Important Notice: As of August 2016 there is significant bear activity on the portion of the Trout Creek Trail heading towards the canyon. If you do hike this trail please take precautions and be prepared.
Summerland, a quaint community nestled in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, is known for its orchards, wineries, steam railway, organic bakery, thrift stores, ornamental gardens, beaches and trails. The most popular trail in Summerland goes up Giant’s Head Mountain, a prominent geological feature in the middle of town that offers a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view of the Okanagan valley at its peak. We’ve hiked up Giant’s Head several times and while the the trail is challenging for younger children the views are more than rewarding.
There are several other great family friendly trails in Summerland that are often overlooked, one of which is the Trout Creek trail. I learned about the Trout Creek Trail through the Sweet Single Tracks website/app. To access the trailhead turn onto Green Lake Road from Highway 97 which is the same turn-off for the Pacific Agri-Food Research Centre and the Summerland Ornamental Gardens (watch for signage). Soon after the turn-off follow an unnamed road on the right hand side that leads to a small dirt parking area; this is the trailhead.
At the parking lot there are two gates, a chicane gate and a yellow gate, beyond which are two trails that lead in opposite directions. We started our hike going through the chicane gate and followed a wide dirt trail that parallels Trout Creek. The first part of the trail is flat and easy but very exposed with large patches of poison ivy along the sides. Eventually the wide trail leads to a lovely wooden bench, a nice resting stop before continuing on. From the bench we backtracked a little and followed a narrower singletrack trail up towards the steep canyon. This trail goes on for a little ways through the trees into the canyon and ends abruptly at the creek side.
It was nice and shady by the creek side and my children enjoyed clambering over the rocks and getting their feet wet. As my children were exploring the creek, a large black bear came running along the bank directly opposite us. Immediately I shouted “BEAR! BEAR!” to get my family’s attention over the sound of the rushing water and just as they looked up another large black bear went running in the same direction. I’m not sure if the bears noticed us, but they ran quickly out of view. We watched them go and then gathered ourselves and calmly hiked in the opposite direction. As we hiked back we talked about what to do if we encounter a bear, the importance of staying calm, grouping together and not running. This was our first bear sighting on a hike as a family. I was surprised by the jolt of adrenaline that I received and how fiercely protective of my children I felt. It was a good opportunity to talk about our reactions and plan for the next time because chances are there will be a next time.
Back at the wooden bench we noticed two alternate trails, in addition to the wide one that we hike in on. There is an old paved trail that climbs the bank but ends at a fence and goes no further. The other trail, which starts just before the bench (on the left), parallels the main trail and eventually connects back with it. This trail is a bit more shady with some impressive patches of prickly pear on either sides of it. As we walked along this singletrack trail we noticed many piles of bear scat (bear poo) and continued seeing piles of it all the way back to the parking lot. We concluded that the two bears are very active in this area.
At the parking lot the trail continues past the yellow gate and under the bridge, towards Sun-Oka Beach Provincial Park. This portion of the trail is well shaded and showed no signs of bear activity. The trail ends on the north end of Sun-Oka Beach where we enjoyed a refreshing dip in the cool waters of Okanagan Lake before heading back the way we came.
The Trout Creek Trail is a nice easy 4 to 5 km hike with some interesting features along the way. We spent about three hours exploring the trail at a leisurely pace which included some time playing by the creek and swimming in the lake. The stretch towards the canyon is very exposed, except for the last bit, so it would be best explored on a cooler day. With the significant bear activity on this trail please take great caution and be prepared! If hiking with children don’t let them run out of view, stay together and be noisy to warn the bears you are there. If you aren’t comfortable with the possibility of a bear sighting or encounter I suggest following the trail towards Sun-Oka beach instead (through the yellow gate).