If you like steep trails, then you’ll love Mount Kuskanax! The southern trail ascends at a wicked grade before levelling out along the long ridge-line approach to the summit.
Max elevation: 2134 m
Min elevation: 1222 m
Total climbing: 972 m
Total descent: -75 m
Trailhead & Driving Directions
From Nakusp, drive north on Highway 23 and then turn right onto Nakusp Hotspring Road. Follow the Hotspring Road for just 3.6km and watch for a signed gravel road on the left “Kuskanax Mountain Trail”.
Switchback up this road for 4.6km until you reach the trailhead. You’ll pass “Vicky’s View” at 1.5km which is a scenic stop with a bench overlooking the valley. Kuskanax Mountain Road is steep and a bit rough on the switchbacks, so 4WD is recommended.
There is a logbook at the trailhead and many hikers have recorded their times. Ignore the trail-runners who tagged the summit and got back in under 3 hours… most hikers will take at least 6 hours for this steep trail.
Up the Steep Forest
The trail starts off steep up the overgrown road, and then reaches a signed junction on the left and leaves the old road. Keep following the trail as it switchbacks steep through sub-alpine forest with lots of berry bushes and little shade. Getting the picture? Steep!
This trail climbs the south-facing flanks of Kuskanax and it can be uncomfortably hot and dry in the summer. Be prepared with lots of water and sun protection!
You’ll be able to look back through the trees to glimpse Nakusp far below.
It’s a brutally steep ascent! A huge amount of this trail’s elevation is done in the first 2km. Luckily there are 2 signed viewpoints over bluffs at 1.3km and 1.7km – great spots to catch your breath.
Between Viewpoint’s #1 and #2, the trail is set into loose ash from an old fire and the footing is steep and slippery.
Finally, the steep grade relaxes as you crest over to the top of the ridgeline. That is the good news. The bad news is that you’ll see Mount Kuskanax’s summit through the trees and it’s still a long way away!
The trail dips and weaves along the ridgeline, slowly gaining elevation again. You’ll pass the burnt-out area of a recent forest fire, and then reach a cliff where the ridgeline breaks and the trail veers off to the right – a steep descent and another really steep ascent back up again!
Reach another high-point on the ridge with the true summit still higher. Is this the longest and slowest 5km you’ve ever hiked??
Finally, the trail crests up onto the summit with a final smattering of alpine meadow as the tree-line starts to fade back.
Mt Kuskanax Summit
Enjoy the views at the summit! You’ll look down over Nakusp and Arrow Lake, with the distant nub of the Saddle Mountain Lookout across the valley.
There is an alternate north trail up Mt Kuskanax from Turner Road, so you may encounter hikers who came up ‘the easy way’. If you can arrange a vehicle drop or shuttle, it is possible to hike Kuskanax up one side and down the other!
Otherwise, turn around and head back home!