Expand your horizons

🕔Apr 07, 2009

There’s something compelling about hiking, climbing, or scrambling to the top of a hill or mountain. It’s even been called human nature, that dogged desire to scale the nearest topographical bump on the landscape. But whether it’s an ingrained need or just good fun, there is something about getting to the top of a peak that leaves you with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. Me, I have something of an obsession with it and derive pleasure from punishing my legs and lungs in the single-minded pursuit of all that is lofty. As veteran climber and alpinist Barry Blanchard put it, “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.”

BC has a good portion of those iconic images of snow-capped Canada that visitors to our country have come to expect. The northern part of the province is particularly known for its rugged, wild landscapes, and really, what better way to experience them than by getting to the top of a climb and having a good look at the world below. Starting from the north and spreading out, here are some great excuses to get outside and get on top, ranging from family-friendly walks to multi-day expeditions.

Note: Some of these hikes are challenging and remote and, as such, all necessary backcountry precautions should be taken. Whenever venturing into the alpine, hikers should be prepared for sudden weather changes; if this occurs, and happens to obscure the view you worked so hard for, remember that half the fun is just getting there!

Dease Lake/Telegraph Creek
Although there is an overland route, Mount Edziza Provincial Park is typically accessed by floatplane. The scramble up Edziza is definitely not a quick jaunt up the local hill, but it’s certainly one of the most impressive landscapes in the province, maybe even the world, and is therefore well worth the trip. At an elevation of over 2,500 metres and at least two days’ walk from the floatplane drop-off, the summit itself takes some doing, but even if you don’t quite make it to the top, the view is stunning at whatever elevation you gain. The glaciated mountain sits on the massive Big Raven Plateau, a bizarre landscape of volcanic cinder cones and lava flows. The cones themselves offer great opportunities for views, but make sure you stick to the designated trails to ensure the delicate ecosystem isn’t unnecessarily damaged. If time’s not on your side or if you’re not up to the trek, you might opt for a scenic flight, available out of Telegraph Creek, Iskut, and Dease Lake. Whatever route you take to get there, seeing this incredible view is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The Seven Sisters Mountains are iconic to the stretch of 
Highway 16 that connects the Hazeltons and Terrace. Even just seeing them from the road is fantastic; they’re everything mountains should be: jagged, daunting, glaciated and dusted with snow year-round. Hiking in the park caters to all levels of fitness and commitment—alpinists might opt for a mountaineering expedition to the top of Weeskinisht Peak and average hikers can help themselves to several accessible trails that wind through the scenic park. Whiskey Creek Trail, for one, starts out as a nice easygoing route, but after crossing the creek, heads up some steep, challenging terrain that leads to a glacier and some spectacular vistas. It’s a 14-kilometre hike round-trip, so it can be done in a day or as part of one of the multi-day treks that are a popular choice for backpackers.

Nass Valley
The Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park is a must on the itinerary of anyone touring the northwest. It is the most recent volcanic landscape in the province, and one of the most accessible. At ground level, there are several short trails around the lava flow and surrounding forest; for a view, hikers have to join a guided tour to the volcanic cone. Only available between June 15 and September 4, the interpretive tour follows a moderate trail to the site of the eruption which took place around 250 years ago. Described along the way is the history and cultural legend that accompanies the physical evidence of the natural disaster that took the lives of approximately 2000 Nisga’a people.

The six-km Sleeping Beauty trail is a local favourite. Accessed by logging roads just north of Terrace, the trail is not super strenuous, but gets you up to a stunning view of the city and its surrounding landscape. En route to the final big view, hikers encounter several alpine lakes perfect for a refreshing, if brisk, dip on a hot summer day, or for pitching a tent and spending a quiet night in the alpine. If you don’t actually stay up there, combining camping at nearby Pine Lake makes this hike part of a perfect weekend away.

If it’s a view you’re after, you’ll find it here atop Mount Elizabeth. While achieving the summit itself is best attempted only by advanced hikers (due to loose rock, sharp ridges, snow, ice, and changing weather conditions), the trail has three sections, each of which offers a view. The aptly-named Lookout, only a couple hours’ hike from the trailhead, still lets you drink in a heady view of the town and its valley. Farther along is Little Elizabeth and, still farther, the main summit itself. From these two peaks you can see the Kitimat Arm and beyond.
Prince Rupert
The coastal community of Prince Rupert sits largely in the shadow of Mount Hays, a former ski hill and one of those nice, rounded hills ubiquitous to the northwest coast, covered with evergreen trees and subalpine vegetation. It’s the one obvious Rupert climb that offers a great view of the town, the coast, and the surrounding islands—that is, provided the infamous rainy Rupert weather cooperates. There are a couple of different routes to the top including a rough road that wraps around the hill and gives glimpses of the view along the way. The Kiwanis Trail is a bit more challenging, but nicer than walking along the road. It starts out at the Oldfield Fish Hatchery and may be quite overgrown in places. At the bottom it’s fairly easy to follow but the route becomes somewhat muddled near the top as the flagging gives way to rapidly-growing foliage, a product of the aforementioned wet weather. Watch for remnants of the now-abandoned ski hill gondola system on your way. Ultimately you emerge at the road by the communications towers at the top; the view certainly makes the effort worthwhile. A third route is straight up the side of the mountain, following the power lines. (I couldn’t resist clambering up this way back when my living room was dominated by a direct view of it.)

