8 Great Hikes for Swimming

I love to swim! I’ll hike any trail, but I find hikes with somewhere to swim to be some of the most rewarding trails, especially on a hot summer’s day! A lot of the lakes in BC are fed by glaciers or snow-melt, which makes for a really cold swim, but over the years I’ve become a big fan of those quick, cold dips and will swim in almost any lake from May to October. That said, I’ve tried to focus my list on some of the warmer swimming spots, but we do live in Canada, so to be honest, they’re still all quite cold.

Just a few things to remember before you swim in any body of water. Practice Leave No Trace principles, which means don’t swim in lakes that are also used for drinking water and don’t alter the site in any way or move rocks to create pools. Remove sunscreen, fly spray, moisturizer, etc, before entering the water.

Without further ado, here’s some of my favourite swimming hikes!

Brohm Lake

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Brohm Lake is an awesome place to visit in the summer because there’s access to a ton of hiking trails and you can opt to go around the lake, up to the Tantalus viewpoint, or hike through the interpretive forest, finishing each hike with a dip in the lake. The only downside to this hike is that the lake is located right next to the highway and is popular for picnicking – so if you want to make sure you get parking on a hot day, arrive early!

Buntzen Lake

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Located in Anmore, Buntzen lake is a popular attraction for hikers, boaters, and picnickers. This is another location you need to get to early, but it’s a much bigger lake, so there’s more room to spread out. My preference is to hike down to the far side of the lake where there’s a smaller picnic area and wharf with a lot less people. You can either take the lakeview trail, which has minimal elevation, or the Diez Vistas trail, which climbs up over the lake and has beautiful views of Indian Arm. This is definitely a colder lake, but refreshing after a day of hiking!

Deeks Lake and Brunswick Lake

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Both lakes are located on the north end of the Howe Sound Crest Trail and are best done as an overnight trip. You can do them in a single day, but it does make for a lot of walking. Deeks is the first lake and a great place to swim, but if you’re willing to walk a few kilometres farther, Brunswick Lake is really the shining gem of the trail. Both are cold, but when the sun hits the water on Brunswick Lake, it turns the most brilliant shade of blue and looks like a tropical paradise!

Elfin Lakes

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I feel like most people don’t think about Elfin Lakes for swimming because they’re so small and completely fed by snow melt, but the last time I visited in the summer was a scorching day and I couldn’t get enough of lazing around in the water. Of the two lakes, swimming is only permitted in one – the other is solely for drinking water and swimming is not allowed. I recommend later in the season for this hike because the lake will heat up a lot by the end of the summer.

Alice Lake

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When I think of Alice Lake, I tend to think of it more as a frontcountry campground rather than a good place for hiking, but if you’re looking for a shorter hike that can end in a swim, this is a great one! It’s only a few kilometers to walk around the lake, but if you’re looking for something longer you can also extend it to do the four lakes trail loop. Similar to Brohm and Buntzen, get here early to secure a parking spot as you will be sharing the lake with picnickers.

Lightning Lakes

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This is another one that might surprise a few people because Lightning Lakes isn’t one of the warmest lakes, but on a nice day, I really love this lake. Definitely make sure it’s going to be sunny before driving out to Manning Park because it can be really cold and windy on an overcast day, but this is a great place for boating, swimming, and hiking on a hot day. Hike around 1st lake or 2nd lake (or both) and then finish with a dip in the water!

Cheakamus Lake

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I’ve only swam in Cheakamus Lake in May, so it was quite cold, but I imagine it probably warms up later in the summer. I decided to include it because it’s a great lake for either day hikes or overnight trips. There are two campsites, one at the foot of the lake and another halfway up, and both have beaches from which you can swim. It’s a big body of water, so it’s always going to be cold, but a great place to hang out and dip in and out of the water.

Lindeman Lake

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Lindeman Lake is another one I’ve only swam in May, but I really love this lake. It’s a short, but steep, hike in Chilliwack Provincial Park and you can swim at both the foot and head of the lake. It’s tempting to swim right when you arrive at the lake, but I prefer to hike up to the back of the lake and jump of the rocks into the water from there. It’s definitely another cold one, but has the most gorgeous views!

