Last updated October 13, 2019
Unlike other areas of the Pacific Northwest, the Okanagan is technically a desert. In the summer, waterfalls are a welcome respite from the sweltering temperatures and the many waterfalls at Mill Creek Regional Park are no exception. Pair the waterfalls with shade from the trees and Mill Creek Regional Park is a fun afternoon adventure no matter the time of year.
Update: After being closed for over a year, Mill Creek Regional Park is open again! There is currently no parking lot and visitors must park on Spencer Road. Check here for the park’s status.
~ 3 km return // 1 – 2 hrs
Mill Creek Regional Park is a 15.3-hectare park in the Ellison district of Kelowna, just east of the Kelowna International Airport. Mill Creek 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 because of this 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 widespread flooding that affected the Okanagan in the spring of 2017.
Mill Creek Regional Park is very accessible and located in the northeast region of Kelowna on Spencer Road, just behind the airport. The fair-sized 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.
There are three sections of waterfalls at Mill Creek and it’s a popular destination for hikers, dog walkers, and families. Dogs must be kept on leashes and, as usual, cleaned up after. Bears are also known to be active in the park, so bring bear spray and practice bear safety.
The first waterfall is about 1 km or 10 to 15 minutes from the parking lot. The first kilometer is quite easy and great for all experience levels. Remember to bring plenty of water to stay hydrated and pack all the hiking essentials. It’s always better to be over-preapred than under!
Shortly after starting your hike, you’ll come to a fork in the trail. Both trails will eventually reconnect, so take your pick!
The left trail is more scenic and brings you across the creek via a bridge. After the bridge, the trail splits again. The left branch heads uphill with a set of stairs while the right trail follows Mill Creek as it cuts through the landscape. Both trails reconnect right before a boardwalk. The boardwalk curves elegantly through the trees and deposits you onto the soft forest floor. After stepping off the boardwalk, you’ll be funneled into a quaint, rock-lined trail that skirts the water. Shortly after, you’ll meet back up with the other trail.
Once the two trails merge, you’ll follow the wide trail and orange markers to reach the waterfall. The trail’s grade will steepen and you’ll climb high above Mill Creek. Within a few minutes, you’ll come to yet another fork. The right fork heads downhill and the left continues uphill.
Exploring the Popular Waterfall
Take the downhill fork and once you clear the trees, the rushing waterfall and large pool at its base will stand before you. Take a moment to breathe in the wonderful smell of nature, a mixture of trees and rushing water. Many people enjoy a picnic or take a quick dip in the water here.
You’ll likely notice people exploring the top of the falls. To reach them, backtrack up the hill and continue along the uphill trail. You’ll quickly reach a staircase that brings you to the very top of the falls. It’s a wonderful place to watch the water tumble down the rocks. However, be very careful as it can get slippery and would be easy to fall into the waterfall.
Second group of waterfalls
The trail to the second set of waterfalls is more difficult and requires careful footwork and climbing. Shortly after the top of the first waterfall, the trail is washed out and requires you to climb the bank alongside it. You’ll quickly bypass the washed out section of the trail.
Except for the detour at the start, the trail to the second waterfall is easy and mostly flat. Large rocks covered in a damp green moss line the creek and fallen trees form natural bridges across the water. The area is kept cool by the Black Cottonwood trees that grow abundantly along the creek.
The roar of the waterfalls will greet you before the falls themselves do. The waterfall here is actually three small falls! You’ll likely have to navigate another small washed out section as you walk towards the falls. A small, damp cave sits to the left of the waterfalls and gives a brief reprise from the mist. The three ribbon-like waterfalls snake through the creek bed and are beautiful in their singular, yet harmonious, solidarity.
Third waterfall + natural waterslide
The trail to the final waterfall is the most difficult and as such, not many people hike it. The trail itself is quite easy to follow, although it’s narrow and rugged with plenty of elevation change.
Once you reach a barbed wire fence, take the trail that heads uphill. A trail goes through the fence, but you don’t want to take this trail because it doesn’t easily bring you to the falls. The uphill trail will bring you high above the creek and along a well-worn path. You’ll eventually reach a rope that’s attached to a tree, which brings you down a steep, slick descent. You’ll emerge onto a beach and the soft sand with squish beneath you as you take in the waterfall.
The water cascades over two tiers and creates an absolutely stunning waterfall and natural waterslide. The rock beneath the water glistens black and you can walk to the middle of the falls. Surprisingly, the rock isn’t slick despite being covered in water. If you visit in the summer, you can escape the heat by sliding down the natural waterslide into the large pool at the bottom. Not many people come this far, so enjoy the solitude if you’re lucky enough to have it.
The trail continues past the waterfall and to another man-made waterfall and small reservoir.
What to pack
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.
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.