With literally hundreds of impressive hikes all throughout BC’s Columbia Valley – and the adjoining mountain ranges – it can be difficult to zone in the on the right one, for the right person, on the right day. Many of the spectacular alpine vistas that are used for marketing the region require at least one long, strenuous day of hiking, and in some cases – multiple days. Fortunately for us, there are some exceptionally stunning hikes that can be easily be enjoyed as day hikes – with remarkably rewarding views. Here are my top 5 day hikes in the Columbia Valley.
1. Silver Basin, Bugaboo Provincial Park
This has my vote for being the more rewarding day hike in the region. Located inside the world famous Bugaboo Provincial Park, the trail head takes approximately two hours in a high clearance vehicle to reach from the local communities of Radium and Invermere. Following active logging and fire service roads, these dirt and gravel paths snake their way deep into the heart of the Purcell Mountain Range, offering dramatic scenery the entire way. The road is bumpy – adding to the adventure – and finishes at the end of a steep switch back road at a clear cut. From this “parking lot”, handfuls of mammoth glaciers and rugged, snapped covered peaks (even in August!) Are immediately visible.
The hiking trial starts by zig zagging through a clear cut before delivering you to a high alpine meadow, covered in wildflowers and bubbling brooks. The trail continues up through the meadow as you pass several alpine tarns, before finishing at the Silver Basin Pass. From here, the 1000 meter vertical granite spires (for which The Bugaboos are famous for) suddenly open up in front of you, and glaciers can be spotted in every direction. The beauty, contrast and drama of this hike cannot fully be captured by a camera, nor truly described with words.
Good weather is crucial for getting the most out of this hike, and the flowers are usually at their best during early August. Indian paintbrush and fireweed are plentiful at this time, and you’ll likely encounter a ptarmigan or two. Do be bear aware – carry bear spray in a holster at all times and be sure to keep the noise levels high as you walk through the forest. The pass can be reached in a comfortable 1.5 hours (3 hour return from the trail head) and with the drive included it would be a 6-8 hour day (depending on your fitness, speed, and how many photo opportunities you take advantage of along the way).
2. Welsh Lakes, The Purcells
Offering a very different experience from Silver basin, but no less dramatic, Welsh Lakes culminates in several aquamarine lakes that are presided over by an enormous glacier. Less in the way of wildflowers, this is a steeper, more rugged hike that passes over moraines and rock slides, quickly gaining elevation before plateauing at the basin that holds the lakes. The proximity to sheer faces and jagged peaks is extremely close, and the minerals and snow melt in the water results in picture perfect colouring. Come fall, the shore lines is scattered with larch trees, the yellow of which contrasts starkly with the blue water.
The drive to the trail head is a touch shorter than the one to reach Silver Basin – approximately 1.5 hours each way – but is equally bumpy and demanding of a high clearance vehicle as it too makes use of fire service and logging roads. You could reach the first of the Welsh Lakes in a comfortable 1.5 hours, and the whole day (inclusive of drive time to and from the nearest communities) could be done in 6-7 hours. As with all of the hikes on this list, Welsh Lakes in certainly bear territory, so take all necessary precautions.
3. Pinto Mountain
A short drive from the towns of Invermere and Windermere, the trail head can be reached in 45 minutes via a logging road. There are some steep sections on the drive as elevation is quickly gained, so a high clearance vehicle is again necessary. Pinto Mountain is located on the opposite side of the valley from the previous two hikes – this time in the Rocky range. From the parking lot, the trail steadily gains through a subalpine forest and across slide paths (from avalanches in the winter), before reaching a prominent spine. From here, exceptional views can be enjoying in all directions, and as you get higher, the greenery and foliage thin out, giving way to a rock dominated landscape. The last section is a scramble as you reach the summit ridge, and the 360 degree panoramic views open up.
Most notably, Mount Assiniboine juts into the skyline to the north, with Mount Nelson doing the same to the west, and many other prominent peaks of the Rockies and Purcells are visible from this vantage point. Its proximity to the local communities offer a birds-eye view of the Columbia Valley running from north to south, looking down over Lake Windermere, Columbia Lake and the headwaters of the mighty Columbia River. The hike itself can be completed n 1.5 hours each way (3 hour there and back), and with drive time included it can be enjoyed as an active half day or a very leisurely full day.
4. Pedley Pass
Rather close to Pinto Mountain – though slightly further south – lies Pedley Pass. Another hike in the Rocky range, there is a bit of everything on this one. Following a 45 minute drive from the communities of Invermere & Windermere along a bumpy logging road, the trail winds through a forest and up a steep creek bed before plateauing at the aptly named “Bumpy Meadows” (Just 1km in). With an almost sheer face as the backdrop, this is a great spot for a break or picnic, before continuing uphill and gaining the ridge. The trail becomes a little steeper, though flattens once you reach the pass. You can have this as your goal (1.5 hours each way), or take a short detour to the south in order to reach small alpine tarn nestled underneath Mount Anaeas. Or, if you are feeling energetic, you can stay on the ridge and head north, following the trail until it descends through a forest and loops back to the parking lot. This does add on a few kilometres, but is well worth it.
The pass itself look as far as you can see into the Rocky Mountains, and gives one the feeling of being dwarfed by big mountain terrain. To the pass and back would be a comfortably paced day, and the lack of overly exposed sections or scrambles makes it a good hike for kids. Snowfall can make the road impassable by October, so July, August and September are the best times to go.
5. Mount Bruce
Another short, sweet and easy hike, Mount Bruce presides over the towns of Invermere and Wilmer, and also overlooks Panorama Ski Resort and the valley approaching Mount Nelson. The 45 minute drive does most of the “gain” for you, (again along a logging road, a 4×4 is required) leaving you with about 1 hours worth of hiking from the trail head to the flat, wide summit.
The trail climbs steadily throughout the hike, though the changing scenery ensures that interest is kept. Clear cuts, creeks, boulders and forests distinguish each section, and as you approach the summit scatterings of larch trees appear. Their yellowing in the fall against a brilliant blue sky would make late September and October the best time for this hike, especially with Mount Nelsons snowy cap providing the backdrop. This could be done as a leisurely full day or speedy half day, and the lack of exposure on the summit and trail would make this another good choice for kids.
We are blessed to have so many rewarding hikes throughout this region, but ensuring the best day possible comes down to good pre-trip planning (knowing the route, choosing a suitable hike for the group, checking the weather & packing accordingly). Those on this list can be enjoyed as comfortable day hikes for those of moderate fitness and hiking experience. Enjoy hiking season this fall!
Nadine Robb is Owner and Instructor at Hakuba Ski Concierge. Hakuba Ski Concierge is a boutique ski school in Hakuba, Japan.
If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.