Visit Kokanee Glacier
Erin Miller, Senior Writer, Canada
Established in 1922, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is one of the oldest provincial parks in British Columbia. The Park encompasses 32,035 hectares (79160 acres) of some of the most ruggedly beautiful mountains in the Selkirk Mountains Range. Jagged granite peaks, vast glaciers, desolate cirques, and stunning lake basins punctuate the landscape, creating an excellent backcountry wonderland.
Sitting mostly above 1,800 meters (5,905 feet) in elevation, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park has two glaciers – the Kokanee and the Woodbury – that are not only the headwaters to many creeks, but also feed over thirty gorgeous mountain lakes.
Surrounded by steep cliffs and talus slides, the 1.2 kilometer long, Kokanee Lake is a park jewel. Other lakes within the Park include the gem-colored Sapphire Lakes, the milky Joker Lakes, and the popular Gibson, Kaslo, and Tanal Lakes. Fishing for rainbow and cutthroat is a popular pastime within the Park.
The Park is also popular with mountaineers, climbers, day hikers, and backpackers. Most of the 85 kilometers of trail within the Park date to early mining development and offer a variety of hiking opportunities ranging from short day hikes to challenging, multi-day, cross-country routes. Historical cabins and old mine sites make for interesting finds along many trails.
While July and August are the best months for backpacking and summer adventuring, Park users are warned that, due to its altitude, the weather within the Park can change quickly and drastically. It is best to travel prepared. Thunderstorms, snow, and sleet are not uncommon, even in the summer months.
Heavy snowfall during the fall and winter months make for excellent backcountry skiing. Kokanee Glacier Hut is open, by lottery, in the winter months. Avalanches are prevalent throughout the Park, limiting backcountry ski opportunities to specific areas.
Regardless of the time of year you visit, the stunning beauty of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is sure to take your breath away.
Photo by Erin Miller
Glaciers: Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is home to two glaciers – the Kokanee Glacier & the Woodbury Glacier.
Lakes: The glaciers feed over 30 lakes within the park, including the stunning (and accessible) Kaslo Lake, Kokanee Lake, Tanal Lake, Garland Lake, Keen Lake, Gibson Lake, and the Sapphire Lakes.
Hiking: Kokanee Glacier boasts 85 kilometers of developed trails, plus numerous non-maintained routes into spectacular alpine and sub-alpine territory. A handful of these trails are listed below.
Cabins/Huts: Three backcountry huts (cabins) are located within the park and can be booked through the Alpine Club of Canada.
“Jagged granite peaks, vast glaciers, desolate cirques, and stunning lake basins punctuate the landscape, creating an excellent backcountry wonderland.“
trails, huts & camping
Woodbury Trail & Cabin: This moderate 8 kilometer (5 miles) trail gains 762 meters of elevation as it leaves the trailhead and follows the Woodbury Creek drainage to Woodbury Cabin and Moonlight Peak. Woodbury Cabin sleeps 8; reservations can be made with the Alpine Club of Canada. Camping is available nearby. Silver Spray Cabin can be accessed via the Woodbury/Silver Spray Traverse, though the route is not marked, and map/compass skills are necessary.
Silver Spray Trail & Cabin: The Silver Spray Trail shares a trailhead with the Woodbury Creek Trail. The trails follow Woodbury Creek for approximately a kilometer before splitting. The Silver Spray Trail then follows the Silver Spray Creek drainage for a strenuous 7 kilometers (4.35 mile), as it gains 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) elevation. The trail passes through mixed forest, huckleberry thick burn areas, and avalanche chutes, on it’s way to Silver Spray Cabin, Sunrise Peak, and the abandoned Violet Mine. Silver Spray Cabin sleeps 10; reservations can be made with the Alpine Club of Canada. Camping is available nearby.
