Last updated October 10, 2019
Hiking at a ski resort. While it’s probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Big White, the resort actually has some really great summer hiking trails. One of these is the Rhonda Lake Trail which connects the top of the Bullet Express chairlift with the Village below. You’ll enjoy absolutely stunning views of the surrounding mountains, breathe in the fresh alpine air, and see flourishing wildflowers on this hike. You can also ride one of the chairlifts, which is pretty fun in the summer!
The Rhonda Lake Trail is an intermediate, 4.5 km (one-way) hike near Kelowna, BC. It leads you through beautiful forests of spruce and lodgepole pine while also offering plenty of viewpoints. Plus, you can check out the iconic Rhonda Lake which is completely covered in snow in the winter season.
4.5 km // 1.5 hrs
Hiking at Big White
Ahh, summer hiking in the Okanagan. Usually it’s great, but unfortunately over the last few years it’s been difficult because of the stifling smoke from nearby wildfires. Needless to say, Jacob and I needed a solution because not hiking all summer simply isn’t an option. Then we found it — hiking at ski resorts like Big White. The resort is high in the mountains and way above the smoke. It’s perfect!
Besides the clear air, the ski runs are covered in beautiful, blooming wildflowers — which peak in the first two weeks of August — and small creeks criss cross the slopes. The hiking trails meander through the incredible alpine landscapes and are truly magical to explore. The entire resort isn’t as busy in the summer either, which gives you plenty of time to enjoy the mountain in peace. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like crowded trails. There are so many reasons to go hiking at a ski resort!
There are various hiking trails at Big White. Luckily, you don’t have to worry about becoming lost because they’re all well-marked by orange Inukshuck. Still, it never hurts to grab a map in the Village before you head up the mountain.
Rhonda Lake Trail
The Rhonda Lake Trail connects the Big White Village with the top of the Bullet chairlift. It offers spectacular views of both Rhonda Lake and the incredible mountains in the area. The trail is one of Big White’s most shaded hikes which means you’ll spend plenty of time walking through the gorgeous alpine forest away from the hot sun. There are also a few places where you’ll need to navigate small creeks or hop over rocks. All in a good day’s hike, if you ask me!
The trail is 4.5 km long (one-way) and takes about an hour and a half. It’s an intermediate hike and some sections are more difficult than others, but overall it’s perfectly manageable for a day hiker. The average slope is 12.1%, but the steepest you’ll encounter is 42% and there’s a total elevation change of 456 m.
What to expect
Because the trail serves as a connection between the top of the Bullet chair and the Village, you can choose to either hike up or down — or both! We’ve always hiked down because we love riding the ski lift up, but one of these days we’ll start from the bottom.
Rhonda Lake is nestled at the base of the Cliff bowl and you’ll immediately spot it as you step off the Bullet Chair. It’s impossible to miss. The trail starts near the top of the chairlift and then quickly heads down the mountainside, which is quite exposed. Watch for the bright orange Inukshuk and make sure to stay on the trail because the flora is delicate and can’t survive being walked on. And make sure to take a moment to admire the cliffs looming above you — it’s where people ski in the winter! Personally, I think the ski run looks steep as hell, but that’s probably just me being a scaredy cat .
The trail brings you right to the shores of Rhonda Lake. Although the lake doesn’t have your typical “hang out and go swimming” beach, it’s extremely peaceful and we’ve enjoyed simply sitting beside the undisturbed water. The water is typically a bright turquoise blue with beautiful wildflowers dotting the hills around it. It’s the perfect place for a picnic! Who cares if you just started your hike?
The lake holds an astounding 75 million gallons of mountain water and actually provides Big White with most of its freshwater. Thanks to Rhonda Lake and the resort’s water filtration station, Big White has some of the cleanest water in the entire world! Despite this, you shouldn’t drink directly out of the lake or streams because it hasn’t been filtered yet and still contains contaminants. You can filter it through the Lifestraw if you want to try the fresh mountain water, though.
Rest of the Hike
Once you leave behind the lake, the remainder of the trail meanders through a beautiful forest of Englemann spruce and lodgepole pine. The wind rustles gently through the trees and you’ll occasionally cross grassy ski runs. Birds sing in the alpine forest and you might even spot a deer or two.
So what are you waiting for, summer is the only time you’ll have to explore Rhonda Lake!
Animals on the trail
You’re welcome to bring your dog hiking with you at Big White as long as you keep them on a leash. There are lots of streams your furry friend can drink from, but by the middle of August they start to dry up so you’ll want to ensure you pack water for them (this doggie water bowl is great!). You can also bring your dog on the chairlift — our little Jack Russel used to love it!
