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McKean Lakes

McKean Lakes is a worthwhile alpine destination, tucked away on the edge of Valhalla Provincial Park. The road is long, the trail is steep, but the lakes are cradled beneath impressive peaks.

Trailhead: Koch Creek FSR
Distance, round trip: 10.4km
Elevation: +671m
Season: mid-July to late September
Difficulty:  Difficult

Trailhead & Driving Directions

Koch Creek FSR is suitable for 2WD low clearance vehicles in 2023, just take it slow. It took us 2 hours from Nelson to reach the trailhead.

Starting from Playmor Junction, drive 15.4km north up Highway 6. Then turn onto Passmore Upper Road across from the power station. Reset your odometer.

  • Follow Passmore Upper Road as it turns into Little Slocan Road. Staying on the main road at all junctions.
  • At 13km, reach a signed triangle junction for Koch Creek FSR and turn left.
  • At 22km, stay straight on the main Koch Creek Road (but note that Grizzly Creek Rec Site is down on the left road if you’d like to car camp in the area).
  • Now stay straight on the main Koch Creek Road at all junctions. Ignore left junctions that descend into the valley and ignore rights ascending to clear cuts.
  • At 30km, cross a bridged creek and stay straight.
  • At 34km, reach a bolder and stay right on the main road. Continue straight on the main road as your pass more clearcuts.
  • 39km, cross a bridge.
  • 43km, cross a bridge over McKean Creek. There is plenty of parking just before the bridge. The trailhead is just 0.1km further on the road. You did it!
Trailhead off Koch Creek FSR

Gruelling Ascent

The McKean Lakes trails begins with a pleasant wander through mature cedar/hemlock forest, tracing remnants of an old road in places. Then the trail nears McKean Creek and begins a brutally steep ascent through the forest.

McKean Creek is a regular companion as you ascend, bordering the trail like a crazy slip-n-slide as it pours down the bedrock in braided waterfalls. After 2km from the trailhead, the trail levels out and offers an excellent break spot: log benches, flat ground, and the creek to refill water or cool down.

A view of McKean Creek just before the climb begins

Getting Higher

Another steep climb as the trail continues up through the forest. We can all appreciate how a few switchbacks would make a big difference here. Up up up! Ouch ouch ouch.

Finally at 3.4km, the trail levels out again to wind along a subalpine pond. Take a breather – just one more ascent to go!

The trail climbs again, edging a rockslide and gaining a final 130m of elevation and then finally – relief! The meadows around McKean Lakes! The trail will bring you to the smaller lake, so watch carefully as the trail continues to the right, crossing McKean Creek as it picks through the meadows to get to the bigger lake.

First look at McKean Lakes with Mount Woden beyond

McKean Lakes

At 4.6km, reach the bigger McKean Lake with a faint junction. Left will take you north to Valhalla Mountain Lodge, while right will bring you to a nice lunch spot with a view of Mount Woden towering above the lakes. Mount McKean is also nearby, tucked away to the South. Experienced hikers with an early start may chose to scramble higher to gain ridges and summits. Otherwise, the lakes offer peaceful exploration and a well-deserved rest.

View of Mount Woden

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6 months ago
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I did this hike last year absolutely beautiful. We continued the hike up the steep narrow avalanche shoot (to the right of McKeen lake) where we climbed up 2 peaks (no ropes needed). The views were incredible. I would go again worth every step.