Haida Gwaii
There are lots of great hikes on Haida Gwaii, but none quite as distinctive as Tow Hill, an abrupt bump on an otherwise flat landscape at the northern tip of the archipelago. The trail up Tow Hill can be hiked by everyone—our toddler managed it last winter without too much prodding—and is a fun hike to a fantastic view of North Beach and, on a clear day, the southern end of Alaska. Much of the trail is an elaborate system of boardwalks and steps, necessary when the climate is as wet as it is in Haida Gwaii. Remember to pack waterproof clothes and wear good waterproof boots!

The Bulkley Valley is surrounded by countless hikes that culminate in great views. Probably the most accessible from Smithers is the trail up Glacier Gulch. The trailhead is shrouded by trees, and the roar of crashing water from nearby Twin Falls fills the air. The trail splits almost immediately, the right fork leading along a gentle grade to the falls, and the left up a series of switchbacks to the Kathlyn Glacier. If you’re out to get a view, it’s the left trail you want. The trail is steep and tough going, but gains elevation quickly and at nearly every switchback you can look down at the scenic valley. Above treeline the trail is harder to follow across the scree slopes, but the view ahead of and behind you is spectacular. I attempted the trail on a day of heavy rain and fog and didn’t reach the top, but on a hot day I’d have been about to cool down by the snout of the glacier while taking in the view across the valley to the Babine Range, as well as the commanding peaks of Hudson Bay Mountain towering above me.

Apparently, finding the trailhead to China Nose Mountain, a quintessential Houston hike, is a bit tricky, but once you’re on your way, it’s hard to lose track of the well-defined route. From parking to peak only takes a couple hours and, if the expansive view isn’t enough to get your camera out, the mountain goats that frequent the area will be.

Burns Lake/Francois Lake
The fantastically-named Uncha Mountain Red Hills Provincial Park is on Francois Lake, about 30 km south of Burns Lake. The moderate hike here gains about 600 metres elevation, enough for a great view of the hills and lakes common to the area’s landscape. All seasons offer great outdoor opportunities at Uncha, but autumn is the season that gives it its name. The deciduous trees, protected as part of the park’s delicate grassland, forest, and low-rainfall scrub ecosystems, take on a reddish hue as the days get shorter and colder.

Prince George
The most accessible hiking that offers a view around Prince George is in the Forests For the World Park (FFTW). Located on the hill with the University of Northern BC, FFTW is a demonstration forest and its trails range from wheelchair-accessible paths to rougher routes that connect to the 25-kilometre Cranbrook Hill Greenway. The park is a favourite with students and faculty at UNBC, as well as local amblers, families, and tourists.

McBride sits in the epically massive Rocky Mountain Trench, which extends from the Yukon border across the length of the province and down into Montana. This means opportunities for hiking up into the alpine are endless. For starters, there’s a steep 4WD road up to McBride Peak and the historic cabins at the top. From there you can get the lay of the land and plan your next hike. There are trails up to Mount Lucille, Bell Mountain, Kristi Glacier, Cariboo Lake, and Natural Arch, to name a few. The landscape here is truly rugged and mountainous.

No article about hiking to a view would be complete without mentioning the Goliaths of the rock world: the Rocky Mountains. Jasper is a classic Rocky Mountain town, and has innumerable great scenic hikes. A particular favourite for its scenic value is the Skyline Trail which, as its name suggests, follows a long, mountainous ridge. The 44-kilometre trail can be hiked in two or three days (or one, if you’re running, as the very modest—and very fit—man I encountered last summer was doing); provided the weather doesn’t close in, you’ll experience what Ben Gadd, the foremost authority on these mountains, calls “the best hike in the Rockies.”
For more information about these hikes, and others across the northwest, see:

• Parks (env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks)
• BC Visitor Centres (hellobc.com/en-CA/VisitorCentres/NorthernBritishColumbia.htm)
• trailpeak.com
• and check out the book Trails to Timberline by Einar Blix.