Premier Listings: Hiking & Backpacking: Vancouver, Coast & Mtns

North Fraser Valley
Minnekhada Regional Park in Coquitlam has almost 5 miles (8 km) of trails, most of which are of the gentle-walking variety. These trails lead through a wooded area surrounding two large marshes. You can walk the perimeter of the park in two hours, experiencing the moods of the seasons. For those with enough energy, High Knoll Trail will get your heart rate up in a hurry. Although not a long trail, its ascent is steady from the marsh to the viewpoint that overlooks the Pitt and Fraser Rivers and the farm fields. From Hwy 7 in Port Coquitlam, turn north on Coast Meridian Road, travel 1.5 miles (2.5 km) to Apel Drive, from where signs direct visitors the remaining 3 miles (5 km) to the park’s Quarry Road entrance.

Although the best way to experience the lower section of Kanaka Creek Regional Park is by boat, for an easygoing walking tour, follow Riverfront Trail on foot as it leads out to Kanaka’s confluence with the Fraser from the Hwy 7 trailhead. Along the way, climb the three-storey observation tower beside the creek, which provides an overview of the landscape here. Bring your binoculars, as this quiet refuge sustains a host of fascinating flyers. The creek and river close in on both sides of the nose of land as you follow the trail west. Decaying pilings offer mute testimony that fishing boats once tied up in this sheltered backwater. From an observation deck that overhangs the riverbank, you get broad views of the Fraser. Farther along, a gracefully arched bridge spans the mouth of the creek.

This is as far as you can explore in the riverfront section of the park, but you can log an hour’s more walking time around the Cliff Falls area of the park, a 10-minute drive inland. Turn west onto Hwy 7 from River Road, cross the Kanaka Creek Bridge, then turn immediately north on Kanaka Creek Road. This route takes you past the Kanaka Creek Fish Fence to 240th Street. (The fish-counting fence is worth visiting in autumn, when spawning salmon school here.) Just north of the fish fence, turn left on 240th Street and follow it to Dewdney Trunk Road. Turn right and follow Dewdney Trunk east to 252nd Street, where park signs indicate the entrance to Cliff Falls.

Walk down a short trail that leads to the first of two bridges that span the twin waterfalls conjoining the separate arms of Kanaka Creek. Another trail leads down to the north fork of the creek. Rock-hopping the streambed in either direction is not difficult when water levels are low. In summer, this is a lovely environment in which to cool off. Small pools have been worn in the creekbed, not big enough for swimming but ideal for giving overheated feet a treat. Wooden staircases and sturdy bridges lead through the nearby forest, which rises and falls dramatically in places. Trails lead east from Cliff Falls to the Bell-Irving Salmon Hatchery, an easy half-hour walk.

A gentle walking trail runs around the perimeter of Rolley Lake, part of which includes a boardwalk that crosses a wetland at the lake’s west end. An astounding variety of birds can be spotted if you wait patiently here. Other good viewing spots are from the docks that jut out at several places around the lake.

Another easy walking trail loops around Hicks Lake in Sasquatch Provincial Park near Harrison Hot Springs. Budget an hour or two to complete the 2.5-mile (4-km) round-trip route. One of the rewards is that the trail passes Sandy Beach at the south end of the lake. Far less visited than the beach beside the campground, this is a pleasant resting place. You may also wish to explore the Beaver Pond Interpretive Trail beside Hicks Lake, an easy 20-minute walk. Another mostly level trail winds its way around Deer Lake nearby. Watch for osprey, who swoop down on unsuspecting fish as you explore the lake’s south side.

South Fraser Valley
The hillside above the campgrounds at Cultus Lake Provincial Park is crossed by the Edmeston Road Trail (easy; 8 miles/12 km return), once used as a logging road. The trail begins from Edmeston Rd south of Columbia Valley Rd and east of the Entrance Bay campground. As it nears Teapot Hill, the Edmeston Road Trail merges with the Road 918 Trail, and together they lead to a fine viewpoint at the top of Teapot Hill. The Road 918 Trail (3 miles/5 km return) begins on the Columbia Valley Hwy across from the park’s Honeymoon Bay group campground and provides a shorter, albeit steeper approach to Teapot Hill’s viewpoint, from where you look west across Cultus Lake and south into Washington. Because the slopes of International Ridge are forested with an eye-pleasing mix of evergreen and mature deciduous trees, the hillside burns with colour in the fall and gleams with fresh green in early spring. Salmonberry bushes are plentiful in this lush, ferned environment. Picking is usually best in June.

