The month of January is traditionally a time for change and a fresh start. How about adding a new category to your personal “best of” list: “Best Place for Undiscovered Great Snowmobiling – Elkford BC?
Located in the southeastern Rocky Mountain range of British Columbia, Elkford represents a winter playground for snowmobilers and general snow fans. With an elevation of 4,265 feet above sea level and a sledding season commencing in December and lasting until April, it’s no surprise Elkford is becoming a prime cold-weather destination.
This season, the fun started earlier than usual, according to Peter Cunningham of the Elkford Snowmobile Association.
“We’ve been on our machines since Nov. 5,” he says. Elkford usually receives approximately 10 to 12 feet of snow per year. Cunningham said in mid-January, Elkford had about a foot-and-a-half of snow in town and up to 10 feet in the bowls which comprise the prime snowmobile territory of the Elk Valley.
A variety of terrain including lush forests, alpine meadows, waterfalls, lakes and streams can be found here. Trails, both groomed and ungroomed traverse huge basins, mountain passes and scenic valleys. According to the snowmobile club’s website, there are somewhere between 15 and 60 miles of trails, depending on how many miles of roads are plowed each winter.
Cunningham says the most popular ride is the (groomed) Crossing Creek trail, which can be found north of town and then heads west. He said the trail crosses three avalanche runs, “so you need to keep an eye on conditions.” The snowmobile club updates the avalanche condition sign weekly at the local gas station.
The website notes family trails generally run up the Elk Valley, which stretches north from town to the Alberta border. The heart of the trail system is the Round Prairie staging area north of Elkford. Some of the best riding areas are the meadows and alpine bowls at Koko Claims just a few miles west of Round Prairie. The main trunk trial is groomed weekly by volunteers.
By now you may be saying, this all sounds well and good, but how I will I know where to go once I get to Elkford? No worries, maps and trail passes are available at the local gas stations and at the Chamber of Commerce.
For $10 Canadian, you can pick up a permit which allows you to “ride from home,” or at least right out the door of your motel room. These are sold at the District of Elkford Office, 816 Michel Road, or at the local Aquatic Center, which is open Friday nights until 8 p.m.
In addition to snow machines, winter sports enthusiasts might want to include their skis when heading out. The town of Elkford operates the Wapiti Ski Hill run by volunteers from the local club. The hill has seven runs ranging from beginner to expert over a 1,000 foot vertical drop.
The Wapiti Ski Hill bills itself as an affordable, family-oriented alternative to large, commercial resorts. It is open Tuesday through Friday from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. for night skiing on the two main runs. All runs are open for daytime skiing Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Cross country skiing is also available, with trails beginning in downtown Elkford which access Boivin Creek. Two ski cabins for resting and warming up are located on the creek, one about 1.8 miles out of town, the other 4.5 miles out.
Another winter sports option found in Elkford is the local ice arena and curling rink. The facility is open for public skating some Friday nights from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. and for parent/child skating some Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Check for the schedule by calling (250) 865-4010.
For winter hiking and wildlife viewing, you can’t beat Elk Lakes Provincial Park, located 43 miles north of Elkford. Most of the park is located above the tree line, where visitors appreciate stunning views of pristine natural wilderness including clear alpine lakes, rugged peaks and cliffs, and glaciers.
It should be noted, no motorized vehicles of any type are allowed in the park.
In the opposite direction from the park is another local attraction, Sulfur Springs, some 3 miles south of Elkford. This time of year, “if you have a Ski Doo, you can definitely get in,” says Nicole Schaaf of the Elkford Chamber of Commerce.
Otherwise, it’s a hike of about two hours. She says people actually strip down and sit in the water year-round, “if you can get past the smell!” Years ago, the spring was locally famous for its healing properties for ailments like rheumatism.
If you measure the success of a trip by how many wild animals you spot, bring your camera. Schaaf says deer regularly wander through downtown. Recent postings on the town’s blog have reported black bears, grizzlies and even a cougar.
For more information on snowmobiling in Elkford, visit elkford.ca or elkfordtrails.com.
Getting there – From Spokane, Elkford is approximately 286 miles – 6.5 hours. Head east from Spokane on I-90 into Idaho. Take U.S. 95 north, all the way into Canada. The road becomes Highway 3/3B/95, and follow it about 76 miles to Elk Valley Road, where you’ll turn left. Continue onto Highway 43, then left at Alpine Way/Baker Drive.