Redstreak Campground in Kootenay National Park (part of the world-renowned Rocky Mountain National Parks in Western Canada) is another campground whose reputation precedes it. Talk to Calgarians or lurk on Alberta camping Facebook forums, and Redstreak is regularly lauded. Like all raved about camping spots, I had to find out why. This was the summer I did.
Like all Canadian national parks, reserving a site at Redstreak Campground requires planning and nimbleness. With the reservations period opening in early January, you will need to choose your camping weekend over the Christmas holidays.
I don’t know why Parks Canada does this free-for-all reservation schtick for the entire summer so early in the New Year. I much prefer the rolling 90-day method our provincial booking system runs. It’s far from perfect, but it at least gives you a chance to plan your summer without watching snow fall on the other side of the office window.
I have become somewhat adept at planning summer in winter and nailing camping reservations when the booking bell rings. In the case of Redstreak Campground, I didn’t get one of our pre-chosen sites, but I at least got something for our early July three day adventure in British Columbia. Small victories!
My first impression of Redstreak Campground was not favourable. Apparently, signage is not a priority there. As you approach the village of Radium Hot Springs, a sign on the highway informs you that Redstreak Campground is four kilometres ahead. That, however, is the last mention of Redstreak Campground you will see.
It was the last sign I saw, anyway. And I looked twice, because if you’re like me, you will drive right past the obscure road leading to Redstreak Campground. Only when we determined that Redstreak Road was as good a bet as any for taking us to the campground, did we find it. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but a giant, wood Parks Canada sign reading “Redstreak Campground,” perhaps with an arrow, would be a keen addition to the local scenery. Or maybe it was just the downpour that accompanied our commute that made me grumpy.
We eventually found Redstreak Campground atop a small, well, mountain, I guess, beside Radium Hot Springs. The campground is in Kootenay National Park, but only just. You will exit the park if coming from the east and then re-enter the park as you climb the short switchback road into Redstreak.
There are eight, irregularly-shaped, alphabetically-labelled loops at Redstreak Campground and they cover the gamut of site types. There are straight drive-throughs, crescent drive-throughs, ass-backwards drive-throughs, regular back-ins, and tent only walk-ins. The only site types missing are shared sites and group sites, though some are close enough together they might as well be shared sites.
Similarly, there are sites with power (38); there are sites with power, water, and sewer (50); and there are sites with none of the above (144). And some sites, notably in the original loops like A, have oTENTik sites for those who like to camp without the hassle of owning a trailer or tent.
I honestly wasn’t expecting what we found at Redstreak Campground. It’s a lovely, forested, mountain campground not entirely unlike what you find in Jasper and other national parks. It certainly was more spacious than our Elk Island camping experience the week before, but at the same time, I have to say the site sizes and orientations were peculiar, if not roughshod. It really felt like Redstreak Campground was pieced together in stages with no recognizable site plan guiding the way. Furthermore, it appears nothing much has been done to the place since.
This isn’t necessarily a criticism. The place definitely has its own charm. But for all the kudos Redstreak Campground gets, I guess I expected something fancier and more akin to the sprawling but logical layouts we discovered at places like Beaver Glen in Prince Albert National Park.
Our site, one we didn’t choose so much as scramble to book because most others, including the ones we pre-picked, were already taken when the reservation system finally started working, was what I would call an arcuate drive-through. Located in Loop E, a seemingly added-on, afterthought of a loop separated from the other loops, the site required a careful sweep in with our SUV to get the trailer in an ideal orientation.
I would say this site and others like it in Loop E would be hard-pressed to fit larger trailers. Our 16’ Geo Pro setup nicely, but you wouldn’t be able to make something a whole lot bigger fit. There are many larger sites around for such situations but, again, not as many as one might expect. Be very cognizant of lot size when booking is my warning to you.
