Hiking The Continental Divide
Hiking the Continental Divide
High in the Rockies lays the Continental Divide, a high point in the mountains which divides the direction of the rivers. If the stream or river is situated on the western side of this divide then the water will flow west and vice a versa. During my expedition in Banff, I went on a hiking trip that involved trails along the Canadian Continental Divide, two of which were in Kootenay National Park on the British Colombia side and one in Banff National Park in Alberta.
The day started with a 40 minute drive to Kootenay National Park and the first trail was Paint Pots. The trail leads hikers through the old mines where ochre was mined from the orange/yellow ochre beds. Aboriginal people use to gather the ochre for centuries for ceremonial use and for trade. Modern miners later mined the ochre in the early 1900’s and shipped it to Calgary where it was used as a pigment in paint and also used in clothing. Old mining tools still exist today and can be seen along the trail. The trail we did was no more than a 2 mile loop but the trail can also be coupled with much longer trails, one of which can take you to Marble Canyon. The trail is a rare treat that will take you through the boreal forest covered in thick moss, mushrooms, lichens, and tall fir trees covered in “old man’s beard.”
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The hiking tour then drove a short distance to Marble Canyon rather than hike there from Paint Pots due to time constraints. Marble Canyon is more of a viewing point rather than a hike. The trail leads up to multiple bridges which crisscross the Tokumm Creek. The trail is over a narrow gorge, turquoise glacial waters carved its way to the Kootenay River. Waterfalls also inhabit the upper creak portion of this startling canyon. The hillsides are also covered with dead trees charred by a recent fire that has spurred recent forest growth.
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The third stop on our tour was Vista Lake. The trailhead is the Vista Lake Viewpoint along the highway. The amazing view of the lake can be enjoyed just from this point but if you want a ground level view of the lake then you must hike down to the shore. Our ground did just that, hiking along a ridge down to the shore and eventually to a bridge at the opposite side of the like. The trail is well shaded as it carves its way through the forest and then along the lake shore. The hike can be much longer if you chose to but due to our schedule, we only had time to hike down to the bridge to take in the beauty of the lake. The trail can also be a multi-day hike through the back country for the more adventurous hikers.
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This day tour is a great way to see this area along the great divide. These stops are three different terrains so you don’t get bored of the same type of trails. The tour was well executed by Discover Banff Tours and the day was highlighted by our very knowledgeable guide, Becky. The tour was a last-minute decision and one I’m glad I made. I’m now thoroughly convinced that there are no bad locations in the Banff area.