Known for sandy beaches, a canyon, old growth western cedar and grand fir, and three campsites, Kokanee Creek Provincial Park has provincial significance and is the number one choice for tourists’ coming to the West Kootenay. In mid – August to mid – September, the Kokanee Spawning Channel and viewing platform draws many visitors.
Location. In southern BC on Hwy 3A, a 20-min drive, 19 km east of Nelson or if you travel west take the Kootenay Lake ferry from Kootenay Bay to Balfour. From Balfour it’s another 12 km to the park.
Park Size: 260 hectares
Number of Vehicle Accessible Campsires: Redfish 19, Sandspit 112, Friends 39. Campground Closed Oct 10-April 13.
Nature and Culture
- History: Kokanee Creek Park is located on the old “Busk” estate site. Charles W. Busk was a wealthy English gentleman who came to Nelson in the late 1800’s. He had acquired a large tract of land with lake frontage 14 miles from Nelson. From plans drawn by English architects, Busk built a large mansion that once sat on a rise a short way up Kokanee Glacier Road. As a country squire and gracious gentlemen, Mr. Busk enjoyed entertaining guests but also had many interests in surveying, mining, fruit ranching and Scouting. He lived an eloquent, lavish life style. After 1913 the romance of his new way of life had dulled and it is estimated he went through three fortunes. Sadly, within a few years he died, disillusioned by most of his ventures, withdrawn and ignored by friends whom he once had entertained so lavishly. The park as it is seen today was originally established in 1955.
- Cultural Heritage: Archaeological evidence in the park indicates seasonal campsites used by First Nations people. Remains of European settlement include evidence of old homesteads and an early estate. Nearby are mining ghost towns and village museums displaying the Kootenay area history.
- Conservation: With 257 hectares, Kokanee Creek Park has extensive sandy beaches and a large delta area. Backed by a gentle rising upland, this area gives way to the forested slopes of the Slocan Range of the Selkirk Mountains. Kokanee Creek bisects the landscape to form a steep canyon. The park protects the active alluvial creek fan with its marshes and extensive sandspit.
Both the Englemann spruce/subalpine fir and the interior cedar/hemlock biogeoclimatic zones occur here. Prime growing conditions within the park produce a diverse mix of vegetation with magnificent specimens of fir, hemlock and pine. There are both pure and mixed stands of deciduous trees as well as many of the common understory plants including wild rose, queen’s cup and skunk cabbage. Flowers, trees and shrubs are part of the park’s natural heritage, please do not damage or remove them.
- Wildlife: The Kokanee Creek Delta ecology includes many species of plants and animals. A variety of habitats support coyotes, beaver, whitetail and mule deer and a large number of birds ranging from the tiny Rufous hummingbird to the great blue heron. Many of the birds are migratory but kingfishers, woodpeckers and dippers can by seen throughout the year. The park also has important man-made and some natural spawning channels for kokanee salmon, which spawn in large numbers in the late summer.
Canoeing. The delta provides many opportunities to canoe or kayak and enjoy the abundant birdlife in the park. The lake can be accessed by the day-use/picnic areas or the boat launch at the north-east end of Sandspit beach. Kootenay Lake can have sudden wind or weather changes. Be prepared.
Kokanee Creek Paddle Sports – kayak and paddle board rentals off the beach in the Friends Day-use Area.
Cycling. Bicycles must keep to roadways. Bicycle helmets are mandatory in British Columbia.
Fishing. Kokanee, rainbow and bull trout are found in Kootenay Lake. Anyone fishing or angling in British Columbia must have an appropriate licence.
Hiking. There are 9.5 km of easy hiking and walking trails within the park. The majority of these trails are located around the campground, visitor centre, spawning channel, lake shoreline and through the delta. A walking bridge across Kokanee Creek can link you to roads and trails to Redfish campground.
The most popular are three connected trails located on the west side of Highway 3, opposite the Sandspit campground entrance. Canyon Trail follows the east side of Kokanee Creek, passes through mature cedar/hemlock trees and leads you to a set of stairs and terraced viewing platform overlooking a canyon. Due to the narrowness of the canyon, the views of the spring runoff are spectacular. The connecting Pine and Woodland trails take you through a forest of yellow pine and birch. The trails combine to make a circle route. All the trails are considered easy to moderate. Depending which route you choose, hiking times range from 30 to 60 min.