Hiking Cheam Peak

One of my favourite local hikes to date is Cheam Peak – which is interesting because the first time I hiked it was in 2018 and in much less than ideal conditions. Cheam Peak is a well known hike in the Fraser Valley, whose sharp peak dominates the skyline as you drive out Highway 1 past Chilliwack. Though you can easily see the mountain from the Highway, you have to enter the trail from the South on Chilliwack Lake Road. I wasn’t expecting it to be a busy hike because you need 4WD to access to the trail head, and it was a pretty smoky day when we hiked it in 2018, so I was shocked when we arrived at the trailhead to find the parking lot packed with trucks and SUVs. As far as 4WD hikes go – I can also assume this is one of the more popular since the mountain peak is so iconic.

5 of us piled into Brandon’s 4Runner to get to the trailhead – a drive that was a lot more fun for Brandon than the rest of us. The higher we drove along the road, the worse the visibility got. 2018 was one of the worst summers for forest fires and the city was filled with smoke for weeks on end, making it hard to do much of anything outdoors without coughing up a lung. The smoke hadn’t peaked yet, but it was also an overcast day and we were high enough to be up in the clouds – so the smoke and fog together made for some really terrible visibility.

The conditions didn’t impact my enjoyment of Mount Cheam though and even with the poor visibility, between the alpine meadows and cute little Spoon Lake, I was in hiking heaven. The meadows start pretty much at the trailhead and are gorgeous and green, with this tiny little swimming hole that looks like it’s been punched out of the landscape. Plus there’s lots of wildflowers if you go at the right time of year. From the meadow, I think you can see up most of the mountain, but unfortunately for us, the meadow was the only part of the trail not shrouded in fog. As we started to ascend, we immediately entered the clouds and lost all sight of anything around us. I’ve hiked a few times in the fog, but this was definitely the worst. The closer we got to the top, the worse it got. It’s not the longest trail, only 9km round trip, but you tackle a lot of elevation gain in that hike, approximately 650m. So it’s pretty steep for most of the hike, with lots of switchbacks and at times I literally couldn’t see my friends if they were more than 6 feet away.

We weaved our way up the mountain until we reached the ridgeline along the top. It was super creepy in the conditions because the fog was getting caught up on the other side of the ridge (towards the highway), so we could see down the ridge a little bit, but the highway side was just a bank of milky white fog. It’s made weirder by the fact that when you reach the top, you get over the mountain sound barrier, so all of sudden you can hear all the traffic from down on the highway. From the peak, Mount Cheam looks down on the highway, but since we were hiking it from the back, we were totally surrounded by the backcountry. Since you can’t see any of the traffic on the way up, you feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness, it makes for a really weird experience.

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We hung out at the bottom of the ridgeline for a bit and had our lunch. We figured there was no use racing to the top when we couldn’t see anything anyways, so we took our time. The fog did eventually start to thin, so we continued on to the very top, but we never did get a view down into the Fraser Valley. We hung out for a long time taking funny pictures of the fog and messing around, but we eventually gave up on our hope of catching the view and started to head back down again. Despite all the fog and not being able to see the view, I still had a great time on the hike, which I attribute to my companions, who had just as much fun taking photos in the fog as we would have with an amazing view!

The fog continued to thin as we made our way back down again. We could see more of the mountain around us and eventually the fog got high enough that we could see all the way down to the meadow. This was my favourite part of the hike and it made for a nice, scenic walk back. Me and Lien are a bit obsessed with swimming, so we had big plans to take a dip in the little hobbit pond, formally known as Spoon Lake, at the bottom. We didn’t waste any time and both dove right into the water as soon as we got there. It’s a small waterbody and it was the middle of the summer, so it was actually really warm and we had a great time swimming around. From Spoon Lake, it’s just a short walk back out of the meadow and about a kilometre along a gravel road back to the parking lot. So even though the weather conditions weren’t the best, we still had a great time on the hike and will have to keep in on our bucket lists to return on a clearer day!

