The Horse Barn Valley (HBV) Interpretive Forest is a 200-hectare area of Crown land adjacent to the Kimberley Nature Park just west of the municipal boundary. Comprised of two rocky ridges running west and northwest, and two sheltered, moist valleys nestled against the shoulder of North Star Mountain, the interpretive forest is an ecological and recreational jewel.
Three trails run along the lush valley bottoms, and two along the rocky ridges. A hike or bike along these trails reveals deep dark spruce and cedar groves, spreading wetlands, stunning viewpoints and tumbled talus slopes. Dipper Lake on the eastern border of the area lies at the base of soaring cliffs, and just a few hundred metres upstream from the lake is the Halfway Cabin. Built by volunteers in 1934 as a midway stop on the trail to Matthew Creek, the cabin has recently been re-roofed and its vintage woodstove provides rustic winter comfort to tired snowshoers and cross country skiers.
The Interpretive Forest was established in 2003 through an application by the Kimberley Nature Park Society to the province. While that designation allows for normal forest management practices to continue, it also recognizes the area’s important recreational, educational, ecological and heritage values, and gives the Kimberley Nature Park Society a role in their management in partnership with the provincial agency, Recreation Sites and Trails BC. The KNPS prepares an annual work plan for the area that includes maintenance of trails and signage, hosting interpretive walks, and stewardship of the Halfway Cabin. In 2014 a set of 13 interpretive panels was developed and installed throughout the HBV trail system to educate visitors about its human and natural history.
You can get to the Horse Barn Valley Interpretive Forest by hiking or biking from the east through the Kimberley Nature Park or by driving to the western trailhead from the Matthew Creek Forestry Road.
A popular hiking and biking route starts at the Kimberley Nordic Centre ski area trailhead and heads out Centennial or Spruce trails to the Rockslide Trail and Dipper Lake. Late in the summer, when water levels in the lake are low, you can continue across the Dipper Lake meadow to Talus and Summer trails. In the spring and early summer, when water levels are high, you can bypass the lake on Shannon Trail and connect to Coral Route or Bullfrog Hill. In the winter, the cross-country ski trails require the payment of a user fee, no dogs are allowed, and only snowshoes or skis are permitted.
There are many other hiking and biking routes through the nature park to HBV that use Bear Trail, Creek Trail or the Boulevard. The area is also part of the Round the Mountain route and can be reached via a 20-kilometre circumnavigation of North Star Mountain from the Kimberley Alpine Resort in counterclockwise direction.
You can also access the HBV Interpretive Forest by vehicle from the Matthew Creek Forestry Road. This road is a bit rough and a high-ground-clearance vehicle is recommended. From the Kimberley Riverside Campground and RV Resort it is 8.9 kilometres to the parking area, and the distances quoted below are from this starting point. From the campground, drive west on the paved St. Mary Lake Road for 4.1 km. Turn right on the Matthew Creek Forestry Road and at 6.1 km turn right again on a narrower, rougher gravel road marked with a HBV signpost. Veer left at 7.7 km and right after 8.1 km and you will shortly arrive at the parking area and kiosks. An outhouse has been installed at the northwest corner of the parking area. The driving route is outlined in pink on the aerial photo below.
Located at about the midpoint of Horse Barn Valley, the Swamp is a seasonal wetland with enough open water in the spring and early summer to attract nesting mallards and the occasional great blue heron. A band of cattails runs along the north side of the water, and moose have been known to frequent the area. Water from the swamp seeps out along the bottom of the valley and helps sustain the sphagnum bog and the cedar and spruce forest to the west. As the season progresses, the swamp becomes progressively drier and often ends the summer as a sedge and rush meadow with little visible standing water.
Straddling the boundary between the Horse Barn Valley Interpretive Forest and the western edge of the nature park, Dipper Lake sits in a wide basin beneath towering cliffs. The lake is fed by waters flowing off North Star Mountain and is drained through subterranean channels into other areas of the park. This lake fills in the spring then slowly dries throughout the summer to become a beautiful green sedge meadow with a small pond at its eastern end and a glowing stand of aspen trees to the west.
