Hiking at Big White
Over the last few years, I’ve learned to love ski resorts during the summer season. I discovered their amazingness while searching for an escape from the stifling wildfire smoke that we’ve had in the Okanagan over the past two years. Big White is high in the mountains, so it’s above the smoke that blankets the valley, which makes it an amazing place to hike.
Although it was the fresh air that initially drew me to the ski resort, I ultimately fell in love with Big White’s hikes. I love hiking in the alpine, but it’s not a normal experience in the Okanagan.
There are multiple hiking trails at Big White and they all meander across the alpine mountainside. Every single trail is great and, surprisingly, unique! But because the Peak Trail is so short, I highly recommend exploring more of the trails while you’re at Big White. Make sure to grab a map in the Village and follow the orange Inukshuk-like cairns along the trails.
The trees at the resort are small and hardy — in the winter, they’re blanketed in snow and called snow ghosts. The many ski runs are covered in beautiful, colourful wildflowers and they’re in full bloom in the first two weeks of August. Plus, the resort isn’t nearly as busy in the summer as it is in the winter, which gives you lots of time to explore the mountain at your own pace. You won’t feel like sardines on the trails, which is what I’m all about.
What to Expect on the Peak Trail
If you want to hike to Big White’s highest point, the Peak Trail is for you! It’s a short, 2.3 km there-and-back trail and has a total elevation gain of 166m, so it’s not too challenging but is still very rewarding. The steepest grade you’ll encounter is a staggering 49.5%, but luckily the average is only 16.6%. You won’t want to miss the Peak Trail when you’re hiking at Big White!
The trail begins at the top of the Bullet Chair. To reach the trailhead, you can either ride the chair lift up from the Village or hike the Rhonda Lake Trail or Falcon Ridge Trail. In fact, the top of the Bullet Chair is where you can access many of Big White’s trails.
I’ve always taken the Bullet Chair because it’s not every day you get to ride a chairlift in the summer!
The Peak Trail begins by slowly switchbacking along the exposed alpine mountainside. The trail is covered in low, sparse grass and mid-sized slabs of flat rock. There are no trees and it’s quite exposed, but because the resort is high in the mountains, it’s a lot cooler than down in the valley. Don’t forget your sunscreen and water, because even though it feels cooler, the sun is still plenty strong!
The view from this section of the trail is nice, but it’s nowhere as great as the summit. This is also where the Alpine Meadows Trail branches off.
Just under halfway to the summit, the trail climbs to the top of the ridgeline. You’ll be treated to an amazing view of Rhonda Lake and the Monashee mountain ranges. As you follow the trail up the mountain, you’ll come to a section with small trees, an emergency shelter, and a non-operational ski lift. If you want to hike the Falcon Ridge Trail, it branches from the Peak Trail here.
There are lots of small, flat rock beds along the trail here. The trail isn’t always obvious, so keep your eyes on the orange inukshuk to keep yourself from wandering off too far. As long as you head uphill and stay on the rocks, you’ll be fine.
Summit of the Peak Trail
As you near the summit of the Peak Trail, you’re suddenly presented with a stunning, 360° panoramic view of the Christian Mountains and the Okanagan Valley. Looking back the way you came, you can see all the way back to the trailhead at the top of the Bullet Chair.
A large rock cairn at the top of the mountain marks the summit of the Peak Trail. You’re at the highest point of the Big White mountains here and it’s stunning!
Animals on the Trail
You’re more than welcome to bring your dog hiking on the Peak Trail, just remember that Big White Resort is entirely on-leash. You can even bring your dog on the chairlift! There’s no water on the Peak Trail, so make sure you pack water for your pup (this doggie water bowl is great!).
Big White is full of wildlife, so always keep your eyes peeled. If you do encounter animals, always give them plenty of room, don’t approach, and never feed them. They’re perfectly capable of fending for themselves. We don’t want the wildlife to become dependent on humans and to start wandering into the Village.
You’re most likely to encounter deer or marmots on the trails, although moose, fox, and lynx have also been seen around Big White. If there are berries on the slopes, bears begin to wander the mountainside. Always practice bear safety while you’re out hiking so that you don’t run into trouble.
Hiking at Big White is 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 Peak Trail trailhead.
The chairlift is fun to ride, especially since it’s not every day you get to soar above the ski hills in the summer! Plus, because the resort is usually pretty 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.
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.
Finding the trailhead for the Peak Trail is 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. It’s 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.
The Peak Trail at Big White is one of the highest points in the Okanagan Highland Mountain Range. The weather can change quickly, bringing with it strong winds, rain, and sometimes even snow. Come prepared for anything and everything! And remember, just because it’s sweltering in Kelowna doesn’t mean it’ll be the same at Big White — in fact, it’s often quite different.
I’ve included gear below that applies to most hikers, as well as suggested items and links to where you can get them.
- Hiking day pack: Even though it’s a short hike, a day pack will allow you to easily store all of your gear and extra layers. The Deuter Race Air 10L Backpack is similar to my backpack.
- Wool socks: Wool socks provide great cushioning, wicking, and temperature control for your feet. I love Darn Tough’s socks.
- Hiking boots: The Peak Trail is no place for flip flops. Make sure you wear heavier duty boots, such as the KEEN Oshawa Waterproof boot.
- Reusable water bottle: Please, please, please don’t bring single-use plastic bottles. I love S’well, Klean Kanteen, and Hydro Flask. Not only are these bottles better for the environment, but they’ll also keep your water cold throughout your entire hike.
- Water reservoir: I love water reservoirs. They’re an easy way to carry lots of water and to actually stay hydrated. I have the Hydra Pak 3L reservoir and I highly recommend it.
- Warm jacket: Even in the middle of summer, it can get chilly on the Peak Trail. There’s sometimes even a little snow! A light downy jacket like The North Face Aconcagua is always a great idea.
- Vest: If you don’t want to bring a full jacket, a warm vest is a great alternative. I love Patagonia’s Prow Bomber vest!
- Shorts + leggings: If you choose to wear shorts, I recommend also bringing a pair of leggings in case you get chilly.
- Skin protection: It’s important to protect your skin, so remember to pack sunscreen, sunglasses, and a brimmed hat. Consider bringing bug spray as well.