An Alpine Paradise

By Chris & Rick Millikan

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A getaway in BC’s interior last July introduces us to summer activities at Sun Peaks. Comfortable lodgings in the heart of the village make the perfect “home base” for exploring this area already widely known as a winter wonderland.

Nestled amid three mountains, the town centre conjures images of a fairytale village in Austria’s Alps. Three-story buildings embrace a brick-paved mall. Like our inn, many boast balconies. Red geraniums fill window boxes on pastel façades. Fanciful woodwork and signage embellish the “old-world” architecture. Arcades open onto sports shops, boutiques, galleries and cafés with al fresco seating. On one such patio, ham and tomato crêpes kick off our first morning.

Slapped up with sunscreen, dressed in layers, hats and water bottles handy, we pick up lift tickets from guest services, ready for high adventure! Over at the Sunburst Chairlift, we meet Mayor Al Raine and Olympian now Senator Nancy Greene Raine, residents since 1995… and today our hospitable trail guides for a four-hour alpine hike. “Hardy hikers often start out from the village,” Al informs us. “But we’ll ride up.”

A thrill in itself, the chairlift launches us high over forested hillsides and into the Shuswap Highlands. Mountain bike riders below our feet whiz downward along networked trails snaking through fireweed. Green valleys stretch far beyond the tree line.

Hopping off at Mid Mountain station, Nancy explains, “Here at 6,000 feet, we’re right on the wildflowers’ doorstep.” Our pocket maps show 16 interconnecting, colour-coded trails looping through more than 35 kilometres of mountain paradise. Hikers of most abilities can continue as far as they want along routes ranging in difficulty from simple walks to challenging climbs.

Overlooking the valley, a storyboard tells us that Sun Peaks developed in 1961 as Tod Mountain; the name honours John Tod, chief fur trader for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1840s. With few other amenities at the outset, the single chairlift was then North America’s longest. Harry Burfield ran “A combination of moderate trails will take us to Top of the World,” Nancy says. Starting out on Vista Trail, we trek through sub alpine evergreens. “Many of these paths follow cattle and wild animal tracks,” Al points out. “To preserve the environment, an army of volunteers re-established them and constantly maintain them.”

Right from the start, we see vibrant Indian paintbrush, tiger lilies, fireweed and lupines. “Just you wait… the best is yet to come,” Nancy promises. Showing us her well-thumbed wildflower guidebook, she points out photos and descriptions identifying flowers, as well as fascinating references to Native uses.

“A colourful character, Harry was also a ski jumper, RCAF pilot, carpenter and local TV personality,” Nancy smiles. “Speaking of colourful, from mid-July to mid-August countless wildflowers carpet our alpine meadows. Due to June’s rains and later warm temperatures, this year’s bumper crop bloomed early.” The Alpine Blossom Festival celebrates this annual phenomenon with music and special events every August long weekend.the ski shop.

Puffing hard in unaccustomed altitude, we gradually make our way toward Whyte Bowl, our efforts rewarded as the trail opens onto awe-inspiring colour-splashed slopes. Adding to feelings of enchantment, a majestic antlered stag materializes in the distance and saunters nonchalantly into a lower flower-filled meadow.

Farther onward, Nancy points out some tall perennials. “That’s mountain helleborus. Their unique green flowers are toxic, so ranchers won’t herd cattle up here until those blooms die off,” she relates. “Thanks to these hellebore heroes, the wildflowers are safe during blossoming season! And later in summer, cattle can graze and, in the process, plant new seeds.”

Sitting amid the wildflowers, time seems suspended as we munch snacks and gaze downward at the village. Al comments on the practical nature of its “Tyrolean look.” “Like big sister Whistler, those stucco exteriors not only look appealing, they also save on maintenance.” Nancy describes how easy it is for holidaymakers to fly directly into Kamloops, just one hour away.Ahead, meadows blaze in floral glory. Thousands of red columbine, larkspur, lupines, Indian paintbrush and Columbia lilies splash purples, reds, yellows and pinks across the mountainsides. With gentle slopes drenched in remarkable colour, Juniper Ridge becomes the high point of this amazing hike.

