I first visited Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park in the spring of 2003 while researching hikes for my Best Hikes with Dogs Inland Northwest book. Located just 10 miles south of bustling Kelowna; this 27,000-acre (11,000 hectare) park is a hiking haven in the heart of the Canadian Okanagan. Roadless and closed to motorized use; it’s a wilderness park consisting of rugged canyons, granite ridges and undeveloped shoreline on one of the Inland Northwest’s largest lakes. It also at the time of my visit contained large tracts of old growth forest. But those trees and nearly the entire park went up in smoke later that year.
On August 16th 2003 the Okanagan Mountain Park Fire erupted forcing the evacuation of over 25,000 people living within the mountain’s shadows. When this devastating fire was over, it had burned 239 homes and over 60,000 acres—almost the entire Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park and nearby Myra-Bellevue Provincial Park with its historic Kettle Valley Railroad trestles. Two of my favorite hiking areas in the Inland Northwest were destroyed that summer.
Two years ago I rehiked the Kettle Valley Railroad trestles at Myra-Bellevue. While the burnt trestles were restored or rebuilt and were not the original 19-teens built engineering marvels, they were still impressive and instilled as much wonder and amazement as the originals. This week I returned to Okanagan Mountain to hike and was happy to see that the park’s trails are all open and well maintained. I was also happy to see pockets of old growth that survived the conflagration and lots of new feisty growth re-greening the park. It will be many years before the park resembles what it did the first time I hiked here—but it will come back. And so will the Okanogan Highlands and Kettle River Range in north central Washington just to the south of this region.
Fire is and has been part of this landscape for thousands of years and nature is always in flux. Nature will regenerate those scorched hills, but it is up to us to reopen our favorite trails and recreation spots in the Okanogan. Today Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park is a bustling park and a great community asset. But it could have become another neglected public land if folks hadn’t quickly rebuilt its trails—and continue to maintain fallen trees and encroaching new growth. Let’s hope that here in Washington; part of our fire management includes the resources to reopen fire damaged trails in our Okanogan. If so, I know that I’ll soon be there hiking and reminiscing about my first time on those trails—as well as admiring the changes while hiking those trails for the second, third and fourth time around.
Hiking Information for Okanagan Mountain’s Wildhorse Canyon and the Myra Canyon KVR trestles can be found in my Best Hikes with Dogs Book Inland Northwest