Ink Pots Trailhead to Helmet Creek Campground
Kootenay National Park
Estimated Time: 4 hours
Distance: 14.3 km
Elevation Gain: 260 m
How To Get There: Heading west from Calgary on the TransCanada Highway, turn left (south) on Hwy 93. There will be signs for Ink Pots and the parking lot is on the right side of the road.
This was a hike that had been on my radar for quite a few years. I had even considered doing the Rockwall instead of Skoki a few years back as a group hike. However, I read that Rockwall was one of the most difficult backcountry hikes in Canada because of it’s constant steep elevation gain and elevation loss so I ended up making a different choice. That was why I decided it would be the perfect trip for my 3rd annual solo adventure. It was suggested through various blogs that the best way to enjoy the 55 km trail was to split it up in at least four days. I wanted to take my time and visit all the main campgrounds so I opted for five days instead. This meant that I was going to have to start the trail just as soon as I finished my night shift. I drove to the trailhead, took a quick nap and then started on my way. It was going to be my longest solo trip to date and I was very excited.
Paint Pots is a popular area for tourists as it’s easily accessible on a wide, well-groomed 1 km trail.
There is a quick detour heading to the river in the form of a dirty path that provides excellent mountain views amongst a wetland prior to reconnecting with the main trail near the bridge. I had a long journey ahead of me though so I opted to keep going forward.
Once I crossed over the dull blue Vermillion River, I continued on a far more narrow trail, following the bank of the river until the trail veered right through forest.
I found myself walking out into a meadow full of colourful orange, green and blue ochre beds. The trail is flat here and a boardwalk is provided to keep feet dry and safe from the colourful clay dye that is difficult to get out of clothes.
The elevation gains gently beside Ochre Creek to the Paint Pots which are fed by underground springs. The colour contrast was impressive and this was where most people stopped. But I had a far more impressive goal so I continued on.
Another boardwalk that ventured into the forest came into view and the large wooden sign pointed me in the direction of Ochre, Tumbling and Helmet Creek.
The boardwalk disappeared under my feet but the forest remained the same. About 400 metres in and I was faced with an intersection for Marble Canyon. I continued straight, enjoying the fairly flat trail, where my only obstacle was overzealous roots who had breached the surface and a few small creeks.
This trail was very much about what nature had to offer as there was an abundance of berries and mushrooms to peak my interest. Giant hogweed was also plentiful.
Journeying to Tumbling Creek mostly consisted of an easy trek through a lush green forest with a few old avalanche slides thrown in for good measure.
One of the most amazing parts about walking in an alpine meadow is the amazing colourful wildflowers that are presented.
Orange Hawkweed, Pink Indian Paintbrush, and Wood Sorrel lined the pathway.
About 3.7 km in, I reached another intersection though my only option was to curve to my right. The short cut turn off to Tumbling Creek was closed for the foreseeable future as the bridge had washed out long ago and still hadn’t been replaced. Luckily, I had been planning on going to Helmet Falls regardless so it didn’t get in the way of my itinerary.
I still had 11 km to go before I was able to rest my head so I continued on, crossing more water runoffs, spotting more berries and enjoying wildflowers (so were the butterflies).
The trail remained flat the entire way to Ochre Creek campground until right at the last, when I faced a gentle and short loss of elevation.
I crossed over Ochre creek and took a quick look around the campground and then continued on, determined to finish the remaining 8.8 km before I lost sunlight.
The trail runs on the right side of Helmet Creek before swooping over a bridge.
After this is where most of the elevation is gained as I switched back and forth up the other side of the valley, at times feeling almost claustrophobic in an impossibly thick forest, moving temporarily away from the river.
Another old avalanche path provided a quick reprieve from the overwhelming presence of trees before curving back to the in-turn of the valley.
The trail sits high over the river’s edge for a quick portion, allowing for some beautiful pictures of the mountains behind me before bringing me back down and close enough to the rushing water that I could barely hear myself think. An abundance of wildflowers and butterflies shared my opinion that this was a good place to be.
Another bridge interrupted my journey and took me back over to the north side of Helmet Creek. With only a few hours of sleep in my system, I was happy that the remaining few kilometres of the trail leading to Helmet Falls campground were flat and easy.
Thick forest gave way to a subalpine meadow that was infested with more hogweed.
I spotted some tall but unfamiliar green stock as I moved back into the shadows of the forest. I’m not too sure what it’s official name is but it smelled incredibly sweet.
A wonderful sight greeted me in the distance as I walked into yet another clearing in the trees. Helmet Falls is so tall that it could be seen well over 3 km in the distance, rushing over a giant wall of stone. I could hear it almost before I saw it.
The waterfall disappeared behind the forest as I got closer to the campground and suddenly I was faced with a fork in the road.
To my right, Goodsir Pass awaited me 4 km in the distance. To my left, Helmet Falls campground sat only 300 m away. I took my left, eager to get settled so that I could finally have a nice warm meal. I past over a makeshift log bridge before getting my first look at the patrol cabin that sits on the other side of the river from the Helmet Falls Campground. It’s views of the mountain backdrop while sitting amongst a bed of purple daisies made me extremely jealous of whoever worked there.
One last trip over the river and I was finally at my first campground.
Two outhouses, two sets of bear lockers and an abundance of tent pants makes for a decent living space. Helmet Falls can be seen and heard in the distance from where I set up my tent. The light was just beginning to fade behind the mountains as I had a tasty dinner of potato cheese soup, chocolate covered pomegranates and cinnamon apple tea.
By the time I crawled into bed, I was completely exhausted but very excited for tomorrow as I was finally going to get an up close look of the gorgeous Rockwall I had been hearing so much about. My first day had been filled with rivers, flat trails and A LOT of forest. I was excited to find out what the next day had in store for me!
I put together a video of the highlights from day 1, check it out below!