The mountains and hiking trails at Big White are full of wildlife. Stay on the lookout for the animals and always give them plenty of room. Remember that you’re in their home! And never, ever feed the animals. They’re perfectly capable of fending for themselves and the saying “a fed bear is a dead bear” goes for many other animals as well. We don’t want the wildlife to become dependent on human food and to start wandering into the Village.
Deer are common on the slopes. Moose, fox, and even lynx have also been seen on the mountains around Big White, although they tend to hide more than deer. Marmots, on the other hand, are usually pretty easy to spot in the Village.
And as berries begin to adorn the slopes, bears begin to wander the mountainside as well. Always practice your bear safety while you’re out hiking so that you don’t run into trouble.
Big White is one of the highest points in the Okanagan Highland Mountain Range. This means that the weather can change very quickly and can bring in strong winds, rain, or even snow. If you decide to hike the Rhonda Lake Trail, come prepared for everything.
What exactly does that mean? Lots of layers and the ten essentials!
There’s usually still snow at the top even in late August and the wind can get pretty chilly. Even if it’s sweltering down in Kelowna, you’ll want to pack a base layer, a tee or tank, leggings, and a light jacket or vest. You don’t have to wear it all, but if you get chilly you’ll be really happy it was stashed away in your backpack. Wear sturdy hiking shoes — no flip flops or other flimsy sandals! — and comfy wool socks because the Rhonda Lake Trail is full of loose gravel, uneven surfaces, and steep sections.
You’ll be hiking at a considerably higher elevation than other hikes in the Okanagan, which can be more difficult. Bring plenty of water — and actually drink it to stay hydrated — and snacks to keep you fueled. Electrolyte boosters like Nuun tablets and high energy snacks are super helpful as well.
If you’d like to buy your gear from sustainable brands, we’ve put together an article about some of our favourite outdoor brands that do just that. Some of them donate time, money, or resources, whereas others support outdoor-related legislation, increased education, or eco-friendly resources.
Hiking the Rhonda Lake Trail at Big White is wonderful. It’s so much fun to explore the resort when it’s not covered in three meters of snow! Before you run out and take on the hike, though, here are some details you need to know.
Hiking at Big White is technically free, but only if you don’t want to ride the chairlift. To ride the chairlift, you’ll need to pay for a lift ticket. There are single-ride, multi-ride, and season passes available with varying costs for different ages — the single ride tickets range from $12 to $15. You can usually get discounted tickets on the last weekend of the season. We enjoyed 2-for-1 tickets on Labour Day weekend.
To purchase a lift ticket, visit the Village Centre Mall. There’s a fairly large, lodge-like cafeteria and at the far end you’ll spot the ticket desk.
Bullet Express chairlift
The Bullet chairlift, which starts on the main road just outside the Village, brings you to the hub of all the hiking trails. The chairlift is quite fun to ride, especially since it’s not every day you get to soar above the ski hills in the summer! Plus, since the resort is usually fairly quiet in the summer, you’ll get the chairlift all to yourself.
Open dates + hours
The summer hiking season at Big White is fairly short compared to other hikes within the Okanagan. It usually opens at the end of June (check Big White’s site for official dates) and closes Labour Day weekend in September. This isn’t too surprising, though, considering Big White is usually under three meters of snow in the winter. It needs time to melt!
The chairlift typically opens at 10:00 am and closes at 5:00 pm; the last ride up is at 4:30 pm and the last ride down is at 5:00 pm. The ticket booth is open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm, except on Friday when it closes at 6:30 pm. The last ticket is available 30 minutes before closing. Please refer to Big White’s official website for confirmation on hours before heading up, though, because they may change.
Quite honestly, I don’t really know where everyone parks during the winter. We’re not huge skiers, so we don’t usually visit ski resorts in the winter. In the summer, we always park on the side of the road near Snowshoe Sam’s.
Getting to the Rhonda Lake Trail is quite easy. Simply find your way to Big White — which is about an hour outside of Kelowna — and make your way to the bottom of the Bullet Express chairlift after you’ve purchased your lift ticket.
If you’re unfamiliar with the resort, it can be a little difficult to find the chairlift. The first time we tried to find it, we were wandering all over and totally lost — we even started climbing a hill on a rough trail! Needless to say, that wasn’t right.
The chairlift is located right beside the road up, just beside the Stonebridge Lodge. As you approach the Village, watch for it on the right hand side of the road. Once you’re in the Village, walk towards the Stonebridge Lodge and follow the small trail down to the chairlift.
And as always, happy exploring! We hope you have fun hiking the Rhonda Lake Trail at Big White.
Have you hiked the Rhonda Lake Trail? Let us know what you thought!