This is a lengthy hike with very little elevation change, and compared to other hikes in the area, it has fewer natural landmarks. For the most part, it does as the title suggests: it is a trail that follows the Simpson River. The burnt forest from the Mount Shanks forest fire in 2001 allows scenic viewing not possible through the normally dense forest that would otherwise be here. Although the trail begins in Kootenay National Park, the destination at the Surprise Creek shelter and campground lies within the borders of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park in British Columbia. So, make sure that you pay your camping fees for the appropriate park.
The shelter is first-come, first-served, and overflow camping is on non-designated pads in the meadow beside the shelter. Because of this system, it is advisable to bring a tent and not depend on the availability of the shelter. The metal bear boxes outside the shelter are to be used for tenters and not just the occupants of the shelter. More details are at http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/mt_assiniboine/
DISTANCE: 10.6 km
ELEVATION GAIN: 175 m
GPS: N50 58.708 W115 56.895
Elevation: 1235 m
Surprise Creek Shelter and Campground:
GPS: N50 58.071 W115 49.298
Elevation: 1410 m
Trailhead: The large highway sign marking the Simpson River Trail is 46.8 km down the Banff–Windermere Highway from Castle Junction and 6 km south of Vermilion Crossing. The gravel pullover is on the east (left) side of the parkway, with minimal parking. The pleasant setting of Vermilion Crossing contains the Kootenay Park Lodge, Kootenay Park Visitor Centre and a day-use picnic area.
|Surprise Creek Cabin|
From the trailhead, cross the steel bridge over the Vermilion River to access the backcountry trail and the forest of burnt spruce and pine. The long-lasting effects of the fire that ravaged this area are immediately evident and will continue throughout most of the hike. Once more, due to the minimal blockage by the burnt-out forest, you can see Hawk Ridge directly ahead of you, due east.
You’ll see a trail marker sign, the first of many to come, within the first couple of minutes. The straight line will take you down the Mount Shanks trail, with a marked distance of 6.9 km. This same sign will direct you to make a 90° right turn to the desired Simpson River Trail. The sign is a tad confusing, as it states that it is 8.6 km to the “Simpson River Trail” when 8.6 km is actually the distance to the boundary of Kootenay National Park and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park. The Surprise Creek shelter and campground are in fact 10.6 km away.