I’ve hiked the Enderby Cliffs in the Okanagan countless times yet the view from the summit never ceases to amaze me. The views stretch over 60 km from Vernon to Salmon Arm and show us the astounding twisting Shuswap River and farmers’ fields. Sweat dripped down our backs and slide off our foreheads but the cool breeze washed it all away. I crawled to the edge and dangled my feet over as I took 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.
The Enderby Cliffs Provincial Park
The Enderby Cliffs were established as a Provincial Park in 2006 and are 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 formed 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 loomed above us as we gathered our things in the parking lot. Gazing up, it was hard to believe we’d be at the top in only a few hours. The path from the parking lot ran parallel to a private driveway and passed through the fence that marked the park boundaries. After squeezing through the tiny opening, we entered the forest and soon came to the first reminder of the old trail. I was thankful that the trail had been extensively reworked and that it was no longer a mad scramble up the mountain — I remembered those days and it wasn’t fun!
The trail wasn’t steep yet but our brisk pace had me short of breath. No matter how many hikes I take, the first kilometer of the Enderby Cliffs always kicks my butt. We hiked through groves of beautiful birch and aspen that transitioned into cedar, hemlock, and fir trees, all the while navigating the muddy spring trail. The trail was well maintained and we never worried about losing our way, although we did have to climb over fallen trees every once in a while.
Kilometer and orange markers lined the trail which marked our progress and ensured us we were on the right path. Between the two and three kilometer markers, we came 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 marked the beginning of the numerous switchbacks. Coming down, the Shrine was a breath of fresh air that signified that the hike was almost at an end.
The Shuswap Lookout, our first view of the Okanagan Valley
After leaving behind the Shrine we began the upward ascent. We were surrounded by trees and tiny wildflowers that were just beginning to bloom. Soon the mountainside would be covered in yellows, whites, and purples. We rounded a bend in the trail and suddenly the first viewpoint of the hike, the Shuswap Lookout, was before us.
We paused for breath and took in the gorgeous view. We’d only been climbing for less than three kilometers but we were already 680m above the Valley floor and the cars in the parking lot looked like tiny ants! The Okanagan Valley stretched before us, dotted with fields and patches of forest. The Shuswap Lookout is nothing more than a break in the trees though; there wasn’t much room to sit without blocking the path so we continued on.
Just before the three-kilometer marker, we passed by a few huge boulders, one of which was at least twice my height! As a kid, I loved trying to climb them.
Small streams occasionally trickled over the trail and we carefully navigated the muddy disaster. A few small ponds peaked out from the trees, reminding us of the horde of mosquitoes that often swarm us in the summer months. Thankfully, we 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 reached was the Larch Hills Lookout, just over 3km up the mountain and 800m above the Valley floor.
We paused for another rest and broke out our snacks, sorely in need of some sustenance. I took off my sweaty backpack and sat near the edge while I enjoyed 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 continued the trek to the Summit, 3.7km away. My hat was drenched in sweat and I stuffed it in my backpack, pulling my hair into a high bun. The trail continued through the trees, constantly ascending and winding its way up switchbacks. It was a tiring climb and we occasionally stopped for breaks while 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 snuck up on us. One moment we were hiking along the never-ending mountainside trail and the next treed meadows stretched before us, the mountain nowhere to be seen. The trees were thin and the sunlight trickled through the leaves, casting us in a beautiful dappled light. We were teased with awesome views peaking through the trees as we climbed the final hurdle. The trail came uncomfortably close to the edge of the Cliffs in some areas, so close that part of the trail has tumbled away in recent years. I skirted the opposite edge, too terrified to go any closer.
Just before the summit, we came to my favourite viewpoint. The iconic Enderby Cliffs sat eye-level with us and we carefully dangled our feet over the cliff’s edge. It was terrifying and I leaned backward the whole time. Even so, I couldn’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 continued to the final viewpoint. The feeling of reaching the summit is indescribable; the pain of the last 7km briefly disappeared as euphoria took over. We collapsed onto the rocks and let out a sigh of relief as we pulled out our lunches.
We’d gained 1,200m of elevation and the views from this height are breathtaking. Cars scurried below like tiny ants, moving about their busy lives. The Shuswap River wound 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 created a gorgeous patchwork and we watched 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 began the return trip down the mountain. The trek down is always faster, but it killed our legs; halfway down, our quads, calves, and pretty much every other muscle in our legs begged for us to stop. We slurped back our water, thankful for our hydration packs.
When we reached the Shrine, we knew our hike was almost over and we rested for a moment on the bench. Sitting had never felt so amazing! But returning to our feet almost wasn’t worth the brief relief. The final two kilometers were slow going; behind every turn, we hoped was the end… yet it never was.
When the green field finally peaked through the trees, I let out a sigh of relief. I tried to quicken my pace, but couldn’t summon the energy. When we finally reach the parking lot I collapsed into my sister’s car and tore off my shoes and socks, grateful to have finished the hike.
Even though I’m always in pain after hiking the Enderby Cliffs I always look forward to doing it year after year.
The Enderby Cliffs are an all-day adventure and as such it’s important to be well-prepared, especially if you’re planning to hike it in the heat of the summer.
We always carry bear spray on our hikes. The wilderness is full of wild animals and it’s always more important to be over-prepared than under. In BC, bears, cougars, and other large animals call the mountains home. While our bear spray helps us feel secure when we explore, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot more to bear safety than just carrying bear spray.
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.
|Distance||~14km (8.7mi) return|
|Duration||~4 – 6hrs|
|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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