Valhalla. Majestic, mysterious and magical all at once, the name of this park alone inspires wonder. The peaks of Valhalla Provincial Park (with names including Asgard, Gimli and Grey Wolf) loom over bordering Slocan Lake. The mountains seem endlessly high, the valleys deep and the lake cool and bottomless. This is probably because it is possible to explore all the way from lake level to valley bottom to alpine top in Valhalla.
We only experienced a taste of this lake to alpine experience with our recent combination hiking and paddling trip in Valhalla Provincial Park, but you always have to leave something for next time, right? With Valhalla, our next time is likely to be quite soon indeed. Here’s why…
A dramatic journey into Valhalla provincial park
Starting a canoe trip at 4.30pm is not usually the best idea. But, forever keen to get on the water, we didn’t want to wait any longer. Besides, lake conditions were amazingly good and the paddle to the first site was a mere 6km. With five canoes already on the shore, however, Evans Creek Beach didn’t look like the best bet for camping. We pushed on.
The celebration of our arrival to Ben Brown’s beach (4km further) was short lived. Drops of rain started to fall as soon as the canoe hit land, turning into a torrential deluge only minutes after stepping on shore. We hadn’t even seen it coming. A tarp was hastily (but surprisingly robustly) put up over a flat spot of the beach while all of our gear was (carefully) thrown under the nearest trees. Calling it torrential rain seems like a ridiculous understatement for this was some of the hardest rain I had seen for a long time. The trees proved to be not much shelter; thankfully, the tarp did better.
The rain cooled off for a while and then returned as a thunderstorm. Lightning struck the middle of the lake, thunder boomed directly above us. The gap between thunder claps at one point was less than two seconds (trust me, we attempted to count). The most dramatic welcome to Valhalla anyone could ever hope for, thank you, Odin, Thor, Loki et al. We worried for a moment about new wildfires caused by the lightning, but fell asleep before any real fears grew.
cabins and coves of Slocan Lake, Valhalla
The next morning, everything was at peace again. The lake was sparkling, the sky perfectly blue and our gear surprisingly quite dry. Originally intending to start the hike today, we changed plans and went paddling. And what a paddling day that was. Calm, completely clear water and plenty to see and do on and off Slocan Lake.
Travelling up the western shore of Slocan Lake does mean missing most of the mountain views from the Valhalla alpine. But it somehow doesn’t seem to matter, as you paddle past dozens of gorgeous sandy beaches, trickling streams and rocky bluffs. There’s even an old logging cabin at Cove Creek to explore (and a trail, if you need to stretch your legs more). With no road on this side of the lake, paddling is wonderfully quiet, so much so that at times, it’s possible to hear a large waterfall on the eastern side.
Finding Nemo in more ways than one
The destination of our lazy paddle was Nemo Creek. A little loop hike led us to Nemo Falls, a long stretch of fast cascades lined by old growth forest. The transition from hot, open lake paddling to hiking in a lush, moist forest was welcomed by both. The ferns and moss almost seemed luminous, the whirlpools impossible bright blue. One leisurely lunch later and we were back on the water, fishing all the way home.
Somehow (without even trying, I swear), I caught a sizeable bull trout. As we fished, wildfire smoke started to creep in the valley. By the time we arrived back to Ben Brown’s, it was difficult to see the opposite shore.
Hiking into the alpine of Valhalla provincial park
Thick smoke blocked any early morning views. Behind us though, was a tinge of blue sky in the distant alpine…a teaser of sorts. It was time to hike up out of the smoke. The Beatrice Lake trail starts at Evans Creek, the most southerly campsite on Slocan Lake. After crossing a waterfall, the route ascends quickly with switchbacks. Soon enough, it was wall-to-wall clear skies in every direction.
The scenery on the Beatrice Trail may not be dramatic but it’s still exceptionally pretty; a narrow trail snaking through the gorgeously sun-lit forest, usually travelling alongside a fairly fast cascading river. The only sound besides rushing water is the occasional bird or squirrel rustling around. Once, a huge toad ambled across the path.
Conveniently placed tree trunks bypass small creeks and marshy sections, well maintained for a trail that only sees a few groups every day. The elevation dips up and down, but never heart-stoppingly. Even so, I was glad to see Emerald Lake, the first of three lakes on this route.
Emerald waters on the Beatrice Lake trail
Emerald Lake is a reasonably large, open lake. Living up to its name, the water at the shoreline changes from blue, turquoise and sometimes green. The scales of tiny fish flash intermittently. Looking at the debris surrounding the lake, it is clear just how much this glacier-fed rises and falls every year (clue: a lot).
Hints of this area’s use for logging purposes can be still be spotted, with a few tools left behind here and there around the small campsite. More of this can be seen over at Cahill Lake, another 2 kilometres up the trail. Here, we discovered a huge stash of old cans as well more old tools and machinery. An interesting reminder that beautiful places such as this were appreciated in a different way in the days of old.
Cahill Lake is larger than Emerald and has a more impressive backdrop, but the water is less easy to access. It takes a bit of log-hopping to reach the icy cold depths for a post-hike swim. Fishing also takes a little bit of skill (and balance). If you manage it though, there are seemingly hundreds of little rainbow trout looking for food. These are particularly great for breakfast.
Turned around from Mt Gimli, Valhalla Provincial Park
One of the most iconic sights of Valhalla Provincial Park must be the dramatically beautiful Mt. Gimli. It had been on my mind the whole trip; I had the hope to tack on a quick overnight trip to Mt Gimli after overnighting in Cahill Lake. But it wasn’t to be. The road (already one of the roughest logging roads we’ve been on) was washed out about 4km from the trailhead.
It’s possible it was manageable in our van (clearance is essential), but we’re not too confident in the tires we have now….and besides, I also want to go to Gwillim Lakes. And Mulvey Lakes too. Basically, all the rest of Valhalla to be honest. Tucked away in the lesser travelled Slocan Valley, Valhalla Provincial Park is a special place for hikers, climbers and paddlers alike. When almost everyone has a canoe strapped on their vehicle, we know we’re home…
So, we’ll be back. If you wanted to know what we did instead, it involved hot springs, a wonderfully greasy breakfast and a leisurely drive back home. So trust me, it all worked out in the end.
Planning a trip to Valhalla Provincial Park, British Columbia
Valhalla Provincial Park is located in the western Kootenays region of British Columbia, Canada. Slocan Lake borders Highway 6, with Valhalla protecting a large section of land directly to the west of it. The towns of Nelson and Castlegar are about an hour’s drive south from the park’s boundary, and Nakusp about an half hour. For hiking and paddling supplies, the original Valhalla Pure Outfitters store can be found in New Denver, two thirds of the way up the Slocan Lake.
Paddlers can access Slocan Lake in a few different spots, though we found the most convenient to be in the small settlement of Slocan at the bottom of the lake. There was ample parking just off Lake Ave.
It is possible to hike along the lake and access the Beatrice Lake Trail without the use of a canoe or kayak. The trailhead is located just across the bridge on Slocan North Rd. There is some parking at the corner of Park Ave and Main St.
Mt Gimli is accessible via a network of logging roads starting at Slocan West Rd, across the river and south of town. I’d highly recommend using a Kootenays Rockies Backroad Mapbook for navigation.
Outdoor gear we use and love (2018):
Tent: MSR Freelite 2.
Other: ENO Doublenest hammock
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