Simpson River trail – Kootenay National Park

Simpson River trail – Kootenay National Park

Simpson River Trail in Kootenay National Park, Canada - Easy trail to pretty river viewsThe Simpson River trail might not be on the top of your list of possible hikes in Kootenay National park – but the scenery is pretty amazing. Like the other areas I have shown so far in Kootenay National park, this region was ravaged by wildfires (the fire here was back in 2001.) Those fires are recent enough that there are very few tall trees to block your views of the surrounding mountains. They are also long enough ago that new flowers, shrubs and mini trees have started to grow back.

We did not hike the whole way up to the Surprise Creek Campground – we only had a couple of hours to spare, so we just hiked up to the bluffs overlooking the Simpson River. This walk is good for choosing your own adventure. You can make it as long or as short as you fancy.

Simpson River trail map

This map is pretty close to the path we followed. The path seems different to the dotted line for the route on the alltrails map – but it is well cleared and easy to follow.

Simpson River trail – the basics

Distance: 22.4 km (or as far as you fancy – we only did around 5km)
Elevation gain
: 677m (minimal for the first few kilometers)
Time: 7 hours
What to bring:
The 10 Essentials
Bear spray
Plenty of layers and waterproofs.
There is a campsite at the end of the trail if you have a camping permit.
Dogs: Yes (on a leash)
How hard is it? Easy to moderate depending how far you go.
Extra notes: There is no cell service in Kootenay National Park. Download maps and details before you drive into the National park!

Simpson River trail – Getting started

You can park at the Simpson River trailhead on Banff-Windermere Highway (BC 93). It’s about 46km (30mins) from Castle Junction or 54km (40mins) from Radium Hot Springs. There are some lovely mountain views from the bridge across the Vermilion River. This would be good for a speedy scenic stop off, but it’s even better if you go for a walk. If you hike the whole way to Surprise Creek and back, it’ll take 7 hours.

Safety First

You should be extra careful in areas where the burned trees are still standing. There is a risk that the trees could fall, so it is best to avoid this trail in anything other than calm, sunny weather. If you are in a group you should spread out, and walk fast past trees that are still standing. Don’t stop for breaks unless you are more than a tree length from standing trees.

Having said that, in most places the trees have either already fallen, or been chopped down. There were only a few areas where blackened trees were still standing close to the trail.

Wide views of Kootenay National Park

This area must have been a sad sight 20 years ago, right after the fire. But now with the new growth of wildflowers and diverse saplings it is really coming to life again. I imagine these low areas would have been surrounded by tall forests in the past, blocking out the views of Mount Shanks and Hawk Ridge. We really loved just how many mountain peaks you can see from the trail.

Views of Simpson River

The pathway starts along the Vermilion River, but then turns to follow alongside the Simpson River. You can’t always see down to the river, but when you do catch a view of it; It’s beautiful.

Standing Trees

There are a few places (mostly up high on the banks of the Simpson River) where there are still quite a few burned trees that are still standing. These are the areas where you need to be extra careful. You can see the ground is littered with massive blackened tree trunks. It’s a massive tree graveyard.

Here is a photo of Marc, so you can see the scale of the ex-trees. They must have been truly enormous when they still had branches and leaves. They towered over us, even in their sad, topless state.

Wildflower Heaven

The one good thing about this tree-graveyard is the lack of tall foliage has made the Simpson River trail into a haven for wildflowers. We saw plenty of the alpine flowers that I am used to (the red paintbrushes and the fireweed) but there was so many more!

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As well as the flowers, there was a whole range of grasses. This area is now full of food for insects, small critters and it must be great for larger gazing animals too.

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We did this walk on a grey afternoon, but it was still beautiful with the contrast of the moody skies and the bright coloured flowers.


There are a few areas of the trail that are a bit soggy and swampy, but Parks Canada has built some really nice boardwalks.

Bluffs above the Simpson River

We didn’t really have a planned destination for our walk. There is no cell-service in Kootenay National Park, so we didn’t know much about how far this trail would go what else we might see further along the trail. So we decided to turn back once we’d seen the gorgeous views from the bluffs just a couple of kilometers into the trail.

Continue to Surprise Creek Campground?

It sounds like if we had kept going, the trail to Surprise Creek Campground would have been more of the same – pretty views of the Simpson River, the surrounding mountains and oodles of wild flowers. I found another post hiking to the Surprise Creek Campground if you are interested in seeing more.

In the end, hiking along the Simpson River trail was perfect for killing a few hours in the afternoon in Kootenay National Park. To be honest as there are sooo many epic trails nearby, I am not sure I’d have this hike high on my list to return to or for going the whole way to Surprise Creek Campground. I think you can get even more impressive views for less effort nearby. Having said that, this is a beautiful trail if you like wildflowers, or if you want some peace and quiet while you hike – there are very few people in this area.

