“It’s like being on top of the world!” I enthused. My husband, Brent, and I were hiking on Cathedral Provincial Park’s rim trail, where our panorama included distant summits of the North Cascades and the Coastal Range.
Although the vista was indeed a rewarding grand finale, the entertainment en route had been equally uplifting. We had come across molting mountain goats, California bighorn sheep and large hoary marmots while hiking the rocky trail. The air was filled with the sounds of cooing ptarmigans, chirping chickadees and the whistling of timid picas.
Cathedral Provincial Park has 60 kilometers of the most heavenly hiking trails in British Columbia. The 80,000-acre (33,000-hectare) mountain wilderness is splashed with azure lakes, cloaked with alpine meadows and backed by some mighty majestic jagged peaks.
It’s also known for the geological rock formation Stone City, where massive rocks are stacked atop each other. And although the trailheads are just 30 kilometers from the British Columbia interior town of Keremeos, their approximately 6,600-foot (2,000 m) elevation provides a good jumpstart to the scenic vistas.
Our journey to the park the day before had begun with a 14-mile (22 km) drive through Ashnola Valley. Upon arrival at the trailhead, we joined other Cathedral Lakes Lodge guests, including a group of camera-clad enthusiasts and the Goodwins, a family of six that had traveled across Canada in pursuit of this experience.
The lodge’s 4-wheel-drive vehicles bounced through potholes, swayed around curves and climbed nearly 4,000 feet (1,200 m) to deliver us to our destination, Quiniscoe Lake, 6,800 feet (2,000 m) above sea level.
Thick stands of spruce, fir and larch circled the lake, and snow-tipped peaks provided a breathtaking backdrop. Cozy, hewn-log cottages, an airy yurt and well-groomed campsites were scattered along the shoreline, with the Bavarian-style Cathedral Lakes Lodge (with half-a-dozen guest rooms) as the focal point.
Finished in warm cedar, our room was clean and comfortable, and boasted a spectacular lake view. We looked forward to soaking in the lodge’s hot tub for a bit of therapeutic reprieve and relaxing in the guest lounge, where board games would be a welcoming replacement for T.V. and e-mail.
Through the wall of windows, we could see rowboats secured at the dockside, canoes bobbing alongside. And, leading away from the tranquil water, we spotted what we’d come here to find: A tangle of trails well-marked by cairns would soon lead us to a chain of seven crystal-clear lakes and a full range of hiking options.
We decided to build our stamina by plodding the three-mile (8 km) Diamond Trail, which had an elevation gain of 820 feet (250 m).
Our well-trodden path passed through a lush green forest floor interspersed by sprigs of purple heather, Indian paintbrush and buttercups.
The air was fresh, and carried the faint scent of lavender, accompanied by a symphony of birdsong. Hoary marmots played peek-a-boo as we trekked, and shy picas whistled, but kept their distance.
Later that day we investigated other well-traveled trails to the lakes. The towering stands of Douglas fir eventually thinned out to outcroppings of lodgepole pine. While Lake of the Woods snuggled in the shade of sub-alpine greenery, the turquoise gem of Lady Slipper Lake sparkled against rugged granite embankments.
Four of the lakes were stocked with trout in the 1930s, and today the natural spawning promises abundant angling rewards that vary from pan-sized cutthroat to well-sized rainbow.
We arrived back at the lodge ravished … and just in time to hear the dinner bell. All meals were included with our stay, and we were delighted to see a buffet laden with lamb seasoned with rosemary and oregano, a full-bodied beef curry and a lemon-garnished salmon, grilled to perfection.
Head chef Surya Misra presides over the lodge’s international cuisine, and pastry chef Karin Leja provides sweet treats to end each meal.
The morning buffet was equally sumptuous, with homemade granola, fresh fruit and yogurt, pancakes, bacon, eggs, the works. For the ease of hikers, lunches are arranged on a dine-in or take-out basis. One thing was certain: Nobody leaves the dining room hungry.
No matter what time of year we chose to book our visit, we were promised biodiversity and natural splendor.
Those who visit early will be smitten by snow-dusted trails and the blushing of new buds.
Mid-season guests enjoy the blaze of wildflowers that sweep the alpine meadows, and late-comers can see the entire landscape aglow in golden autumn hues.
From easy, lower-level walks to alpine meadow destinations, there is something for everyone at Cathedral Lakes Park, even newbie summer hikers like us.
If You Go
Cathedral Lakes Lodge
888-255-4453 (toll free)
The lodge operates from early June through mid October.