That said, it was a spacious site. The forest provided comfortable shade, but the almost entire lack of underbrush doesn’t make for much privacy. Mind you, the site size and separation of the sites in our loop kept the neighbours out of your hair. Our site backed onto wilderness that sloped up the mountainside which was quite nice. It gave the kids room to explore and provided a nice view from my lawn chair. Also, one less neighbour.
The older loops, A, B, C, and D which have the back-in and tent sites also each have a large, picnic shelter with picnic tables and a wood stove. These are great and make for wonderful gathering spots if you are camping with friends/family. The other four loops which are mostly for trailers don’t have this amenity.
Near the walk-in tent sites, you’ll find food storage lockers for cyclist campers to use. Yup, we are in BC! Recycling and trash stations are scattered through the park enabling easy remediation of trash. This is bear country and they are adamant that you keep your site bare. Anything left unattended will be confiscated.
Most sites have metal fire pits along with a concrete, wood-topped picnic table. These tables are hardcore and a staple in BC parks, both national and provincial. They also cannot be moved which I find to be a pain in the ass. You are unable to put them under your awning, for example.
Ours was also located too close to the firepit, exactly on the side we would have preferred to set up our lawn chairs. I imagine these tables last a long long time but good lord, a little mobility would be nice.
Each loop has its own washroom complete with flush toilets, showers and outdoor cleanup station. These are lovely, robust structures that kind of remind me of the bathrooms in PEI National Park. They are dated, though. And well worn. Depending on your expectations, you might find these a tad rundown, but they did the job and weren’t pit toilets, so I was a happy boy.
Our bathroom had three shower stalls, also worn. They were also free and, surprisingly, had a dial to turn allowing some temperature control. I, however, didn’t shower for various reasons (hello hot springs!) so can’t tell you how reliable the hot water is here.
Yellow, sodium streetlamps are positioned along the road at each water tap slash entrance path to the bathrooms. These are curious remnants from an older time and a testament to how long it has been since this campground was renovated.
If it is absolutely necessary for lights at these locations, then they should be swapped to LED. But I’m curious as to why they exist at all. Several national parks are adopting dark sky policies or are at least cognizant of light pollution. Our loop would be deliciously dark had this glowing, off-yellow nuisance not been present.
There are four playgrounds in Redstreak Campground. One was very close to our E loop site. The others are found to the north part of the campground near loops C, D, H, and F. All four are almost identical to each other and are throwbacks to a different time. That different time was rather nostalgic for my wife and I who grew up with such playgrounds. Our children thought them an abomination.
With a large swing set for bigger kids, a swing set for toddlers/babies, a very small wooden climbing apparatus, and a medium-sized metal slide, anyone born before 1980 will be very familiar with this equipment. I’m torn as to whether this is a good thing or not. My kids were not impressed, having been spoiled by the much larger, more-imaginative, metal structures they’ve enjoyed their whole lives, but I remember kids having plenty of fun on these vintage playgrounds back in the day. Still, I think they leave contemporary kids wanting.
That being said, they certainly fit in with the entire feel of Redstreak Campground. And that feel is ‘old’. There is nothing wrong with this campground. All the facilities you could want are here and they all function. But the place is worn and aged. Compared to the modernized national parks campgrounds we’ve been too, not to mention many provincial campgrounds in BC (and Alberta), Redstreak could use some TLC.
Within campground boundaries, signage doesn’t improve. We attempted a short hike that climbs up the aforementioned hillside. The map we were given by the registration folks upon arrival mentions a 0.5km trail to Edge of the Rockies lookout. The trailhead was near out campsite so we thought we would give it a go. The sign at the trailhead called it Redstreak Loop and stated 2.2 km. Zero mention of Edge of the Rockies or any guidance with arrows once on the trail as to where this lookout is actually located.
We eventually found what we believed to be the lookout. It was a pretty lookout. I’m sure it was more than 0.5km from the trailhead but, conversely, much less than 2.2km. It was a worthwhile hike despite the signage confusion, though uphill the entire way. Thankfully, unlike my grandpa’s walk to school, it was all downhill for our return.