What do you think? Do you like the idea of a quiet few hours hiking along the river, or would you prefer to save your energy for some of the other more famous Canadian Rockies hikes nearby?

Simpson River Trail in Kootenay National Park, Canada - Mountains, grasses and recovering from wildfires Simpson River Trail in Kootenay National Park, Canada - A flower filled hike Simpson River Trail in Kootenay National Park, Canada - Easy trail to pretty river views

24 thoughts on “Simpson River trail – Kootenay National Park

  1. Sometimes you just need a simple leg-stretcher like this – great day for it, and nice to catch some wildflowers. I was wondering why the name sounded familiar then I read the trip report you linked to and realized it flows from the Mount Assiniboine area 🙂

    1. Yep, that’s another area that we didn’t explore yet (although Lisa told me it is beeeautiful too!)

      We did this one on the same relaxed day as Marble Canyon/the Paint Pots…(that loop was so short that our legs needed just a bit more.) We still had enough time to roast a whole chicken on our campfire! I quite like those days where you manage a few teeny walks instead of one massive one.

      Having said that. I seem like like all days in the Rockies. They are addictive. 🤣

      1. You have to visit Mt Assiniboine! It’s a bit of a slog if you backpack but you can always pay for a helicopter… Having hiked in twice I think we’ve earned the easy way in next time 🙂

        Yeah, I also like those days when you do a few shorter walks to get a taste of different areas. The Rockies definitely are addictive – so grand and yet still quite accessible.

  2. I love the picture of fireweed–it brings back lots of memories of areas reclaiming growth after a fire or other disaster. I drove this fire area last November and was saddened too by the destruction.

    1. Yeah, that was my first thought when we first drove through. Although once we hiked there my sadness slowly turned to awe. It’s amazing how nature can bounce back and regrow in the areas that burned down.

  3. I think I’ve told you this before, but Banff has been on my bucket list for about 8 years. Your experiences and photos make me want to plan this trip the minute the pandemic ends! I’ll be bookmarking this post for future travel plans.

    1. Yeees you are going to love it so much when you visit. Although just be aware, you maybe have to plan multiple trips – this area is slightly addictive!

    1. Yay! I think the border are closed at the moment, otherwise I would have suggested you come North after South America!

    1. Thanks Jonno! Yeah, it’s a pretty area (and a relaxing hike) All the bridges in the Canadian National Parks seem to be gorgeous. They must put extra effort it to make them aesthetically pleasing.

  4. The Simpson River trail looks really inviting. Apart from the lovely views what had me riveted was the sight of the burnt trees, the trunks that remain look so huge, how beautiful the place must have been when all the trees stood in full bloom.

    1. Yeah those trees were massive! Although, when the trees were fully grown, you wouldn’t get any mountain views…so the trail might actually have been less impressive.

  5. The trail appears to be in great shape and I guess the bridges were all rebuilt after the fire in 2001. They look brand new and well maintained and so is the boardwalk. As you mention, the views are wonderful, especially since the trees have given way to meadows of colorful flowers.
    Reading your review I was thinking: Something is missing. I guess I was missing the usual warning about being in bear country. So I searched for the word bear and found that you have bear spray on your list. 🙂

    1. Lol yeah, I am not sure…but there were no signs saying watch out for bears at this one. Maybe the berry bushes are not big enough yet!? Or maybe as there are no trees, bears could see you from far away, so you’re less likely to surprise them!?

      We still brought bear spray just in case…

  6. You find the prettiest places ever. <3 I love all the wildflowers and pretty views! I wonder if they allow hammock camping there… *-* I wanna gooooo.

    1. Oooh they might do at the campgrounds – I think all the campgrounds we stayed at in the Rockies would have been suitable for hammock camping (there are so many trees!)

  7. There’s something so bittersweet about these trees. It’s awful and sad they had to burn down (HOLY CRAP they must’ve been huge!!), but they are also eerily beautiful as they are. It’s hard for me to put into words what I mean. Definitely sweet that you get to see the mountains now, though!! That’s a big plus.

    Anyway, I think I’m with you on choosing different hikes. About 5km of this one looks like it was enough to see the old remainders and new growth, but I can’t imagine another 17km would be invigorating when I’m so close to the rest of the National Pak.

  8. I love the variety of photos here – the closer up photos of wildflowers, the board walks, the wider alpine landscape. I think I’d love this trail Josy!

  9. Of course I love outdoors! The Simpson River trail looks really inviting. Loved your pictures very much and I won’t mind doing this trek as we love being outdoors for views like this. And that sight of the burnt trees! Just stole my heart.

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