5 Gentle Hikes in BC’s National Parks

5 Gentle Hikes in BC’s National Parks

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Yoho National Park | Dave Heath

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.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve | Yuri Choufour

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

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.

Visit Pacific Rim

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

Mount Revelstoke National Park | Ryan Creary

Mount Revelstoke National Park

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. (Closed for summer 2023). 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.

Visit Mount Revelstoke

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

Glacier National Park | Ryan Creary

Glacier National Park

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.

Visit Glacier

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

Striking turquoise lake baked by a row of evergreen trees with rugged peaks in the background.
Emerald Lake, Yoho National Park | Destination British Columbia

Yoho National Park

Yoho National Park 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.

Visit Yoho

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

Kootenay National Park | Ryan Creary

Kootenay National Park

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.

Visit Kootenay

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

Know Before You Go

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.

Road work and wildfires can affect travel plans during the summer. Check DriveBC and BC Wildfire Service before you go to plan your journey.


Originally published in August, 2017.

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