From a rocky viewpoint high above Okanagan Lake, we watch turkey vultures circle in slow spirals as they search the freshly exposed ground for food. Across a ravine, rock climbers ascend The Crags, a natural rock formation that draws the adventurous in almost every season. Farther down the trail, a small group of mule deer ceases grazing and locks eyes with us before bounding away.
It’s our family’s first hike of spring and already the Johns Family Nature Conservancy —a.k.a. “the Johns”—has checked off all the boxes: wildlife, scenery, fresh air, and exercise. There are small yellow flowers poking out of the ground, too—further proof that spring has arrived.
This is one of the city’s best seasons for hiking. Most valley trails are free of snow, the days are usually clear and sunny, and the temperatures are mild so you can hit the paths any time of day. We often head into Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park in southeast Kelowna for a quick loop with lake views, and we like to hike up to the top of Knox Mountain, close to downtown, for the spectacular vista over the lake and city. But more often than not we drive up past Kettle Valley to access the approximately 5 kilometres of well-maintained trails in the Johns Family Nature Conservancy (formerly called Cedar Mountain Park).
Long-time Kelowna residents Alfred and Nancy Johns donated the land in 2013 to be preserved as a park. They wanted the 323 hectares (800 acres) in south Kelowna set aside to protect the wildlife and the fragile ecosystem, which was damaged extensively by the 2003 wildfire that sparked in neighbouring Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park.
We usually tackle a 2.5-km-ish loop that takes us on the Crags Trail past the picturesque escarpment and then back to the parking lot via the Elk Trail. It’s an easy walk for kids with minimal elevation gain but big payoffs with sights and scenery.
In spring, Lebanon Creek, close to the trailhead, is a surging torrent of water. We almost always see deer, and there are multiple spots along the pathways where you can gaze up Okanagan Lake all the way to its terminus in Vernon—because of the fire, there are minimal trees to obstruct those famous lake views. If anything, the trunks of trees charred in the fire give the park a barren beauty, and the new green growth demonstrates the park’s ability to regenerate over time. At regular intervals along the trails, you can read interpretive signs, created by Regional Parks in partnership with Westbank First Nation, that explain the region’s history, trees, and animals and in English and Syilx.
You can extend the hike by heading down the Lebanon Creek Trail to Lebanon Creek Greenway Regional Park or by trekking to the end of the longer Elk Trail and back, or you can shorten the loop by taking one of two Cedar Trail connectors. No matter how you hike the Johns, you won’t be disappointed.
Here are a few more great spring hikes for varying abilities
Beginner: Paul’s Tomb is a flat trail that hugs the base of Knox Mountain alongside Okanagan Lake. The trail ends at a lovely beach that doubles as a scenic picnic spot.
Intermediate: Kalamoir Regional Park in West Kelowna features easy sections along the lakeshore and harder trails that ascend up the slope and afford views across the lake to Kelowna’s southeast bench.
Advanced: Trek to the top of an extinct volcano on the Mount Boucherie hike in West Kelowna. Gain an intense (for kids) 300 metres in just 3 kilometres as the trail switchbacks to the top for unsurpassed views of the lake and valley below.