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Whitewater Canyon

Local wisdom has it that Whitewater Canyon is the prime location for grizzly bear viewing across the valley slopes. We saw no bears. Regardless, Whitewater is a wonderful and challenging hike that brings you along the canyon edge to a high alpine pass surrounded by peaks and tarns.

Trailhead: Whitewater Creek FSR
Distance, round trip: 12.8km to Whitewater Pass, 14.4km to Whitewater Tarn
Elevation: +670m to Whitewater Pass, +820m to Whitewater Tarn
Season: mid-July to late September
Difficulty:  Difficult


2023 – the new recommended access road is up Murray Creek FSR near Fish Lake Rest Area on Highway 31A. From Fish Lake Rest Area, drive 0.6km and turn left onto Murray Creek FSR. Reset your odometer. At 3km, the old Whitewater FSR meets Murray Creek FSR, turn left and ascend on the shared road. At 3.2km fork right on Whitewater FSR and follow it up to the trailhead around 4.5km.

Whitewater Canyon Trailhead

Because this is prime grizzly habitat, it is recommended to hike with a larger group and make lots of noise along the trail.

From the Forest to the Canyon

The first 2km of trail winds steadily up through the forest at a manageable elevation gain. It’s neither difficult nor interesting, and it goes by quickly as the forest falls behind at the mouth of the canyon.

The trail skirts the left side of the canyon, edging beneath cliffs and over rock slides. Looking across the canyon, you can see distant waterfalls ribboning down the green slopes. You can also see the faint line of the old trail which was closed due to grizzly encounters. And maybe, if you’re lucky (?), you can spot distant grizzlies wandering and munching the far slopes.

Looking ahead up Whitewater Canyon
Waterfalls across Whitewater Canyon

After about 4.5km, the trail passes the remains of an old campsite and crosses a small creek. Take a pause because the trail now becomes more challenging, with boulders, steeper grades, and route-finding.

Looking back, after passing the campsite. Mt Loki is in the far distance

Eastern Island Rock and Boulder Fields

Looking ahead from the campsite, there is a distinctive black rock jutting above the rockslides. Where Locals Hike names this “Easter Island Rock” and it’s a great landmark!

Easter Island Rock above the boulders

After crossing the first boulder field and ending up below Easter Island Rock, the trail temporarily vanishes along the slope. If you pay attention, there are two faint routes to follow and this is an important choice:

  • The bad way – straight ahead, below Easter Island Rock! This takes you across a massive boulder field, marked with misleading cairns. It’s slow going, requiring feet, hands, and problem-solving. We accidentally took this route on the way up.
  • The good way – go right, cross the creek, and ascend the steep slope up above Easter Island Rock! Look for a stack of rocks marked with orange flagging tape at this junction to the creek. This is the best way and re-connects again with the main trail, minimizing the amount of boulder scrambling. We took this route on the way down.
The bad way – avoid the boulder field and save the energy!

Whitewater Pass

After leaving the boulder fields, the trail resumes in full-force. It’s now a sharper climb as it ascends to the high-point at Whitewater Pass.

At the top of the pass, you can look north down to Cooper Creek Valley or back, SE down Whitewater Canyon to distant Mt Loki. The pass is littered with artifacts from the mining days – a prominent metal pipeline spans the area, but we also found the remains of buckets and other mysterious objects.

Metal objects from the mining days

Upon reaching Whitewater Pass, you’ve hiked 6.4km and done a commendable 670m of elevation gain.

Panorama at Whitewater Pass

Whitewater Tarn

We went onwards to find Whitewater Tarn behind the glacial moraines pouring down from Whitewater Mountain. This last part of the hike was pure route-finding and involved a bit of a scramble up talus slopes.

Ascending to Whitewater Tarn

The moraine rocks contained lots of green serpentine, shining in fragments and boulders along the route.

It was a hot day and we were excited for a swim at Whitewater Tarn, but upon climbing the final ridge, we found the tarn laced with ice and breathtakingly cold.

Whitewater Mountain reflected in the tarn
Whitewater Tarn

Ambitious hikers have another option: Whitewater Col, a further 1.5km and +170m. We looked at it. It was high and far and covered in snow. Ahh, nope!

It had taken us 3:20 to hike from the trailhead to the tarn and we’d had enough! After a nice long lunch break, we headed back down the trail.

Heading back down the trail

Download GPS file – Whitewater Canyon



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[…] east, we spotted at least four massive plumes of wildfire smoke. Looking west, we spotted the Whitewater Canyon Trail far […]


[…] east, we spotted at least four massive plumes of wildfire smoke. Looking west, we spotted the Whitewater Canyon Trail far […]

Gabriela Menyhart
Gabriela Menyhart
4 years ago

I’m thinking about doing some hiking-camping up in that region. I see it was readily done as a day trip but would you consider this somewhere worth spending the night? I know there is a campsite but I’m wondering if heading up closer to the tarn would be more idealic (with the intent of leave no trace). I also see it is prime grizzly territory so I know that is something to consider.

Abby Wilson
4 years ago

Hi Gabriela, Whitewater Canyon is a prime grizzly bear spot so I’m not sure if I would recommend backcountry camping up there. Nearby Lyle Lakes is a more popular spot to camp as there are nice locations along the lakes with the option to summit Mt Brennan in the morning.

1 year ago

Just hiked this trail yesterday, started at 9:45am. Road in is rough, high-clearance recommended. Trail is pretty well marked until the boulder field, as written above. It is difficult to see where the trail veers right, beneath easter island rock. But do-able! We made it to Whitewater Col in ~3h20m (+1.5km +170m from the pass). It was worth it!! Gorgeous sunny day, beautiful views through the valley. Water was freezing and the breeze made it a little chilly. Didn’t see any wildlife except for birds and marmots. The views across the valley are very beautiful in every direction. Our casual… Read more »

Trip Date
Trail Conditions
Excellent well-marked trail, except for boulder field with many deceiving cairns.
Access Road Conditions
Access Road Vehicle
2WD High Clearance
Blaine Cook
Blaine Cook
7 months ago

From Facebook: Heads up for folks heading up to hike Whitewater Creek Trail in Retallack; the trailhead is now accessed via Murray Creek FSR instead of Whitewater FSR. The latter is super overgrown and you’d likely get more than just some friendly Kootenay pinstripes! Murray Creek FSR is closer to Fish Lake.

Abby Wilson
7 months ago
Reply to  Blaine Cook

Thanks for the update! Is Murray Creek signed for Whitewater now?