Paint Pots – Kootenay National Park

Paint Pots – Kootenay National Park

Paint Pots - Great place to stretch your legs near BanffThe Paint Pots trail will take you to a group of mineral-rich springs in Kootenay National Park, that are incredible colours; Just like natural pots of paint. As well as the colourful pools of water, the iron-rich water has stained the surrounding soil a vibrant ochre colour. It all looks incredible against the bright green grass and the blue waters of the Vermilion River.

This part of the Canadian Rockies has impressive mountain views in all directions, but it is pretty cool that you can visit these geological features without much effort. If you just pop up to the Paint Pots and back, you’ll be walking less than 2km – so this is another great option for families. The Paint Pots are within a National Park and this area is sacred to the Ktunaxa people, so please be doubly careful to leave no trace.

Paint Pots Map

Paint Pots – The basics

Distance: 1.9 km
Elevation gain
: 50m
Time: 30-40 mins
What to bring:
This is super short. You only really need your camera.
There are loos in the car park.
Dogs:Β Yes (on a leash)
How hard is it? Easy-peasy. This is more like sightseeing than hiking.
Extra notes: There is no cell service in Kootenay National Park. Download maps and details before you drive into the National park!

Paint Pots trail – Getting started

You can find the car park right next to the highway (Banff-Windermere Parkway), 35 minutes away from Lake Louise, or 40 minutes away from Banff. If you are coming from the car park, just walk towards the Vermillion River, then cross it on a pretty foot bridge. Once you’re over the bridge you want to take the path on the left. Someone has scratched “paint pots” on the sign. Turning the other way will take you to Marble Canyon.

Ochre Beds

The first part of the trail goes through the Ochre Beds. There are plenty of orange coloured pools between the grasses. The colour of the soil is pretty bright, but it looks even brighter when wet. Luckily there are boards to help you avoid the soggiest sections of the trail.

First Nations Pigments

This area is sacred to the Ktunaxa people as they used these ochre beds to make red ochre paint since ancient times. The signboard said people made walnut-sized balls of red clay, flattened them into cakes then baked them. Once hard, people could ground the cakes into powder, and mix that powder with fish oil or animal grease to make paint.

At the turn of the 20th Century, settlers also started to mine the pigments. They dug up the clay by hand and carried it (well, horse-drawn wagons carried it) over to the train line by Castle Mountain. Then it was loaded onto trains to Calgary to be used as a pigment for manufacturing paints. There are still some mining tools (all now bright orange) left by these ochre beds. The mining stopped when this area became part of the new Kootenay National Park in 1920.

The colour varies a bit as you walk around, but it is various shades of yellow, red, orange and brown. We found the brightest red hues as we hiked up the path towards the paint pots.

The Paint Pots

If you keep walking up the hill, you’ll reach the actual “paint pots.” These are formed by the accumulation of iron oxide that bubbles up from the cold mineral springs. This makes the water mildly acidic and very full of minerals. It is mostly iron ore, but also contains zinc, manganese and lead. All these minerals create a very colourful landscape.

These pools are at the highest part of the trail, so the bright orange/red streams flow from here down to the ochre beds below. If you are worried about the natural pollution from these mineral rich waters – it’s not too bad. Basically the acidic waters mix with the fast-flowing waters of the Vermilion River (which is full of limestone from the surrounding rocks like marble Canyon.) This dilutes the acid and reduces pollution. Still, I wouldn’t recommend drinking the water near the paint pots!

Heading back

Most people stop at the paint pots and then head back to the car park the way they came. However if you look on the map at the top of this page, you’ll see that there is also another trail that returns to the car park via a loop. If you don’t mind a slightly longer walk, it’s a lovely (and quiet) trail.

You need to take the first turning on the right to follow the marble canyon/ochre paint pots connector trail. This path is down hill most of the way and you may have it all to yourselves – we didn’t see any other hikers until we got back to the river.

