Turquoise lakes, mirrored pools, and circles of peaks all around! The hike to Gwillim Lakes goes from ‘impressive’ to ‘fantastically incredible’ and doesn’t stop there!


Trailhead: Hoder Creek Road

Map:Valhalla Provincial Park

Distance, Round Trip: 12km

Elevation: +894m

Difficulty: C1


The trailhead is reached 21km up Hoder Creek Road. Now, this sounds not too far. But the gravel road was pretty rough with potholes and washboard. The last 3km of Hoder Creek were terrible and involved the car grinding its way up over large rocks and bumps. Ouch, bump, bump. Very iffy for a low clearance 2WD vehicle.

It took over 2 hours to drive up to the trailhead from Nelson. Much longer than we had planned.


Up to Drinnon Lake

The hike up to Drinnon Lake is a steady huff up through the forest and across two rock slides. You’ll cross over into Valhalla Provincial Park as you near the top of the ridge.


Drinnon Lake is just over the top of the ridge and is a pretty spot. There is a campground here and plenty of helpful mosquitoes.

Scenery at Drinnon Lake

Up Higher to Drinnon Pass

After crossing a bridge over the creek, the trail quickly ascends up to Drinnon Pass. The forest opens up to sub-alpine meadows, full of flowers and ground squirrels.

Looking back towards Drinnon Lake

You’ll pass a second campground on Drinnon Pass, and then the trail will begin to meander enticingly through a series of meadows and pools.


At the top of Drinnon Pass, you’ve climbed 430m up from the trailhead.

Higher Still to Gwillim Lakes

The trail descends on the other side of Drinnon Pass and dips down to an unnamed lake. As you begin to climb again, the rush of waterfalls can be heard in the distance.

Gwillim Lakes is behind a final ridge and climb up is taxing but so worthwhile! About half way up, you’ll be able to look to your right and see this:

Gwillim Lakes Drainage
Waterfall from Gwillim Lakes

As you get higher, the trail begins to edge along a massive rock face. It’s hard heavy marching, but the end is almost in sight:

Lucifer Peak, poking up above the trail

Paradise at Gwillim Lakes

When you finally get to the top, you’ll be amazed! The landscape is gorgeous! Pools of clear water, reflecting mountains and sky. Lakes and waterfalls. And all around, towering peaks!

Pools at Gwillim Lakes, with Black Prince Peak (left) and Lucifer Peak (right)

We stopped for lunch at Gwillim Lakes and cooled off by Gwillim Creek.

The campground at Gwillim was popular, but the sites were scattered around spaciously. We saw plenty of day hikers but also many backpackers along the trail.

Upper Lakes Basin is above waterfall, Lucifer Pass beyond

Our original plan was to carry on to explore the Upper Lakes Basin, but it had taken  2.5 hours to hike up and we were wary of the long drive back as well.

Beyond the Upper Lakes, you can scramble higher to Lucifer Pass and survey the north Valhalla ranges. We saw plenty of strong hikers marching up to do just this. Next time, we said. And next time we’ll camp at Gwillim, because it is too special a place to just linger over lunch.


Back Down to Reality

The return trip on a hike is usually pretty anti-climatic. But not at Gwillim – you get all of the spectacular views in reverse!



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[…] spent a magical weekend backpacking into Gwillim Lakes. This is truly my favourite West Kootenay hike and an overnighter was the only way to do it […]