15.5 miles round trip, 3100 feet elevation gain to Numa Pass
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous to Floe Lake; strenuous for Numa Pass day hike
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Canadian National Parks pass required
The cobalt waters of Floe Lake lie at the foot of an immense set of ramparts in British Columbia's Kootenay National Park known as the Rockwall. This is a location of unrivaled drama: fiery larches, towering cliffs, fracturing glaciers, and piercing blue lakes amidst a landscape scarred by massive fires a decade ago. The hike to Floe Lake is long and typically done as either an out-and-back backpacking trip or as part of a multi-night traverse of northern Kootenay National Park along the base of the Rockwall. However, strong day hikers will find Floe Lake to be a feasible day hike destination and even the sweeping views of Numa Pass are achievable to day hikers with some stamina who start early. Although the area does get a fair share of visitors, as one of the most famous spots in the Canadian Rockies, it has surprisingly avoided being overrun by tourists and day hikers; I found plenty of solitude throughout my day to and at the lake.
I hiked to Floe Lake during a weekend trip to the Canadian Rockies in which I spent a day in each of the four main parks; Floe Lake was my hike of choice for Kootenay National Park. I visited in mid-September, hoping to see the larches at peak color in the Rockies; unfortunately, I came about two weeks too early to Floe Lake and only saw a few larches that had turned for the season. I did, however, arrive late enough in the year that I spotted the aurora borealis in the dark night skies the evening before I headed out to my hike at Floe Lake.
From the trailhead, the trail heads south through the flat valley bottom of the Vermillion River for a few hundred meters through the burnt forest. The forests of Kootenay were largely devastated by a fire in 2003 that burned nearly 40000 acres in the park; the hike itself stays almost entirely within the burn area until reaching Floe Lake.
The trail soon dropped down to the banks of the Vermillio River and crossed the river on a sturdy bridge. The Vermillion River was a brilliant turquoise color and at the bridge, it was cutting a small canyon through the tilted sedimentary layers characteristic of the Canadian Rockies.
|Floe Creek and the Rockwall|
The trail then made a turn into the valley of Floe Creek. For the next three miles, the trail ascended steadily as it paralleled Floe Creek far below. Unlike other hikes at a similar elevation, this stretch of trail was surprisingly open, with constant views, due to the burnt forests from the 2003 fires. It's probably a good idea to be careful for treefall in this area during times of high winds. The Rockwall was visible ahead and Isabelle Peak and Mount Ball were visible across the Vermillion River valley.
|The Rockwall rises above the burnt forest|
|Burnt forest and Kootenay mountains|
|At the base of the Rockwall|
|Just-golden larches at Floe Lake|
|Larches near Floe Lake|
Floe Lake has been described as one of the most beautiful places in the Canadian Rockies. While I hesitate to back up such a claim- the Canadian Rockies have a wealth of beautiful places- I was very impressed by both the lake's beauty and the imposing cliffs of the Rockwall. The fierce towers of stone rose on the other shore of the lake like the walls of an impenetrable fortress. Having missed the brief window of the day when light strikes the wall, I gazed up at the detailed lines of compressed sediment of the Rockwall darkened by a gloomy midday shadow.
|Floe Lake Warden Cabin|
The trail climbed in fits, alternating between short steep ascents and flat strolls through open meadows. Larches were everywhere but most unfortunately were still in summer color. I found many great views of the Rockwall at the frequent clearings along the trail.
|Numa Pass Trail|
|Larches on the trail to Numa Pass|
|Floe Lake and the Rockwall from the trail to Numa Pass|
|View along the Rockwall from Numa Pass|
|Hungabee, the Ten Peaks, Temple, and larches|
|View along the Rockwall from the knoll on the shoulder of Numa Peak|