A challenging wilderness trail across the Purcell mountain range. The Earl Grey Pass trail is a historic route featuring glaciers, waterfalls, cable cars, and massive old growth cedars. This epic trek is not for the faint of heart – with rough and hazardous terrain, you need to be a tough backpacker, ready for the kind of suffering that comes with a big adventure.
Trip Planning & Logistics
Most people backpack the Earl Grey Pass (EGP) trail over 3-5 nights. If you’re smart, you’ll time your trip to start just after a BC Parks trail crew clears the deadfall – check the Purcell Wilderness Conservancy Provincial Park page for trail updates.
The Earl Grey Pass Trail features significant hazards. Due to the number of log crossings and slippery footing, you should consider avoiding a rain forecast while hiking along the West Kootenay side.
The campsites along the EGP trail are very basic. You get a few flat tent sites, a water source, a fire pit, and hopefully a few log benches.
You need to secure your food at night with a bear-hang or bear-barrel. And you must practice leave-no-trace camping (including managing your toilet paper).
There are 5 cable cars on the West Kootenay side of the trail. Bring work gloves and a friend – it is recommended to have at least two people to operate the cable cars.
The trick to the EGP is that it’s a long way to drive end-to-end between the two trailheads (7 hours!). Here are some options to consider managing the logistics:
- Leave your vehicle at one end of the trail and get a friend to shuttle you to the other side. Hike back to your vehicle.
- Make arrangements with another hiking group to start at opposite ends of the trail and meet in the middle to swap car keys.
- Hike in and out from the East Kootenay, rather than doing the entire trail. This maximizes the alpine experience and avoids the looong hike down on the West Kootenay side.
Landmarks & Distances
|Landmark||From East Trailhead||From West Trailhead|
|Earl Grey Cabin||1.3km||69.1km|
|McKay Falls Campsite||8.6km||61.8km|
|Toby Falls Campsite||15.3km||55.1km|
|Earl Grey Pass||19.7km||50.7km|
|North Forks Campsite||26.4km||44.0km|
|Moose Meadows Campsite||31.8km||38.6km|
|Rock Creek Campsite||35.8km||34.6km|
|Cable Car #5||41.4km||29.0km|
|Cable Car #4||45.2km||25.2km|
|Boy Scout Campsite**||46.9km||23.5km|
|Girl Guide Campsite||47.3km||23.1km|
|Cable Car #3||48.6km||21.8km|
|Big Bar Campsite||52.0km||18.4km|
|Garnet Beach Campsite||58.3km||12.1km|
|Cable Car #2||63.6km||6.8km|
|Cable Car #1||67.2km||3.2km|
**washed out in 2019
Trailhead & Driving Directions
From Invermere, turn onto Panorama Road, following the many signs for Panorama Ski Resort. Pass the resort on the left after about 20km and continue onto Toby Creek Forest Service Road for another 19km, being cautious of logging trucks. Cross Jumbo Creek and then come to a junction where right goes up to the Jumbo Pass Trailhead and left to Earl Grey Pass. Look for a parking area immediately on the left with a trail map and toilet. You can park here and walk the road, or drive the remaining 1km to the trailhead. The road gets a little rougher, but it was passable in 2WD low clearance in 2019.
Drive north from Kaslo on Highway 31A and then turn right onto Argenta Road at the north end of Kootenay Lake. Cross the bridge over the Duncan River and shortly after reach an intersection signed for Argenta and Johnson’s Landing. Turn right and reset your odometer to 0km.
At 5.4km, reach a signed junction and take the sharp left up into Argenta. The road ascends and winds. Pass the Argenta community hall and post office, staying on the main road. At about 10.2km, reach a switchback in the road where left (straight ahead) leads to the final 1km of road to the West Trailhead. This last km is a little rougher, but passable in 2WD low clearance. The junction is signed!
The EGP is a historical route that was used over the centuries by First Nations people to cross the Purcell mountain range. Settlers began using the route during the mining boom and were soon riding horses and driving cattle along the trail. In 1909, the 4th Earl of Grey (and Canada’s Governor General) built a cabin near the East Trailhead. For more information on the trail’s history and recent upgrades, check out the Earl Grey Pass Trail Gets A Facelift.
We’re starting at the East Trailhead here! If you’re hiking West to East, read from the bottom up or check out the information in Where Locals Hike in the West Kootenay.
