Chasing waterfalls: Mill Creek Regional Park

Liters upon liters of water cascade down the rock, creating flowing ribbons that run down the valley like lace. I step closer and revel in the cool mist that sprays from the waterfall, mixing sweat and water. The trail is quiet and I have the waterfall to myself, a rare occurrence in much of the Okanagan. I continue on, curious at what my exploration of Mill Creek will reveal.

Mill Creek Regional Park is a 15.3-hectare park in the Ellison district of Kelowna, just east of the Kelowna International Airport. The parking lot is open during daylight hours and well maintained in the spring, summer, and fall; in the winter, the parking lot is closed, but it’s still possible to explore the winter wonderland.

Mill Creek, which begins at Postill Lake near the airport, flows through Mill Creek Regional Park and snakes through Kelowna before emptying into Okanagan Lake. It was originally called Peon Creek, after William Peon, who was one of the first settlers of the Okanagan Valley. In the late 1880’s, the first grist mill in the area was constructed on the Creek. The mill provided irrigation to the early farmers and as such the name was changed to pay homage to the important industrial development. Before flood control was added to Okanagan Lake, it was common for Mill Creek to flood the valley in early spring, similar to the wide-spread flooding affecting the Okanagan in the spring of 2017.

A bridge along the trail.
A bridge along the trail.

An easy, gradual trail through the forest

As my first solo adventure, my nerves tingled as I drove up to the trailhead, whether from excitement or fear, it was hard to tell. Jacob’s safety warnings ran through my mind: You know how to use your bear spray? Don’t explore crazy places, I won’t be there to talk you out of it. I grabbed my backpack, double checked I had my phone, and headed down the trail.

The path was easy; it was extremely wide, perfectly maintained, and flat. The path forked almost immediately and I took the left, more scenic trail; having taken the other trail previously, I knew they meet within 500m. This secondary trail was slightly smaller and I soon came to Mill Creek itself; the water flowed steadily under the bridge before spilling over a small rock ledge. I wandered down and practiced my long-exposure photos, preparing for the larger waterfalls further up the trail. Wet, brown leaves were underfoot and tiny raindrops fell from above, the gray sky threatening a downpour.

The small rock ledge in Mill Creek near the first bridge.
The small rock ledge in Mill Creek near the first bridge.

Various trails through the forest

After the bridge, the trail branched a second time. I kept to the right and followed Mill Creek as it cut through the landscape. The secondary trail, which headed uphill before descending again, merged onto mine at the beginning of the boardwalk. It elegantly curved through the trees and lead me across the soft forest floor. After stepping off the boardwalk, I was funneled onto a quaint, rock lined trail that briefly skirted the water. Foam bubbled in a branch clotted corner of the creek and I watched it in fascination.

I met back up with the wide trail and continued the easy walk to the first waterfall. Orange markers lined the trail, pointing me in the right direction. The grade gradually steepened, climbing high above Mill Creek. Within minutes I came upon yet another fork, one trail continuing upwards, the other heading back to water level. Unable to ignore a trail, I headed down.

The scenic boardwalk enroute to the first waterfall at Mill Creek Regional Park.
The scenic boardwalk en route to the first waterfall at Mill Creek Regional Park.

Exploring the first Mill Creek waterfall

As I cleared the trees, the rushing waterfall and large pool at its base stood before me. The water tumbled down, strong from the first of the spring melt. I sat on a large rock and breathed in the wonderful smell of nature, a mixture of trees and rushing water. A family enjoyed a small picnic as a group of teenagers tried to cross the pool without falling in. It wasn’t yet warm enough to swim, but I vowed to revisit in the summer when it’s 40+ °C.

The first waterfall at Mill Creek Regional Park, mere minutes from the trailhead.
The first waterfall at Mill Creek Regional Park, mere minutes from the trailhead.

I walked along the edge of the pool, hoping for a closer view of the waterfall. Unfortunately, the tumbling water eluded me, but the rushing water sprayed me with a refreshing mist instead.

I noticed people exploring the top of the falls and I followed the trail to reach them. A little staircase left the path and brought me to the very top of the falls before leading down to the water. I carefully made my way to the rock ledge and dangled my feet over the rushing waterfall. It was exhilarating, watching the water run beneath me as it flowed into the giant pool before funneling into a smaller bed.

Enjoying the top of the first waterfall.
Enjoying the top of the first waterfall.

Finding the second set of waterfalls

I left the first waterfall and continued along the trail, but was soon faced with a washed-out path. The families with children turned around and I knew this was an end point for many people. Not to be stopped, I scrambled up the steep dirt path that branched off the original trail. I lowered my center of gravity, scrambled on all fours, and quickly came to the top. I was rewarded with fantastic views of the small valley. The trail, which was more of a goat path, wound its way back to the original, washed-out trail.

Except for my detour, the trail to the second waterfall was easy and mostly flat. Large rocks lined the creek, covered in damp green moss, and fallen trees formed natural bridges across the water. The area was kept cool by the Black Cottonwood trees that grew abundantly along the creek.