Aside from the attractive views of the Columbia valley, the countryside, and parts of the village, the biggest feature of this short hike was the nesting hawk making sure we didn’t loiter. Twice this attentive mother swooped low over my head before retreating to a dead tree and watching our actions like a … umm … hawk. We were rewarded for our persistence with some good views and excellent shots of one gorgeous, if ornery, bird.
Birds are plentiful in these parts. Our site had four little nuthatches hopping around the ground and base of trees as we set up. The ravens, however, are not so cute. They are big bastards; and loud. This one particular raven hung out near out site for part of the day and basically screamed “AHHHHH” like a forty-year smoker running from an assaulter. It’s such a bizarre sound. Very human … and annoying!
The various campsite loops are easily accessible from anywhere in the campground. Some trails connect loops and the narrow roadways do the rest. The roads are old and the previously paved surface is well on its way to being eroded into oblivion. This makes for some big potholes and flooded spots. Nothing that’ll prevent passage, but not the smoothest ride you’ll ever have. And the campground roads are narrow so when out biking or walking, be wary of arriving vehicles and RVs. Everyone will have to accommodate each other. They are one- way for a reason.
For more adventurous types, you can walk via trail from the campground all the way to the hot springs. It’s 2.5km according to signage. Whether those signs are reliable is another question. We never found out as the weather remained poor and a long hike to and from an outdoor swim was neither wise nor of interest.
In the other direction, you can also walk to the village along a roadside trail out of the campground. Again, we didn’t take this stroll either. The point is, you can get around to local attractions quite easily on foot or bike should you choose to do so. With better weather, we certainly would have done so.
The village of Radium Hot Springs lies west and below the campground and offers all services you could want or need. You aren’t roughing it here. It’s a lovely tourist town.
The Kootenay park information office is located there with staff to answer all questions about camping and hiking and using Kootenay National Park. There is a small gift shop, some stuffed animals and a display about firefighting. They have free Wi-Fi with a lounge for guests, but that Wi-Fi doesn’t extend to the campground.
As for the actual hot springs, they are located a couple kilometres away, inside the park boundary (the village is outside the park). Consisting of a concrete hot pool and a secondary swimming pool, the former hotter than the latter, Radium Hot Springs are awkwardly stuck between a mountain and the highway. Both are chlorinated and appear wholly unnatural despite their outdoor setting, but are filled with naturally heated spring water.
The fifties vintage building is quaintly ugly inside but attractively angular outside. It cost the four of us just under $20 to use the facilities. They have large changerooms with showers and lockers inside. A restaurant is advertised to be coming in 2020 but for now no retail is available besides a spa.
If you don’t hike to the hot springs, parking is found across the highway and up the road a way. You need to walk a bit and cross under the highway via a tunnel. This stuff is all carved into the mountains but it’s too bad the highway runs literally right beside the hot springs. We did enjoy the swim though.
The hot pool is large and only ever got chest deep on me (I’m six foot on the nose). The cooler swimming pool is still comfortably warm and is surprisingly deep. It has no toddler area and fully three-quarters of it was over my head, ranging from 1.6m to 3m deep. One corner of the deepest portion of the pool is segregated by a rope and offers a safe place for people to use the 1m springboard. They offer lane swim there at times too. It really is a great pool but only for those comfortable and capable of swimming.
We were at the hot springs on an unpleasant weekend weather-wise in early July and still there were plenty of visitors present. Even in the rain, folks waded in the steaming hot pool. I can only imagine what this place gets like on busy, beautiful weekends in the heart of summer. Or winter, for that matter.
If crowds aren’t you flavour, or you just prefer hiking, remember that you are at the south end of an incredible national park. Despite ultimately getting poured on, we went for a nice hike and geocache hunt prior to our dip in the hot springs.
