The Rare Inland Rainforest Around Kootenay Lake

The Rare Inland Rainforest Around Kootenay Lake

Deep in the southeast corner of British Columbia in the Nelson and Kootenay Lake region lies one of the most magical and mysterious ecosystems on the planet. Fabled and ancient old growth forests up to five meters thick are rooted here amongst the jagged peaks of the Selkirk and Purcell mountains. This region is home to the last-remaining Inland Temperate Rainforest on Earth. This is a land where southern mountain caribou traverse seasonal mountain ranges to feast on rare lichens; a place where black bears and cinnamon-coloured grizzly bears pass through rushing salmon streams, watched closely by bald eagles nesting in black cottonwood or Douglas-fir trees. Diversity thrives in this globally unique and important habitat.

Our region’s globally rare Inland Temperate Rainforest covers valley bottom floors to mid slopes in river valleys and is often shrouded in misty mornings, humid summers and deep, snow-covered winters. With terrain rising to over 10,000 feet (3,000m) and geologically older than the neighbouring Rocky Mountains, these mountains see over 60 feet (18m) of snowfall each year, calling skiers and snowboarders from around the world. Moderately high precipitation contributes to this incredibly rare and beautiful ecosystem taking on the hallmark characteristics of a coastal rainforest, despite its high latitude and being located over 500km away from the nearest ocean. An ecosystem with so many tree species that it’s known as the “Kootenay Mix”, this is a rainforest lover's dream and a paradise for mountaineering/climbing, trail running, mountain biking, and hiking.

Where to discover and explore century old trees:

  • Davis Creek Trailhead features a nice easy access point right off the highway at Davis Creek Campground. Climb the trail for a spectacular view of Kootenay Lake and continue towards Fishhook Lake into an ancient forest ecosystem.
  • Kokanee Old Growth Forest Trail will inspire and connect you with ancient and massive cedar trees, reaching up towards the sky and back across the centuries. Located near Balfour, 20 minutes from Nelson.
  • Ka Papa Trail is a timeless trail for a picnic or stroll as you drive over the Kootenay Pass.
  • Bear’s Den Trail/Giveout Creek is a magical realm just outside of Nelson begging you to jump on your mountain bike and pedal through lush cedar forests.
  • Great Northern Rail Trail is a local favourite, departing from Salmo and heading towards Nelson. Immerse yourself in a grove of old growth cedar trees.
  • Retallack Old Growth Trail located near Kaslo is a short loop that welcomes explorers starting in the late spring season.
  • John Fenger Memorial Trail located in North Kootenay Lake is a 30-minute walk through old-growth giants.
  • Jumbo Pass & Valley, also known as Qat’muk, is a place with ancient forest and critical habitat, protected area defended and fought for by the Ktunaxa Nation
  • Cedar Grove Trail is an accessible and short trail just minutes outside of Nelson with old growth hemlock trees lining the Kokanee River.
  • West Arm Provincial Park extends along the shore of Kootenay Lake, from Nelson to Harrop. Approximately 70% of the park is mature or old growth western white pine, Douglas-fir, lodgepole pine, western red cedar, western hemlock, subalpine fir, and Engelmann spruce.

Late spring, summer and early fall are prime hiking times, with spring flowers blanketing mountain meadows at the start of the season and leafy trees putting on a colourful autumn show at the end. It’s important we tread lightly,  leave no trace and adhere to trail etiquette. Learn more about these ancient and important ecosystems to protect and enjoy for generations to come.


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