Who knew Kelowna used to be a hotbed of volcanic activity? About 40 to 50 million years ago, those rounded hills that form a spine along the shore of Okanagan Lake were steaming, lava-spewing cones. In fact, the Okanagan Valley is actually a small rift valley, which means it was formed when ancient tectonic plates pulled apart beneath the earth’s surface and caused magma to rise up and make what we now recognize as Mt. Boucherie, Knox, Dilworth and Black Mountain in Kelowna, and Spion Kop in Lake Country.
These mountains don’t look like Mt. Fuji because during the intervening millennia, giant glaciers that covered the land—combined with natural erosion—wore them down to the highlands we see today. (To learn more about the valley’s formation, there’s a great display at the Okanagan Heritage Museum). The good news for hikers is that these volcanoes are now extinct and totally safe to climb. What’s more, bagging their peaks rewards you with the best views in town. Read on to learn about volcano trails for beginner, intermediate and seasoned hikers.
Volcano for newbies: Dilworth Mountain
Photo by: David McIlvride
The smallest of Kelowna’s old volcanoes, you can access the top of Dilworth from Dilworth Mountain Park, which features a loop trail that circles the park, along with a path that cuts through the middle, so you can shorten the hike for little legs. What you won’t miss out on are the views in every direction—aerials of both downtown Kelowna and Okanagan Lake.
Insider tip: Explore Dilworth in the spring, when arrowleaf balsamroot flowers, a.k.a. Okanagan sunflowers, carpet the ground.
Middle of the road volcanoes: Knox Mountain and Black Mountain
Photo by: Nic Collar Film
Considered the Grouse Grind of Kelowna by some, it’s not uncommon to see locals jogging up Apex Trail to the top of Knox in Knox Mountain Park on summer mornings. The advantages of climbing this old volcano are many—it’s conveniently located in downtown Kelowna, the vantage over the city and the views looking both down and up Okanagan Lake are legion, and you can take a dip in the lake at Sutherland Bay Park to cool off when you finish.
Insider tip: Bring a hat and lots of water for this exposed trail.
Windswept grasslands, whimsical hoodoo formations, and of course stellar views of Okanagan Lake, are some of the rewards for hiking in Black Mountain - Sntsk'il'ntən Regional Park. The park is located north of Hwy. 33 on the eastern slopes of Kelowna and the peak of Black Mountain, one of the valley’s now-extinct volcanoes.
Insider tip: Trail building is still taking place in the park, so be sure to check a map to verify which pathways are currently open.
Volcanoes for pros: Mount Boucherie and Spion Kop
The Boucherie Rush Trail in West Kelowna gains an impressive 300 metres in just three kilometres as the trail switchbacks to the top of what was once the region’s big daddy of volcanoes: Mount Boucherie. Your reward for the steep climb is unsurpassed views of the lake and valley below.
From the top of Spion Kop (Spy Hill) in Lake Country, you can distinctly see the spine of ancient volcanoes stretching south down the valley—Dilworth, Knox and Mount Boucherie in the distance. But more than that epic sight, this hike gives you arguably the best view in the Okanagan Valley, with Okanagan, Wood and Ellison lakes all visible from the lofty summit.
Insider tip: There are many trails in the Spion Kop trail system, but only the Summit Trail and Tower Trail go to the top. Be sure and consult a map so you don’t get lost or accidentally add five kilometres to your hike!