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.

Summer 2020 – Gwillim Lakes is experiencing overcrowding at backcountry campsites. If you’re flexible with your travel plans, consider day hiking rather than backpacking, visiting during the week, or exploring another trail. Remember, dogs are not allowed in this area of Valhalla Provincial Park.

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

Download file: gwillim.gpx

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 2.4km 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.

  • Note: there are plans in summer 2020 to move the trailhead back so that the rough road is blocked off and the remaining 2.4km will need to be hiked. This would add 4.8km round-trip to the route and increase hiking time into the park. Stay tuned!

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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 […]

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[…] It has been reported that the Gwillim Lakes trailhead will be moved back sometime in summer 2020, with the final 2.4km blocked off and a designated parking area created at the bottom of the hill. This would increase the hiking distance from trailhead to Gwillim Lakes but would avoid driving the roughest section of roadThe final 2.4km of the Hoder Creek FSR is very rough, with huge rocks and craters. It’s pretty narrow too – our van was scraped quite a lot by branches […]

Russ Heggie
Russ Heggie
3 months ago
Trail Rating :
     

Great trail with snow 1/2 way up today. No wildlife to report which was good as we took our 10&8 year olds up. 3hrs up & 2hrs down. Road up is in good condition short of 1 washout at 32km mark that has been patched but last 2km is a rough and an auto detailers dream!

Trip Date
2020-07-06
Trail Conditions
Fair
Access Road Conditions
Good
Access Road Vehicle
4WD Low Clearance
Anjali Sihlis
Anjali Sihlis
2 months ago

I’m considering using my mountain bike for the last 2.4km of road approach and then locking it up at the trail head. Could this be a better option than trying to drive it with low clearance 4×4?

Abby Wilson
Admin
2 months ago
Reply to  Anjali Sihlis

The last few kms of road are really lumpy and washed out. In previous years, I’ve seen low-clearance 4WD vehicles at the trailhead, but it’s a risk for your vehicle. It would be better to hike or bike the last 2.4 km if you have low clearance. Rumour is that the official trailhead will be moving out so that the final 2.4km goes from road to trail in the future.

Chevell
Chevell
2 months ago
Trail Rating :
     

I came out of there yesterday and there were two big sink holes on the final 2.4 km of road before the trailhead that are nearly impassable. I would not drive up the final 2.4 km. Park at the bottom for your own safety. Apart from that,it is a beautiful Valley. Well worth the effort.

Trip Date
2020-08-07
Trail Conditions
Good
Access Road Conditions
Poor. Final 2.4 km
Access Road Vehicle
4WD High Clearance
Last edited 2 months ago by Chevell
Alana
Alana
6 days ago

I am extremely curious as how to reserve a site at Upper Gwillim Lakes… Unable to find much information. Thanks!

Abby Wilson
Admin
5 days ago
Reply to  Alana

The sites are first-come-first-served so no reservations require. From the BC Parks website: “Wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed; however, no services are provided at the marine sites. The campsites are open year-round when accessible and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. There are facilities at Gwillim, Wicca, Drinnon, Emerald and Cahill Lakes.”

Alana
Alana
4 days ago
Reply to  Abby Wilson

Thank you!! Wasn’t 100% sure. 🙂

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