Back in the village, we thank the Raines for introducing us to Sun Peak’s incredible summer wildflowers. A sumptuous patio dinner later caps a day filled with dazzling natural beauty.

The next morning brings a change of pace. Though tempted to learn Stand-Up Paddle Boarding at Heffley Lake, we opt for canoeing at McGillivray Lake, six kilometres away. Leaving the Adventure Centre with paddles, life jackets and keys to unlock our assigned canoe, we set out. The provided sketch map guides us through the resort complex, onto Creekside Way and over a series of gravel roads to the lake.

Feeling a bit like voyageurs, we carry our canoe to the rocky beach nearby and push off into tranquil waters. Easily developing a smooth rhythm, we paddle along peaceful forested shores, around little islands and into shallow coves. Iridescent dragonflies swoop and dart in pine-scented air. A few scattered fishermen sit patiently, ready to hook rainbow trout; an osprey scouts vigilantly from a towering snag.

Inspired to take another alpine hike after lunch, we catch the chairlift back up to Mid-Mountain. Following the map and alert for markers, our self-guided expedition starts along a path paralleling a service road before switch backing up the mountain’s northeast slope on Gil’s Trail. Immersed in panoramic views, we’re off to Tod Lake.

Walking poles help us tramp steadily upward, the steep incline at times challenging our resolve. Rest stops allow closer studies of fuzzy, white pussy toes, purple larkspur, orange hawkweed and sub alpine daisies. Clumps of blossoming dwarf dogwoods mingle among stunted evergreens. And on lush mosses, shady mushroom neighbourhoods must surely provide fairy homes in this magical place.

The narrow mountainside footpath eventually levels off and passes through more flower-filled meadows and glades. And at 6,544 feet, Tod Lake fills us with wonder and accomplishment. We made it! Cooling off in crystal waters appeals; instead, we soak up the picture postcard surroundings and head back.

The afternoon ends with a bike ride along the paved Valley Trail, around the golf course, through the condo community and onto several flat Nordic ski trails. From a small shelter, we can see how these ski-trails link with 12 lifts on Mount Tod and Sundance to the north, and Morrissey on the south – making Sun Peaks Canada’s second largest ski area. We pedal back to the village on a scenic section of the winter dogsled route, in summer a bikeway extending to McGillivray Lake.

Our last morning, we stroll another portion of Valley Trail to check out Shuswap Medicine Trail. Along this unique forest loop, Secwepemc signboards interpret traditional usage of local plants. Of interest, yellow balsamroot contributes nutritious raw leaves, taproots for roasting and steaming; from its dried, pounded seeds comes flour. Yarrow root medicates toothaches and sore throats; leaves sooth rheumatism. Purple aster remedies stomach pain, goldenrod teas sooth colicky babies.

Over three days, Sun Peaks reveals a surprising array of summer activities for all ages and abilities. And hiking among Canada’s most accessible and prolific alpine wildflowers proves truly extraordinary.

When You Go:

* Tourism Sun Peaks: Local guides are available to orient visitors on the mountain trail system. 
* Hearthstone Lodge:
* Paddle SurfIt-Paddle Boarding at Heffley Lake
* Bicycle Rentals:
* Canoe Rental-Discover Sun Peaks Adventure: email or Phone 250 319 6064 
* Plant guide: “Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia” by Parish; Coupe; Lloyd 
* Powder Hounds
* Bella Italia Restaurant
* Tod Mountain Cafe Specializing in crepes.





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Showing 1 to 2 of 2 comments.

Love the photo of sitting on a hill among the wild flowers! What a beautiful area to hike/bike/canoe....and I admire your energy!

Posted by Irene Butler | April 11, 2015 Report Violation

You have amazing knowlwdge here.

Posted by Isabell | April 9, 2015 Report Violation

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