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National parks are free in 2017, so we asked local travel writers to dish on their favourite lake hikes and best-of-B.C.-swimming holes. Make the most of it.
Sidestepping the Tourists: Emerald Lake is generally overrun with summer tourist buses, but it’s worth the stop for the view of its unearthly electric turquoise water surrounded by the Rockies. We pulled in on a hot August day, ate a picnic lunch while waiting an hour for our canoe rental, and then paddled out onto the lake with our four-year-old son. At the far end we beached our canoe on the limestone duff that gives the lake its colour and stripped down for a (very) quick family dip. A classic summer vacation highlight, with pictures that will never appear on Facebook.—Tyee Bridge
Top of the World: Most of us have driven through Glacier National Park, along the Trans-Canada Highway and over the infamous Rogers Pass. This summer, stop. Hike the Asulkan Valley Trail. Turn-of-the-century explorer Arthur O. Wheeler described it as “a gem of mountain scenery” in an “enchanted” valley. Clambering past waterfalls, steep slopes and wildlife (asulkan means “wild goat” in a local First Nations dialect), your top-of-the-world destination is the Asulkan Hut, set below the same-named glacier and surrounded by peaks, where the front porch—with a view of Rogers Pass far below—is the perfect picnic spot. The Alpine Club of Canada maintains the panabode Asulkan Hut, which is available for overnight use ($40). alpineclubofcanada.ca—Barb Sligl
Solitude Among the Giants: Between the second and third years of my undergrad degree, I worked for Parks Canada doing surveys in Jasper National Park. Near the end of the summer, my supervisor asked if I would consider accepting an undercover assignment in Mount Revelstoke National Park, where I would ditch the beige polycotton Parks uniform for civilian garb so as best to observe tourists incognito. I accepted, and after driving west for several hours on the Trans-Canada I arrived at the site of what I was now referring to as my “sting operation”: Giant Cedars Boardwalk Trail, a wooden trail that meanders through an amazing collection of 500-year-old coniferous giants. My task was to sit there and count the number of visitors, then time every third visitor to see how long they took to read the interpretative signs. For the most part, nobody came, so I sat on the boardwalk by myself, enjoying at last enough peace and quiet to get through Infinite Jest. So in a summer where the national parks are going to be slammed, it’s tough to beat some solitary commune with the biggest trees you’ve ever seen.—Neal McLennan
Welcome to Rivendell: “Yoho!” The Cree expression of awe will escape your lips in the high alpine of Yoho National Park. Amid the western slopes and hanging valleys of the Rockies, the Lake O’Hara trail network starts above 2,000 metres—an engineered, multifaceted circuit that skirts some dozen lakes ringed by the jagged formations of the Wiwaxy Peaks and Cathedral Mountain. Take the Lake Oesa (oh-EE-sa, another wonder-filled word meaning “ice”) Trail past Seven Veils Falls, along quartzite cliffs and up giant stone steps carved by legendary (and quite literal) trailblazer Lawrence Grassi. It’s as if you’ve stumbled upon Middle-earth. All hiked out? You can always stay for tea or overnight at the rather posh Lake O’Hara Lodge. Know before you go: there’s a quota system that limits visitors into Lake O’Hara’s trail network (accessible only by Parks Canada bus service). lakeohara.com—B.S.
A West Coast Spin on the West Coast Trail: The classic 75-kilometre-long West Coast Trail is so popular you need to book a reservation during peak season. To get literally off the beaten path—as elite athletes Jen Segger and Norm Hann did—you can load your gear onto stand-up paddleboards and tour along the rugged coastline instead. Faster than hiking, it will also give you access to remote spots like the enormous cave and sea stacks at Owen Point.—Masa Takei
A Bridge to Test Friendships: The West Coast Trail has many natural wonders, from passing grey whales to the sight of the Milky Way setting over the ocean on a clear night. One man-made wonder is the Logan Creek Suspension Bridge, a Pacific Rim rite of passage. It’s a 300-foot span that is not so much a bridge as a hanging 12-inch board with some fencing tacked on both sides. The descent to the bridge is down a sheer cliff on wobbly ladders, and the bridge itself—not dizzyingly high, but high enough—is also bouncy, especially if you have a pal who thinks it’s funny to jostle the span when you hit the midway point.—T.B.
A Short Hike with a Big Payoff: Thanks to a generous relative with a cabin, I spend a good bit of time on Pender Island. I’m usually indolent and overfed on these trips, but when I want to climb out of my torpor, I head to Mount Norman. Starting from Ainslie Point Road, it’s a short (1.25-kilometre) but steep hike to the viewing platform. The trail itself, an old logging road, is not terribly inspiring, but it leads to spectacular southwest views of Bedwell Harbour and the outlying islands.—T.B.
Tide to Table: An exploration of the Haida Gwaii park areas by kayak takes about two weeks. But by switching up paddles for petrol power on a guided Moresby Explorers Zodiac, we went from T’aanuu Llnagaay at the northern end down to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of SGang Gwaay in the south over four days. On a tour more exclusive than a Michelin-starred restaurant, we shared a candlelit meal at the company owner’s childhood home—an old whaling-station-turned-hippie-homestead—in Rose Harbour (population: 2), prepared by his mother from ingredients she grows and fishes for herself. moresbyexplorers.com—M.T.