When you think of British Columbia, you think of nature: commanding mountain ranges, clear alpine lakes, lush forests, and oceans teeming with life. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in all that natural beauty is by lacing up your hiking boots, grabbing your backpack, and hitting one of BC’s ubiquitous trails. Don’t know where to begin? Try one of these popular, gentle hikes in BC’s national parks.
The best-known hike in this park is the epic, 75-km (46-mi) West Coast Trail, but for those with less time and experience, Schooner Cove Trail—part of the park’s Long Beach Unit—is an excellent option. This section of Pacific Rim features approximately 22 km (14 mi) of sandy beaches, backed by thick coastal rainforest. Located between the communities of Tofino and Ucluelet on Vancouver Island‘s rugged west coast, trails in the Long Beach area are easily accessible and are relatively short.
Schooner Cove Trail follows a twisting wooden boardwalk through stands of cedar, hemlock, and Sitka spruce to Schooner Cove beach. Listen for the ocean as you approach miles and miles of sand perfect for exploring tidal pools at low tide. Access to Schooner Cove Trail can be cut off at high tide, so pay attention to water levels. As the park is very busy in the summer months and it can be a challenge to find parking, try visiting early in the morning or a couple of hours before sunset.
Average Time: 45 minutes to an hour, though you’ll want to allow time to explore the beach
Distance: 2 km (1.2 mi) round trip
Fitness Level: This is an easy trail, but there are long flights of stairs
Trailhead: Look for signage off Highway 4 south of Tofino
While you’re here: Check out the view of forests, water, and mountains from Radar Hill
The landscape at Mount Revelstoke National Park ranges from dense rainforest to expansive subalpine wildflower meadows to ice-capped peaks. Hiking options range from short interpretive trails to challenging treks. The park’s most distinguishing feature is its paved road to the summit—this is the only national park in Canada where you can summit a mountain just steps from where you parked your car. Views of the Monashee and Selkirk mountains from here are spectacular.
Giant Cedars Boardwalk is a half-kilometre trail that takes you into the park’s old-growth forest. Walk past cedar trees that are hundreds of years old and learn about the importance of functioning ecosystems from interpretive signage along the way. Want to take a few minutes to soak it all in? Have a seat on one of the benches and just be.
Average Time: 15 – 30 minutes
Distance: 1 km (0.6 mi) round trip
Fitness Level: This is an easy trail with some stairs
Trailhead: Giant Cedars Picnic Area is 30 km (18 mi) east of Revelstoke on the Trans-Canada Highway
While you’re here: In summer, drive up the Meadows in the Sky Parkway to experience colourful subalpine meadows
Hikers visiting Glacier National Park can choose from an extensive network of trails that access exceptional alpine scenery—including alpine tundra and subalpine meadows—and deep valleys filled with ancient forests of cedar and hemlock. The park is also home to Rogers Pass, elevation 1,330 m (4,364 ft), the route through the imposing Selkirk Mountains that was the final link in the railway that brought Canada together as a nation.
Loop Brook Trail is part of the Rogers Pass National Historic Site at the heart of Glacier National Park. The site protects the ruins of the old Canadian Pacific Railway line, and the trail highlights stone pillars that once carried the railway track across the valley. These pillars are among the oldest surviving man-made structures in western Canada.
Average Time: 30 – 45 minutes
Distance: 1.6 km (1 mi) round trip
Fitness Level: This is an easy-to-moderate trail with some short steep sections
Trailhead: Start at the viewpoint just east of the Loop Brook Campground, 5 km (3 mi) west of Rogers Pass
While you’re here: Visit the Rogers Pass Discovery Centre, a replica of a railway snowshed that houses a small, interesting museum
Yoho National Park, named for a Cree expression of awe and wonder, houses many treasures. The park, which lies on the western slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, is home to Takakkaw Falls, one of Canada’s highest waterfalls; to the 505-million-year-old Burgess Shale fossil deposit; and to a natural stone bridge carved by the force of the Kicking Horse River.
Hiking options include easy walks, multi-day excursions, and everything in between. Wapta Falls Trail provides excellent bang for your buck as you follow the forested trail to the base of a powerful 30-m (98-ft) waterfall, the largest waterfall on the Kicking Horse River. As there is a marsh nearby, keep an eye out for waterbirds, beavers, and wolf tracks.
Average Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
Distance: 4.6 km (2.9 mi) round trip
Fitness Level: This is a fairly easy trail
Trailhead: Wapta Falls parking area is 32 km (20 mi) east of Golden on the south side of the Trans-Canada Highway. Note: The trailhead is not marked for westbound traffic as there is no left turn lane here
While you’re here: If you have time, rent a canoe and paddle on aptly named Emerald Lake, surrounded by mountains and glaciers
Sharing borders with Yoho and Banff national parks, and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park, Kootenay National Park is a place of contrasts, from icy mountain rivers to steamy hot springs; from deep canyons to tumbling waterfalls; from dry, grassy slopes where cacti grow to the glacial peaks of the Continental Divide. Natural highlights of the park include the Paint Pots, a cold mineral spring with high iron content that colours the clay a vivid orange, and Radium Hot Springs.
Another must-do is the Marble Canyon Trail. The turquoise waters of Tokumm Creek have, over time, eroded the limestone and dolomite bedrock of Marble Canyon, creating a dramatic landscape. The area suffered a fire in 2003, and evidence of regrowth is everywhere. Narrow bridges along the route offer dramatic glimpses straight down into the canyon.
Average Time: 30 – 45 minutes
Distance: 1.6 km (1 mi) round trip
Fitness Level: This is an easy trail, with some steps
Trailhead: Marble Canyon parking lot is 89 km (55 mi) north of Radium Hot Springs
While you’re here: No visit to the park is complete without a soak in Sinclair Canyon’s Radium Hot Springs; keep an eye out for bighorn sheep
In 2017, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation, all national parks are offering free admission.
No matter what outdoor activity you are planning, you must be prepared. Remember to follow the three Ts—trip planning, training, and taking the essentials. AdventureSmart is a great resource to get informed before heading outdoors.
Featured image: Canoeing on Emerald Lake in Yoho National Park. Photo: Dave Heath
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