Buffalo Cow Trail

The Buffalo Cow Trail was the primary trail used by the Kootenay people (the Ktunaxa Nation in Canada and the Kootenai Tribe in the United States) to cross the Rocky Mountains. Archaeologists have documented that people have used this trail for more than 8,000 years. The Kootenay (Kutenai) were primarily residents of the western slopes of the Rockies, but frequently crossed the mountains to hunt buffalo on the eastern plains. Of 22 major passes used to traverse the continental divide, the Buffalo Cow Trail over South Kootenay and Akimina passes was used the most during thrice-annual journeys across the mountains and across the invisible line that today serves as the U.S.-Canadian border.

Although South Kootenay Pass is a relatively high pass at 7,100 feet, its gentle and open slopes were considered ideal for horse travel. The lower Akamina Pass, meanwhile, was preferred by the Kootenay for winter crossings using well-designed snowshoes. The trail, which originates in the Tobacco Plains area near the Canada-U.S. border north of Eureka, Montana, traverses the Whitefish/Galton Range including the Wigwam River. It crosses the North Fork Flathead River into today’s Glacier National Park, and arrives in Canada along Kishinena Creek. While most of the trail corridor looks much like it has for hundreds or thousands of years, the stretch through British Columbia has been obliterated in many areas by large clearcuts and logging roads. Tribal elders have expressed interest in restoring the ancient trail if the Flathead portion in the southeastern corner of British Columbia is one day managed as a protected area.

Fast Facts

The Buffalo Cow Trail stitches together the latter-day Glacier and Waterton parks through the section of B.C.'s Flathead that has been proposed for a National Park. This trail has been used for more than 8,000 years. Only in recent decades has the trail gone unused, divided by an international border and fractured by industrial logging. Its restoration could be a cultural centre-piece in a protected Flathead River Valley.