Have Snowshoes, Will Travel – Manning Provincial Park, BC

Manning Provincial Park has the kind of raw pristine nature you want to bottle up and pull out after a long day in a stale office, or while sitting in a traffic jam. You want to breathe that fresh air and look at those snow-covered trees forever. On a recent getaway, we were fortunate to have three full days of snowshoeing in Manning Park. It takes less than three hours to drive from British Columbia’s busy Vancouver area to the snowy Cascade mountains of Manning. It’s grey and drizzly in Vancouver, but Manning feels worlds away under its blanket of fresh snow.

We check into a comfortable room at Manning Park Resort. The staff are enthusiastic, friendly and as excited about the park as we are. You get the idea that on their days off, they are out there snowshoeing the trails, skiing the slopes and swapping stories in the resort’s pub.  This was a great way to socialize with the staff and, of course, the  other people at the resort. Story-swapping is a tradition, and we can  assure you that most hotel offers don’t come with epic tales of snow and ice included. We wish they did, as the staff here are a fantastic  source of long yarns about the life of a Snow Lover.

The Nordic Centre staff make several trail suggestions, and we opt to snowshoe the level Similkameen River trail. An excellent choice with the added benefit that the trail starts at the resort’s back door – no driving required. The falling snow almost, but not quite, muffles the sound of the fast-moving river. Snow sits heavily on trees, rocks and fallen logs. It’s hard to imagine a more picture-perfect spot. The trail is easy to follow and well-trod. Although we run out of time to go farther, it eventually branches uphill to a lookout and 1950’s tower on Windy Joe Mountain. A full day hike that we’re told has stupendous views. We reluctantly decide to save it for another time.

That evening we flop down beside a roaring fire in the Bear’s Den Pub, devouring burgers and salads, and plotting the next day’s adventure. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed with pool and foosball tables, not to mention the obligatory hockey game on the big screen. After all, this is Canada.

Following a restful evening and sound sleep, we are eager to head out the next morning to the Lightning Lakes trails. The trailhead is a short drive from the resort and provides access to loops of varying distances. We are the first snowshoers of the day on the farthest loop around Flash Lake. The fresh snow is clean and bright, and it feels like the lake belongs to us. It’s more open than yesterday’s hike, prompting frequent photo stops to capture the classic mountain scenery of frozen lakes backed by snowy peaks. We tramp down a spot to sit for lunch and admire our piece of paradise. A wind tunnel swirls snow through the trees in the valley directly opposite us. Later we watch the play of light on the mountains as we complete our final loop just before the sun sets.

On our last morning, we enjoy huge fluffy pancakes in the Pinewoods Restaurant. A hearty breakfast is definitely in order before heading up the thigh-burning Blackwell Peak road, a high mountain road directly across from the resort that is unplowed in winter. As we climb, the views become more expansive before a snow squall moves in and obscures everything except the closest trees and the sound of our own ragged breathing. With reluctance we finally convince ourselves it’s time to turn back and start driving towards the city.

Although we’ve been away for only three days, it feels like a week’s vacation. Our bodies are tired, yet we are also refreshed, relaxed and exhilarated. While we may not be able to bottle it up and take it with us, Manning’s natural beauty will linger in our memories for a long time. If it starts to fade, we vow to immediately toss our snowshoes into the car and plan a return trip.

Practical Information:

Manning Provincial Park is located in the Cascade Mountains three hours east of Vancouver, British Columbia. The park’s website is http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/bcparks/explore/parkpgs/manning.html. The nearest major town is Hope, British Columbia. Within the park, accommodation includes camping and Manning Park Resort http://www.manningpark.com/. The helpful staff at Manning Park Resort make it their mission to get you outside enjoying the park. The resort’s Nordic Centre caters to snowshoers, skaters and cross-country skiers, providing advice and rentals. There are several marked trails close to the resort, and if you wish to venture farther afield, the park has over 150 kilometers of hiking trails, most of which are available to snowshoers. Check at the Nordic Centre for any potential avalanche risks. Guided snowshoe hikes can also be organized with hot chocolate, mulled wine and marshmallow roasting. So, get out there and have fun – this is a great spot to enjoy winter!

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Debbie McKeown