I’ve done this hike countless times, yet the view from the summit never ceases to amaze me. Stretching over 60km from Vernon to Salmon Arm, the clear view of the twisting Shuswap River and farmers’ fields is astounding. Sweat drips down our backs and slides off our foreheads, but the cool breeze washes it all away. I crawl to the edge and dangle my feet over, taking in the foot-shaped cliff face that marks the summit. I grew up in the small town that the Enderby Cliffs overlook and it’s a personal favourite that’s become an annual hike.
Wanting to avoid the heat of the day, my sister and I head out early for our adventure. We drive through our small hometown and reminisce about our childhood before we cross the bridge and head towards the back roads. The road turns to gravel shortly before we find the large, paved parking lot at the base of the Enderby Cliffs.
The Enderby Cliffs Provincial Park
Established as a Provincial Park in 2006, the Enderby Cliffs is an icon of the North Okanagan-Shuswap. The Cliffs tower roughly 1,200m above the valley floor and offer spectacular views of the Shuswap and North Okanagan for those tough enough to climb 14km. The 50-million-year-old lava field that forms the stunning Enderby Cliffs was carved by glaciers and is a sacred area to the local First Nations. In 2010, the Splatsin First Nations, BC Parks, and the Shuswap Trail Alliance improved the trail by lessening the grade and reducing erosion. The new trail is easier and offers more vistas, but is much longer. The Park is open year-round with services from March 31 to October 29.
Hiking the Enderby Cliffs
The Enderby Cliffs loom above us as we gather our things in the parking lot. Gazing up, it’s hard to believe we’ll be at the top in only a few hours. The path from the parking lot runs parallel to a private driveway and passes through the fence that marks the park boundaries. After squeezing through the tiny opening, we enter the forest and soon come to the first reminder of the old trail. I’m thankful that the trail has been extensively reworked and that it’s no longer a mad scramble up the mountain.
The trail isn’t steep yet, but our brisk pace has me short of breath. No matter how many hikes I take, the first kilometer of the Enderby Cliffs always kicks my butt. We hike through groves of beautiful birch and aspen that transition into cedar, hemlock, and fir trees, all the while navigating the muddy spring trail. The trail is well maintained and we never worry about losing our way, although we do have to climb over fallen trees every once in a while.
Kilometer and orange markers line the trail, marking our progress and ensuring us we’re on the right path. Between the two and three kilometer markers, we come to what’s known to locals as the Shrine. While the actual statue of the crucified Jesus has been removed, the area is home to a bench and marks the beginning of the numerous switchbacks. Coming down, the Shrine is a breath of fresh air, signifying that the hike is almost at an end.
The Shuswap Lookout, our first view of the Okanagan Valley
After leaving behind the Shrine, we begin the upward ascent. We’re surrounded by trees and tiny wildflowers that are just beginning to bloom. Soon the mountainside will be covered in yellows, whites, and purples. We round a bend in the trail and suddenly the first viewpoint of the hike, the Shuswap Lookout, is before us.
Pausing for breath, we take in the gorgeous view. We’ve only been climbing for less than three kilometers, but we’re already 680m above the Valley floor and the cars in the parking lot look like tiny ants! The Okanagan Valley stretches before us, dotted with fields and patches of forest. The Shuswap Lookout is nothing more than a break in the trees; there’s not much room to sit without blocking the path so we continue on.
Just before the kilometer three marker, we pass by a few huge boulders, one of which is at least twice my height! As a kid, I loved trying to climb them.
Small streams occasionally trickle over the trail and we carefully navigate the muddy disaster. A few small ponds peak out from the trees, reminding us of the horde of mosquitoes that often swarm us in the summer months. Thankfully, we’ve never encountered animals larger than birds, but the area is home to many larger animals, including deer, grizzly bears, moose, and cougars. We always pack bear spray, just in case.
