Story and photos by Lisa Pulsifer
Something magical happens once winter arrives in the mountains. The hard angles of the rocks disappear under a thick blanket of snow. The forest transforms as snow builds up and weighs down the boughs of the evergreens. Lakes disappear under ice and sounds fade as animals retreat into dens, valleys or fly south to warmer places.
Many favorite trails become inaccessible by road, but the few that remain are worth seeking out. Layer up, grab a pack, strap on your snowshoes and venture out onto one of these B.C. trails to enjoy the magic of winter in the mountains.
None of these trails require a parking permit and all have minimal avalanche risk. The trails, which lie within B.C. Provincial Parks are well marked by flagging or poles and are patrolled by park rangers. These trails are suitable for relative beginners, but don’t venture out without proper equipment and knowledge of avalanches and navigation.
BLACK MOUNTAIN PLATEAU
Cypress Mountain, West Vancouver, BC
Round trip: 4.3 miles (7 km)
Elevation gain: 1,300 feet
The details: Cypress Provincial Park was founded in 1975 and protects over 7,400 acres of hemlock, fir and cypress forest, as well as the peaks and alpine lakes of the Howe Sound Crest Mountains. These are the historic lands of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam tribes of the Salish Nation.
Before starting your hike, stop in at the Black Mountain Lodge in Parking Lot A to pick up a free Backcountry Access Pass. To find the trailhead, walk past the ski lodge and carefully cross below the ski lifts to the trees on the other side. Follow the well-marked trail left for a couple of minutes to reach a junction. Turn left and start the climb up Black Mountain.
The first mile of the trail is steep, climbing just outside of the ski hill boundary. Keep following the poles and flagging until the trail levels out on the plateau – it should take about 45 minutes to get there. Turn right at the junction. After an easy five-minute climb, reach the 4,000-foot southern summit of Black Mountain. On a clear day you can see the peaks of the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island. Continue along the marked trail as it loops the plateau, offering glimpses of Howe Sound to the west and Vancouver to the south. Complete your loop and head back down the trail to the base of the ski hill.
Pro tip: Enjoy a post-snowshoe beer and poutine at the Crazy Raven Bar & Grill in the Cypress Mountain Ski Lodge.
How to get there: From North Vancouver take Trans-Canada Highway/B.C.-1 west. Take exit 8 north to Cypress Bowl Road. Follow the road to a large parking lot at the ski hill. Winter tires or chains are required between October and April.
WINDY JOE LOOKOUT
Manning Park, BC
Round trip: 10 miles (16 km)
Elevation gain: 1,700 feet
The details: Enjoy a variety of terrain as you climb to an historic British Columbia Forest Service fire lookout in E.C. Manning Provincial Park. Warm up your snowshoeing legs as the trail meanders gently alongside the Similkameen River. The Similkameen people were the original inhabitants of this area, traveling here in the summer to enjoy the bounty of the mountains and to escape the heat of the eastern valleys.
After 1.5 miles, the trail climbs to reach an old roadbed and a collection of trail signs. You may notice that you’re also on the Pacific Crest Trail. Thru-hikers who reach the border from the U.S. have the option to cross into Manning Provincial Park and finish their hike at the lodge. But don’t worry, you won’t find yourself snowshoeing all the way to Mexico!
Follow the road uphill as it winds through thick second-growth forests. Take note of the second trail junction, as this is where the PCT veers south towards the border, only 6 miles away. To reach the lookout, continue the uphill trudge for another 1.5 miles, perhaps catching glimpses of the surrounding peaks through the trees.
Soon enough the trail reaches the relatively flat summit of Windy Joe Mountain and the historic two-story lookout hut. Inside the uninsulated hut you’ll find benches and interpretive displays as well as the original sighting scope used back in the day to pinpoint forest fires. Take in the 360-degree views of the northern-most Cascades as you enjoy your lunch before making the trek back down to the valley.
Pro tip: Spend a night at Manning Park Lodge and enjoy other snowshoe trails in the area like Lightning Lakes Loop or Cambie Creek.
How to get there: From Hope take Highway 3 east for 50 minutes to Manning Park Lodge. Turn right on Gibson Road. After a couple minutes, cross a bridge and find parking on the left side of the road. Winter tires or chains are required on Highway 3 between October and April.
Round trip: 8.7 miles (14 km)
Elevation gain: 2,300 feet
The details: The snowshoe trail to Paul Ridge is steep, but on a clear day you’ll be rewarded with views of Mount Garibaldi, the Coast Mountains, the Tantalus Range and the endless peaks of Garibaldi Provincial Park. From the trailhead parking lot follow a steep forest road for 3 miles. The climb up the road doesn’t have particularly good views so just keep putting one snowshoe in front of the other.
After a handful of switchbacks, the trees start to thin and the road’s grade lessens. Within a few minutes you’ll reach Red Heather Hut, a small shelter where you can warm up next to the wood stove and boil some water for a hot drink. Once you’re ready to press on, follow the orange poles through the meadow and up towards the ridge. Stop to catch your breath at the top of the ridge and look west to take in the awe-inspiring peaks of the Tantalus Range and the Squamish Valley below.
Follow the trail as it rounds the ridge and turns north. Push through one more short climb to reach the highest point on Paul Ridge and a panoramic view of Garibaldi Mountain. Soak it in before retracing your tracks back to the trailhead.
Pro tip: Follow the trail another 4 miles to spend a night at the Elfin Lakes Shelter (Reservations required).
How to get there: From Vancouver take Highway 99 north to Squamish. Turn right on Mamquam Road. Follow Mamquam Road for about 30 minutes to reach the trailhead. The road turns to gravel after 10 minutes and may be snow covered before the trailhead.
Lisa Pulsifer is passionate about hiking and backpacking and just completed the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington. She lives in Vancouver, B.C.