Walk low—Spring hikes in northern BC
Winter in the north is a time of invigorating recreation. Days are short and cold but travellers and residents alike pack the daylight hours full of short adventures in the snow and on the ice.
But not everyone is suited to snowy pursuits and winters up here can seem long and limiting. As the days lengthen and the spring sun slowly warms the world, other outdoors opportunities that were forgotten for months are slowly released from the frozen ground. Spring thaws more than just the rivers and the snow-covered earth—it also thaws our thoughts of hiking.
But northern springs come first to the valleys. High elevations are held in a prolonged state of winter sometimes as late as June or July. Anyone who has spent time in the mountains knows that it can snow year-round and the best alpine hiking doesn’t come until late summer or early fall. That means spring hikers need to set their sights low and stick to valleys and forested walks.
Here are a few northern BC trails that are worth checking out in the spring. There are many more great hikes not listed here; ask for info at local tourism offices and check in bookstores for local guides. For any hikes in BC Parks, head to env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks to find maps, descriptions, and further details.
With its coastal climate, trails on Haida Gwaii open up much sooner than elsewhere in northern BC. As the sun wiggles its way through the winter clouds, it reaches down into the forests and sparks another year of growth. Everything is lush and dripping with life. Many of Haida Gwaii’s trails can be hiked year round, but here are a few fun hikes that stick to lower ground. Check out gohaidagwaii.ca or pick up a copy of Hikes on Haida Gwaii by Fern Henderson for more information.
Pesuta Shipwreck Trail, Naikoon Provincial Park
About 10 km return, this is a pretty easy hike. Starting inland, just past the town of Tlell on Graham Island, the Shipwreck Trail winds its way through coastal rainforest, leading to—a shipwreck. The Pesuta ran aground in the late 1920s during a fierce storm. Now its carcass is the cool culmination to a great hike.
Dover Creek Trail, Damaxyaa Heritage Site/Conservancy
This forest trail system sits on the edge of the small town of Sandspit on Moresby Island. Park at the Haans Creek Bridge and look for the trailhead half-hidden at the side of the road. It’s a great hike through spruce, cedar, and hemlock. Once on the main trail, you’ll find a few options for short loops or longer hikes.
Like Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert’s trails shed their snow earlier than interior trails, some of them even staying snow-free all year. In spring, they will be soggy. Be prepared for the wetness and you’ll have a great time. For more info, check out The Outsider’s Guide to Prince Rupert by the author of this article.
Butze Rapids Trail
No mention of trails in Prince Rupert would be complete without including the fantastic Butze Rapids Trail. It’s spectacular, accessible, and has interpretive signs spaced along its length. If the tides are right, you’ll be treated to a display of the reversing rapids—and you might even see a few intrepid paddlers in the frothy water.
Metlakatla Wilderness Trail
Rapidly becoming a destination since opening last summer, this trail follows the coastline from the village of Metlakatla north towards Lax Kw’alaams. Getting here requires a bit of coordination with water taxis and such—but the trail is extremely well built, there are suspension bridges and viewing towers, access to sandy beaches, and even a backcountry campsite. Well worth the effort!
Diana Creek Trail
Located in Diana Lake Provincial Park, this easy trail follows the winding path of Diana Creek to Diana Falls. It’s a pleasant path and an easy, scenic hike. If you arrive before the park opens in May, you’ll have to hike in along the road before arriving at the actual trailhead.
The little island opposite the ferry terminal and port in Prince Rupert is one of the world’s truly special places. Home to a tiny, tight-knit community, Digby Island has a few great trails well worth visiting in the spring. To get there, if you don’t own a boat, you have to either coordinate with a water taxi (250-600-3276) or walk on the free airport ferry (ypr.ca/ferry.html).
The mountains around Terrace are amazing for hiking, but in spring keen climbers can only look longingly towards the timberline. To get the feet moving, here are a couple of fun hikes that will likely be snow-free. Check out for.gov.bc.ca and visitterrace.com for more info.
The trails around Ferry Island are perfect for little legs, jogging, or breaking in a new pair of boots. Look for the faces carved into the trees.
Because Terrace Mountain rises from the eastern edge of town, its trails are relatively accessible, as long as the sun has worked its melting magic on the town itself. As with most trails, patches of snow will linger in places, but hikers can head up as far as the thaw allows.
