Gwillim Lakes/Drinnon Pass

Turquoise lakes, mirrored pools, and circles of peaks all around! The hike to Gwillim Lakes goes from ‘impressive’ to ‘fantastically incredible’ and doesn’t stop there! This is one of the region’s best hikes and a worthwhile backpacking destination for a weekend in alpine paradise.

Summary
Trailhead: Hodor Creek Road
Distance, round trip: 12km
Elevation: +894m
Difficulty:  Difficult

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Trailhead & Driving Directions

Prepare yourself for a long backcountry grind. The majority of the roads are in good condition, but 4WD and high clearance are recommended for the final few kms.

Starting from Playmor Junction, drive 15.4km north up Highway 6. Then turn onto Passmore Upper Road across from the power station. Resetting your odometer, follow Passmore Upper Road as it turns into Little Slocan Road for 25km. You’ll pass the turnoff for the Little Slocan Lakes campground. Then watch for signs for “Valhalla Provincial Park” and turn left onto Hodor Creek Road. Drive another 21km.

The last 3km of Hoder Creek are in rough shape with overgrown alder and large rocks and bumps to grind up. Ouch, bump, bump. Not recommended for a low clearance 2WD vehicle.

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Backpacking Paradise

The trail to Gwillim Lakes is strung between a series of backcountry campgrounds. While it’s possible to reach Gwillim Lakes within 2.5-3 hours, it is worthwhile to plan an overnight trip and really enjoy the area. As the trail ascends, the scenery at each campground intensifies.

Up to Drinnon Lake

The hike up to Drinnon Lake is a steady huff up through the forest and across two rock slides. You’ll cross over into Valhalla Provincial Park as you near the top of the ridge.

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Drinnon Lake is just over the top of the ridge and is a pretty spot. The first campground is here and spiky peaks can be viewed just over Drinnon Pass. Drinnon Lake is reached after about an hour of hiking.

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Scenery at Drinnon Lake

Drinnon Pass

After crossing a bridge over the creek, the trail quickly ascends up to Drinnon Pass. The forest opens up to sub-alpine meadows, full of flowers and ground squirrels.

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Looking back towards Drinnon Lake

You’ll pass the second campground named “Wicca” on Drinnon Pass, and then the trail will begin to meander enticingly through a series of meadows and pools.

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At the top of Drinnon Pass, you’ve climbed 430m up from the trailhead.

Wicca Peak on a smoky day

Higher Still to Gwillim Lakes

The trail descends on the other side of Drinnon Pass and dips down to an unnamed lake. As you begin to climb again, the rush of waterfalls can be heard in the distance.

Gwillim Lakes is behind a final ridge and climb up is taxing but so worthwhile! About half way up, you’ll be able to look to your right and see this:

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Gwillim Lakes Drainage
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Waterfall from Gwillim Lakes

As you get higher, the trail begins to edge along a massive rock face. It’s hard heavy marching, but the end is almost in sight.

Backpacking up the final ascent to Gwillim Lakes

Paradise at Gwillim Lakes

When you finally get to the top, you’ll be amazed! The landscape is gorgeous! Pools of clear water, reflecting mountains and sky. Lakes and waterfalls. And all around, towering peaks!

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Pools at Gwillim Lakes, with Black Prince Peak (left) and Lucifer Peak (right)

The final campground is at Gwillim Lakes and is the most popular of the three, but the sites are scattered around spaciously. There is a nice cooking area by the lake, as well as backcountry pit toilets and bear bins.

Moonrise over the Valhallas

If you’re day hiking, then Gwillim Lakes may be your final destination. However, if you are a quick hiker or spending a few days, there is more to explore.

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Upper Lakes Basin is above waterfall, Lucifer Pass beyond

Upper Gwillim Lakes

Beyond the Upper Lakes, you can scramble higher to Lucifer Pass and survey the north Valhalla ranges. To reach the upper lakes, pass through the campground heading north towards Lucifer Peak. Watch for the trail as it crosses Gwillim Creek and then continues up a grassy-ramp interspersed with boulders and cairns. Climb this ramp to ascend to the upper basin.

Beneath Lucifer Peak by the Upper Lakes

Strong hikers have the option to ascend through Lucifer Pass, crossing the boulder beneath Lucifer Peak and the Black Prince. Even stronger hikers who don’t mind some exposure can scramble up Lucifer Peak from its ridge to the east.

View from Upper Gwillim Lakes over lower lakes

Back Down to Reality

The return trip on a hike is usually pretty anti-climatic. But not at Gwillim – you get all of the spectacular views in reverse!

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[…] spent a magical weekend backpacking into Gwillim Lakes. This is truly my favourite West Kootenay hike and an overnighter was the only way to do it […]