Snowshoeing Similkameen River

This will be the final post in my Manning Park snowshoe series (for now). To date I’ve only explored the beginner trails, but now that I have avalanche safety training I’m hoping to venture further out in upcoming years. I go out to Manning Park a lot, sometimes camping and sometimes just for the day, but on this occasion Seth and I decided to rent a little airbnb log cabin in the Sunshine Valley for a weekend. The cabin was really quaint – it had a woodstove, which made it feel really cozy, and no cell service or wifi, so it was truly a proper forest getaway.

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We drove out on Friday night and then continued in to Manning Park on Saturday morning to go snowshoeing. We’d planned to do the Skagit River trail, but as it’s located right at the start of the park, and at a lower elevation, so it often won’t have fresh snow. On this occasion it didn’t, so we decided to save it for another day and continued on towards the resort to hike the Similkameen River Trail.

This trailhead starts just past the resort and is the same as the Windy Joe trail. You can park along the road just after the bridge and hike in along the river. Unfortunately we didn’t get the best conditions for it, the weather was good, but it was right after a wind storm, so there were a lot of fallen trees that we had to climb over and a lot of debris cluttering up the trail. Otherwise it was really nice though and I would love to go back and do it again.

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We followed the trail along the river past the turn-off for Windy Joe. After that, there’s another trail branch and it looks like you can cross the river and loop back on the other side of the river. This is what we decided to do, but I’d advise you to just turn around and go back the same way because the trail on the other side of the river is the nordic ski trail and snowshoers aren’t permitted on this trail.

Before doing that though, we continued further along the river trail to extend the time (it’s pretty short if you just go to the branch and turn around). If you’re keen, you can hike it all the way to the Monument 78/83 trailhead, but this is a bit of a roundabout route that would leave you having to hike back the highway, so I recommend just turning around whenever you feel you’ve gone far enough. We probably continued on for about a kilometre before stopping for lunch by the river. The Windy Joe lookout would likely also make for a fun day, but I think you may need avalanche gear for this trail, so proceed with caution.

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The Similkameen River also continues in the other direction from the trailhead and can be hiked in the resort snowshoe area as well, you just need to buy a trail pass for $10 at the resort to use that trail. There’s almost no elevation along the trail, so it’s great for beginners, and even with all the windfall, we still had a lot of fun exploring the trail! Definitely recommend!

Snowshoeing Lightning Lakes

After Shadow Lake, Lightning Lakes is one of my favourite places to snowshoe in Manning Park. Unlike Shadow Lake, this trail is outside of the resort managed trails and is free to snowshoe, so subsequently is attracts more traffic. The Lightning Lakes Trail is part of a 24km trail network that goes around both of the Lightning Lakes and then continues on to 3 other lakes. However, in the winter I recommend you just stick to the first two lakes as there’s low avalanche risk on this trail.

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Usually you can park right at the lake day-use area, but pending whether it’s recently snowed and how far into the season it is, they don’t always plow the road to the parking lot, in which case you can park along the main road and snowshoe in. The trail goes around first and second Lightning Lake, which are connected by a small river that runs between the two. There’s a beautiful bridge constructed over the two lakes and you can customize your trip to do either lake (or both). The second lake is my favourite (with the view from the bridge being the highlight), so I usually head clockwise around the first lake, which is the shorter route, to get to the second lake much faster.

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In the winter, the lake usually completely freezes over and most people will snowshoe right across the lake. Be careful if you opt for this route – check the weather the week before visiting to ensure it’s below freezing all week and make sure it’s not too early in the season to cross. I prefer only to cross in January or February. If in doubt, make sure to check the depth of the ice before crossing or just plan to stick to the trail in the trees. Also note that the river between the two lakes rarely ever freezes, even in the middle of the season, so always plan to go back to the summer trail in the trees before getting to the river.

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If you decide to go the long way around both lakes on the summer trail, the distance will be about 8.5km. If you just do the second lake using the summer trail, it’s about 7km. And if you cut across the lake and head to the back of the second lake, it’s about 6km, so there’s lots of room to customize your trail. My preference is usually to walk the summer trail to the back of the second lake and then come back along the edge of the lake (I’m too chicken to go across the middle of the lake, so I’ll walk on it, but stick close to the treeline). I’ve never done the entire first lake in the winter, only in the summer.

