The Juniper Trail provides passage from the Village of Radium Hot Springs over Sinclair Canyon to Radium Hot Springs.
The short walk from the north end of Village of Radium Hot Springs passes the South Parks Canada entrance to Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada. Shortly following, the west side of the Banff - Windermere Parkway (Highway 93) hosts the clearly signed entrance for the Juniper Trail adjacent to a small, paved parking area. Primitive supplementary gravel parking is available a short distance south on the west side of the highway near the South entrance Parks Canada kiosk. A Park Pass is required for recreation within the Kootenay National Park boundary.
The south trailhead of the Juniper Trail hosts one of the most popular and busy hikes in Kootenay National Park. The trail sign suggests the hike to Radium Hot Springs is 3.0 KM (1⅞ miles). Different hiking guides provide different route alternatives and distance estimates. The return distance which can be achieved on several route alternatives seems near 7.0 KM (4⅜ miles) with net elevation differential estimated near 200 m (656 ft). The hike seems longer and higher.
The best quality and most heavily hiked trail is the short section at the south end which descends from the parking area on wooden stairs initially onto wide, well-groomed, sweeping switchbacks through impressive cool forest which pass a trail junction to the Canyon RV Resort before further descent to a trail junction near Sinclair Creek at the dramatic bottom of the canyon. Signage is good and interpretive plaques enhance the experience. Staying on the trails is polite and respectful of others.
At Sinclair Creek, there is a short hike beneath lush, moss covered canyon walls to view the crashing, white water of Sinclair Falls for those willing to work for it. The left fork proceeds past a quaint wooden bench near the wood bridge crossing Sinclair Creek to a creek-size recreation area and the trail ascending occasionally aggressive switchbacks up the north side of Sinclair Canyon. Dense foliage and moss-covered walls and tree trunks are characteristic of protected and moist areas on the west side of the Continental Divide. Soon the hike will gain elevation to proceed through one of the driest sections of Kootenay National Park while providing spectacular views into the canyon and across the Columbia River Valley to distant mountains.
The good quality route has been compromised too often but the main trail is predominantly clear and straightforward with mainly moderate sections interrupted by short, more aggressive components. Elevation gain through mixed forest tends northeast with periodic openings which provide spectacular vistas back across the Village of Radium Hot Springs and the spectacular Columbia River Valley to distant mountains beyond.
Near the Juniper Trail high point, a wisely fenced and barren, sandy viewpoint area provides a dramatic view down into Sinclair Canyon as well as across the void to a similar fenced viewing point along the Redstreak Campground Trail. The Banff - Windermere Parkway (Highway 93) is enclosed within, at the bottom of Sinclair Canyon. Again, sweeping switchbacks consistently gain altitude past and through forest growing in arid conditions. An old bench, long-ago chained to a tree to prevent the bench from toppling over the edge, has developed a forward lean which might cause anyone sitting there, and dozing off, to tumble into the formidable chasm directly in front. The view from the bench is more than worthy of appreciating while hanging on for dear life. Occasional sporadic signage directs hikers to continue along to Radium Hot Springs Lodge which was closed and removed in 2012. There are many trail offshoots and substantial braiding but the main path remains fairly obvious. Many of the occasional viewpoints are nothing short of spectacular and more than worthy of taking the time.
Past the relatively, flat top the trail descent begins on multiple long and sweeping switchbacks which are frequently visible from edges along the trail. The trail end target at Radium Hot Springs becomes increasingly visible through variable and quite beautiful terrain.
The trail ends at an old, paved road which previously connected Radium Hot Springs to the iconic Radium Hot Springs Lodge, during its existence between 1925 and 2013, and constructed by the Canadian Pacific Railway. There is rich history here.
The Juniper Trail ends (begins) between the huge rock and tiny trail sign at the old road which descends to Radium Hot Springs or ascends from Radium Hot Springs to continue past the Juniper Trail trailhead to the vacated land which Radium Hot Springs Lodge once occupied. This is mentioned because some hiking guide books suggest beginning the Juniper Trail hike from here. Not a problem, but during the remainder of the day in this area, countless souls are wandering around asking for directions to the north Juniper Trail trailhead near Radium Hot Springs. Better signage may be required. Some eager hikers had passed it more than once in the search. Not a criticism. Everything is easy to find when you know where it is.
The Juniper Trail trailhead above and behind west parking at Radium Hot Springs
The next order of business will be a mid-day, relaxing soak in the hot (warm) pool beneath the presence of spectacular mountain scenery in fresh, mountain air.