home free. The trail mostly levels out around this area and the vegetation shortens, making the views look expansive. You’ll begin to see 180° views (the other 180° being blocked by the mountain you’re climbing up!) that spreads from peaks beyond Kootenay Lake (behind you), to the now unobstructed peaks that are only partially in view from Gibson Lake.

Here, dear hikers, is the beginning of your reward.

Bright red flowers amongst the green plants and trees along the trail, with a mountain towering in the background.

The boldest Indian paintbrush colours I’d seen in my life.

Wildflowers get showy up here. You’ll see the most saturated Indian paintbrush ever in existence, along with tiny carpets bearing miniature petals and flowers made of yellow and purple that I have never learned the names of. If you get yourself in the right position, you can grab detailed photos of the flowers with the snowfields and jagged landscape in the background.

Postcards, in other words.

A panoramic view of Kokanee Provincial Park approaching Kokanee Lake, with grass, sparse trees and the mountain towering in the background.

The sweeping view with a corner of Kokanee Lake in view.

The finest postcard moment, though, comes with Kokanee Lake, which is the furthest I’ve taken the trail. As I moved up between two rocky outcroppings on the crest of a hill, I looked down and saw two mountains joining at the base in a long lake. The entire view ran away from me like a topless tunnel and I struggled to make my panoramic photos match the beautiful scene in front of me. It made me want to continue on, rounding the mountain I’d been traversing, to reach the glacier the park was named after and stay a night or two at one of the park’s cabins.

But on that particular day, I was on the trail unprepared for an overnighter and with so much to explore in the Kootenays, the opportunity didn’t arise to complete the journey before winter snows fell. The entirety of Kokanee Creek Provincial Park teases me with mystery, but I am determined to keep trying the road until the snow has melted and I can continue where I left off.

Know Before You Go:

The road getting in is bumpy. In my stubbornness, I took my low-clearance car up and was successful in arriving, but my car was already pretty beaten up so I wasn’t concerned about cosmetics or being rough on it. The next few trips were in tougher vehicles that helped me concentrate less on the road and more on the view. It’s not an impossible road, but some might feel uncomfortable without a truck or four-wheel drive.

Additionally, with all the water in the park, mosquitoes can be a nuisance at certain times of the year. Don’t let that dissuade you from trekking up! As long as you keep moving (and heck, bug spray wouldn’t hurt), you should be okay. If there could be a chance of stopping in the wetter areas, bring along a lightweight, breathable windbreaker with a hood you can cinch down to keep them from bugging you (pun not intended, but there it is).