Exploring a little-known local jewel

American Creek Falls near Hope offers pristine swimming water

A wet-footed hike to American Creek Falls is a refreshing way to spend a hot summer day. For an extra jolt of invigoration

A wet-footed hike to American Creek Falls is a refreshing way to spend a hot summer day. For an extra jolt of invigoration

Pussy-footers beware: this is a hike where you have to get your feet wet, to get to your destination.

American Creek Falls is a little-known local jewel that is well worth a mid-day visit in the summer. Walking casually, it’s about an hour each way, though less than two kilometres, round trip. There’s not a lot of elevation gain, perhaps 100 metres total… the main challenge comes from picking your routes through the stream and over or around log jams and boulders.

The last time I was up there, before last Friday, was in 1992 with my family and the Piechottas — and we have pictures to prove that we all made it, including my son Ryan, who was five years old at the time.

I still hear groans about the hike from a few of that party, so be warned that it’s not everyone’s idea of a fun outing. If you prefer clearly-defined, groomed paths, you may not enjoy this one. But remember: a five year-old can do it… and there’s beauty to behold at the end of the route.

Kelly Pearce, a local naturalist, historian and trail-developer confessed on Tuesday that this is one hike he hasn’t done yet — though his curiosity is now piqued.

His educated guess was that the creek’s name has its legacy from the Fraser River Gold Rush of the late 1850s.

“That’s where we got the names Texas Lake and Boston Bar,” said Pearce. “There were 30,000 American miners in the area at that time.”

One concern that Pearce has for undeveloped trails is the need for safe, designated parking. That is a concern here, as there’s not much of a shoulder to park on near the bridge on Highway 1, north of Hope.

My hiking partner, John Koopman, parked the car in a pullout about 0.2 kilometres north of the bridge, then we carefully crossed the road.

Another option would be to park on American Creek Road and walk 0.5 kilometres downhill to the bridge, which has a narrow pedestrian walkway. Take abundant caution wherever you park — and keep any dogs or children close at hand.

At the north end of the bridge on the upstream (west) side, there is a well-defined path that leads you down into the creek valley. You’ll notice a pile of walking sticks that someone has thoughtfully left at the trailhead. Help yourself, if you’d like some extra stability.

For footwear, you’ll want something made for the water, like strap-on sandals, river shoes… or old runners that owe you nothing. If you’re especially safety-conscious (or a klutz), a helmet and knee and elbow pads could save you a few bumps.

Come dressed for the wet, too. A bathing suit and floating devices could come in handy.

Once down the hill, the trail soon loses its clarity. You could veer to the left and get into the creek but it’s easier to continue straight ahead and meet the creek where it rambles over bedrock… your first chance to get your feet wet.

Just do it.

If you try to step on only the dry stones, you’re sure to find a loose or slippery one and then you could hurt yourself, or at least get totally soaked.

In these first few steps, take a look around. If you don’t have the time or the inclination to slog up the creek bed, there would be plenty of fun for a family in the little pools and chutes right here.

If you continue on: from here to the falls, it’s up to you to pick the best routes. You’ll never have to venture much deeper than your ankles at this time of year. We found it prudent to keep the knees bent and to lower our centers of gravity whenever the footing looked dicey.

As with people, don’t trust rocks that are smooth, slimy — or unstable. Gravel and sand are your friends.

After a few turns, the gurgling of the stream eliminates the sounds of the highway and railway. Wilderness, just 500 metres from civilization.

A few turns after you wonder, “Are we there yet?” — you’ll hear the falls.

“Traversing side to side through the creek was a fun way to cool off, while enjoying the scenery of the cliff edges,” said Koopman. “And reaching and hearing the wonder of the falls made the trek through the creek all worthwhile.”

Once at the falls, it’s pretty clear that you’re not going any further. Take a load off, enjoy a snack… and contemplate a swim in the pristine pool that lies in front of you.

Jennifer Sackley, a teacher from Chilliwack, has been enjoying visits to Lake of the Woods for the past few summers but she was encouraged by an acquaintance to go the extra mile and try the falls hike a few weeks ago.

She was brave enough to get immersed in the bracing waters, though she stayed close to the edge.

“The water… would turn a baritone into a choir boy!” she said.

Having spent over 10 minutes in it, I would agree.

At least I got my voice back.