East Trailhead & Earl Grey Cabin
Leave the East Trailhead and begin ascending through mixed forest up the Toby Creek Valley. Within a kilometre, hike into a wide open avalanche path full of flowers and shimmering aspen trees. The twin spikes of the Pharaoh Peaks are prominent on the horizon ahead and will be a major landmark until you cross Earl Grey Pass. A signed junction will direct you to visit the Earl Grey Cabin on the right.
Continue hiking up Toby Creek Valley, crossing idyllic meadows and dipping into the forest. This section of the trail is relatively flat with a gradual elevation gain, you’ll keep meeting the oxbows of meandering Toby Creek, milky-grey with glacier silt.
You’ll cross Pharaoh Creek at 3.3km. This creek features the first log crossing, but it is also shallow and wide enough to walk across in late summer (ankle-deep).
At 7.6km, reach the Teepee Campsite along Toby Creek. Hiking one more kilometre down the trail will lead you to the McKay Falls Campsite which doesn’t have quite as much room or any comfortable sitting logs.
Past Toby Falls and up to the Pass
After McKay Falls, the trail enters the forest and begins to a climb at a faster rate. You’ll come to an old hitching-post fence in the forest floor and shortly after a junction, signed for Earl Grey Pass – go right.
The trail now switches back and forth between avalanche path and forest. The avalanche paths are heavy with wet brush and head-high stinging nettle. The forest can be snagged with overlapping deadfall. Each new segment of a terrain is a relief from the last segment. And the climb continues!
Look up across the valley for a good view of Toby Creek Falls and the distant Toby Glacier. The trail will ascend above the falls, contouring high on the slope to the right.
Around 14.5km, the trail crosses an avalanche path with a wide view of the Toby Creek Valley. The Pharaoh Peaks are now far behind! Reach a scenic campsite here on the meadow, though continuing up the trail will lead to the official Toby Falls Campsite in the woods at 15.3km.
The trail now ascends at a steep grade, breaking into switchbacks as it climbs through the forest. Watch for the headwall of Toby Creek on the left – soon you’ll be above it with the glacier moraine coming into view!
Keep switchbacking up! About 10 minutes below the pass, the trail crosses a creeklet. Fill up on water if you’re planning on camping at the pass – you’ll find none there!
Earl Grey Pass & Slate Peak
At last, the trail crests onto Earl Grey Pass at 19.7km from the East Trailhead. If you’re planning on camping or summiting Slate Peak, turn right (North) and follow a faint trail. Within a minute, you’ll reach some level campsites and a fire pit.
Slate Peak is 1.6km and about +420m elevation from the top of the pass. Even if you don’t have time to do the entire thing, it’s worth taking a short scramble up the ridge to get the big views of the glacial-wonderland that surrounds you! This is the real climatic point of the trip – don’t miss out!
A boot-beaten path will ascend the green chute below the ridge – follow it, and then watch for cairns as the route climbs onto the rocks and becomes a scramble. These rocks are very slippery when wet.
Look back to see a panorama of peaks, waterfalls, and glaciers! South of the pass, the massive summit of Mt. Toby towers into the sky at 3200m. To the left, see the mass of Toby Glacier now far below with the creek rippling down the moraine. To the right, look for the the blue-grey folders of the gigantic Hamill Glacier, with the start of Hamill Creek roaring down in a huge waterfall.
Down to North Forks
Leaving Earl Grey Pass, the trail descends at a steeper and steeper grade. You’ll catch glimpses of Mount Hamill and Mount Lady Grey through the trees, both dripping waterfalls down the valley.
It’s a 800m decent to the bottom of the valley. The trail is narrow in sections with slippery huckleberry bush roots angling down to trip you. As you get deeper into the forest, the trail will ‘end’ unexpectedly at massive fallen logs – look for steps and arrows carved into the logs! It’s a sign that you’re to use the log as a balance beam and pick up the trail on the far end!
Now the forest is getting denser with tall hemlock trees all around. As the trail reaches the valley floor, cross a pebbly creek and carefully look for the route again upstream. Then a few minutes later, reach a much bigger tributary creek. It has a choice of nail-biter log crossings. Select the safest and take your time. On the other side, at 26.4km, find the North Forks campsite.
