The Carpenter Pass Trail offers a scenic loop to a high mountain pass, full of history and surrounded by epic views. It’s a worthwhile day hike, but even better if you can spend a few nights at Mount Carlyle Lodge to explore the alpine wonderland beyond the pass.
Distance, round trip: 14.2km
Season: mid-July to late September
Trailhead & Driving Directions
Drive to Sandon, but rather than crossing the bridge and turning right into town, reset your odometer and continue straight along the left side of Carpenter Creek. At 1.3km, cross Carpenter Creek. At 1.7km, fork left and stay on the main road. At 2.0km, go right where the road braids. Shortly after, start seeing old buildings from the ghost town of Cody. At 2.8km fork left and cross Carpenter Creek again (ignoring the 0 tons sign on the bridge). Take the right fork on the other side of the bridge (signed for Carlyle Lodge) and then stay on the main road all of the way up the valley. There are several small waterbars on the road, but it is passable with a careful and experienced 2WD low clearance vehicle. Reach the parking area at 7.1km.
Carpenter Pass can be hiked as a loop – with both a low road and and a high road edging up the valley and connected by a series of established trails. Most hikers prefer a steeper ascent and more gradual descent, so if that’s you too, then hike up the lower road and come back down the higher road.
Hiking up the Low Road
Leaving the cars, follow the “Carlyle Lodge” pointer signs. Pick up a single-track trail which ascends and weaves through a short stand of trees before coming out onto an overgrown road. Turn right and walk along the road.
Around 1.5km, as you pass beneath an avalanche path, make note of the flagged junction on the left. This is where the ‘high road’ will descend to finish the loop.
Continue along the low road as it curves along the valley bottom. The grade is gentle and the views stay open with Mount Cody ahead along the ridge line.
Higher to Carpenter Pass
At 3.5km, the road will fizzle out near the end of Carpenter Valley and the trail will start climbing at a steep ascent through the forested slope, gaining over 200m in the next kilometre. The stepping gets rockier as you ascend along an old rockslide.
Soon you’ll leave the fir trees and hike into the higher elevation of a larch forest, glowing with colour in the fall. The trail winds up an old rockslide with big views of the valley below.
At 4.8km, reach a flagged junction as the trail steps onto a grassy bench. This is where you can turn left to descend via the ‘high road’ and complete the loop. But go right to continue climbing higher to Carpenter Pass. Looking ahead, see Misty Peak on the right (West) side of the pass and Prospector Peak to the left (East) side.
Hike higher and steeper! At 5.3km, pass a crumbled log cabin and look up the slope to see an old trail ascending to tailing piles. This is the Con Mine which you can explore on the way down!
Keeping hiking up. The trail crosses a rockslide and then steepens considerably for the final push as it switchbacks over the top!
Over the Top
Crest over the pass and breathe a sigh of relief. The view beyond is stunning, looking South with the white masses of Kokanee Glacier in the distance among spiky peaks.
The top of the pass could be your final destination, or you could follow the trail down the other side for 0.4km further to visit Carlyle Lodge. If you’re feeling adventurous you can do the boulder-scramble up to Prospector Peak or Misty Peak on either side of the pass.
Staying at Carlyle Lodge?
If you’re staying at Carlyle Lodge, continue down the trail as it winds along through beautiful larch meadows. You’ll descend along a creeklet which will turn into the water source for the lodge.
Carlyle Lodge can be booked for summer use and it’s a cozy place to stay with running water, electricity, sauna, fully-equipped kitchen, and beautiful views off the front porch. There are a number of day hiking options from the lodge, including the route to Boulder Pass and the trail to the Motherlode Lakes.
The Con Mine
When you’re heading back through Carpenter Pass, stop at the shattered log cabin and follow the path up to the old Con Mine. The trail will end with a series of cairns leading across the rockslide to the mine shaft. Follow it. It’s just 5 minutes from the trail to the mine entrance.
Bring your headlamp if you want to venture in a little ways. The shaft goes back a longways before reaching a t-junction.
Back down the High Road
Hiking back down, at 1km below the pass, reach the junction and stay on the ‘high road’ by keeping right. This route follows the historic mining road and stops by Sweet Lake with new scenery.
The grade on this road is gentle. It soon leaves the alpine behind and descends through the forest. As you go, watch for old fur traps notched into the trees. The mining road became a trapper’s route in later years and you’ll pass the old trapper’s cabin along the way.
The trail will cross a first avalanche path and then continue in the forest. Then around 4km from the top of the pass, it’ll cross a second avalanche path and a well-established flagged trail will leave the old mining road behind and switchback steeply down the avalanche path. At the bottom, you’ll rejoin the ‘low road’ and be quickly on your way back to the trailhead!
Love this hike, we did it in the early summer this year. The old upper trail and trappers cabin are really neat to experience – stepping back in time! We encountered 2 grizz in one of the lower avy paths on the west side not far from the trailhead on our way out. Luckily they were fairly far away, but they weren’t afraid and stood their ground and one jumped up onto a fallen tree to get a look as we yelled and hiked past. Maybe one of the same ones that became very bold up near Idaho Pk later.
[…] finally get to Woodbury and Silverspray cabins, and hope to do the traverse in 2020. Checking out Carlyle Lodge during peak-larch season was also a highlight and I hope to explore more of that area next summer […]
i did this hike july 17/2020. didnt expect so much snow! between the rock slides and snow it was definitely a difficult hike. but wow those views at the top. amazing!!! we kept losing the trail on the way down, there was still so much snow on the high road. but we could see the lake in the distance and made our way towards that. fabulous hike.
I’m a little confused. Can I hike Mount Carlyle and its different passes/trails, without having to stay at the Lodge??
Yes, the trails are on public land so you can absolutely hike the area without staying at the lodge.
We gave this trip 5/5 during larch season! Great location for being part of a longer day trip, amazing payoff for the effort. It even has a small lake! Beautiful views both ways. The high road was more scenic in our opinions. No bears but lots of pikas and a marmot. Definitely going back to check out more of the area – worth it to get to the pass! Huge thanks as always for amazing directions and intel! A note – there are two bridges quite close together you need to cross (there is a new road that branches off… Read more »
Is it possible to wilderness camp anywhere on this or the adjoining trails? I’ve been searching but can’t find any answers.
Yes, it’s possible to wilderness camp anywhere on crown land. Best practices are to leave no trace and select camp areas that will have minimum impact on the meadows. This trail does go up to Carlyle Lodge which has summer operations and also manages a few backcountry campsites for the Sourdough Traverse. It might be worth reaching out to them for more information.
Great directions and especially appreciate the gpx track! Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing that.
Our 2WD low clearance car survived 59 water bars.
The hike was stupendous with great fall colors