Once you reach the Vermilion River, you can either turn left to hike to Marble Canyon, or turn right to return to the Ochre Beds car park.

The last section of trail along the river has some incredible views, so it is worth doing the loop if you have a little extra energy. You’ll know when you’ve made it back to where you started as you’ll be able to see the footbridge.

Or, walk to Marble Canyon

If you fancy stretching your legs a little more, you can hike over to Marble Canyon (it’s 4km in one direction, with minimal elevation gain.) It is quite an interesting walk through the remains of the forest fire from 2003. The spaces between the burned trees are now filled with wildflowers, and the new trees are still quite small, so this route is fantastic for views of the surrounding mountains and Vermilion River.

The Paint Pots are a very interesting (and beautiful) geological wonder in Kootenay National Park. Whether you stop to take a quick look, or have fun on one of the slightly longer hiking options, you’ll definitely want to visit here if you are in the area.

Paint Pots - Great place to stretch your legs near Banff Paint Pots - Colourful geology in Kootenay National Park Kootenay National Park's Paint Pots

52 thoughts on “Paint Pots – Kootenay National Park

  1. I remember reading your blog post on Marble Canyon and my exact thought was “wow! I’d love to see those paint pots!” and here they are!! I like that it isn’t too long of a hike, but still incredibly beautiful! Also thanks for including a bit of background information on the Ktunaxa history and First Nation relation to this particular place. Whenever I visit National Parks, I’m always…I guess “hyperaware” of the fact that Indigenous people were literally removed from those lands and it’s now deemed /protected by the state/. Idk, it’s just…eerie haha, so thanks for a bit of deeper insight!

      1. Thank you for this resource! I’m so aware of the indigenous issues across North America, so I appreciate it when other people bring it up. I haven’t figured out how to incorporate it into my US National Parks posts except including land acknowledgements. The history portion is an option I hadn’t considered!!

        1. (P. S. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that the government banned natives from the land but expected them to show up on certain days… yikes.)

  2. This hike looks amazing! Love the photos. I’ve been to the paint pots in Yellowstone and those were really cool too, would love to see these ones some day too!

    1. I would loooove to go to Yellowstone – there is something about volcanic areas that really draws me in.

      The crazy thing about these paint pots was they are cold(!) All the other places I have seen like this (in Japan and NZ) were steaming, so it was cool (heh) to see cold versions.

  3. These look very similar to the ones in Yellowstone National Park. Same type of steaming underground springs and odd colored water and such. Nature is so cool.

    Thanks for sharing your lovely photos.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  4. Outdoors are my favourite and Kootenay national park looks amazing! I bet you had a great time hiking up through the park and how gorgeous is the marble canyon😍

  5. I just love your website! The Paint Pots look fun. Neat hiking on the “boardwalk” through the forest. Gorgeous views. Kootenay NP is definitely on our bucket list!

    1. Aww thanks Ashlee! I think those areas with the boardwalk must get reeeally muddy in the springtime – they do make it a lot easier to hike without ruining the path!

  6. Wow that’s some kinda wonderful work of nature right there! I’ve never seen such varied colors for the soil! This hike looks interesting! πŸ™‚

  7. I am so envious! You have so many amazing hiking trails to take near you. I do too, but nothing like this!! I keep saying it but I need to get out to western Canada!

  8. Wow, that orange-colour is so vibrant! What a fascinating feature! Nature is so cool! I’d love to see the place in person. Those views at the end of the walk looks spectacular too. Thanks for the great guide!

  9. Stunning. My mom always said that Banff was one of the most beautiful places she has ever been. This just adds to my list of things to do when I finally get there.

    1. Your mum is right, Banff is stunning (I had so many people tell me that even before we moved to Canada!) But I love that there are so many equally gorgeous, but less busy areas nearby. The Kootenays are great for that.

  10. I’m all for an easy-peasy hike that I can do when I’m feeling a bit out-of-shape after longer hikes. I love that you include a bit of a geological explanation for things you see on your hikes, it’s always interesting. I honestly hadn’t heard of cold mineral springs before.

