For over 29 million years, a chain of volcanoes has erupted along the coast of British Columbia. These volcanoes are responsible for Canada’s largest volcanic eruption in the past 10,000 years. Over 3,753 non-volcanic mountains and volcanoes form the Cascade Range, or Cascades, and extend from southern British Columbia down through the United States to California.
The Cascades are part of the Ring of Fire, a belt of 40,000 km that contains between 850-1,000 volcanoes. The volcano chain is responsible for all of the eruptions in the contiguous United States for the past 200 years, including the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.
The Cascade Mountains form some of the most beautiful landscapes in Canada. Though the Canadian Cascades have not erupted in over 1,000 years, they will likely become explosive again in the future. This could cause potentially life-threatening situations for the surrounding populations.
The Canadian Cascades, while part of a larger chain of mountains and volcanoes that stretches into the United States, are located entirely within the Canadian province of British Columbia. They are the mountains north of the east bank of the Fraser Canyon, and include the area up to the confluence of the Thompson and Fraser Rivers. The highest point on the Canadian Cascades is Lakeview Mountain, at 2,628 meters.
The Canadian Cascades were formed as the ancient oceanic Farallon Plate melded into the earth’s mantle and pushed up a volcanic arc. This has caused a substantial fault area, which can cause earthquakes of magnitude 7.0 and beyond. The First Nations people of Vancouver Island tell stories of the 1700 Cascadia Earthquake, which caused a tsunami that struck the west coast of North America and even traveled as far as Japan, flooding both coasts. This earthquake is estimated to have been a magnitude 9.0.
The volcanic activity has also formed a variety of intrusive igneous rocks, which form as magma cools.
While the volcanoes are generally considered either extinct or dormant, there are at least four volcanoes that have shown seismic activity since 1985. The most active has been Mount Meager massif, a group of volcanic peaks within southwestern British Columbia. Though there have not been any eruptions for more than 2,000 years, Mount Meager was responsible for Canada’s largest volcanic eruption. The other volcanoes with active seismic activity are Mount Garibaldi, Mount Cayley, and Silverthrone Caldera.
The Canadian Cascades can be visited at any time of year. The best time to hike the area’s parks is generally in the spring, summer, and early fall months when temperatures range from 17°C to 27°C. However, some attractions (such as the hot springs) may only be available throughout the winter. Winter temperatures along the coast, including Whistler, are generally moderate, and rarely dip below -15°C. Alpine temperatures will be approximately 7-10°C cooler and will receive more snowfall.
The Canadian Cascades, while contained to British Columbia, cover a huge area. It’s almost impossible to see the whole range on one trip unless you are lucky enough to be able to explore from the air. Many of the best tourist spots are located within the Sea-to-Sky corridor and fall into the Provincial Parks.
This provincial park, managed by Sea to Sky Parks, sits on the Cascade Volcanic Arc. The volcanic activity from the mountain range created a 230-foot waterfall, which can be observed from a variety of viewpoints throughout the park. The trails are well maintained and feature footbridges and picnic areas. You can access Brandywine Falls Provincial Park by taking Highway 99 from Garibaldi or Whistler and you can park just a few minutes’ walk from the falls.
Hot springs are formed when groundwater, heated by the earth’s crust, rises up to a pool at ground level. They can often be found where volcanic activity is present and are sometimes even heated by magma. The Keyhole Hot Springs are likely a result of this type of volcanic activity, though it’s hard to say for certain as there is little monitoring done to see how active the magma systems are. The trails to this spring are well maintained, though icy in some sections. Note that the hot springs are closed from April 1 to November 15 due to high grizzly bear activity.
E.C. Manning Provincial Park contains part of the Canadian Cascades, the sub-range known as the Hozameen Range. This all-season park is perfect for outdoor recreation and only a three-hour drive from Vancouver or the Okanagan region. In the summer, enjoy hiking trails, back and front country camping, and bird watching. In the winter, this park turns into a wonderland for snowshoeing, skiing, and cross-country skiing.
You can rent cabins that feature wifi, stay at the resort and ski hill, or head further into the park for a more wild experience. With over 323 square miles to explore, you definitely will not be bored during your stay.
The Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area was established in 1987 to help protect the area. It is an excellent stopping point along the Coquihalla Highway, allowing travelers an opportunity to take a break from driving and enjoy the wildlife. You can also view the peaks of Yak and Nak, as well as the Zopkios Ridge. If you’re able to stay a little longer, there are 16 hiking trails ranging in difficulties that extend out from the area.
This Provincial Park was established in 1927 and contains a large portion of the Garibaldi Range mountains. Today the park hosts over 30,000 overnight campers per season. It’s easy to see why, with so many activities available in a beautiful setting. You can visit alpine meadows or the peaks that were created by the volcanic activity. There is a variety of both front and backcountry camping options available and there are four overnight-use shelters.
You can access the park from five main access points, depending on the activities you are looking to take part in. The park includes over 56 miles of maintained trails, which are accessible year-round. Even in July some of the trails may still be covered in snow due to the glaciers in the area, so be sure to dress accordingly.
Other activities include fishing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, rock climbing, and mountaineering.
The Canadian Cascades are accessible from a number of British Columbian towns and cities. If you are traveling from Vancouver, head for E.C. Manning Provincial Park or the Coquihalla Summit Recreation Area. Both of these areas can be reached on the Trans-Canada Highway. Squamish and Whistler also both offer easy access points to explore the Canadian Cascades.