Tour the Kootenay River. Select what part of the river you want to tour from the list below. See it on the map and be sure to read the facts below the map. Use + and – to zoom in and out of the map.
- Montana and Idaho
- U.S. Border to Kootenay Lake
- Kootenay Lake to Nelson
- Nelson to Confluence
In BC, Kootenay River is the Columbia River’s main tributary. It is 781 km long, starts in the Rocky Mountains and drops more than 2,000 m before it joins the Columbia River at Castlegar.
Its watershed covers 50,298 km², is 400 km long and 150 km wide and includes the Rocky, Purcell and Selkirk mountain ranges. Seventy per cent of the watershed is in Canada, 23 per cent in Montana and six per cent in Idaho.
Headwaters to Libby Dam
Kootenay River originates in the Beaverfoot Range in the Rocky Mountains and flows south into Montana. In BC’s Rocky Mountain Trench, Kootenay River passes within 2 km of the headwaters of the Columbia River at Columbia Lake. This close proximity of the two rivers has been the basis of numerous development plans since 1889. The Kootenay then flows into Koocanusa Reservoir, created by Libby Dam in Montana, which extends 67 km into Canada.
Montana and Idaho
Once it passes through Libby Dam, Kootenay River flows northwest, entering the Idaho Panhandle. It swings north at Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and flows back into BC at the Rykert, BC/Porthill, Idaho border crossing.
U.S. Border to Kootenay Lake
When Kootenay River flows back into BC, it makes its way toward Kootenay Lake. Passing by farmers’ fields and the communities of Lister, Creston and Wynndel, the Kootenay, now tamed of its spring floods by Libby Dam, provides irrigation to the agricultural activities in Creston Valley.
Kootenay Lake to Nelson
Kootenay River flows north from Creston Valley until it enters Kootenay Lake, which is also fed by the south-flowing Duncan and Lardeau rivers. Kootenay Lake drains at its west end through an outlet at Procter and Balfour, forming the West Arm until it reaches Nelson 30 km downstream, where it becomes Kootenay River once again.
Nelson to confluence
Kootenay River now flows through a series of hydroelectric dams that produce power for the region and its industries:
Corra Linn (1932)
Kootenay Canal (1976)
Upper Bonnington (1907)
Lower Bonnington (1897)
South Slocan (1928)
Brilliant Dam (1944).
Once the river has passed through Brilliant Dam, it flows for 3 km until it reaches the confluence with the Columbia River at Castlegar.