There’s no more thrilling a sight while hiking than an ancient forest cloaking the sides of a mountain range. Hiking trails in the Chilliwack Lake region lead to magnificent stands of western red cedars at both the north and south ends of the lake. The alpine scenery here is so enchanting that you may be tempted to head above the tree line altogether.

Radium Lake lies cupped on the side of craggy Mount Webb, which overlooks Chilliwack Lake. As the Chilliwack Lake Road nears Chilliwack Lake, watch for Paulsen Road. Turn west on Paulsen and drive past a group of cottages to lot 24. Park here and follow a short distance to Post Creek’s confluence with the Chilliwack River. A rough bridge spans the creek while a sturdy suspension bridge conveys hikers across the adjacent river. The Radium Lake Trail (moderate; 8 miles/12 km return) begins on the far side and to the right of the bridge. From here the trail climbs to a small Forest Service cabin beside Radium, one of several alpine lakes uphill from the Chilliwack River. Use the cabin as your base for mountaineering on the slopes of Mount Webb.

A Forest Service campsite is located beside the Chilliwack Lake Road at Post Creek, a short distance north of the entrance to Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park. The entrance to it may not be marked, as signposts to favourite campsites in the Fraser Valley vanish with irritating regularity. The steep turnoff to the recreation site’s parking lot is on the east side of the road. Post Creek is the trailhead for a popular Fraser Valley route that leads to both Lindeman and Greendrop Lakes, which have recently been given provincial-park status. Along the way, the moderately difficult 8-mile (12-km) round-trip hike leads past some of the largest stands of old-growth forest left in the Fraser Valley. Plan on five to six hours round trip to complete the route to both lakes.

By itself, Lindeman Lake is a strenuous 3-mile (5-km) round-trip hike. A wide path begins to climb beside Post Creek’s south side. As if to test your resolve (and your fitness level) the steepest part of the trek to the lakes is at the outset. Cool sounds from the creek and shade from the massive Douglas firs help distract you from the demands of exertion. After a half-hour ascent through the shaded forest, Lindeman Lake’s brilliant blue-green surface suddenly unfolds before you beneath the open sky. The rocky shoreline doesn’t provide much of an approach. Pause on the wooden staircase at the far end of the lake to marvel at the beauty. This scene is characteristic of the Cascade Mountains, which run from here into California.

For some, reaching Lindeman Lake will be rewarding enough. If you have the stamina, carry on to Greendrop Lake where more awe-inspiring sights await. Along the way, the trail passes through a typical coastal rain-forest environment of prickly devil’s club fed by snowmelt well into summer, so be sure to wear waterproof boots. All the slogging is worth it when you finally catch sight of the towering western red cedars that anchor the mountain slope above the lake. In places, their roots drape like pipelines into Greendrop Lake, feeding shaggy trunks that taper skyward 200 feet (50 m) or more. Biomass never looked – or smelled – better, as gracefully draped skirts of cedar boughs perfume the fresh air. Find a blowdown to rest on beside the lake and inhale your fill.

Elsewhere around Chilliwack Lake the contrast in the skyline between the nearby Fraser Valley and the lake is remarkable. Lumpy mountain ridges abruptly give way to rugged Cascade Range peaks. This geographical transition is so immediate that you feel as if you’ve entered another world hidden behind the valley’s pastoral veneer. Strong winds gust across Chilliwack Lake’s grey-green surface and cool even the hottest days. As the sun drops behind the western skyline, long shadows drape the upper slopes. Patches of snow tucked into north-facing folds feed subalpine streams throughout the summer. Orange and yellow bracket fungi and red amanita mushroom caps provide colourful relief from the otherwise green monotone. And stands of western red cedar that line the banks of the Upper Chilliwack River Trail (moderate; 18 miles/30 km return) add auburn to this palette.

This level riverside trail leads to a flourishing grove of them in a provincial ecological reserve at Chilliwack Lake’s south end and beyond into the United States as it follows the Chilliwack River to its headwaters in Washington’s North Cascades National Park.

A 6-mile (10-km) portion of the trail makes a satisfying round-trip hike through the international area and provides a good look at the ancient forest. The Upper Chilliwack River trailhead lies 9 miles (15 km) south of Chilliwack Lake Provincial Park. The two-lane gravel Chilliwack Lake Road is level for much of the way as it runs beside or just above the lake, turning inland briefly to cross bridges over Paleface and Depot Creeks. A hefty pile of boulders brings vehicles up sharply just before the road reaches the Forest Service recreation site on Chilliwack Lake’s south shore. Over time, the Upper Chilliwack River has deposited a fan of fine sand here at one of the most undisturbed beaches in the Lower Mainland.