Located just south of Terrace on Highway 37, Lakelse is a popular summer destination. The provincial park campground doesn’t open until May 10, but two trails in the park give hikers an opportunity to explore pre-season. The trail to Gruchy’s Beach is an easy 1-km walk from the parking area to a small sandy beach. Further south at Furlong Bay is Twin Spruce, a 2-km trail that winds through wetlands and forest from the campground.
Smithers is a mountain town. Winter here is a hotbed of cold activity that typically extends far later than many other towns in the region. But when spring starts to release the trails, locals and travellers alike will be lacing up dusty boots and heading out to stretch their calf muscles. Head to sitesandtrailsbc.ca or smitherstourism.com to learn more.
Part of the Wetzin’kwa Community Forest, the trails near Seymour Lake on the lower slopes of Hudson Bay Mountain are found just outside town off the road to the ski hill. The ridge offers a moderate hike overlooking Seymour Lake. Check out wetzinkwa.ca for more info.
Developed as a mountain-biking trail system, the Bluff is also a great place to get in an early spring hike in Smithers. The trails wind their way up the hill behind the railway. To find the trailhead by car, follow the signs directing you to the ski hill, but at the first big bend (a cluster of post boxes on your right) turn right and follow the road back towards town until you reach a small parking area. A map at the trailhead points you in the right direction.
Houston is home to some great hikes, many of which are alpine in nature. Right in town, there are lots of short trails to wander. Check out houstonhikers.ca to find out more and to download trail maps.
It’s a short drive from Houston to the trailhead of this fun hike up the remains of an ancient volcano. Turn left off the highway onto Barrett Hat Road, about 14 km west of town. After another kilometer you’ll hit an intersection where the trailhead is located. The hike itself is about 3 km one-way and culminates in a view of the Telkwa Range and Bulkley Valley, plus the cool basalt of the Hat itself.
Buck Falls/Old Pines
To get to these two trails, you have about a 30-km drive from Houston—but it’s a spectacular drive. Buck Falls is an easy, short hike that takes you to a series of three waterfalls. Old Pines Nature Trail is accessed from the same road and if you’re itching for a second hike, it’s worth visiting. Both trails are very weather-dependent so check conditions or ask at the tourism office before you go. Directions to both trails are available on the Houston Hikers website.
A series of falls with spectacular views and great photographic opportunities, Byman Falls is an all-season destination not far from Houston. This is a nice short hike to take the kids on for a picnic. For directions go to the Houston Hikers website.
In BC’s central interior, hiking opportunities range from easy rambles right in the city to extreme backcountry treks. Hikers from the Prince George area are keeners and your best bet for tracking down trails that are snow-free is to ask. There are many groups, but to start you can check in at the PG Tourism Office (tourismpg.com) or contact the Prince George Backcountry Recreation Society (pgbrs.com). For detailed trail guides to the area, check out Hiking North Central BC by Rob Bryce or Exploring Prince George: A Guide to North Central BC Outdoors by Mike Nash.
To get to this strenuous but short hike, turn onto the Kluskus FSR, approximately 20 km south of Vanderhoof. From there it’s another 90 km to the trailhead. The trail itself is steep and challenging but it’s only 1.3 km from trailhead to the top, so it won’t take long. As with any scramble, the rewards are worth the effort—great views of the surrounding plateau and distant peaks.
Eskers Provincial Park
This provincial park 40 km northwest of Prince George has 15 km of trails, most of which open up fairly early in the season. It’s a beautiful spot for light hiking, taking in the scenery around several small lakes.
This hike to a cold-water spring in Crooked River Provincial Park is a perfect way to get a spring stretch. Start at the campground and day-use area. A series of trails in the park leads to riverbanks and small kettle lakes, early to thaw in the spring. These are great short hikes in their own right, but continuing to Livingstone Springs is worth attempting—it’s a great spot to see birds and other wildlife. The route continues past Square Lake on an old road before splitting to the right. The trail from here leads to where the springs enter Crooked River. Check one of the two guidebooks mentioned above for a detailed description.
West Twin Provincial Park Old Growth Trail
This short 1.2-km trail near McBride is an excellent opportunity to check out an eco-anomaly: an inland rainforest. It’s not the only one of its kind, but this is a great example of old growth cedars and hemlocks growing far from the coast. The well-marked parking area is about 25 km east of town.