    1. Same here! I was geeking out along the trail…and then had to look up more information about it all when I got home. πŸ˜€

    1. Most of these were just taken with my pixel 3. I have a proper Lumix camera as well…but I am not very happy with it – the photos from my phone seem to come out better.

  11. Very, very cool! Interesting to read about the paint pots and the clay’s contribution to the painting world. I, too, just wrote about the way they grind the minerals to a powder and mix them with fats to make paint. The area is so beautiful. I’d love to hike there.

  12. I love all the detail and history you add to this hike, it makes me feel like I was right there with you to see this beautiful spot! I can’t wait to read about your next adventure.

  13. I am so in love with the Canadian Rockies…so beautiful! And definitely putting Kootenay National Park on my list to hike and check out those paint pots especially!

    1. Thank you! It’s slightly mad that this area is not as popular as the more famous National parks nearby…but maybe that is part of the charm!?

    1. Thanks Lerato. Yeah I have not been south of the Canadian border much – but North America is still blowing me away with its scenery!

  14. Aha, we wondered where that other trail went. It’s always nice to be able to make a loop. I find these so endlessly fascinating – the Paint Pots were a great way to finish the Rockwall and a welcome sign that we were close to the trailhead! How long did it take for the ochre to wear off your shoes? πŸ™‚

    1. It was actually much faster to wear off than the bright white rock flour from Yoho! Possibly because we washed our feet in the vermilion river (I guess the limestone rich waters were good for washing off the acidic ochre!?)

      I was wondering if you finished here on your epic rockwall trip!

      Do you ever find that you have seen soooo much amazing scenery that you are a bit blasΓ© about some areas!? I feel like I might be underwhelmed by this if I had just hiked along the rockwall!

      1. Oh interesting – a friend of ours who hiked the Rockwall with us told us she still has orange dirt on her boots πŸ™‚

        Funny you say that – when we got back to the car one of our group wondered where the Paint Pots were. When we mentioned that they were the pools we walked past they looked a bit bemused and just replied ‘Oh’.

        To be fair, it was at the end of a 15 km hike and we were all kinda dreaming of real food and a beer at that point… On the other hand, we’d hiked mostly in the forest so anything new to look at is always welcome. Anyhow, *I* enjoyed seeing the Paint Pots again! πŸ™‚

        But I know what you mean – I’ve certainly been on trips where I’ve reached a saturation point with all the scenery and I’ve had to stop and check in with myself to pay attention! The end of a long day’s backpacking is the most common time.

  15. The paint pots look absolutely amazing! I love how short the hike is, but also how beautiful it is! That sounds like the perfect hike for me – short and pretty!

  16. I love all the places you explore! πŸ˜€ I haven’t gone hiking in a while but really want to again sometime soon. It’s so pretty here! :] Your photos (as always) are beautiful!

    1. Thanks lovely! I guess you are working crazily hard with the pandemic? I guess the trails will be there waiting for you when you can get back out!

      lol I must never look at the dates when you post things as I honestly thought you’d been out exploring every week!

  17. We stopped here on my November trip to the Canadian rockies but didn’t do the hike. I think we were in FOMO some of the longer hikes or hot springs. Now I wish we had just walked up the darn trail. It’s beautiful.

    1. I know that feeling sooo well! I am sad about quite a few of the trails we missed on this trip (the one I reeeally wanted to do was Kindersley Pass and Sinclair Creek Loop…but I hurt my leg and wasn’t up to it – sob!)

      At least this one is super easy to squeeze in next time you drive through.

    1. I am sooo glad you like them Nina! Canada is sooo massive we all need to share to find it’s gorgeous nooks! πŸ˜‰

    1. Oooh good question! I have not visited Yellowstone, but I get the feeling those are even more impressive. We visited some volcanic paint pot like places in NZ and they were simply incredible! I have a feeling that is more like Yellowstone.

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