The roar of the waterfall greeted me before the falls themselves did. I hurried forward, excited to experience the part of Mill Creek that I’d never seen before. My heart fluttered with excitement as I realized there’s not one, not two, but three waterfalls tumbling before me.

The second set of waterfalls at Mill Creek Regional Park.
The second set of waterfals at Mill Creek Regional Park.

My legs couldn’t carry me fast enough! I gingerly hopped over a small missing section of the trail and walked up to the nearest waterfall where I stood in its spray. A small, damp cave sat to the left of the waterfalls and I entered it for a brief reprise from the mist. The three ribbon-like waterfalls snuck through the creek bed, beautiful in their singular, yet harmonious, solidarity.

I was reluctant to leave the falls, but I continued on, knowing there was an even better waterfall awaiting me.

Standing in the mist of the waterfalls.
Standing in the mist of the waterfalls.

The third, and best, waterfall at Mill Creek

The trail began to degrade as I made my way to the final waterfall. It continued to follow the creek, coming very close to the water in some areas. I reached the park boundary, marked by a barbed wire and stick fence, and paused for a moment, wondering if I should continue. My curiosity got the best of me as I stepped through the large hole and continued along the well-trod path.

Unnoticed by me, a trail headed up the hill immediately after passing through the fence. For a safer, easier trek to the final waterfall, take this trail. Instead, I continued down along the water.

The park boundary.
The park boundary.

Trees and boulders occasionally blocked the path and I carefully crawled over them. After navigating a particularly difficult section, I heard the rumble of the waterfall and glimpsed it through the trees. However, the trail was entirely washed away and I stopped in my tracks. Across the water, I noticed a worn section of beach where other people had clearly been. I had to find another way.

A cliff face along the trail at Mill Creek Regional Park.
A cliff face along the trail at Mill Creek Regional Park.

An unwise shortcut

I doubled back and spotted a sketchy trail up the mountainside. Stashing my various cameras in my backpack, I prepared for the mad scramble. I grabbed exposed roots and pulled myself up, afraid to look down for fear of realizing how precarious my position was. Near the top, I made that mistake and almost paralyzed myself with fear. Jacob wasn’t there to help with the final hurdle (although, I wouldn’t be in that situation if he were there) and I took a moment to calm myself. After taking a deep breath, as Jacob would tell me, I pushed myself over the final hurdle. I collapsed onto a groomed trail and a rush of exhilaration ran through me.

My breath was heavy as I peered over the edge, thinking how insane I was to scale that “trail”.

The large waterfall at Mill Creek.
The large waterfall at Mill Creek.

The gem of the Mill Creek hike, a natural waterslide

The trail was high above the water and quickly led me to the final section of the creek. A rope, attached to a tree, lent a hand down the steep, slick descent. I almost ran in my excitement to reach the huge falls.

I emerged onto the beach, the soft sand squishing beneath me. The falls cascaded over two tiers, creating a gorgeous waterfall that I couldn’t believe existed in Kelowna. The rock the water ran over glistened black and I wandered to the middle of the falls. The rock wasn’t slick despite being covered in water and I basked in the spray of the falls, warm from my hike and the muggy air. I imagined visiting in the summer, escaping the heat by laying in the pool and sliding down the natural water slide.

I relaxed and enjoyed the waterfall that was all mine. A couple briefly visited, but after snapping some selfies they continued on. I couldn’t help but smile, happy at the adventure I’d curated for myself. Confidence coursed through me, proving to myself that I didn’t need to let other people’s schedules dictate my own. Yet I couldn’t help but wish Jacob had been at my side, sharing the beautiful waterfalls with me.

Cooling off in the mist from the waterfall.
Cooling off in the mist from the waterfall.

A quick return trip

I returned by following the well-trod path along the mountainside, the one I had alighted upon after my mad scramble. It was such an easy hike and I amazed myself at how quickly I passed each waterfall. No more than thirty minutes after leaving the big waterfall I was back at my car.

Trailhead Location & Information

Mill Creek Regional Park is a great, family friendly hike for everyone. The first waterfall is easy to get to and is a great place for a picnic or refreshing dip in the summer. The two other falls are harder to get to but entirely worth the effort. Due to the washed-out sections of the trail, it’s unusual to run into large crowds. The final waterfall, which is technically located outside of park boundaries, is a great natural waterslide.

For more photos of Mill Creek, check out our SmugMug gallery.

Distance: 3 km
Duration: 1 – 2hrs
Difficulty: First waterfall: Easy. Second and third waterfalls: Moderate
Notes: Sections of the trail may be washed out, use extreme caution. During the spring, flooding may close the park.

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  • I love eating, hiking, and taking awesome road trips. I'm particularly fond of perogies and mangos; find them for me and I'll be your best friend. My love of exploring began as a kid; my family took many road trips and I loved building forts in our backyard. There's nothing I'd rather be doing than exploring the world around me.

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