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Fast forward to 2020. 2 years after our first hike to Mount Cheam, we decided to return and see if we could actually catch the view. It was Sunday morning back in mid July and it was one of the hottest days of the summer. Me and Emily spent all Saturday trying to get into any of the lakes in the lower mainland and were rejected from Buntzen and Sasamat, so we figured cute little Spoon Lake would make for a great end of hike swim the next day.

Even though I never saw the view the first time, I’d loved everything about Mount Cheam, particularly swimming in Spoon Lake, which looks like its been carved out of the hillside. So I was excited to return, this time with Emily, Seth, and Sadie in tow. We drove separately and then all piled into Brandon’s 4×4 for the 9km ride up to the trailhead. I remembered there being some pretty bad waterbars along the forestry road the first time, but I also remembered us driving up it pretty fast. I don’t know if I mis-remembered or if the road has gotten worse, but it seemed in much poorer condition then the last time. It ended up taking us over an hour just to go the 9km! I wasn’t sure how well Sadie would do on the drive. As a puppy she had really bad car sickness, but has mostly grown out of it. Fortunately she seemed to love the 4×4 road! She was running back and forth across me, Seth, and Lien in the back seat to look out the windows as we drove up.

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It was a slow year for the snowpack melting, so there was still quite a bit of snow on the trail when we visited in mid-July. Fortunately we had microspikes, but since the snow was so sporadic, it’s a pain constantly taking them on and off, so we mostly went without. Sunglasses are a must with so much snow though – Emily sunburned her eyes crossing the snow fields. Walking into the meadow from the parking lot we could see there was a fair amount of snow left and we were concerned the lake might still be frozen. You can’t see it until you’re pretty much on top of it, so we were anxious as we approached, praying we’d be able to swim in it. Unfortunately, the lake was a real mess. The whole area coming down to the lake looked more or less in shambles. Since our last visit, it looked like there’d been an avalanche in the area. There’s several trees knocked down and a ton of debris coming down into the lake. It looked like there was a bunch of debris from the slide that had been knocked into the lake and was now covered with snow and dirt. We were convinced it would never be swimable again, but I’ve since seen photos of the lake on Instagram later in the summer, and it looks totally fine now, so most of it must have been snow, or the debris suck to the bottom. So we were quite sad at the time, but thrilled to see it more or less seems to have recovered.

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The hike ended up being more challenging than I remembered. Like I said above, it’s a short hike, but has a lot of elevation gain. I’m not sure if I was having a bad day or if I’m just out of shape from the pandemic, but it was a challenging hike, even after completing the NCT. I’m inclined to blame it on the heat though because it was well over 30 degrees. From the lake it’s a steady climb for the rest of the hike, the main difference being that this time we got to enjoy the views! A lot of the hike is going back and forth across exposed boulder fields, some of which were still under snow, so caution is definitely advised. On our way down we saw a few people trying to take shortcuts up the boulder field, don’t do this, it’s deceivingly hard, it’s dangerous (loose rock and steeper) and it damages the landscape.

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It was a slog, but we reached the top to gorgeous blue sky views of the surrounding area. Looking north you can see Highway 1 all the way out to Harrison Lake, and south is a cacophony of snowy peaked mountains all the way to the States. We sat at the very peak to enjoy our lunch before heading back down again. This was Sadie’s first major hike, so we weren’t sure what to expect, but she LOVED it. She’s definitely an outdoor dog and has a ton of energy. She thrives on steep difficult trails, so she was right in her element on Cheam. Also, she’s obsessed with the snow and loves playing it. I’m not sure if it’s just because it was so hot, but she couldn’t get enough of running around throughout the snow fields. She was totally pooped by the end of the hike though. She was all wet and muddy from running around and we didn’t want her sitting in our laps, so we made her sit on the floor in the back seat and she immediately lay down and fell asleep for most of the car ride back (a feat for Sadie who rarely settles down).

