Lyle Lakes & Mount Brennan
Cradled beneath Mount Brennan’s flanks are three subalpine lakes, glowing mineral-blue and suspended between braided waterfalls. The Lyle Lakes are a beautiful destination! And the trail beyond to Mount Brennan’s 2900m summit offers a challenging hike with staggering views.
Trailhead: Rossiter Creek FSR
Distance, Round Trip: 10km (Lyle Lakes), 17km (Mt Brennan)
Elevation: +710m (Lyle Lakes), +1574m (Mt Brennan)
The new trailhead is located 7km up Rossiter Creek FSR. All of the junctions are marked and the road is in good condition, passable with a 2WD low clearance vehicle.
Why the new trailhead? The old one is tucked away behind kilometres of deteriorating FSR. And the first part of this hike is aimed at the original trailhead. Ah, if only…
We had no idea what the “Mountain Wave” festival was, but it had co-opted the trailhead with many other vehicles. Regardless, there were no other hikers on the trail all day!
Hike to the Old Trailhead
The trail crosses a ditch then ascends to meet another FSR, with a sign directing you left and downhill. After a few minutes of walking down, you cross Lyle Creek and see a mysterious ladder leading off into the dark forest. Is it for you?
Yes, take the ladder! This junction is unsigned, but this is indeed the trail. You’ll start to see blue/orange flagging tape along the route. Keep following it.
After about 15 minutes, the trail ascends to another, older FSR. This junction is marked with a sign, but this time pointing you upwards and to the right. As you proceed, the road becomes rougher and narrower, crowded by overgrown alder bushes.
The original trailhead is at the end of this road, beneath a waterfall descending from Lyle Lakes. We reached this point after 40 minutes of hiking.
Long Hard Climb
From the original trailhead, it is indeed a long, hard climb to Lyle Lakes. The trail switchbacks thoughtfully, but you will need to ascend 530m to get up to the basin.
As you climb, glimpses of Texas and Reco Peaks can be seen across the valley. But mostly you’re stuck on a hot south-facing slope, switchbacking through eternity with distant sounds of the waterfall.
Finally, the trail levels out after almost 3km of switchbacks. You’re almost there!
The Lyle Lakes are absolutely stunning. Pale turquoise with glacier flour, the lakes spill into each other in a series of milky rivers and waterfalls.
We reached the lakes after 2 hours of hiking and it was very tempting to stop here, but even if you don’t plan to summit Brennan, it is worth hiking a little further up the trail. Aerial views of the spiralling Lyle Lakes, panoramas of distant Kootenay Lake mountains, and an exploration of old mining sites – all can be yours if you walk onwards and upwards!
The trail ascends to the left of the lakes, traversing a small rockslide before wrapping up an open ravine.
As you pass a creeklet draining into the lakes, you’ll be able to look up and see the red-brown piles of mining tailings. The trail switchbacks up the slope, past the remains of a wooden structure, to walk you across a string of old mines. Looking back, distant Mount Loki shadows Kootenay Lake and the Lyle Lakes are now far below.
Higher to Brennan
As you leave behind the subalpine vegetation, the trail disappears into scree slopes dotted with cairns.
Mount Brennan is a titan at 2900m, but the hike to the summit is mostly gentle. Sure, there are some sections that cross loose talus. And sure, there’s one part that get a little steep. But mostly, it’s just a long uphill hike on endless rocks.
We kept thinking we were almost there, only to ascend a new ridge and see another hump of mountain in the distance. This went on and on until we hit our ‘turnaround time’ and finally saw the summit – still high and distant!
Almost the Summit
Yes, after 5 hours of hiking and very short breaks, we still hadn’t reached the summit. It was turning to a hot, grumpy slog on the rocks so we called it a day and had our lunch. In the end, we stopped 0.7km before the summit, only 120m elevation to go!
From our lofty ridge, we could see 3/4 of the panorama views – so good enough! Looking east, we spotted at least four massive plumes of wildfire smoke. Looking west, we spotted the Whitewater Canyon Trail far below.
Heading back down
The hike back was incredibly scenic. I’d hoped that by cutting out Mt Brennan’s summit, we’d save ourselves some time to lounge around Lyle Lakes. Not the case! It took almost as much time to go down as it did to go up. We were out for a solid 9 hour day.