Imagine a backcountry hiking trip with the comforts of a cushy air mattress, your own pillow, real food (not the dehydrated stuff), and maybe even a bottle of wine or two. Look no further than B.C.’s Cathedral Provincial Park, the Shangri-La of basecamp day hiking.
Located in B.C.’s North Cascades, the wilderness park boasts shimmering turquoise lakes, alpine meadows, jagged peaks, and stunning ridges. Its core hiking area is 16 km from a parking lot beyond which there is no private vehicle access. It’s all up hill too. So, how do you schlepp all your gear and those heavy bottles of wine?
You can backpack 6-8 hours up a steep and not particularly scenic access trail; or, you can select the 45 minute pain-free option. Cathedral Lakes Lodge, a small private lodge in the park’s core, maintains a 4WD road to transport its guests up the mountain. For a fee, campers can use this service too. Though pricey at $100/pp return, you won’t regret saving your energy for the alpine. Check with the lodge for the current schedule and to make mandatory advance reservations.
Camping at Cathedral Provincial Park
The park has 3 campgrounds in its core area. Most popular is pretty Quiniscoe Lake campground, a mere 5-minute walk from the lodge. The 30 spacious sites are nestled along the lake shore. Facilities include framed earth tent pads, pit toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, and food caches. The ranger station is conveniently located at the edge of the campground.
For a slightly more remote feeling, but only an additional 15-20 minute walk, try Lake of the Woods (28 sites) and Pyramid (12 sites). These campgrounds have no picnic tables and fire rings, but the views and the almost guaranteed quiet are very appealing.
Hiking at Cathedral Provincial Park
An amazing network of trails radiates from the park’s campgrounds. There is something for everyone; from short, relatively flat walks around alpine lakes to challenging routes over rough terrain. Try to plan three full days to experience the park’s diverse terrain. Here are a few hikes I enjoyed on a long weekend getaway with the ladies. Distances are return from Quiniscoe campground.
Stone City and the Giant Cleft: 12 km, 500 m elevation change
This challenging hike provides breathtaking views of the park’s lakes and the Coast and Cascade mountain ranges. The cathedral rim scenery is otherworldly, particularly at Stone City where huge quartz boulders are randomly deposited across bleak terrain. Scramble to the Giant Cleft, a massive breach in the rim. The descent via Ladyslipper Lake is long and steep but offers superb vistas.
Red Mountain/Quiniscoe Mountain via Diamond Trail: 12 km, 500 m elevation change
The Diamond trail traverses gorgeous meadows of wildflowers as it gently winds its way around Scout Mountain. Admire the rolling hills of the Okanagan from the summit of Red Mountain, and feel your jaw drop at the sweeping panorama of the Cathedral Park lakes atop Quiniscoe Mountain. It’s a long hike, but not as taxing as Stone City/Giant Cleft.
Goat Lake: 8 km, 150 m elevation change
This is a great hike if the sky is overcast or it’s too windy to go to the rim. Meandering Lakeview Creek gurgles through a pastoral alpine valley. The setting around Goat Lake, especially on a grey day, has an appealing gloom with the craggy peaks of Grimface Mountain and Denture Ridge towering ominously above.
Glacier Lake: 3 km, 250 m elevation change
If your time is limited, or you just want to hangout at a really sublime spot, go to Glacier Lake. Enjoy its shimmering blue-green water and view the cathedral rim from below.
For excellent, detailed descriptions of 3 premier rim hikes, pick up a copy of Hiking from here to WOW: North Cascades.
Experience the magic of B.C.’s Cathedral Provincial Park where you’ll revel in world class backcountry hiking while appreciating a few front-country indulgences.
The park is located in south-central B.C. approximately 30 km southwest of Keremeos, a 4-5 hour drive from Vancouver. BC Parks has detailed driving instructions, as well as current trail and camping information.