So despite the setbacks with the lake, it was still a great day! It’s a challenge to get to, but well worth the visit, my only recommendation is to leave early to avoid the crowds and go prepared for any condition because you will be a long way from help! Happy hiking everyone!

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Okanagan Lake Provincial Park

Now that I’ve finally finished my 6-part mini-series about the North Coast Trail, I’m thrilled to write about something else! I feel like it was a bit of a slow start to summer this year. I didn’t get to go on my annual May Long weekend camping trip as BC Parks didn’t open until June, and it took forever for the weather to finally get nice, but I ended up having a pretty epic July and August. Despite all the restrictions from Covid, I was still able to get out hiking several times and did something I’ve been meaning to do since I moved to BC 6 years ago.

I finally went to the Rockies! It’s not my first time in the Rockies, but Seth and I have been intending to make a road trip to the Rockies for years. Since we had to cancel our plans to go home to Newfoundland, we decided it was the perfect time to finally do our own little BC road trip. We took a week off work, spending 3 nights in the Okanagan and 4 nights in Banff. Emily joined us and of course we took Sadie, so it made for an interesting packing experience. We’d been planning to get roof rails and a rack for the car, but of course, they were all sold out at our local store because everyone is road tripping this year, so we just had to get creative with the packing. We managed to fit all our camping gear for 3 people and a dog for a week in the car, though there was limited space in the backseat, so Emily and Sadie had to get pretty cozy.

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We took off right after work on Friday evening and drove straight to Okanagan Lake Provincial Park, where we’d be camping for 3 nights. We powered through the drive, stopping only once for gas and dinner, arriving with enough daylight to set up the tents. However, we couldn’t believe how hot it was when we stepped out of the car. We knew it was going to be hot – the temperatures in Penticton over the weekend were in the high 30’s! But we weren’t prepared for just how hot it would be overnight as well. We had a short campfire, but even that was too hot and we were all tired from the journey, so we decided to make it an early night.

The first night of the trip was by far the worst. Sadie had been camping with me twice before and both times had gone well, but the first night in the Okanagan was rough on everyone. We decided to sleep with the fly off because it’s like a sauna in the tent with it on, but that proved to be too challenging for Sadie. She’s a bit of a high strung dog most of the time, but usually settles down in the tent, but being able to see out of the tent was just too much stimulation and she barked at anything that passed our campsite throughout the night.

The campsites at Okanagan Lake North Campground are absolutely gorgeous. They’re massive sites with large green spaces between each site. It makes for a spacious and pretty site, but doesn’t provide much privacy, so Sadie was able to see into all our neighbouring campsites. She drove us nuts with the barking, and I’m sure the neighbours didn’t love it either. It probably didn’t help that she’d spent the last 4 hours in a car without a proper walk and she did a lot better on subsequent nights because she was tired from the day. I’m sure the heat didn’t help either. I slept the entire night in shorts and t-shirt ON TOP of my sleeping bag. I seriously didn’t put a blanket over me the entire night, which is something I’ve never experienced sleeping in a tent.

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The trip improved from there though. The main plan for the okanagan was to relax. We hadn’t planned any hikes (it was too hot) and the main goal was to just take it easy by the lake. On Saturday we drove into Penticton to hang out at the beach for the day. I was a little disappointed because it is a huge lake and beachfront, but the dog beach is really tiny. We hung around there for a few hours and Sadie finally went swimming for the first time. I think she liked it and it was a good way to cool down, but she won’t usually go swimming unless you are swimming too. I was surprised by how warm the water was though. Me and Seth visited Okanagan Lake once before during labour day weekend and I remembered the water being really cold, but it was heavenly on the super hot days we visited.

Eventually we moved on from the dog beach and decided to go for a little walk through the town. We got ice cream and iced tea, checking out one of the local bookstores. Then we found a patio at Slackwater Brewing and decided to hang out for a bit with some beers. It was nice, but the heat eventually drove us onwards and we returned to the campsite to go swimming in the lake again. We found a little beach near our campsite and went for another soak in the water before supper. It was a chill evening – we had a BBQ and relaxed by the campfire. We left the fly on this time, which was hot, but a lot better for Sadie and we all got a better night’s sleep.

