Mount Revelstoke National Park: Meadows in the Sky

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For just a few months out of the year, Mount Revelstoke National Park is one of the nicest places you can visit in the Canadian Rockies.  The window of opportunity is limited, unfortunately, because the park’s mountain centerpiece stays quite snowy for most of the year.  But from early July through late September, all that snow melts away, revealing a subalpine landscape that explodes with wildflowers.

Meadows in the Sky Parkway is the road that makes an easy visit possible.  The paved 2-land highway has a whole lot of switchbacks, but in a half-hour, you can climb the 26 kilometer road, gaining more than a kilometer in elevation.

Along the way, there are several viewpoints, giving you an excellent view of the Columbia River, and the town of Revelstoke.

There’s also a nice cabin at one of the overlooks, providing a picnic area and even a wood-burning stove — in case you visit after the snow starts falling.

You aren’t allowed to drive all the way to the top of Revelstoke Mountain.  There’s a parking area 2 kilometers short of the end of the road.  Here, you can take a look at Balsam Lake (which isn’t very impressive).  Don’t worry, better sights await.  Hang out for a while, until the next shuttle arrives, which will take you the rest of the way up the hill.

With such a short growing season, Revelstoke Mountain’s subalpine fields spring forth with wildflowers quickly.  Unfortunately the blossoms disappear just as fast.  My visit, in mid-September, was about two weeks too late to enjoy the flowers.  This display, at the shuttle pick-up area, shows what you can expect during August, at the wildflower season’s peak.

The shuttle drops you off near the mountain’s historic fire tower.  Built in 1927, the tower was staffed until 1987, when satellites made it easier to track lightning strikes.  In the harshest months of winter, it will be completely covered in snow — with only the flagpole on the top protruding from the snowpack.

The fire tower is at an elevation of 1,938 meters, but the sign at the summit saves Americans from having to do the math.  1,938 meters equals 6,360 feet.


Click for a larger version of this photo.

The fire tower offers great views in just about every direction.

Here you can see the Columbia River (which is dammed up by the Revelstoke Dam).  The Selkirk Mountains are on the right and in the distance; the Monashee Mountains are on the left.

You can also see Eagle Pass, the valley through which the Trans-Canada Highway continues southwest…

… and Kirkup Creek, next to Mount Copeland (behind the tree on the right) to the west.

And here are some more mountains.  Honestly, there are too many of them up here to keep track of them all.

Meadows In The Sky Trail

In addition to the short hike up to the fire tower, there are several more short hiking routes (and some longer hikes) that begin at the shuttle drop-off.  One is the Meadows In The Sky Trail, which heads east from the parking area.  The Meadows In The Sky Trail can be hiked in about a half hour, unless you slow down to enjoy the scenery (and you will).

The Meadows In The Sky Trail would have been much more beautiful, just a few weeks prior to my visit.  Only a few flowers were still hanging on to their quickly-withering blooms.  In August, I have no doubt this pathway would have been lined with colorful flowers.

Even without the flowers, you still get great views of the surrounding mountains, as well as another unique feature:

This is the Ice Box, a deep crack in the rocky top of Mount Revelstoke where you will find snow, no matter what time of year you visit.  If you look closely, you can see some dirty ice at the very bottom of the crevasse.  Even though it never goes away, it doesn’t count as a glacier — because it’s not large enough.

A metal sculpture depicting one of the area’s earliest residents watches over the entrance to the Ice Box.

And here’s another meadow, that’s not blooming anymore.

Koo Koo Sint Trail

The trails atop Revelstoke Mountain intersect the Koo Koo Sint Trail — a path traveled by explorer David Thompson.   Koo Koo Sint was the name First Nation (Indian) residents gave to Thompson, meaning “the man who gazes at stars”.

Compasses carved into rock help guide hikers along the Koo Koo Sint Trail.

David Thompson mapped 1/5 of the North American continent, which is pretty remarkable, considering he traveled only by foot, horse, or canoe. A century later, geologist JB Tyrell declared Thompson “the greatest land geographer the world has produced.”

David Thompson married a Metis Indian woman named Charlotte Small, and had 13 children.  In those days, it was not uncommon for white explorers to leave their native wives when they returned east.  But Thompson was different.  He stayed married to Charlotte for 58 years — the longest marriage known in Canada at the time.

More mountains!

Because it was near lunchtime, I had plenty of time before the next shuttle left the upper parking area (but not enough to take the longer hike to Miller, Eva, or Jade Lakes to the north).  So, I headed to the North Summit Knoll trail — another half-hour loop.  Only I took a lot longer.

The North Summit Knoll provides great views of the Columbia River.  With time to spare, I found a spot to sit and enjoy this view.  I stayed there, almost motionless, for at least 30 minutes, listening to the wind blow through the valley.

I was also scouting out photos during my meditation, and once I started moving again, I picked this small pine tree to photograph, with the Monashee Mountains behind it.

A little further down the trail, there’s another sweeping view of the Monashee Range.

If you arrive early enough, you can take a longer hike through the Mount Revelstoke backcountry to three remote mountain lakes.  Miller Lake comes first, then the trail splits.  To the left is Eva Lake, and to the right, and slightly farther, is Upper Jade Lake.  I’ve seen conflicting accounts of the length of this hike, but the most reliable seems to suggest that, to visit all three lakes, you’ll have to hike 11.3 kilometers, or 7 miles.  It does appear to be a fairly level and easy hike, though — although I can’t provide a first-hand account.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse dash-cam video of the drive up and down Revelstoke Mountain:

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