North Forks to Moose Meadows
Leaving North Forks, cross another creek on a sketchy log crossing. Then the trail will weave between forests (full of prickly Devil’s Club) and avalanche paths (stinging nettle joys). Despite the log crossings on tributary creeks, you’ll never walk across dangerous Hamill Creek unless on a cable car, so breathe easy – the trail was re-reroute in recent years to stay on the north side of the valley.
Cross a series of rock-slides, watching for cairns on these sections. Then continue along, looking down at the marshy-wetlands at the bottom of the Hamill Creek Valley.
At 31.8km, reach Moose Meadows with a campground beside Hamill Creek. Watch carefully for the trail again here – it was re-routed and can be hard to follow. Walking across the ‘meadows’ is really more like squelching through a swamp with head-high brush and slippery roots. Call out for bears! Call out for moose! Hope for the best!
Moose Meadows to Boy Scout Camp
You might not expect any views on the valley floor, but crossing the avalanche paths continuously opens up the scenery to show the peaks high above!
At 35.8m, the trail crosses Rock Creek on a log and comes to the Rock Creek Campground, a scenic spot with a good sitting area beside the creek.
Continuing on, the trail starts to enter forests with bigger and bigger cedars! Cross more giant logs on the valley floor, climbing over, under, and balancing along!
Reach Cable Car #5 at 41.4km and pull out your work gloves. It might be wise to send one person across and do a separate load with just backpacks secured to manage the weight. The cars get harder to pull at the far end when they need to ascend the small rise up the other side of the creek.
It’s a longer walk than expected until Cable Car #4 and you’ll meet a nasty tributary creek with dicey log-crossing options (steep drops, narrow logs, and high consequences). Choose wisely and consider carefully fording if you’re not feeling sure.
Cable Car #4 is at 45.2km. At last! It’s a longer cable, but there are campgrounds not far beyond.
Boy Scout Camp to Big Bar
Reach Boy Scout Campsite at 46.9km and just a few minutes beyond, Girl Guide Campground at 47.3km. In 2019, a recent flood had washed out the Boy Scout Campsite and left several inches of fresh mud all along the trail – it may not be available as a campground in future years.
Find Cable Car #3 at 48.6km. Continue through old growth forest, marvelling at the size of these ancient cedars! You’ll soon encounter ‘Crazy Creek’ which has been split into two channels with another series of log crossings. You’re getting closer to the West Trailhead now and trail quality starts to improve. More deadfall has been cut, the trail is easier to follow, and the log-crossings often include ‘safety features’ like metal mesh to help with traction.
Reach the Big Bar Campground at 52.0km on the south side of Hamill Creek.
Big Bar to Garnet Beach
The trail continues along the forest floor, surrounded by moss, mushrooms, and Devil’s Club. As you come out to another avalanche path beneath Comb Mountain, you’ll find an unreasonably steep ascent to cross a massive old washout. This is one of the last sections where the trail gets overgrown and is hard to see in places. Watch for flagging as the trail crossed back into the thick brush and heads for the forest.
Garnet Beach is at 58.3km, down another long stretch of forest. It’s a short, but wickedly steep descent to the campsite!
Garnet Beach to the Compressor Site
The forest getting smaller and smaller as you descend! The big cedars are now gone, and the forest is intermixed with aspen. Hamill Creek valley turns into a canyon as you come to Cable Car #2 at 63.6km.
On the other side of the cable car, find the historic McLaughlin cabin. You’re now within 1.5 hours of the West Trailhead and you may run into day hikers here. The trail continues along the side of the canyon, washed out and sketchy in a few places with a slippery slope down to churning Hamill Creek.
Reach the old compressor site at 65.5km which serviced the galena mines high above on Lavina Ridge. An interpretive sign nearby talks about the mining history in the area – can you imagine hauling that equipment all the way up this valley?
The climb to the West Trailhead
Reach Cable Car #1 at 67.2km – it is the biggest and heaviest and fanciest of them all.
Say goodbye to Hamill Creek after 40 long kilometres! The trail ascends out of the valley, dips down to Clint Creek (on a proper bridge – what a concept!), and then there is a final ‘kick in the face’ for tired West-Bounders… a steep 200m+ climb out of the valley and across an old fire burn. It is hot, heavy stepping!
Finally, the trail dips back into the forest and reaches the West Trailhead at 70.4km!