Kokanee Glacier is a wilderness park covering 32,000 ha (about the size of Malta) in the high mountains north of Nelson. The only access is by foot in summer and by limited helicopter access in winter if you are lucky enough to obtain a week skiing in the park.
The park’s primary roles are to:
- Represent sub-alpine, alpine landscapes and associated ecological resources of the Selkirk Mountain ranges.
- Conserve grizzly bear and mountain goat habitat.
- Maintain the characteristics and qualities of the natural environment and associated features, and
- Conserve cultural heritage of the early alpine mining history of the West Kootenays.
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, set aside in 1922, is one of the oldest major parks in the provincial system. It has a long history of well established recreational use.
A significant part of this park is above treeline and, although diminishing like most others, there is a glacier which lends its name to the park.
It is mostly above 1,800 metres in elevation, and has two glaciers – Kokanee and Woodbury – which feed over 30 lakes and are the headwaters of many creeks.
As the dominant feature and roughly in the park’s centre, Kokanee Glacier forms the culmination of mountain ridges and valleys leading in from Kootenay and Slocan Lake. Slowly regenerating burns, old growth spruce stands, open slide paths and meadowlands lend contrast and heighten the beauty of the Park’s mountain landscape.
The park straddles the crest of mountain ridges between Slocan Lake and Kootenay Lake. 30 km to the northeast the peaks of Kokanee Glacier are visible from the city of Nelson, and stand out as dominant skyline features from many points on Kootenay Lake.
Flora and fauna
Vegetation is typical of this elevation, with exposed bedrock and gravel moraine near the peaks where only lichens and a few other hardy plants survive. Stunted Engelmann spruce and white-bark pine are common at the timberline, with beautiful sub-alpine flower meadows in the wetter areas. The numerous steep slopes and avalanche paths support slide alder and huckleberry. The lower, more protected slopes are forested with Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, lodgepole pine, hemlock and western red cedar. The few pure stands of subalpine larch are particularly stunning in October when their needles turn golden-yellow in the fading sun.
Bird species such as the blue grouse and Franklin grouse inhabit the forests, and ptarmigan are often seen in the open areas. Golden eagles are occasionally seen soaring majestically overhead.
Small animals such as the hoary marmot, pika, ground squirrels, and marten are common, while larger species such as the mountain goat, mule deer and black bear are present in lesser numbers.
The park contains most of the range for several grizzly bears, and further protection of significant grizzly bear habitat was the main reason for the expansion of the park in 1995. Separation of people and grizzlies is an important management objective - for the protection of both parties. To protect these endangered bears, areas such as the Coffee Creek drainage have no development and use is discouraged. Other trails are carefully designed to avoid bear habitat or closed at certain times of the year when bears are known to be feeding on ripe berries nearby.
Weather patterns in the park are typical of the Southern Interior Mountains, With the whole park area over 1,500 metres, elevation strongly influences weather conditions and while warm spells occur in July and August, mountain weather is highly changeable. Snow and sleet are not uncommon in summer, and rainy weather, many times in the form of thunderstorms, can be expected in the spring, summer and autumn months.
The heavy snowfall accumulations in the park ensure excellent ski conditions from late autumn to early spring. Snow can occur in October at all levels in the park and the higher elevations are not likely to be snow-free until July. Avalanches are prevalent on the open alpine slope, limiting ski touring possibilities to certain routes and to low risk periods.
There are several access roads leading to trails into the park, but the main access route is via Gibson Lake, a relatively rough, steep drive about 13 km from Kokanee Creek Provincial Park on Hwy 3B along the North Shore, about 16 km from Nelson. Once at the lake, it is about a two-to-three-hour hike to Kaslo Lake and the Kokanee Cabin and campground.
The other access roads and trails are used much less and are more remote and more rugged routes. They include Keen Creek (mostly overgrown inside the Park; the road is closed near it's beginning because of erosion damage); Enterprise Creek; Woodbury Creek (which leads into the Woodbury and Silverspray Cabins in the east side of the park.
Fees and permits
There are no entry fees charged for this park.
Once you reach the trailhead in your vehicle, your feet are the only mode of transport that can be used.
- Gibson, Kaslo and Tanal Lakes offer good fishing for rainbow and cutthroat trout.
- It has 85 km of well-marked trails.
Eat & drink
This is a backcountry park and all visitors must be self-contained with appropriate clothing, camping gear, food, etc.
Kokanee Glacier, Woodbury and Silver Spray Cabins are maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada. For the winter season, the Kokanee Glacier Cabin offers availability through a lottery system – there is no availability for walk-ins. For the summer season, it is recommended that you make reservations for all cabins if you want to be assured of a bed to sleep in. If you walk-in and there are beds available, you can register at that time.
There are 30 wilderness, walk-in campsites in the park, but no facilities are provided.
Backcountry Camping Fee: $10 per person/night (persons 16 years of age and older), $5 per child/night (persons 6 - 15 years of age)
BC Parks Backcountry Registration System allows you to pre-pay your overnight fees for backcountry and/or marine site usage, where designated. This is an alternative (on-line) way to pre-pay for your backcountry permit and is not a reservation, the registration fee allows for overnight camping in back country areas but does not guarantee that a campsite in a specific area will be available.
Dogs are not permitted anywhere in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.