Dipper Lake is a popular destination for hikers and a favourite spot to view a variety of ducks, frogs and toads, garter snakes and the occasional muskrat. In a 2005 biological survey of East Kootenay wetlands, Dipper Lake was found to have the highest amphibian diversity in the region.
The second valley in the Interpretive Forest, Tora Bora, runs northwest from the parking area between the shoulder of North Star Mountain and a low rocky ridge. A small creek drains the valley toward the parking area, and the ample moisture and shade from the adjacent ridges allows a mixed spruce, subalpine fir, and cedar forest to thrive in the valley bottom. A walk up Tora Bora Trail reveals a lush understory of alder, thimbleberry and ferns, extensive patches of violets and bunchberry and glimpses of soaring cliff bands to the east. Near the northwest end of the valley a talus slope tumbles down on the east side of the trail. Pause here to read the interpretive panels, and you may be rewarded by the sound or sight of the pikas that live in the rockslide. Beyond the interpretive panel site, the trail climbs to the right up through the talus and leaves the HBV Interpretive Forest to continue its way around the mountain. A new trail constructed in 2015 and 2016 branches off to the left and climbs to the top of the rocky ridge, then returns to the parking area.
At the western end of Horse Barn Valley, not far from the trailhead, both Talus Trail and Summer Trail wind their way through a magnificent stand of old-growth forest. The trees, a mix of Englemann spruce, sub-alpine fir and western red cedar, were spared by the early springboard loggers and have thrived in the shady, moist valley bottom. Some of the cedar trees are almost one metre in diameter, and a walk through this patch of forest on the soft and springy sphagnum moss evokes the feeling of being in a west-coast rainforest. Mushrooms and other fungi are abundant on the forest floor, and the branches of the trees are draped with horsehair and witch’s hair lichens. On a hot summer's day, a walk through the cedars provides a cool and refreshing respite for weary hikers.
The Halfway Cabin was built in 1934 and 1935 by a handful of Kimberley residents as a ski shelter approximately half-way between the Myrtle Mountain ski hill and the Matthew Creek road. The original structure was built with hand-hewn logs and a cedar shake roof, and a wooden floor was added a few years later. The structure stood for several decades and was used as a rest stop by hikers and skiers and as an overnight camping spot for youngsters from Kimberley in the summer months. Over time the structure slowly deteriorated and in 1994, 60 years after it was built, a major restoration effort was mounted by a team of local volunteers. The roof including rafters, flooring and door were all replaced, and rolled roofing was applied. A new chimney and vintage woodstove were installed, and a porch was added.
Further improvements were made in 2015 with the addition of a more durable metal roof. The cabin is now a popular stopping point for skiers and hikers, and is still used occasionally by hardy individuals as an overnight rest stop.
The maintenance of the cabin is now the responsibility of the Kimberley Nature Park Society, which does an annual cleaning and ensures that the woodstove is chained up in summer to prevent its use during forest fire season.
Trail networks in the Horse Barn Valley Interpretive Forest are maintained by the Kimberley Nature Park Society and consist of about nine kilometres of old roads and singletrack hiking and biking trails.
From the HBV trailhead, Front Boulevard runs downhill to the southeast, defining the lower boundary of the interpretive forest and connecting to the Army Road in the Nature Park. Talus Trail and Tora Bora Trail run the lengths of the two valley bottoms, with Summer Trail providing an alternate route through the western half of Horse Barn Valley that is more appropriate for cycling than Talus Trail. Tora Bora Ridge Trail and Coral Route run along the dry rocky ridges above the valley bottoms. At Dipper Lake, which lies partly in the HBV Interpretive Forest and partly in the Kimberley Nature Park, Rockslide Trail descends to the lake from the east, and a short spur from Talus Trail runs into the lake from the west. In the spring, when the lake is at full pool, there is no access across it, but later in the year as the water level drops there is a small footbridge across the inlet channel and a track across the meadow to join Rockslide Trail to Talus Trail. Skirting the bowl that holds Dipper Lake are Shannon Trail to the west and Bullfrog Hill to the east. These trails meet at the Junction of Coral Route and Bear Trail and provide linkages to the trail network in the nature park.
