Hiking Golden Ears Provincial Park
Grace takes readers along with her on two hikes in Golden Ears Provincial Park.
This is the second installment of the FVC Notebook, where our reporters take readers to events and places throughout the region.
Golden Ears Provincial Park just north of Maple Ridge is popular both locally and with visitors from out of town, and hiking trails proliferate throughout its mountainous expanse. Two popular trails for day trips are Evans Peak and the Lower Falls Trail. The former is a grueling nine-kilometre upward scramble that results in a stunning panoramic view. The latter is a much gentler stroll that ends at a wide, tumbling waterfall.
Both trails start at the end of a long, winding road about 30 minutes from Mission and 40 from Langley.
The two-lane road that leads through the park to the mountains is full of boats on trailers and motorhomes trucking off on their weekend adventures. When the road turns to gravel, I slow down and creep along the rough road. It’s not well-maintained, but my vehicle is hardly the only small car picking its way through the potholes. The West Canyon parking lot, from which one can access the Evans Peak trail, is the first right turn after the road turns to gravel.
Parking in Golden Earscan get tricky on weekends (and even sunny weekdays), —particularly deeper in the forest and away from the large boat launch and beach parking lots. I arrive in the West Canyon parking lot at 9am to snag one of the final parking spots along the steep gravel road.
Evans Peak is not a trail for the faint of heart. I had been warned by friends before that it would be one of the hardest trails I hike this summer. I had tackled climbs about that distance before, but never something quite so steep. But I tried it regardless.
The peak is a pointy chunk of rock that towers almost 1,000 metres above sea level. After finding a parking spot and filling a water bottle at the fresh water tap located at the trailhead, I take off along the nine-kilometre path.
The trail starts out as a wide forest path. After a few kilometers, it splits. Hikers bound for Evans Peak and Alouette Mountain turn right and the trail takes off upwards. Much of it is a scramble up through trees on the mountainside. Moderately experienced hikers will enjoy it; hiking poles are optional but not necessary. I wore running shoes, but I don’t recommend doing that (I won’t do it in running shoes again). Good boots would have been helpful.
While I hiked the trail on my own, the climb is the type of ugly (but popular) struggle that bonds strangers quickly. Almost always within sight of another group (and always within earshot), I made some new friends and never felt alone in the woods or in danger of anything other than dying of exhaustion.
Mountains seen from the top of Evan’s Peak. 📷️ Grace Giesbrecht
The middle of the climb is marked by a clearing and a lookout with a view of the hike’s eventual end—and the alarmingly sheer cliff face that forms the front portion of Evan’s Peak.
From the lookout, I turned left and continued upwards until I reached the first rocky sections. Rope assists were anchored into the top of the small cliff to help climbers pull themselves upward. Another section above had a similar setup. Because of these rope-assisted technical climbing portions, the trail is not recommended for dogs or small children. (However, when I climbed it, a man had a baby strapped to his back in a carrier.)
At the summit, I turned and admired the 360-degree views. Alouette Lake sparkles below on my right. Taller mountains tower on my left, bits of leftover snow shining in the sun. It’s less crowded than many peak hikes, perhaps because of its reputation as a particularly gruesome climb (which it lives up to) or its tricky technical sections (which I find pretty fun, but are not the friend of anyone afraid of heights.) I return back down the way I came.
Mount Baker (probably) from Evan’s Peak. 📷️ Grace Giesbrecht
The Lower Falls Trail
On a different day later that summer, I ventured up into the park again with a different, easier hike in mind.
Further along the same narrow gravel road that led to the start of the Evan’s Peak hike, the East Canyon parking lot rests at the end of a single-lane wooden bridge. I drove across it nervously: two wide wooden tracks, like a railroad for vehicles, sit perhaps half a foot higher than the main bridge. The parking lot here is also often full, but latecomers can park along the road on the north side.
The Lower Creek Falls Trail starts from the East Canyon parking lot. It is the opposite of Evan’s Peak in terms of difficulty and length—so much so that it is as though the laws of physics determined that a mountainous scramble required an equal and opposite reaction. Instead of leading hikers up a mountainside, the Lower Creek trail takes them along a friendly, often babbling brook that runs down through the park. It’s about 2.5km to the falls on a wide, gravel trail amenable to strollers and kids on foot.
The Lower Falls Trail runs along Gold Creek. 📷️ Greg Anderson/AllTrails
The trail starts to climb as it reaches the falls. The first viewpoint, at the base of the waterfall, juts out over the massive boulders that surround the pooling water. On summer afternoons, the rocks fill with picnicking families and sun-tanning teenagers. Signs advise visitors not to swim at the base of the falls, but many visitors are swimming anyway. A man standing on one of the boulders at the base of the falls catches my eye: he’s perhaps two meters above the water, and his friends are recording him on their phones. He jumps and splashes into the creek.
Calmer waters and shallower pools downstream await other waders and swimmers.
The second lookout is a short, steep walk above the first. This path leads me to the top of Lower Falls, where you can look out on the tumbling water below. The top of the falls is well fenced-off.
Signs warn of my imminent death should I swim in the circular, glittering emerald pool at the top of the falls. It’s large, calm, and clear enough to see the bottom meters away. I definitely didn't go swimming.