In addition, Kokanee Glacier Park is 16 km away and contains over 100 km of beginner to advanced hiking trails in spectacular alpine terrain.
Pets on Leash. Pets/domestic animals must be on a leash at all times and are not allowed in beach areas or park buildings. A dog beach is beside the boat launch at the north-east end of the park. You are responsible for their behaviour and must dispose of their excrement. Backcountry areas are not suitable for dogs or other pets due to wildlife issues and the potential for problems with bears.
Swimming. The two day-use/picnic areas Sandspit and Redfish offer extensive sandy beaches. The water of Kootenay lake is considered cool and refreshing. Here, in shallow areas on the large sand bar the water is warmer. Sandspit beach has a lagoon, which is warm but also a bit slimy. Its popular for wading to find minnows and tadpoles but not recommended for swimming. The only roped off swimming area is at Sandspit. The sandy shoreline provides excellent opportunities for swimming, sun bathing and water skiing. There are no lifeguards on duty at provincial parks.
Waterskiing. There are waterskiing opportunities outside of the controlled area at this park.
Wildlife Viewing. There is a viewing platform at the end of Canyon Trail on Kokanee Creek. There is an abundant bird population on the delta or along the creek and a spawning channel for Kokanee.
Windsurfing. There are windsurfing opportunities at this park.
Winter Recreation. There are cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities along the campsite roads and trails. If the delta freezes, you can also ice skate.
Boat Launch. A wharf to assist with launching and singlewide concrete boat launch can be found at the north-east end of the Sandspit day-use/picnic area. The 20 unit day-use parking lot can accommodate vehicles or boat trailers; no overnight parking except for registered campers. A nearby marina will keep your boat overnight. Both water skiing and windsurfing are popular activities on Kootenay Lake. NOTE: Low water levels preclude boat launch use in March and April.
Campfires. While campfires are allowed and campfire rings are provided at each campsite, we encourage visitors to conserve wood and protect the environment by minimizing the use of fire and using campstoves instead.
Vehicle Accessible Camping. Kokanee Creek Park has 3 campgrounds, Sandspit, Redfish and the Friends campground, that offer vehicle accessible sites. Sandspit, the largest of the 3 is located just east of the Kokanee Creek bridge on Highway 3A while Redfish is located just west of the bridge. The Friends campground is located by the Sandspit day-use/picnic area.
Picnic Areas. There are two day-use/picnic areas both located on Kootenay Lake.
The most popular is situated beside the north end of Sandspit campground. The beach is sandy, 1 km long and has a wonderful large sandbar at its south-eastern tip. The smaller day-use/picnic area is the Redfish site on the opposite side of Highway
Also: A large adventure playground. Sani-Station/Dump. Showers are available.
HIKES for FAMILIES.
Starting by campsite 122 in the Redfish Campground, hike up the west side of Kokanee creek, cross a power line and ascend into the forest, cool on a hot day. The trail crosses some mountain biking trails (the Hitman), at which point you can go further up, or down crossing the power line and continuing down on Dos Slabs, skirting the boulders that the bikers simply fly over. This is a 2 hour, 6 km hike.
MORE HIKES FOR FAMILIES – Canyon Viewpoint, Kokanee Creek PP.
Kokanee Creek Provincial Park, 19 km. east of Nelson, offers a number of trails suitable for families with children of all ages. On Sunday, November 19th, a KMC party of twenty–nine adults and eleven children–chose excellent weather for a hike up Kokanee Creek to the Canyon Viewpoint.
There are two ways to reach the beginning of this track: you can park in the Visitor Centre parking lot and take the trail from the north end; or you can park just across the Kokanee Creek bridge and off Highway 3A to the south side, and walk under the bridge to pick up the trail.
It took our group about 30 minutes to hike up to the Canyon Viewpoint (yes, there really is a canyon and a viewpoint), with plenty of time to hunt for squirrels and throw sticks into the creek.
We returned via Pine Walk and Woodland Walk, two much more gentle and smooth trails that led us back to the cars in another 30 minutes. All trails and junctions that we saw were clearly signposted. Children as young as two were able to complete the route without being carried.
After our taxing outing, we all returned to the White/Bowers country estate for soup and sandwiches. Part or all of the following families were on the trip: Gagnons, Apels, Bowers/Whites, Kratky/Isaacs, Shames, and Perchie/LePages.