Paint Pots Hike (Red Earth) – 2.2 km (1.36 mi) return, easy, elevation 26m (85 feet), 45 min
Access: From the Trans-Canada Highway by Castle Junction, go south on highway 93. Travel for 19.5km to the Paint Pots parking lot. If you are coming from the Radium Hot Springs, continue north on highway #93 for 86km. The alternate access is via a trail from Marble Canyon, about 3.2 km north east from the Paint Pots.
First, you will cross a nice suspension bridge over Vermillion River. The water flows at high speed and is of unique turquoise – bluish colour.
Once you cross the bridge the trail will soon get wider and open. It will continue like this for about 400m. The terrain is is leveled and root free.
This portion of the hike might get you confused as to if you are still on the Canadian soil. It looks more like you are in Africa. The ground is strikingly orange and stays in contrast with the surrounding green tress. It’s a result of high mineral concentration, and to be exact – ochre presence. As per Wikipedia ochre is a natural earth pigment containing hydrated iron oxide, which ranges in color from yellow to deep orange or brown.
First Nations people used the red ochre as body, pictures, or clothing paint. Some pictographs in Banff National Park are made by First Nation people using red ochre.
In the early 1900’s the ochres found at Paint Pots became actively mined. The substance extracted was used as colouring of pain back in Calgary. Thankfully the mining of the ochre beds has eventually stopped in the late 20’s in order to protect the uniqueness of the park. You can spot some old mining equipment that was left behind from old days if you look to your left.
The wheelchair portion of the trail finishes at ochre beds, but the trail continues farther on. It will be 38m ascent to the paint pots. The terrain is mostly flat and wide still, but this time without wooden planks. Soon you will see a small creek on your left hand side.
The Paint Pots are remarkable. Again it doesn’t remind me of a Canadian landscape at all. The colour of the 3 pools and the ground are out of this world. Judge for yourself by looking at the photos.
There is a high amount of iron, lead, magnesium, and zinc within the Paint Pots pools. The mineral pools create bubbles through the earth, and with that the iron ore constantly stains the soil around the pools giving it deep orange colour. Moreover, when the iron level builds up on the edges of each pool, their height increases in time.
The greenish colour of the two larger pots is the result of the mixing of fresh water from a small creek, which empties into the largest pool (source: Parks Canada).
Although it’s a short hike, the colourful landscape is worth exploring. I didn’t expect to see anything like that in Canada. Thumbs up Paint Pots! The only thing I would change are the signs. They are old and really hard to read.
Trail to Ochre Beds is also wheelchair accessible. In the beginning the trail splits into two. The left hand side of the trail is for wheelchairs. It offers gently descent to the valley. Please pick a dry day for your trip, as if wet, going around the wooden planks lying on the ground won’t be comfortable.
Try not to make your boots and clothes dirty when hiking. The red soil easy stains the clothing, and it doesn’t come off easily.
If you need to you can order Park Map here: Map
The trail is moderately busy. I hiked in the afternoon and met just few people hiking along, so no need to rush to be there early.
It might get hot on sunny day. The first portion of the hikes is right in the open with no shade, so bring water and a hat with you.