Established in 1988 by Order in Council #5, the park was considered to have high potential for destination camping and day use given the good vehicle access to the scenic warm water lake opportunities of Columbia Lake and the close proximity to Fairmont Hotsprings (a major golf/hot springs destination resort). Although lacking any formal facilities (e.g., picnic tables, toilets, fire rings) the beach and foreshore areas of the park are popular among residents of Fairmont Hotsprings as well as tourists visiting the Columbia Valley.
There are six other provincial parks (Windermere Lake, Dry Gulch, James Chabot, Whiteswan Lake, and Thunderhill), within a 40km radius of Columbia Lake Park. The latter, Thunderhill is located on Columbia Lake. Within a 100km radius of Columbia Lake, the Regional District of the East Kootenay has two regional parks, Wycliffe and Tie Lake, that offer similar day-use opportunities, but with a higher level of facility development than Columbia Lake Park.
First Nations have been present in the Columbia Valley for over 10,000 years and the area surrounding and including the park was extensively used by members of both the Ktunaxa and Shuswap cultural groups in the pre-colonial period.
There are a total of 10 known archaeological sites (Borden unit classification) within the park boundary. These include sites associated with debris or waste material from past activity (e.g., tool or weapon making) or depressions that were created by human excavation and could represent former locations of storage pits, food processing facilities or semi-subterranean lodges.
The Spirit Trail (also known as the Fairmont Trail and the Plains of Nativity) passes through the park. This transportation route was used by both First Nations and early European explorers (e.g., David Thompson and Father De Smet) as a means to travel along the length of Columbia Lake. Indigenous peoples included the Spirit Trail as one of their favoured routes to points east of Canal Flats, namely Whiteswan Lake and into the Kananaskis country.
Numerous Traditional Use Sites (TUSs) have been identified in the park.
The park protects 8% of the considerably under-represented East Kootenay Trench Ecosection (0.7% protected province wide). Thirteen protected areas include portions of this ecosection, but only three other parks, Kikomun, Burges James Gadsden, and Premier Lake exceed the park in representation of the EKT Ecosection.
Columbia Lake Park contributes close to 9% of protected areas representation of IDFdm2. This biogeoclimatic subzone lacks notable representation within the protected area system (0.93%).
Known species at risk within the park are Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (bluelisted), badger (red-listed), and the great blue heron (blue-listed).
The park retains a significant component of native grasslands and is integral in supplying winter range for Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. The Canada Land Inventory depicts the entire east side of Columbia Lake as representing the largest contiguous Class 11 ungulate winter range in the Upper Columbia sub-region, and one of the least impacted of the low elevation Class 1 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep winter ranges in British Columbia.
The park provides over-wintering habitat for a significant amount of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep from Kootenay National Park.
Adjacent wildlife management areas protect large and contiguous natural areas that help maintain biodiversity associated with the wetland and grassland habitats of the much smaller Columbia Lake Park. For example, the adjacent Columbia Wetlands Wildlife Management Area supports habitat for numerous avian, reptilian, mammalian and insect species, many of which are becoming increasingly rare or endangered. In addition, the Columbia Wetlands retain one of the last intact portions of the Pacific flyway in western North America, a key migratory route for waterfowl.
In the global context, wetland ecosystems are extremely susceptible to environmental degradation because they are both difficult to replace or restore and have been subject to human alteration over the last hundred years.
The ecosystem in and around Columbia Lake provides good to excellent habitat for a variety of fish species (e.g., mountain whitefish, burbot, kokanee, rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, bull trout, peamouth chubb, Northern Pikeminnow, large-scale sucker, redside shiner, sunfish and longnose sucker).