Ah, Vernon, British Columbia. Sigh.
It’s one of my favourite places in Canada, located near the gorgeous Okanagan, Kalamalka, and Swan lakes, surrounded by rolling hills and tree-filled mountains, with sandy beaches and weather to die for. Vernon is a tourist destination for foodies, golfers, sun worshippers, and wine lovers.
But Vernon also has a plethora of hiking trails to satisfy the diehard hiker and mountain bike enthusiast. Some of the trails can be long and challenging, but if you are looking for some shorter hikes, either to walk off a fabulous meal or to compliment a busy travel agenda, consider one or more of these five short hikes, each of which can be completed in less than an hour.
Swan Lake Nature Reserve
Swan Lake Nature Reserve is a protected grasslands area hugging the southern shore of Swan Lake. It has two trails: Swan Lake Loop Trail and Swan Lake Bird Trail (which is an out-and-back trail). Both trails are well-marked and easy to hike, with only a mild elevation gain on the looped trail.
Wildlife is abundant in the area. On my most recent trip there, I saw a bald eagle soaring above and a red-tailed hawk hunting for rodents in the grass. (I even saw a woman hiking while reading a novel.) On an earlier trip, I watched an osprey flying overhead carrying a fish in its talons. What’s interesting is how the osprey carries its fish aerodynamically, with the head leading. It does this by seemingly crossing its legs partially while flying. There are also plenty of sparrows and red-winged blackbirds along the trail, and if you are as lucky as I am, you’ll see gopher snakes and swallowtail butterflies.
How to get there:
From Highway 97 and 43rd Ave in Vernon, travel west on 43rd Ave for 500 meters; turn right on Old Kamloops Road and drive for 2.4 kilometers; turn right into a gravelled parking lot, drive through the gate, and drive another 700 meters on a dirt road to the trailhead.
Notes: There is virtually no shade on this trail, so if the weather is hot, prepare yourself with water, sunscreen, and a hat, even though you may only be on the trail for a half hour. You can get away with wearing sandals on this trail.
BX Creek Trail
If you are looking for shade and a much cooler walk, BX Creek Trail is the one for you. It is a through hike of 3.2 kilometers, so an out-and-back trip might take you more than an hour. But there are options, depending on your starting trailhead. From the Tillicum Road trailhead, you can walk to BX Creek Falls in about five minutes, with plenty of places to enjoy a picnic or contemplative rest by the creek on the way From the Star Road Trailhead, it will take quite a bit longer, but you will be able to enjoy crossing the multitude of wooden bridges that span the creek. From either direction, you will enjoy a walk through a cedar and hemlock forest, with all the beauty and smells that these trees are famous for. The trail is relatively easy to hike, but I would recommend wearing proper footwear because of the numerous rocks and roots along the trail. There is only one spot, right at the falls, where you will need some stamina as you climb the staircase from the lower creek to the upper falls.
How to get there:
To Star Road Trailhead: From 27th St and 48th Ave in Vernon, travel east on 48th Ave (the name changes to Silver Star Rd at Pleasant Valley Road) for 3.5 kms, turn right on Star Road and travel 500 meters to the trailhead parking lot on the right.
To Tillicum Road Trailhead: From 27th St and 48th Ave in Vernon, travel east on 48th Ave (the name changes to Silver Star Rd at Pleasant Valley Road) for 6.8 kms, turn right on Tillicum Road and travel 1.0 km to the trailhead parking lot on the right.
Notes: This is a dog-friendly trail. During my last hike there, one of the bridges was under repair.
Middleton Mountain Trails
From downtown Vernon, if you look to the southeast, you will see an obvious hill that is, for some reason, called a mountain – Middleton Mountain. It will be the easiest mountain you have ever climbed, and if this is your first mountain, you will be able forever after to tell your friends that you climbed a mountain in the Okanagan. Middleton Mountain is a sanctuary for bluebirds, and they were plentiful when I hiked up there this week. Private landowners and volunteers have provided a considerable amount of support to reduce the decline of the bluebird. From the summit, the views of Kalamalka Lake and the city of Vernon, with Swan Lake just to the north, are stunning. There are a couple of access points to the mountain trails, but all of them start with a brief but steady uphill walk, so hike slowly if you’ve just had a big meal.
