The open grasslands of Sunflower Hill are a unique area in the otherwise forested nature park. Located at the southern edge of the park and named after the profusion of yellow balsam-root flowers that adorn the slope in the spring, the hillside is home to a variety of plants that thrive on the dry, sunny, southern exposure. Dotted with patches of saskatoon and ceanothus shrubs, this area provides deer and elk with high-quality winter browsing. In recent years ecosystem restoration activities, such as selective thinning of the adjacent forest and prescribed burning, have taken place to improve forage for these animals.
In the spring, a succession of wildflowers adorns the open slopes. Mertensia and spring beauties are the first to bloom, with balsam root and lupines soon following. Later in the season sagebrush mariposa lilies and many other species adorn the hillside. This low-elevation region is home to a ponderosa pine and bunchgrass ecosystem much more typical of the lowlands in the Rocky Mountain Trench than the mid-elevation forests of the rest of the nature park. Birds such as vesper sparrows and mountain bluebirds, and butterflies such as the arrowhead blue and anise swallowtail, rely on this unique habitat type and are found nowhere else in the park.
The hillside can be accessed from St. Mary’s Lake Road directly onto Jimmy Russell Road (trail), or from Riverside Campground via Campground Trail. One way is about 1 km, with a 100-metre elevation gain to the top.
While much of the nature park is covered with forests of lodgepole pine, Douglas fir and western larch, there are a few special spots where shaded gullies and bubbling streams combine to create wonderfully lush cedar glens. One of the nicest of these areas can be found along Creek Trail, which lies above Whitetail Valley and below Rockslide Trail.
Here, shaded by the shoulder of Bear Mountain and watered by a spring-fed creek, a steep path rises into an abundant area of mosses, ferns and towering western red cedars. Devil’s club, with its huge maple-like leaves and tall spikes of red berries, can also be found growing along the stream. Mushrooms abound, and a great variety of wildflowers such as queen’s cup, bunchberry, wintergreen and violets, can be found nestled among the trunks of fallen trees.
Please use care when walking or riding this trail, as it is particularly vulnerable to erosion and there are many exposed roots.
Hike through the Nordic Centre trails to the beginning of the Rockslide Trail, and head downhill on Flume Trail to its junction with Creek Trail. One way is about 3 km, with a 45-metre elevation loss.
Or, travel from Higgins Street or Swan Avenue up to Myrtle Junction, then follow Army Road to the bottom of Creek Trail. Watch for the creek coming down from the right, and head up the signed trail. One way is about 3.5 km, and there is a 130-metre elevation gain.
Dominating the centre of the nature park is a long, rounded hill that has withstood the scouring of long-ago glaciers. Myrtle Mountain contributes to the complex topography of the area, and a hike to its top via Mountain Mine Trail earns hikers breathtaking views of the St. Mary River Valley and the Rocky Mountain Trench. The top of Myrtle Mountain is dry and rocky, and the forest on the eastern aspect is open and sparse. Patches of nodding onion and alum root can be found between the juniper bushes. Bedrock outcroppings are common, and evidence of mineral exploration can be seen in the shallow diggings and piles of loose rock left behind by prospectors. Although little trace remains today, Myrtle Mountain was the site of Kimberley’s first ski hill, which ran down the north face of the mountain in the 1940s.
From town: Enter the park at Higgins Street or Swan Avenue and hike to Myrtle Junction. Continue west on Army Road to the junction with Higgins Hill and Mountain Mine Road. Turn left and follow Mountain Mine Road to the top of the hill and the junction with Southwest Passage. Stay to the left and follow the track to the viewpoint. One way is about 4 kms, with a 235-metre elevation gain.
From Riverside Campground: Take Campground Trail to Jimmy Russell Road. Turn left onto Jimmy Russell Road and climb the steady hill to the junction with Southwest Passage. Climb Southwest Passage, staying left at the junction with Skid Road (trail) to the junction with Mountain Mine Road. Stay to the right and follow the track to the viewpoint. One way is about 3 kms, with a 355-metre elevation gain.
