Shivering and soaking wet we pulled ourselves out of the cool water. The canyon walls towered above us and we spotted the Canyon Rim Trail lookouts at the top. We pushed forward and a thrill of excitement passed through us as our feet slipped on the slimy rocks. We were determined to reach the Bear Creek waterfall, a hidden treasure deep in the crevice of the canyon at Bear Creek Provincial Park near Kelowna, BC.
Exploring Bear Creek Provincial Park
Bear Creek Provincial Park was established in 1981 and is a popular destination on the western shores of Okanagan Lake. It boasts a lakeside campground, 400 meters of sandy beaches, and 5km of well-traversed hiking trails. In the summer months a reservation is required to stay at the campground; however, there’s plenty of parking for those of us only visiting for the day!
We’ve hiked the scenic Bear Creek Canyon Rim Trail many times — it’s a fairly easy hike with beautiful views — and I’ve always gazed longingly at the waterfall far below. From the Canyon Rim Trail, the Bear Creek waterfall is nothing more than a small white ribbon and is almost fully obstructed by the canyon walls except for at one viewpoint. In the springtime, the run-off can be extremely strong and creates a rushing river (as pictured above).
After years of looking at the waterfall, I finally decided enough was enough and set out to find it. On a rainy, late-summer afternoon I met up with an old friend, Kaya, and we braved the canyon for the first time!
Finding Bear Creek Provincial Park
Bear Creek is located only 11 km from downtown Kelowna which makes it a perfect place for an afternoon adventure. The road winds its way along the beautiful shores of Okanagan Lake and offers spectacular views of Kelowna, Bennett Bridge, and Knox Mountain.
The parking lot for the trail is separate from the campground and located directly off the main road. It’s often full in the summer, however, there’s a wide shoulder that’s safe to park on. There’s also ample day parking in the campground which is located a few meters further down the road.
The trail to the Bear Creek waterfall
A map at the trailhead details the Canyon Rim, Mid Canyon, and Loop Trails but the trail to the Bear Creek waterfall is unmarked. To find the trailhead for the waterfall, take the Loop Trail right and follow it until you cross the second bridge. The gentle, flat path gave us an early glimpse of Bear Creek (aka, Lambly Creek). Immediately at the end of the second bridge is a well-worn trail that led us to the creek bed. The trail skirted over river rocks, through thick brush, and under burnt trees. There was little elevation gain but lots of places with poor footing.
Crossing Bear Creek
The trail soon deposited us on the shores of Bear Creek and the cliff walls rose from the water. We had nowhere else to go but across the creek to the small, dry ledge opposite. Our first steps in the water were cold but we soon adjusted. Unable to see around the sharp bend in the creek, we left our phones, keys, and extra clothing here — hidden, of course! We had yet to meet anyone else hiking the Bear Creek waterfall so we felt safe leaving our valuables.
The creek extended wall to wall and I took the first plunge into the water — it was a little chilly! The water had a slight brown colour and occasional bubble pods swept down, but it was clear and I had no problem leading the way. The bank descended and I was quickly waist deep in the chilly water with slippery rocks at my feet. Small, silvery fish swum around my feet as I waded around the bend.
Navigating a narrow canyon slit to the Bear Creek waterfall
The canyon narrowed and the walls loomed above us as we rounded the bend. I thought of how dangerous this area would be during high water — it’s certainly not a place to explore during the spring runoff. The area was full of small pools and log jams, but no other way out than back the way we came.
After navigating our way through the small pools we came to an extremely narrow slit in the canyon that was no more than a few feet wide, roughly ten feet long, and hundreds of feet tall. Unable to resist, I led the way. The bank slid out from beneath my feet and quickly became too deep to touch. Immersing myself in the chilly water was a bit of a shock to the system!
I swam against a slight but easily manageable current. An underwater ledge and above water boulder marked the end of the deep section. I almost swam straight into the ledge — watch out for it! — before using it to leverage myself up. I was suddenly only calf deep in water! Kaya quickly joined me and we continued on the final stretch to the Bear Creek waterfall.
Bear Creek waterfall
The waterfall presented herself without much warning. There was no sudden change in temperature — perhaps there would have been had it been a hot summer’s day — or loud noise as is common with waterfalls. Rather, she rumbled down the canyon a few hundred feet away and jumped horizontally into a pool. Rocks lined the far side of the pool and the canyon walls rose like pillars high above, creating the perfect hidden escape.
We couldn’t help but have smiles plastered across our faces as we scurried to the waterfall. We waded through water before alighting on the ledge that ran underneath the water’s powerful stream. Standing almost beneath the water we felt the full force of the Bear Creek waterfall as it thundered by. Unable to resist, I raised my hand and touched the water as it jumped vertically from the wall. It was exhilarating and my heart raced with happiness!
Instead of skirting the wall on my way back I waded through the pool and enjoyed the spray from the waterfall. A few fish jumped at my feet and I admired their determination.
A log boat ride & walk back
On our way back we hitched a ride through the canyon slit on the floating log attached to a rope. It was large enough for a few people to comfortably sit on but only stayed afloat with one. It wasn’t the fastest ride but it was fun! The log brought us to the shallow end and completely eliminated the need to swim.
The walk back to our car was extremely fast as we no longer felt the need to follow the trail, instead opting to walk through the shallow, ankle deep water. Back at our car, we vowed to return again, next time with the boys in tow!
The hike to the Bear Creek waterfall is short but certainly doesn’t lack adventure! Between swimming, tiny canyon slits, and log boat rides, you’ll be wondering why you haven’t checked it out before. However, because of these things, you’ll also need to bring different gear than usual.
Swimwear or clothing that you don’t mind getting wet is a must or else you’ll never see the waterfall. There’s a small ledge before the canyon slit where extra clothing can be left.
GoPro with waterproof casing
Phone with Lifeproof Case
I didn’t bring my phone and don’t really recommend it, but if you absolutely need to, make sure it’s protected in a waterproof case. Jacob and I both have Lifeproof cases and it’s really the only case I’d ever want. I’m quite clumsy and am terrified of wrecking my phone and so far it’s been safe for a year and a half in its case. The newer versions have some pretty awesome designs!
Selfie sticks sometimes get a bad rep but I truly love them for their ability to take action-packed shots. Our preferred selfie stick is by far the Spivo Stick because it’s durable, waterproof, and flips 180° for shots from every angle! It mounts with any phone or GoPro and is extremely lightweight. And in case you’re wondering, we have the short Spivo which hasn’t failed us yet!
From downtown Kelowna, cross Bennett Bridge heading towards Westside. Once across the bridge, take the second exit, following signs for Bear Creek Provincial Park. Turn right off the exit and follow Westside Road for 11km. Watch for the parking lot on your left or, if it’s full, park on the shoulder of the road. Parking is also available in the day use area of the campground a few meters further.
|Difficulty||Easy, with poor footing and swimming|
|Notes||Be prepared to swim and don’t bring electronics that aren’t waterproof|
|Related Activities||Kay Falls
Mill Creek Waterfall