The trail down to see Sinclair Falls is beautiful and easily accessible despite the steep decline. The switchbacks allow most people to explore should they choose, but after the rain the mucky trails can be slick. Deep in the forest with cedar sheltering you from the sun, these hikes are a wonderful way to spend some time while remaining close to town and Redstreak.
Upon our return to Redstreak, after an ice cream in town, we passed a couple rams munching on ditch grass and occasionally butting heads. Not aggressively, mind you, but enough to excite the four of us as we approached the campground entrance.
The main gate is simply a registration booth. There are no supplies or treats to be purchased here though some pamphlets and helpful park staff are present.
Firewood, like most national parks in these parts, is sold via an unlimited $8 per day (plus tax) fire permit. On nice days, or if camping sans gas, this makes for a fantastic deal on firewood. Not exactly a green or low-carbon-footprint deal, but for those looking to cook on a fire and enjoy an evening around a bonfire, it’s a smokin’ deal.
The wood is found in a single bulk spot beside the dump station. The wood is a mix of fir, spruce, and aspen with some cedar and birch sprinkled in for shits and giggles. There is no cover for the wood and a corner of it was legitimately sitting in water, so if you’re visiting when it’s raining, like us, don’t expect dry wood. And during our visit, supply was quite limited. They essentially ran out the first night.
We had no trouble starting fires. The wood was indeed wet, but mostly superficially so. This is undoubtedly better wood than we had at Elk Island National Park. Much drier and better cured prior to getting rained on. Once the fire got going, it was easy to keep it stoked and flaming rather than dim and smoky.
Take note when booking your campsite that fires are not allowed in loop G. I have no idea why. But it says so on the map.
That dump station I mentioned is an open, graveled area with three stations. All are free. Rinsing water and potable water are available here to clean up and fill your RV tanks. It’s a good setup that should limit any lineups to tolerable lengths.
An overflow area exists near the dump and wood station. It looks more like a day use area than overflow, with several picnic tables and stand up BBQ units. Where people with trailers would park, I’m not sure. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of room for such units.
Redstreak Campground has an excellent amphitheatre which is quite large with a proper, covered stage and many rows of stadium seating. They offer some presentations in the evenings and conduct kids’ classes during the daytime. It is located between loops G and E, south of much of the campground but accessible by trails in all directions.
We attended the Saturday evening presentation called Paleo Puzzle. It was a one-woman, child-friendly show about the Burgess Shale fossils being found at the recently discovered Marble Canyon quarry.
It’s a bit hokey and designed to entertain younger children, but still interesting. Kids are tasked with assembling puzzles of individual Cambrian fossils. Each fossil is then discussed with a video showing an estimated representation of how it might have looked. A kid volunteer is then chosen to adorn a silly costume representing said fossil. Children that enjoy this type of dress-up performance will love it. Timid kids, like mine, will shudder.
Oh, and trains. The trains are back. You will hear a train in the distance a couple times throughout the day. But this isn’t main line stuff that traumatizes me so, and it isn’t immediately beside the campground. It won’t disrupt your sleep, but for someone paranoid of night trains, they spooled me when I first heard them. Nowhere near as annoying as that raven, though.
At the end of our visit, we were happy to be heading home. To be fair, that’s more of an indictment of the weather than the campground. We were just unlucky. Still, we had an enjoyable time.
Radium Hot Springs is a nice little village and Redstreak Campground offers a serviceable though not spectacular camping experience. I grant Redstreak Campground in Kootenay National Park 4 Baby Dill Pickles out of 5.
The place is pretty enough but I don’t think it quite lived up to the reputation that spurred our visit. It just felt dated and a bit run down. Perhaps I’ve been living too softly in the big city for too long?
I totally understand those scoffing at my rating. One person’s “well-worn” is another person’s “well-loved”. I just think with some investment by Parks Canada, Redstreak Campground could easily be a five baby dill pickle gem. Nonetheless, I’d happily return.