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The next morning Emily made pancakes for breakfast and we decided to stay around the campground for the morning. We discovered a dog beach further up on the lake which was a lot nicer and decided to hang out there for a few hours. That was probably my favourite part of our stay in the Okanagan. We lounged around on the beach and had a great time chilling in our floaties in the water.

The afternoon was devoted to wineries. Of course, the Okanagan is famous for its wineries and you can’t go there without stopping by a few. Covid did make this a little more challenging. Normally you can just stop in where ever you want and sample some wines, but most of the wineries now have a reservation system even for tastings. I’d made reservations at 3 vineyards that were dog friendly and Emily agreed to be our DD since she doesn’t really like wine. Our first stop was Tightrope Winery, which had beautiful views of the lake and even let Sadie into the tasting room. Our second stop was Lakebreeze, which ended up being my favourite. They have an outdoor patio restaurant and I had pre-ordered meals for us. The venue was gorgeous, the food was delicious, and in my opinion they had the best wine as well. I regret not buying any wine from there. I’d already spent a lot on lunch, so we only sampled the wines, but they ended up being my favourite of the day. The last stop was Bench 1775. I think Bench had the best view of all three, a 180 degree view down to the lake, but it wasn’t my favourite atmosphere. I think they had overbooked themselves and there was a lot of waiting.

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The best part of the day was the evening. Emily had sent a snapchat to our cousin, Olivia, who lives in Edmonton earlier in the day. Liv’s fiance’s family lives in Kelowna and we couldn’t believe it when she responded to say she was also in the Okanagan! It’s been a year since we last saw her and didn’t expect to see her for a while, so we were thrilled that she was able to drive over to our campsite in the evening with her dog Avery. Sadie’s not great with other dogs because we weren’t able to socialize her properly in the pandemic, but after the initial shock she got on pretty well with Avery. We took them for a swim in the lake and then settled in for another campfire. It was only for a few hours, but it was so nice to see family.

Monday was our final day in the Okanagan and time to pack up the campsite. The showerhouse was open so we were all able to shower before leaving (foreshadowing) and took off around 10am to head towards Banff. It was a long drive and Sadie would definitely be needing breaks, so we knew it would take most of the day. It felt like it took forever to get out of Kelowna though. Traffic was really busy and we pushed through heading North. Because of Covid, we were cooking most of our meals, aside from the one at the winery. We had falafel in the cooler for lunch and decided to stop at a rest stop whenever we got hungry. We ended up stopping at this nice provincial park on Mara Lake. I’d never heard of it before, but it had picnic tables and lake views, so it made for a nice break.

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After that we drove through Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park. Those were both firsts for me. We didn’t stop in Revelstoke, but we did make a stop in Glacier to take Sadie on a short walk. Glacier seems like a really cool park and I would definitely love to explore more. We only did a short 1km walk in the park, but the scenery was so quintessentially Canadian. I don’t know what it is about National Parks, but they just have this really wholesome feel to them. I love how the signage is the same in all parks and something about the rangers and the park programs just triggers memories of family camping in Terra Nova and Gros Morne National Parks growing up. We hiked along through the trees along this raging river with the glacier capped mountains towering around us. I just felt like I was in the middle of a tourism ad.

The drive continued through Roger Pass and the rest of the park, which had jaw dropping views, before finally heading into the Rocky Mountains. We drove through Field, passing Lake Louise before finally arriving in Banff. It was around 7pm when we arrived and we were dismayed to see a long line of cars waiting to get into the park. We were also dismayed to remembered that we were now in Alberta and had lost an hour, meaning it was actually 8pm. It’s definitely lighter later in Banff, but it was a bit of a rush to set the tents up and get dinner on the go that evening. The campsite was also a bit of a disappointment after the gorgeous sites in the Okanagan. It was a tiny site and there was so much garbage and litter around, we had to clean before we could really settle in.

But we ended up having an AWESOME time in Banff, so more about that in my next post! I’m optimistic this series will be limited to just two posts, but I guess we’ll see!

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