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To date, I’ve now snowshoed the lake twice. The first time was a real treat because my parents had come to visit and it was the first year I got to spend Family Day doing an activity with my actual family. We snowshoed to the back of the second lake, had lunch and made some hot chocolate, and then snowshoed back. More recently, I returned and went snow camping in the woods at the back of the second lake, but more on that later because I can definitely write a whole post on that adventure!

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Snowshoeing Shadow Lake and 3 Falls Trail

Now that I’ve written about all the snowshoe trails I’ve done on the North Shore, it’s time to move on to Manning Park! There’s a lot to explore in Manning Park in the winter and it almost always have great snow. Unlike the North Shore, Manning Park reliably stays below zero for most of the winter, so you don’t get the same freeze-thaw cycles as the North Shore. I think I’ve snowshoed there 4 or 5 times and only once did I not get fresh powder.

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I’ve only done the beginner trails in Manning, but there are lots of more advanced trails for backcountry skiing and a nordic trail that extends right through the park. To date, Shadow Lake is my favourite winter trail in the park. The trail leaves from the strawberry flats parking lot, meandering through the forest to the lake and ending at the bottom of the downhill ski resort. Strawberry flats is a large parking lot with the nordic trail running parallel, so make sure to enter the trail at the outhouse. From there, you just have to cross the nordic trail once and then you should see the trail continuing into the woods (don’t follow the nordic trail). The first part of the trail winds through the trees and is the most beautiful winter wonderland! I’m sure it would have a different feel without fresh snow, but both times I’ve done this trail it has been snowing, making the snow covered boughs of the surrounding trees extremely scenic.

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Most of the trail is in the forest, but there are a few small meadows along the way where you can jump off the trail if you want to frolic in the snow or cut fresh tracks. It’s only about 4.5km from the parking lot to the base of the ski hill and back, so it’s a short trail, probably around 2 hours in length. The trail crossing the nordic trail once more, just before the ski hill, but you should see the trail continue into the woods on the other side. I prefer to stop and have hot chocolate at the lake, so we usually spend closer to 3 hours on the trail. Shadow Lake is located shortly before the end of the trail and depending on the time of year you may be able to walk out onto the lake and get beautiful photos of the surrounding mountains. The first time I did the trail was in January or February, so we were able to access the lake, but the second time I did it in December and the river running into the lake hadn’t quite frozen over yet, so we couldn’t cross the marsh to get over to the lake. Either way, there’s still a nice view even if you can’t get on to the lake.

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From the ski hill, it is possible to extend the trail if you’re looking for something a little longer. If you cross the bottom of the slope, you’ll see a narrow trail going back into the woods along 3 Falls Trail. In the summer there are 3 waterfalls that you can view from the trail, in the winter you can still see the first frozen waterfall, but depending on the conditions you may not be able to see the other two. It’s not a difficult trail, but it does run along a very steep slope on the North side of the trail, so you do have to be careful and prepared along this trail as it does run through avalanche terrain. The first stop along the trail is the Shadow Falls viewpoint, which was in my opinion the best viewpoint, so you could just go as far as the first lookout. When we went we couldn’t even get to the third viewpoint because the snow conditions were too sketchy and we turned around instead. If in doubt, just stick to the Shadow Lake Trail. If you do extend to include 3 falls, you’ll double the trail length to 10km round trip.

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The important thing to note about the Shadow Lake trail is that it is one of the trails in the Park that is managed by the resort. Most of the trails are free to snowshoe on, but there are a collection of trails that are flagged by the resort. From a safety perspective this is great because the trail is well marked and easy to follow, but it does cost $10 to use. In the past you could get the trail pass right at the lodge for $10 (where you can also rent snowshoes), but with covid you can now purchase the pass online and redeem in the lodge when you arrive in the park. In my opinion the $10 is well worth it and I always have a great time on this trail!

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Finally, keep in mind there is no cell service in Manning Park, so make sure to leave a trip plan and check the avalanche bulletin before you go. There is service at the lodge, so I usually park there before and after the trail just to update my emergency contact via text about my progress.

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