From Banff the road hauls upwards approaching the Continental Divide. Along with a pleasant alpine panorama and a pair of turquoise green lakes, the primary highlight is the thought that rains and snow that fall to the west of this invisible highpoint line ends up in the Pacific while waters that fall east end up in the Atlantic.
Further along a return two kilometre trail leads through a glacier-carved canyon streaked with marble. Cerulean blue melting waters over the millennia have carved 37 metres from the prison grey walls with small waterfalls littering the flow. Despite being named Marble Canyon, the canyon’s name comes from the sheen of the crystalline limestone in its walls.
A few kilometres on, a short stroll through grasslands littered in wildflowers leads over the aptly named Vermillion River (when you see the colour of the Paint Pots). A steeper climb past the river leads to three small chilly water holes called the Paint Pots (see lead photo) stained in red, orange and yellow (from the iron-enriched oxides in the rocks). Like an oversized artist’s palette, the natives use the ochres from the edge of the pools for ceremonial body paints. Stories of thunder spirits describe the whispering flute-like sounds that apparently emanate from the Paint Pots.Thirty kilometres along the main highway through jaw-dropping Rockies scenery leads to a small walk over a rustic bridge offering a stellar view of Numa Falls. While narrow and low by any waterfall standard, Numa Falls’ awesome power is striking. Glittering duck egg blue meltwater from glacial silt powers through a canyon of sheer rock forcing its way through a narrow cleft of rock and over a small ledge and gushing into the river below. The rocks have been worn baby-skin smooth by the swirling churning waters, some rocks sunset orange in colour from the mineral content.
As the descriptive road signs continue to remind drivers, the road persistently climbs reaching a high point of 1,486 metres at Sinclair Pass. Tipping over the pass, Olive Lake (more emerald green in colour) is geologically unusual, spring-fed with two outlets leading to completely separate water systems and an easy stroll around the lake. Highlight is spotting brook trout, most quite small, in the pure lake waters.
The iron-rich russet red rock walls thin into Sinclair Canyon. Historically too narrow, the area was blasted to build a road wide enough for cars leading into the unimpressive town of Radium Hot Springs. However to relieve the legs from all those short hikes, the town exploits the natural spring waters that pour from the ground. Easy on the nose with no odour, the springs have been built into a pool complex.Despite the ugly Stalinist architecture the waters are uplifting and relaxing, the body melting into oblivion in the oven-like radioactive (hence the name) waters. Straight from the ground, the water is a stroke-inducing 46 degrees Celsius (114 degrees) though it is chilled to a friendly 40 degrees C (103 degrees).
Kootenay National Park is a short drive with a string of highlights for an excellent one day driving venture and a chance to escape the crowds around Banff and Lake Louise. Lie back at the end of the day in the sumptuous warm waters of Radium Hot Springs and relive the stunning mountain vistas that line the road with vivid blue lakes, waterfalls and rivers accessible via short trail walks.