The park was established on November 22, 1995, following a 25 year debate over development versus protection. The name comes from the Nlaka’pamux word “Stagyn,” which means “hidden place,” referring to the fact that the valley and the extent of the watershed is not very noticeable from the Stein River’s mouth on the Fraser River. The valley has been extremely important to the Nlaka’pamux people for thousands of years, both spiritually and for sustenance.
Since the establishment of the park, the Stein is managed via the Stein Valley Co-Operative Management Agreement between the Lytton First Nation and the province of BC, on the Stein Management Board. The function of the Management Board is to oversee and provide management direction for all initiatives and undertakings related to the planning, operation and management of the park. This arrangement also provides the park with two seasonal full-time wardens who assist both the users of the park as well as maintaining values within the park particularly in the lower Stein.
The Stein Valley straddles the transition from the dry interior to the wetter Coastal Mountains. This, combined with the large elevational gradient, has resulted in very diverse vegetation communities within the park. Dry ponderosa pine forests characterize the lower valley compared to Douglas fir in the mid-valley. Hemlock, spruce and fir become predominant in the western end of the valley. Patches of cedar exist throughout the valley, even at the eastern end in moist, cool locations along creeks such as Stryen and Teaspoon. Floodplain forests along the river are dominated by black cottonwood mixed with aspen and birch. Higher elevations are noted for stands of Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, white bark pine and alpine tundra. Spectacular flower blooms occur in the spring and summer, particularly at higher elevations.
Stein Valley landforms
The Stein Valley was heavily glaciated and is dominated by glacial landforms. All of the main valleys except the lower canyon have the characteristic U-shape of glacial eroded troughs, and many of the tributaries to the Stein River exhibit “hanging” valleys. The upper reaches of the watershed are dotted with a large number of small mountain lakes (tarns), many of which occupy cirques.
The Stein River has two extensive canyon sections, one at the east end of the valley and one at the west end. The park has a wide range of elevations, from about 220 metres above sea level at the eastern end to 2954 metres at the summit of Skihist Mountain. There are about a dozen other peaks along the boundary that are over 2,438 metres. Some of the key elevations in and around the park are:
- Main (eastern) trail head 220 metres
- Cottonwood Creek mouth 675 metres
- Stein Lake 1,025 metres
- Elton Lake 1,825 metres
- Tundra Lake 1,875 metres
- Lizzie Lake 1,325 metres
- Blowdown Pass 2,175 metres
Preliminary efforts are underway to monitor glaciers within the Stein Valley Heritage Park. Learn about glaciers and glacier research.
The Stein River and its tributaries
The main Stein River, from Stein Lake to the Fraser River, is about 60 kilometres long and drops about 800 metres over that distance. River levels are highest in June and July, and also change significantly in short periods of time due to heavy rainfalls or high temperatures in the western end of the valley. The river contains several falls, with the two largest being about six to eight metres high.
There are several other waterfalls in the park, including Cottonwood Falls, at 15 metres in height and Elton Falls which drops 60 metres and has a cascade totalling more than 300 metres. Generally speaking, the tributaries on the south side of the river are glacially fed, while those on the north side drain large expanses of meadows.
The park contains larger lakes (Stein, Elton and Tundra), as well as many small lakes. Tundra and Elton are headwater lakes which are only ice-free from July through October. Elton, with its glacier flowing into the west end of the lake and its spectacular cobalt blue colour, is one of the gems of the park.
Due to its size and relative lack of disturbance, the park contains populations of many species of wildlife that indicate its relative health as wilderness. It is thought to contain over 50 species of mammals, including mountain goat, cougar, wolverine, black bear and grizzly bear.
Bird species include golden eagles, sharp shinned hawks, barred owls, pigmy owls, white-tailed ptarmigan, pileated woodpeckers and rufous hummingbirds, as well as several species of chickadees, warblers and nuthatches.
The Stein River contains Dolly Varden char, rainbow trout and Rocky Mountain whitefish, as well as steelhead trout, coho, pink and chinook salmon that return to the river at certain times of the year to spawn.