An incredibly scenic hike just outside Castlegar! It’s hard work stomping up that trail, but the panoramic views overlooking the Columbia River Valley are well worth it.

Trailhead: McPhee Forest Service Road
Distance, round trip: 6.5km
Elevation: +350m
Difficulty:  Moderate


The drive up from Oostichenia on McPhee FSR is with a 2WD. However, the final 100m of access road to the trailhead could be tricky for low clearance vehicles. Driving directions can be found at Castlegar Parks and Trails Society.

The trailhead is thoughtfully equipped with a map and toilets, and it’s quick to see just where you’ll be headed:

Trailhead with Brilliant Overlook above

The Ascent

The trail starts by passing the Brilliant Substation and following the Skattebo Reach Trail. This is flat, easy walking through open forest and field. At 1km, you’ll reach a junction and go right, beginning the long climb up.

At first, it’s not too hard. A forested path, winding up through patches of meadows. And you can look back and start enjoying the view almost immediately:

Yellow Glacier Lily along the trail

But not far from the junction, the trail gets hard! The climb really starts to steepen. Railings and chains have been helpfully placed at difficult stretches, but this is not a beginner’s hike. As the trail climbs higher, it crosses an old rockslide which is tricky stepping.

But be heartened: this half klick after the junction is the hardest part of the trail!

After passing the rockslide, the trail evens out to a steadier pitch, but don’t stop and catch your breath yet: a sign will warn you that you’re now passing under cliffs high above and it is best to keep moving in case of falling rock.

After 2km from the parking lot, the trail comes to a scenic lookout over McPhee canyon and you’ll be able to look up Kootenay River to glimpse Tarrys and Thrums through the trees. Here are some photos from along the trail:

The Overlook

Panorama at Brilliant Overlook

As climatic viewpoints go, this one is pretty brilliant. Har har.

Here are some of the things you can see from the top:

  • The City of Castlegar, as well as surrounding Oostichenia and Robson.
  • Red Mountain Ski Resort, in the very far distance
  • The Kootenay River flowing into the Columbia River
  • The Brilliant Generating Station below and the Hugh Keenleyside Dam beyond
  • Your car, hopefully still parked at the trailhead down there.
  • And circling birds: crows, ravens, even a bald eagle!

The Descent

Heading back down involves some careful stepping. Just take your time and enjoy the views! We were back at the trailhead within 3 hours, including a long sunny lunch break at the top.

Through fields of lilies, back down the trail


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[…] wasn’t my favourite shoulder-season viewpoint hike – I’d much sooner go back to Brilliant Overlook or even the Smallwood Bigwood Trails – but this was something new and it’s always worth […]