Horse Barn Valley also lies on the Round the Mountain hiking and biking route, a 20-kilometre circumnavigation of North Star Mountain. Tora Bora Trail, Tora Bora Ridge, Coral Route, Summer Trail and Talus Trail can all be used as part of that trek.
Three fine viewpoints look out over the St. Mary River valley. One is at the end of a short spur off Bear Trail close to the nature park boundary. The second is near the western end of Coral Route. The third is on the recently built Tora Bora Ridge trail, and it looks out at Bootleg Mountain as well as the St. Mary River valley.
From the Horse Barn Valley trailhead, two loop walks capture the diversity of habitats in the interpretive forest, afford some great views, and enable people to visit a number of the area's interpretive display panels.
Talus Trail/Coral Route – Cross the small footbridge and plunge into the deep, dark cedar grove on Talus Trail. Move along to the lichen-covered rocks of the talus slope, look for ducks among the reeds and cattails of the Swamp, and step into the rustic Halfway Cabin. Continue along Talus Trail and across the boardwalk to the kiosk at the junction of Bullfrog Hill and the spur to Dipper Lake. If time allows, follow the spur to the lake and enjoy the view of soaring cliffs and a lush aspen grove while looking for waterfowl and muskrats in the water. Return to the kiosk and hike up Bullfrog Hill to the junction of Shannon Trail and Coral Route. Again, if time allows, continue past the junction for a short distance to the short spur trail that runs out to the Bear Mountain lookout and enjoy the expansive views of the St. Mary Valley. Return to the junction and follow Coral Route along the rocky ridge through the pine, Douglas fir and larch forest. Keep an eye peeled for patches of spotted coral root orchids along the trail. Near the west end of the trail as it starts to descend to the Boulevard, check out a second viewpoint with more great views of the valley. Drop down the last rocky section of the trail and turn right on the Boulevard to return to the parking area. Along the way, don't forget to stop and read a number of the interpretive display panels provided by the Kimberley Nature Park Society.
Tora Bora Loop – Head northwest from the HBV trailhead on Tora Bora trail, an old road that climbs gently through a mixed cedar, spruce and alpine fir forest. Enjoy glimpses of towering cliffs to the east and lush valley bottom vegetation and wildflowers all around you. As the valley narrows, watch for the short spur trail into the talus slope on the rightwith two interpretive panels. A brief stop here might be rewarded with the sight and sound of the pikas that live in this rockslide. Just past the rockslide watch for the Tora Bora Ridge trail heading up and back toward the parking area. Climb this singletrack trail to the top of the ridge and meander among the pine, Douglas fir and larch trees, past rock outcroppings and on to the viewpoint of Bootleg Mountain and the St. Mary Valley. Continue along the ridge and down through a series of wide switchbacks to the HBV parking area.
The Kimberley Nature Park Society (KNPS) installed 13 informative display panels at various locations on the Horse Barn Valley trail network in the fall of 2014. Conceived, designed and built over the preceding two years, the panels explain aspects of natural history, human history and forest practices in the area. More than 160 hours of volunteer time went into the project which was co-funded by the province, the Columbia Basin Trust, and the KNPS. Below is a map showing the location of the panels (black stars) and images of two of the panels. We hope you will enjoy exploring the trails in HBV and discovering all 13 interpretive panels.
The Kimberley Nature Park Society would like to thank the following people for contributing photographs to this webpage and gallery: John Allen, Flo Brokop, Julie Anne Davies, Cliff Erven, Margaret Fong, Chris Ferguson, Frank O'Grady, Kent Goodwin, Lyle Grisedale, Perry Keijzer, Hilde Kirrmaier, Struan Robertson, Larry Tooze, Jim Webster, Irma de Visser.