Kokanee Lake Trail & Kokanee Glacier Cabin: The Kokanee Lake Trail starts at Gibson Lake. It is a moderate-steep 4.5 kilometers (2.8 miles) and gains 450 meters (1,476 feet) elevation before reaching Kokanee Lake. From Kokanee Lake, it is an easy 3 kilometers ( 1.86 miles) to Kaslo Lake. There are 10 tent sites at Kaslo Lake, with food cache, pit toilet, and grey water disposal. Kokanee Glacier Cabin is located at the far end of Kaslo Lake. This cabin sleeps 20 (15 in winter) and can be reserved through the Alpine Club of Canada.
Lemon Creek/ Sapphire Lakes Trail: From where the road is Lemon Creek Road is closed, it is a strenuous/ difficult 10 kilometer (6 miles) hike up the Lemon Creek Trail to Sapphire Lakes. The trail gains 950 meters (3,116 feet) elevation, and hikers are advised that there are washed out sections of trail. The Sapphire Lakes Trail leaves the Sapphire Lakes, and from there is a moderate 3 kilometers (2 miles) to Kaslo Lake, the Kaslo Lake campsite, and the Kokanee Glacier Cabin (See Above.)
Slocan Chief Cabin: The historic Slocan Chief Cabin and Interpretive Center can be reached via an easy 1.5 kilometer (1 mile) trail that leaves from Kaslo Lake.
Gibson Lake Loop: This easy 2.5 kilometer (1.55 mile) trail circles Gibson Lake providing great views of the lake, surrounding peaks, and old mine workings. A day-use area, pit toilets, and non-motorized boat launch can be found at Gibson Lake.
Sunset Lake: Accessed at the Y, directly before the 4×4 section of the Woodbury Creek Road, this 9.5 kilometer (5.9 miles) hike is not only fairly easy/moderate but ends up at the beautiful Sunset Lake. The first portion of the trail is on an old forest service road to the old trailhead. From there, it is an easy 30 minutes to the lake.
**Distances & elevations may vary from those given. Always check for updated trail information and weather conditions before going. Backcountry camping fees may apply. Pack it in, pack it out!**
Photograph by Erin Miller
Climbing/Mountaineering: Well not officially listed as a Park activity on the BCParks website, many climbers do summit peaks within the Park.
Fishing: Fishing, with license, for rainbow and cutthroat trout is possible at Gibson, Kokanee, Kaslo, and Tanal Lakes.
Winter Sports: Opportunities for backcountry skiing and snowshoeing abound. There are no snowmobiles allowed in the park.
Wildlife Viewing: Mountain goats, black bears, grizzly bears, and mule deer are protected within the park boundaries. Small animals such as the hoary marmot, pika, ground squirrels, and marten also call this area home, along with many bird species such as blue grouse, Franklin grouse, ptarmigan, and the occasional Golden eagle. The Park was expanded in 1995 to further protect grizzly bear habitat and separation of people and grizzlies is an important management objective for the Park.
While there are five access roads leading into Kokanee Glacier, the main access points are:
Woodbury & Spray Cabins: From the town of Nelson, take Highway 3A East for 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) to the town of Balfour. At the town of Balfour, travel north on Highway 31, for roughly 25 kilometers (15.5 miles.) At the sign for Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, turn west on the unpaved Woodbury Creek Forest Service Road. Continue for 13 kilometers (8 miles) to the trailhead. The last 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) are accessible by high clearance 4×4 only.
Kokanee Glacier/Kokanee Cabin: From the town of Nelson, take Highway 3A 19 kilometers (12 miles) Northeast of Nelson, to a right turn on Kokanee Glacier Road. Continue on Kokanee Glacier Road for 16 kilometers (10 miles) to Gibson Lake and the trailhead.
Lemon Creek: From the town of Nelson, take Highway 6 Northwest 62 kilometers (38.5 miles) to Lemon Creek. Take a right on Lemon Creek Road and continue 16 kilometers (10 miles) to the trailhead. Lemon Creek Road is rough and accessible with 4X4 only.