Finally in late June the snow line in southern BC has receded enough to get into the high country for some sub alpine pedaling. My favourite rides are almost always in higher elevation terrain so I was excited to try a new route through the southern Purcell Range. Kianuko Provincial Park was the centre piece of my trip through some pretty wild and infrequently traveled mountains (unless you’re a furry and hoofed or clawed quadruped) between Kimberly and Creston.
Just south of the popular and well traveled Gray Creek Pass, which is a beautiful section of the Trans Canada Trail, you can find Kianuko Park. Surrounded by numerous high peaks like Haystack Mountain, Gillis Peak, Craig Peak, White Grouse Mountain and at least a dozen lakes offers the opportunity to day hike from a base camp if you have the time. I wish I had taken an extra day to explore more of the hidden gems in this seldom traveled corner of the Kootenays.
This route starts from the small mountain town and resort of Kimberley. With seemingly endless single track, riding this place is a destination of its own and a good place to get any last minute groceries or bike supplies. Pedaling west on St. Mary Lake Rd you will be happy to hit dirt at the lake. Not a bad place to take a dip at the primitive beach and rec. area before heading up Meachan Creek FSR (off the Hellroaring FSR). This long and mellow uphill carries you about 40km to Haystack Lakes Rec area and on to the edge of Kianuko Prov Park. As you get closer to the Park you start to catch glimpses of the high peaks luring you further into higher terrain and cooler temperatures.
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The road ends and becomes a dwindling double track, then single track that slowly climbs, then descends to a low pass with an old horse camp surrounded by meadows and creeks that perk right out of the ground. This was my camp site for the night. From the end of the FSR, in about 2km, the sense of wildness grows quickly and I began to see an assortment of animal tracks in the mud. Most noticeable were the distinct hoof marks of the Mountain Caribou, a somewhat rare and threatened high elevation dweller that manages to eek out an existence in this area of BC despite the pressures of resource extraction, motorized recreation and an abundance of wolves. The other tracks were the un-mistakeable paw prints of Ursus Horribles, a.k.a. grizzly bears. Always nice to be reminded that you aren’t at the top of the food chain. If there’s anything that can keep me awake at night after a long ride it’s the thought of one of these critters mulling around the same meadow I’m sleeping in.
The low pass between Carrot Lake and Haystack Lake is the boundary for Kianuko Park. If I wasn’t looking at the map I only would have known this because I found the metal sign laying face down where the trail split at Carrot Lake. This was my first indication that this is not a well maintained park. This is where I use the term “trail” very loosely and where the challenge of this route truly begins. You should plan to hike a bike from here down the Kianuko Creek valley to where the park map says there’s a “cabin” which I’m not sure exists anymore. I recommend removing your pedals and adjusting your expectations for what took me about 3-4 hours of route finding down the valley. This section of trail is considered “unmaintained” by the Provincial Parks and appeared to have only been infrequently cleared of blow down by horse packers and I thank them for it! This is why I gave this route a navigational difficulty of 9.
At the time I traveled this route there were periodic orange ribbons along the way and usually I could find my way by looking for where downed trees and logs were cut to keep the trail open. Some sections of trail were very obvious and others required me to stop and scout around for where the trail went. There’s a good chance I was the first person through the valley this year and I had many trees to climb over along the way. There are many small creek crossing so don’t expect to keep your feet dry. I chose to wear hiking sandals for the entire trip which I find quite a bit more comfortable when forced to walk through numerous creeks and muddy sections but they don’t offer much protection when bushwhacking so I paid the price of lots of scrapes and scratches. Some sections of the trail were easily walkable and I would often hike with the bike in wheelie position. Other sections of the trail were down right crappy and required carrying my bike. If ever there was a reason to travel light this was it!
All things considered this section of trail wasn’t as bad as I expected. If you stay on the east side of this valley you will eventually make you way to where the trail restarts.
By mid-day I had reached the “cabin site”, which from what I could tell was just the remains of a cabin and an old wood cookstove. If there is a cabin it might make a nice place to overnight if it isn’t overrun by packrats. I was quite relieved to see that the remainder of the ride would be old, overgrown double and single track. Not to be fooled, there was still a long way to go with numerous down trees and many sections so overgrown I still had to hike a bike.
Overall it was all downhill or rolling terrain and quite mellow compared to the mornings hike a bike through the bush. Flat sections of pedaling through overgrown “tunnels” of bush gave way to steeper and faster sections that left my brakes sizzling hot as I plunged through mud holes and creeks in avalanche paths chock full of fireweed and flowering bear grass.
Eventually I came to the park boundary which was typically anticlimactic and nothing more than a wooden post at a large dirt berm intended to discourage motorized users. From there it was another few km’s to where the road meets the Skelly FSR (on some maps it says Goat FSR). Here I found a kiosk with a sun faded map of the area I just traversed which felt a bit anticlimactic until I considered I was likely the only person to ever travel this area with a bicycle, albeit not necessarily pedaling the entire length. The sign informs you that this is a “Deactivated Road and an unmaintained trail”. I interpret this as another attempt of our Provincial Government to cut spending on our Parks so they can balance their budgets. Cynical, I know.
From here it’s a nice 26+/-km to Highway 3. I rode about 3/4 of the way and camped at the Goat River Canyon Rec Site which is a primitive campground with outhouses, picnic tables and metal fire pits along the Goat River. I spread out my campsite, lit a campfire and wandered the surrounding woods gorging on huckleberries and celebrating life with my 50ml bottle of whiskey. From here it was a short 11km pedal to the pavement and the culture shock of speeding cars and semi-trucks buzzing past as I headed for Creston.
- You will need to be prepared with a shuttle or have a ride arranged.
- This route is best traveled, as I did it, from north to south.
- Questions, comments, smart remarks? I want to hear your thoughts.
Distance & Elevation
Distance: 114 km/ 71 miles
Elevation Gain: 1536 m/ 5040 ft
Elevation Loss: 1895 m/ 6217 ft
- Pavement 20% 20%
- Gravel 45% 45%
- Doubletrack 10% 10%
- Singletrack 5% 5%
- Hike – A – Bike 20% 20%
On a scale of 1-10
Overall Rating: 7+