Saddle Mountain Lookout

A gorgeous hike that ascends through forest and wildflower meadows to reach a historic fire tower. The Saddle Mountain Lookout is perched panoramically high above Nakusp and Arrow Lakes!

Summary
Trailhead: Lookout Road
Distance, round trip: 10.7km
Elevation: +824m
Difficulty: Moderate
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Trailhead & Driving Directions

Drive about 20km south from Nakusp on Highway 6 and turn right at the signed Arrow Park Ferry. Drive aboard the ferry and reset your odometer. Note that that the ferry shuts down from 12:15-2:15pm daily and the last sailing is at 9:20pm.

On the other side of the ferry, turn right onto gravel Saddle Mountain Road at the signed junction. Drive 9km along Saddle Mountain Road, parallel to the lakeshore. You’ll reach a signed turn-off on the left for Saddle Mountain Lookout Road – take it and start switchbacking up the mountain for the remaining 8km to the trailhead. This road was in great condition and suitable for 2WD low clearance vehicles in 2019.

Saddle Mountain Trailhead

The parking lot is where the road widens. Look for the trailhead and leave lots of room for other vehicles. To find the trail, follow the road for a few paces and watch for the signed trail starting on the uphill side.

The trailhead sign suggests you plan for 3 hours up, 2 hours down. And that was spot on for our hiking pace!

Safety
Exposure – there is exposure along the upper portion this trail with steep drops and narrow footing.
Start of the trail

Up through the forest

The trail starts off at a steep ascent through mature cedar forest, full of lush undergrowth and moss.

Looking up at cedars

Pretty soon the big trees give way to sub-alpine forest full of huckleberries. The trail switchbacks at a reasonable grade and continues to ascend. Look back through the semi-open forest for glimpses of Arrow Lake growing more distant below.

Trail ascending up bedrock

Reach a rest bench at 2.4km and then continue on to 3.4km to reach the remains of an old hunting cabin. Look up at the cabin to get a good view of Saddle Mountain’s summit – still high above!

Old hunting cabin with rusted metal cookware

Alpine Meadows

Now it’s getting exciting! The trail begins switching out of the forest into the alpine meadows of avalanche paths. In early August, these meadows were abloom with a kaleidoscope of wildflowers: purple aster, yellow arnica, white heliotrope, red paintbrush, blue delphinium, and green-white anemones.

In addition to the wildflowers, you’ll now be treated to wide views of Arrow Lake below as well as the distant Valhallas and Goat Range Provincial Park. Looking up the avalanches paths will show you just how close you’re getting to Saddle Mountain’s summit.

Looking up – the fire tower is now visible on top

Rocky Sections

The trail will weave up some shorter switchbacks and then approach Saddle Mountain from the north-east.

Almost there!

The trail crosses a rockslide beneath the summit, so watch for cairns and step carefully. Then you’ll hike below the cliffs on a narrow path to come up at the ‘saddle’ between the two peaks. There is some exposure here.

The last little section of trail to the summit is slightly scrambly with exposure. Take your time and step up to the top!

The Lookout

You can go inside the fire lookout to sign a log book and read about the history of the area. There are also interpretive signs labelling all of the peaks on the surrounding panorama. Excellent!

This is a fairly popular hike, so expect to have some company at the summit. It’s a gorgeous spot for lunch, and shade can be found around the fire tower.

Heading back

Retrace the trail to head back down, enjoying the wildflower meadows all over again!

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[…] views at the summit! You’ll look down over Nakusp and Arrow Lake, with the distant nub of the Saddle Mountain Lookout across the […]

Margo Saunders
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Margo Saunders

And the lookout operators carved their names in the rock at the top for posterity. Such an amazing place, even though some may be a little leery of the narrow trail almost at the top. Trust your friends to hold your hand; it’s worth it!