When are trails snow-free?

After a long Kootenay winter, it’s nice to air out the hiking boots and get moving on some solid dirt. However, when spring starts in the valleys, winter continues in the alpine for a long time.

Snow-free hiking depends on:

  • The elevation of the trail
  • The slope-aspect of the trail (south-facing vs north-facing)
  • The density of the forest
  • The weather (doh!)
  • And the snowpack level for the season

Weather and snowpack change year to year, so there are no guarantees.

Top resources for road and trail conditions

1. West Kootenay Hiking Access Facebook Group – With over 5000 locals contributing information, this group is a great place to ask questions about road or trail conditions.

2. Service Road Atlas – A seamless explore map to view all the roads in a given area, with great features like:
-Add your own road bulletins with a condition rating, photos and more. View other users road bulletins.
-Detailed road page with the ability to download road waypoints, view the last known road condition, posted closures and more.
-Subscribe to road updates and get notified by email any time a road changes.

3. Copernicus Satellite Maps – A map of recent satellite imagery- very handy for checking snow levels in the spring. Zoom into the region you’re interested in and use the date picker to find recent cloud-free imagery.

But in general, here are some examples of when and where you can enjoy snow-free hiking:

Mid-Late March

Lakeshore trails with southern exposure are usually snow-free. These trails have little to no elevation with open forests to let in lots of sun.

Lakeshore trail at Pilot Peninsula

Early April

South-facing trails with a bit of a climb are usually snow-free. These trails don’t go higher than 1000m.

Mid-Late April

North-facing trails at low elevation are now snow free. These don’t climb above 1000m and also have open forests.

Brilliant Overlook Trail in April

May

Almost all of the shoulder-season hikes that climb below 1800m are snow-free! Here are some good ones:

Mid-Late June

Alpine trails with southern exposure and maintained access roads (think highways) are now snow-free.

Looking at Ymir Peak

Mid-Late July

All of the alpine trails are now snow free! It’s full hiking season at last. Here are some of the top ones:

Jumbo Pass

Late September

By the end of September (or sooner!), snow starts building up on alpine trails again. And hikes are generally snow-filled in the reverse order above.

Why care about snow?

Sure, you can strap on your gaiters and go hike in the snow, but there are some reasons why you’ll want to consider when and where to hike:

  • Access roads. The access road to the trailhead might still be snowed-in and impassable. Or, the access road might be snow-free, but soft and muddy from spring run-off. You don’t want to get your vehicle stuck.
  • Avalanches Paths. There could be avalanche danger on trails that cross avalanche paths, such as the Kokanee Lake Trail. Old avalanche paths can also create steep snow chutes that are dangerous to cross.
  • Navigation. Trails can be hard to follow when covered in snow.

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