How to get there:
From 27th St and Highway 6 in Vernon, travel southwest on Highway 6 toward Lumby for 1.6 kms; turn right on Middleton Road and travel for 3.3 kms; turn left on Mt Ida Dr and travel for 1.3 kms to the trailhead on the right.
Notes: When I hiked this trail this week, there was quite a bit of new-property construction going on at the trailhead. As an alternate starting point, when you turn onto Mt Ida Dr, travel for 600 meters, turn right on Mt Tanner Pl, stay right at the T-junction, and park at the end of the street. The access road up to Middleton Mountain will be obvious. Also, I hiked this trail in sandals once, but I wouldn’t recommend it. There are lots of thorny bushes and cacti at the edge of the trail.
Grey Canal Trail – Silver Star Foothills
If you are looking for a hike that offers uninterrupted views of Swan Lake and the city of Vernon, this one is for you. The Grey Canal Trail system is segmented throughout Vernon. The original Grey Canal system was designed to supply water to the benchlands, which were dry for much of the fruit growing season. The canal was built between 1905 and 1914 and was in use until 1970, when more modern methods of irrigation were utilized. The route I chose is a relatively easy few kilometers between Blackcomb Way and Rugg Rd, but you can make your hike longer if you like because the trail extends all the way to Glenhayes Road at the north end of Swan Lake, which, for an out-and-back trip, would be about 10 kms of hiking. From the trailhead, there are two trails, one heading left as you enter the parking lot, which goes down to BX Creek, and one to the right. Take the one to the right and hike for as long as your time allows. The views are gorgeous and the trail easy.
How to get there:
From 27th St and 48th Ave in Vernon, travel east on 48th Ave for 4.5 kms, turn left at Blackcomb Way, travel 300 meters and turn into the trailhead parking lot on the left.
Notes: There is quite a bit of exposure to the sun on this walk. I recommend you have sunscreen, water, and a hat. I hiked this trail this week and met a parched gentleman who had neglected to bring water. It made for a less-than-enjoyable hike for him.
Crest Trail/Juniper Trail Loop – Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park
While Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park is replete with long and challenging trails, there is a shorter loop from the Twin Bays parking lot that provides all of the enjoyment and views you’ll want. From the trailhead, take Grasslands trail to the south, which is the trail to the left of the washrooms. Quickly, it meets with Crest Trail, which you can take to the right and follow all the way to the end, which is Upper Turtle Head Point (also known as Rattlesnake Point). The view of Kalamalka Lake from here is spectacular. If you haven’t already eaten and time allows, you may want to enjoy a picnic on this rocky outcrop. To return, head back down Crest Trail until you see a connecting trail to the left leading down to Juniper Trail. Juniper Trail eventually turns into a paved trail at Jade Beach, leading directly back to the parking lot. Exposure to the sun is intermittent on the trail, but there is virtually no shade at all at Turtle Head Point.
How to get there:
I didn’t measure the kilometers on this one, but here are the directions: From Highway 6 and Kalamalka Lake Rd in Vernon, travel south on Kalamalka Lake Rd into Coldstream and turn right on McClounie Rd (there will be a blue sign indicating Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park). McClounie Rd takes a natural turn right onto Coldstream Creek Rd. Travel for a few hundred meters and turn left on Kidston Rd. Drive a half kilometer or so past the Red Gate entrance to the park to where Kidston Rd takes a sharp right toward the lake. The entrance to the parking lot is on the left. Park in the far lot near the trailhead.
Notes: The park is dog friendly, with a couple of dog beaches, but Juniper Trail is closed to dogs from April 1st to October 31st. If you have a dog on this hike, you will need to return to the parking lot via Crest Trail.
So there you have it – 5 relatively easy and short hikes in the Vernon area. Enjoy! And I hope to see you on the trail!