Larch Hills Lookout
Despite having climbed the Enderby Cliffs countless times, I never knew the lookouts had names until directional signs were installed. The second lookout we reach is the Larch Hills Lookout, just over 3km up the mountain and 800m above the Valley floor. We pause for another rest and break out the snacks, sorely in need of some sustenance. I take off my sweaty backpack and sit near the edge, enjoying the view. I let the cool breeze wash over me. This lookout is well-trod and is often the end point for people not wishing to hike to the summit. Larch Hill Lookout is just off the main trail and is a fantastic place for a break, even for large groups.
Climbing to the Summit
After resting for a few minutes, we continue the trek to the Summit, 3.7km away. My hat is drenched in sweat and I stuff it in my backpack, pulling my hair into a high bun. The trail continues through the trees, constantly ascending and winding its way up switchbacks. It’s a tiring climb and we occasionally stop for breaks and faster groups overtake us. I’m always amazed at the speed some people are able to hike the Enderby Cliffs!
The top of the mountain sneaks up on us. One moment we’re hiking along the never-ending mountainside trail and the next treed meadows stretch before us, the mountain nowhere to be seen. The trees are thin and the sunlight trickles through the leaves, casting us in a beautiful dappled light. We’re teased with awesome views peaking through the trees as we climb the final hurdle. The trail comes uncomfortably close to the edge of the Cliffs, so close that part of the trail has tumbled away in recent years. I skirt the opposite edge, too terrified to go any closer.
Just before the summit, we come to my favourite viewpoint. The iconic Enderby Cliffs sit eye-level with us and we carefully dangle our feet over the cliff’s edge. It’s terrifying and I lean backward the whole time. Even so, I can’t help but enjoy the expansive view of the North Okanagan Valley.
7km to the Summit of the Enderby Cliffs
After a short break, we continue to the final viewpoint. The feeling of reaching the summit is indescribable; the pain of the last 7km briefly disappears as euphoria takes over. We collapse onto the rocks and let out a sigh of relief as we pull out our lunches. We’ve gained 1,200m of elevation and the views from this height are breathtaking. Cars scurry below like tiny ants, moving about their busy lives. The Shuswap River winds leisurely along the Valley floor, connecting Grindrod, Enderby, and Aston Creek; in the summer, it’s a popular float for locals and tourists. Farmers fields create a gorgeous patchwork and we watch birds joyride on the updrafts created from the Cliffs.
The trek down the mountain
After enjoying the gorgeous views offered from the top of the Enderby Cliffs, we begin the return trip down the mountain. The trek down is always faster, but it kills our legs; halfway down, our quads, calves, and pretty much every other muscle in our legs is begging for us to stop. We slurp back our water, thankful for our water bladders.
When we reach the Shrine, we know our hike is almost over and we rest for a moment on the bench. Sitting never felt so amazing! But returning to our feet almost isn’t worth the brief relief. The final two kilometers are slow going; behind every turn, we hope is the end… yet it never is. When the green field finally peaks through the trees, I let out a sigh of relief. I try to quicken my pace, but can’t summon the energy. When we finally reach the parking lot I collapse into my sister’s car and tear off my shoes and socks, grateful to have finished the hike.
Information & Trailhead Location
The Enderby Cliffs are one of the most popular, yet difficult, hiking destination in the North Okanagan-Shuswap. It offers spectacular views that you won’t find anywhere else and truly rewards you for your perseverance. While difficult, all ages frequently hike the trail. It’s one of my absolute favourite hikes that we do year after year.
To see more photos of the Enderby Cliffs, visit our SmugMug gallery.
Distance: ~ 14km (8.7 miles)
Duration: 4 – 6hrs
Difficulty: Moderately difficult
Notes: The hike is quite strenuous and some sections of the trail come quite close to the edge; keep children well back. Bring plenty of food and water, stay on the designated trails, and be alert for wildlife. There are outhouses at the trailhead, but nowhere else.
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