Duck Pond is a small, spring-fed slough surrounded by a mixed forest of lodgepole pine, western larch and Douglas fir, thickets of red twinberry and soapberry, and patches of glacier lilies. Located on one of Myrtle Mountain’s lower benches, this is the only wetland inside the park that has a healthy population of cattails, and although its water levels can vary, it is not uncommon to find blue-winged teal and mallard ducks nesting there. Moose are frequently seen in the area, and elk occasionally pass through on their way to the lower slopes of Sunflower Hill and Forest Crowne. Duck Pond is also home to smartweed, water plantain and other aquatic plants, and Pacific treefrogs inhabit its fringes. In 2015-16 this area was dramatically transformed by the interface fuel treatment program, which saw many of the smaller trees and much of the woody debris on the ground slashed and piled and then either mulched or burned. Recovery of the shrubs, grasses and flowers will take a number of years and it will be interesting for naturalists to watch the progress of that recovery and compare the effects of burning and mulching over time.
From town: Enter the park at Swan Avenue or Higgins Street and travel along Lower Army Road to Myrtle Junction. Take Duck Pond Trail south across the small footbridge and follow it as the path gradually rises and falls down to the pond. One way is about 3 kms with a 90-metre (Swan) or 135-metre (Higgins) elevation gain to the high point on Duck Pond Trail.
From Riverside Campground: Take Campground Trail to Jimmy Russell Road. Turn left and travel to the junction with Duck Pond Trail. Turn right on Duck Pond Trail and follow it up the gravel road and into the forest. Pass the junction with Apache Trail and turn right at the junction with Skid Road (trail). A pleasant walk on single track takes you to the junction with Keiver Way and the pond. One way is about 3.5 kms, and there is a 200-metre elevation gain.
One of the most unique ecosystems in the nature park is tucked away in a glacial kettle just a few hundred metres from the edge of town. Eimer’s Lake is a small spring-fed pond surrounded by a mixed forest of Engleman spruce, Douglas fir, western larch, paper birch and western red cedar. At the east end of Eimer’s Lake is a sphagnum moss bog that provides a special environment for acid-loving plants such as Labrador tea and swamp laurel. A footpath has been constructed around the lake and into the forest at its north end, where a series of small bridges takes you across the streams that flow in and out of the lake. Mallard ducks sometime nest in the sphagnum bog, and belted kingfishers and great blue herons frequently visit the lake. Western painted turtles can sometimes be seen sunning on logs near the edges of the pond.
Enter at Higgins Street and travel up Eimer’s Road. At the junction with Elbow Road stay to the right, and shortly after this junction watch for the Eimer’s Lake sign on the right. The lake loop trail is just over 0.5 km long. One way is about 0.6km with a 30-metre elevation gain.
Williamson Sapsucker Wildlife Habitat Area
In spring 2004 a rare woodpecker, the Williamson's sapsucker (WISA) was spotted in the nature park. It had been decades since this species had been seen in the East Kootenay region, so ornithologists were surprised and delighted. Over the next few years a small number of nesting pairs were confirmed in the park, and the province commissioned a study of the habitat they were using. That report led to the creation of a 70-hectare Provincial Wildlife Habitat Area (WHA) within the park boundary to conserve the area for that species and other woodpeckers. While there have been no recent sightings of the Williamson's sapsuckers, we are hopeful that the birds will use the area over the long term.
The Wildlife Habitat Area lies along Duck Pond Trail on both sides of the junction with Skid Road. It can be accessed via the Campground Entrance by taking Campground Trail to Jimmy Russell Road. Turn left and follow the road to the Duck Pond Trail intersection. Hike up Duck Pond trail and into the WISA WHA.
A popular route, the trail to Dipper Lake and Horse Barn Valley is a special place in its own right. A short distance after it leaves the Kimberley Nordic Centre ski area, the trail breaks out of the forest and crosses a wide talus slope, with towering cliffs above and forested hillsides below. Although you are still inside Kimberley city limits, the impression of being a hundred kilometres from town in the Purcell Mountain back country is quite remarkable. Walk carefully along the rocky trail among lichen-encrusted boulders, patches of brilliant purple shrubby cinquefoil, and a small patch of aspen trees. Northern alligator lizards are occasionally spotted along this trail, and red-tailed hawks are sometimes seen soaring overhead.
At the end of the rockslide, the trail climbs up through a moist forest of subalpine fir and Engelmann spruce that once again reinforces the back-country impression. A short walk through a draw between Bear and Northstar mountains brings you to the Shannon Trail junction, and a right turn will drop you down to Dipper Lake.
Rockslide Trail is accessed via the Kimberley Nordic Centre ski area. The shortest route is via Spruce and Trapline Trails to the Five Corners Kiosk, and then along the Finnegan's Bluff Trail to the start of the Rockslide Trail (and the end of the Nordic Centre ski area).