Hikers are rewarded with beautiful views of rugged Mount Lindeman directly to the west, and farther north of Mount Macdonald and Mount Webb. A well-worn track leads behind the beach towards the banks of the Upper Chilliwack River. Watch for a large brown wooden stake on the left side of the old road, which marks the beginning of the Upper Chilliwack River Trail. Enormous old-growth cedars surround you almost as soon as you begin walking the well-maintained pathway. Groves of these giants, some of them 10-13 feet (3-4 m) in diameter, feed on the steady supply of water from the nearby river, which usually crests by late June. The river gurgles pleasantly along past the ecological reserve, the boundaries of which are marked by signs posted high on the sides of several leviathans. It’s not a large area, less than 2 miles (3 km) long, and stretches to the Canada-US border, which is readily identified by a 40-foot-wide (12-m-wide) clearing that runs up the slope on the west side of the river.

South of the border, crudely fashioned logs convey hikers across some of the marshier sections of the trail. Persevere and you’ll soon find yourself back out on the banks of the river, ready for an encounter with another grove of graceful cedar. The Little Chilliwack Campsite is located here, one of three on the way to Hannegan Pass and eventually Washington’s Mount Baker Hwy. If you have time, follow this trail for another 6 miles (9 km) to the next campsite. Along the way you will not only pass through groves of western red cedar but also several stands of giant Douglas fir at higher elevations. This is one of the most enjoyable hikes in the Fraser Valley region and one on which you’re guaranteed to see more wildlife than fellow hikers. Note: A backcountry permit is required to make the full two-day hike and can be obtained from the ranger station in Glacier, Washington. If you are making the journey from Canada and intend to camp overnight in North Cascades Park, you must call ahead to the Glacier Public Service Center, (360) 599-2714, to pre-register.

The historic Skagit River Trail in Skagit Valley Provincial Park was blazed in the 1850s during the feverish stampede to the Cariboo gold fields in central British Columbia. In an attempt to do an end-run around the colonial government’s customs and excise tax collectors stationed at the mouth of the Fraser River, American entrepreneurs constructed a trail that ran from Whatcom, Washington (now Bellingham), to the Thompson River. For all the underhanded effort, the trail lasted for only two months before it was abandoned: the upkeep was too taxing. A moderately challenging 9-mile (14.5-km) section of the trail persists between 26-Mile Bridge near Silvertip Provincial Campground and Sumallo Grove in Manning Provincial Park.

Sumallo Grove is situated on the south side of Hwy 3, 16 miles (25 km) east of Hope, just inside the park’s western boundary. This is a forested route, where rare wild rhododendrons bloom in places beside the trail as it follows the Skagit River. A provincial ecological reserve adjacent to the kilometre 9 marker protects a tall stand of western red cedar and Douglas fir that dominates the southern bank of the river. In late summer, watch for bears in the kilometre 11-14 section where the trail passes beside low-lying huckleberry and blueberry bushes. The best time to make this journey is from midsummer on, once water levels in a number of small creeks that must be forded have receded. Allow four to six hours to cover the trail one way. Although it’s possible to complete the round trip in a day, the De Lacey Wilderness Campsite 2.5 miles (4 km) along the Skagit River Trail from Sumallo Grove welcomes hikers. Hikers may find that access to the Whatcom trail is easier from Manning Provincial Park than Skagit Valley Provincial Park, as this approach is via paved rather than gravel road.

Another hiking trail between Skagit Valley and Manning Provincial Park is the 14-mile (22.5-km) Skyline II Trail. Skyline II’s well-marked trailhead in the Skagit Valley is just north of Chittenden Meadows on Silver-Skagit Road, and at either Strawberry Flats or Spruce Bay Campgrounds in Manning Park. This trail has received considerable upgrading recently from BC Parks, and although that hasn’t reduced the amount of hiking time, it does make the hiking less difficult in places. As with many long-distance routes, you don’t necessarily have to cover the entire route in order to find rewarding vistas, such as from Hozomeen Ridge above Ross Lake. An alternate route to Hozomeen Ridge begins from the Hozomeen Campground. Check the map at the US Park Service ranger station at the entrance to the campground for details. There’s overnight camping midway along Skyline II Trail at Mowich Creek in Manning Park.

If you’re exploring Matsqui Trail Regional Park on foot, the 6-mile (10-km) round-trip walking time will be about two hours. The trail is level for its entire length, which makes it an ideal destination for those who like to chat with friends while walking. The most interesting time to visit is in late spring when water levels in the Fraser are at their highest.

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