By Brian Lawrence
Spring is in the air — which means hiking season is just around the corner! Although many of the Creston Valley’s lower-elevation trails are snow-free for much of the winter, the slightest hint of warmth in the air is enough to get me excited for the possibilities that open up with warmer weather.
There are five main accessible hiking areas in the valley, each offering something different, from a gentle walk to a solid leg workout, or from wide-open vistas to verdant wetlands to towering forests. For more information, be sure to download our Creston Valley Trail Map, which not only provides locations, but offers a deeper look at the trails I’ll mention, and a few more.
Goat (Arrow) Mountain Trails
The Town of Creston rests on the southern edge of Arrow Mountain (locally known as Goat Mountain), which is covered with thick forest and wildflowers, and a few trails, including the Lady Slipper Trail, which leads from the Goat Mountain Forest Service Road right to the top of the mountain.
Closest to town is the Billy Goat Bluffs Trail, which has a parking area on Helen Street (turn toward the mountain at Tim Hortons). This 2.9-kilometre trail ascends over 300 metres to a picnic area and lookout, with views of both Duck and Kootenay lakes — it’s pretty amazing to access these views so close to town!
Mount Thompson Trails
East of Creston, Mount Thompson and the craggy peaks locals affectionately refer to as the Skimmerhorns provide a dramatic backdrop, particularly at sunset. It’s more than just an Instagram-worthy photo op, though, with a network of five trails leading both up the mountain and along the ridge. The trails, including the historic Thompson Pack Trail, range from moderate to difficult, with the trails leading to the top gaining several hundred metres in altitude.
At the top, the Thompson Rim Trail provides iconic views of the Creston Valley below as hikers make their way along the ridge. It’s 3.7 kilometres one way, and can take a couple of hours to reach the end of the trail at Mount Thompson’s peak at 2175 metres, where a unique perspective of the range awaits. This is definitely a summer trail — the snowpack often keeps upper parts of the road inaccessible until July. But it’s well worth the wait!
Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area Trails
The trails at the Creston Valley Wildlife Management Area (CVWMA) are the easiest of the bunch, with loops ranging from a few minutes to a few hours along boardwalks and dikes on fairly level terrain — my favourite place to simply “go for a walk”.
Located on the west side of the valley with parking at the Kootenay Columbia Discovery Centre on West Creston Road, the CVWMA area is comprised of over 7,000 hectares of wetlands, marshes and bird habitat. With nearly 400 species of birds, mammals and more roaming around, there’s a strong chance you’ll see some of those as you meander the appropriately named Elk Amble, Wood Duck Walk or Songbird Stroll.
The latter is the shortest of the trails, and leads to a three-story viewing tower that provides an amazing overview of the southern portion of the CVWMA — a great way to enjoy a quick view of the wetland or to plan a longer walk if you have the time.
Mount Creston Trails
Adjacent to the CVWMA is the Mount Creston hiking area, which includes trails on the mountainside, as well as along Summit Creek.
A good starting point is the moderate Balancing Rock Trail, which offers an opportunity to see some lower-altitude wildflowers. It leads to the namesake rock, a glacial erratic, as well as an expansive view of the east side of the valley.
A short distance beyond is a small swamp crossed by a wooden boardwalk that forks to either the Mount Creston Trail or to the Fern Forest Trail. The journey up Mount Creston is a challenging climb — you’ll lose a lot of elevation on many downhill portions before climbing back up again steeply — while Fern Forest descends more gently to the Summit Creek Trail, which has an in-and-out leg north but also extends south to the CVWMA.
If you parked at the CVWMA or Balancing Rock trailheads on West Creston Road, the Summit Creek Trail joins a trail to leads through Corn Creek Marsh to the CVWMA network — a great way to experience mountain hiking and the wetlands in one go!
Kootenay Pass Trails
About 30 minutes west of Creston is the summit of the Kootenay Pass, which at 1,775 m (5,823 feet) is one of the highest year-round mountain passes in Canada. A few trails start at the summit parking area, passing through Stagleap Provincial Park on their way along Cornice Ridge and Ripple Ridge, both of which present unparalleled views of the surrounding peaks.
A few kilometres east of the summit is the Ka Papa Cedars Trail, which winds through an old growth cedar forest. At 1.7 km, the easy-moderate hike isn’t long, but you’ll find yourself staring in awe at the majestic trees towering overhead, so don’t plan for this hike to be over too quickly!
Exploring the Backcountry
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous — and have a 4x4 and some previous experience — there are rustic backcountry trails just waiting to be hiked! Two of the area’s best are the Mount Midgley Trail northwest of the Creston Valley and Haystack Mountain Trail in Kianuko Provincial Park.
The Haystack trailhead is located over 17 kilometres up the Sanca Creek Forest Service Road. The trail starts gently as it follows Sanca Creek, then becomes steeper before reaching Small Toe Lake — the end goal for some hikers, while others are happy to cross meadows and a boulder field to reach the peak.
Tips for A Safe Spring Hiking
Although well maintained trails beckon, it’s important to be prepared for spring conditions. A first aid kit is smart at any time of the year, but here are a few way to stay safe in the spring:
Bring jackets and warm clothing, as weather can change quickly from warm to cold;
Bring your own water — the spring runoff adds a lot of water to creeks and streams, but it’s generally unsuitable for drinking;
Keep ticks at bay by wearing a hat, long sleeves and pants to help — and then do a tick check after the hike; and,
Bring bear bells, bear spray and keep pets on a leash — bears will be coming out of hibernation, grumpy and hungry.
Trails Don’t Just Happen
The trail networks in the Creston Valley are among the most extensive in the region, and this is due to the hard work and dedication of several community groups. The Creston Community Forest Society, Trails for Creston Valley and Creston Valley Wildlife Management Authority are the foremost among them, and they definitely deserve our thanks as we enjoy hiking and adventuring!
But Wait — There’s More!
After that big hike, you’ll need sustenance, and Creston has you covered with the pubs, coffee shops and restaurants you can find in the Eat section of our website. Or you might want to keep going with some shopping, or relax and take in some entertainment?
Whatever you do after, enjoy the hike. See you on the trail!
Freelance writer Brian Lawrence is a former editor and publisher of the Creston Valley Advance. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking and trail running, and acting in and directing productions with Creston's Footlighters Theatre Society.