Epic. That is the best word to describe the Macbeth Icefield trail. It’s incredibly epic, but also incredibly hard. The trail climbs through a valley of meadows and old growth forest to ascend past waterfalls to the massive wall of the Macbeth Icefield. It’s a long day with significant distance, elevation, and time, but a huge adventure for experienced hikers!
Trailhead: Glacier Creek FSR
Distance, round trip: 15.56km
Max elevation: 2269 m
Min elevation: 1124 m
Total climbing: 1311 m
Total descent: -1262 m
Trailhead & Driving Directions
From Kaslo head North on hwy 31N towards Lardeau/Duncan Lake. Turn right on Argenta Rd (35km from Kaslo), and set your odometer to 0. Cross a bridge and reach a junction at 2.3 km, proceed straight. At 12 km turn right (North-East) and ascend onto Glacier Creek FSR. At 22.5km reach a fork and turn left (east). The remaining 0.9km of road has a few low waterbars but was accessible for 2WD LC vehicles.
The trailhead has moved back due to deteriorating road conditions and the first 0.9km of hiking will be along the overgrown road to the older trailhead.
The caution sign warns that this is a challenging trail that takes 9 hours and should be attempted by experienced hikers.
Climbing up the overgrown road, you’ll reach the decrepit trailhead and then start switchbacking through the forest to reach rushing Birnam Creek. The trail edges high above the creek near some low waterfalls and then ascends higher through mossy forest at a heavy climb.
After 1.89km of hiking and +300m of elevation, a metal bridge crosses Birnam Creek and the trail finally levels out into pleasant meadowy hiking.
In early August, there were tons of huckleberry and blueberry bushes along the trail and we made lots of bear calls as we hiked through lush green vegetation. To the right, Birnam Creek winds milky-blue along the valley floor.
As you’re happily meandering along, look up! A distant ridge line with a ribbon of waterfall foreshadows the huge ascent that is yet to come – Macbeth Icefield is behind that ridge and it’s a loooong way up.
After hiking 4.33km from the trailhead, the meadows thicken into old growth forest and the trail crosses a smaller tributary creek. Take a quick breather here because the next part is steep and gnarly.
The trail steepens into a heavy slog up the forest floor. There is deadfall everywhere! You’ll be getting very intimate with those trees – ducking under, hopping over, straddling, hugging, avoiding snags and impalement. Combine the thick deadfall with the endless steep ascent and it’s an exhausting segment of trail.
There is a section with a rough staircase built into tree trunks as well as a spot where the deadfall is so bad and the trail so steep that a rope was put in place to help maneuver up and around. It feels like a proper adventure.
After about 1.3km of slogging (and a mighty 370m elevation gained!) the trail will finally level out to cross a creek. This is the last good water source before ascending to the hot rocks of the glacier’s moraine.
Greymalkin Lake and Waterfall
As you crest onto the low ridge line, the landscape changes dramatically. Smooth ribs of rock pour down in folds from the glacial moraine and a huge waterfall churns away in the distance. The trail will start to fade as it crosses the rocks so watch for cairns.
Below, Greymalkin Lake comes into view at the foot of the waterfall – brilliant blue!
MacBeth Icefield is hiding above the ridge, feeding the epic waterfall. Keep following the cairns and watch as they lead to the left (north-west) up the moraine (there is a sneaky cairn switchback in there). The trail becomes clear again once it ascends to lead you along the crest of the moraine in a smooth climb higher and higher.
The trail will fade again into cairns to lead you up the blocky rock of the final ridge to see Macbeth.
At last, after 7.4km and a solid 4 hours of hiking, we climbed over the final ridge to look down upon Macbeth. The icefield stretches out along red rock with a pure blue lake cradled beneath it’s flanks – it’s just an epic place to be!
We followed more cairns to descend the blocky ridge down to the lake. This allowed us to wander around the shore and get close to the glacier.
We wanted to explore further, but we’d reached our turnaround time and it was going to be a long hike down! There were a few groups that had backcountry camped at the Icefield for the long weekend, but there are no facilities and the tough trail would have been an ordeal with a big overnight pack – I wouldn’t recommend it!
We made good time descending, but it’s a long way: down the moraine, through the steep deadfall, across the meadows, and down the old road! We were out hiking for a solid 8 hours and 45 minutes and absolutely exhausted by the time we staggered back at Glacier Creek Regional Park to camp for another night.
Macbeth was an absolutely incredible hike that was full of adventure – I highly recommend to strong hikers! If you’re a beginner, check out Monica Meadows and Jumbo Pass which are more moderate (but still vastly rewarding) hikes in the same area.