Paint Pots & Ochre Beds Hike in Kootenay National Park, BC

Paint Pots & Ochre Beds Hike in Kootenay National Park, BC

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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.

Paint Pots trailhead

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Paint Pots trailhead 51.169805, -116.147418
First, you will cross a nice suspension bridge over Vermillion River. The water flows at high speed and is of unique turquoise – bluish colour.
Suspension Bridge at Ochre Beds in Kootenay NP
Suspension Bridge at Ochre Beds in Kootenay NP
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.
Ochre Beds in Kootenay NP
Ochre Beds in Kootenay NP
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.
Suspension Bridge at Ochre Beds in Kootenay NP
Suspension Bridge at Ochre Beds in Kootenay NP
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.
Paint Pots
Paint Pots
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.
Iron accumulation at the rim of a pool
Iron accumulation at the rim of a pool
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).
Paint Pots in Kootenay NP
Paint Pots in Kootenay NP
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.
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Photographer & Hiker

Once Upon A Photo tells a story about the pictures our life and beautiful planet paints for us daily, captured in time by attentive eyes... and then published here. I all goes back to my childhood when my father introduced me to the old Zenit camera. From that very moment I knew that the camera would be my constant companion in life. I started developing pictures in the darkroom and loved every minute of those long hours spent there. Soon after I switched to digital photography, and never looked back. To this very day, even with more advanced technology, nothing comes close to the feeling I get when I hold my camera. I am still the same curious, watchful, intuitive child ready to be surprised by the depth and meaning of the world around us. My intention is not to disturb it, but capture it in its purest and untouched form, in order to reveal its true beauty. As a landscape, travel, still life, urban, and portrait photographer, my mission is to have you as the visual reader who, chapter-by-chapter, discovers and appreciates the latest stories caught in my frames.

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