Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is a true backcountry wilderness area, an alpine hiking and skiing paradise.
Located in the West Kootenays and accessed by unpaved roads, solitude is easy to find in this park. More than a dozen trails traverse the mountains and lakes of this beautiful high-elevation landscape.
The most popular access route into the park’s alpine core is the Kokanee Lake Trail, a spectacular day hike in its own right.
This moderate-level path climbs quickly into the subalpine, rewarding hikers with views of jagged peaks, intricate lakes and wildflower-studded meadows.
Even better still, it leads to one of BC’s best backcountry campgrounds and even more scenic hiking trails.
Needless to say, Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is a must-visit for adventurous hikers. We’ve travelled southern British Columbia pretty extensively and I’d say it is in my top 5 favourite protected areas!
In this post, I’ll share an overview of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park featuring all the details you need to know to start planning a trip to this backcountry idyll.
Here’s what to expect:
- Introducing Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park
- Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park hiking guide
Published November 2023. There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a purchase after clicking one of these links, we may receive a percentage of the sale.
Kokanee Lake Trail (main access)
Location: Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park
Distance: 15km return
Elevation gain: 550m
Hike type: Out and back
Time: 6 to 7 hours as a day hike
Camping: Backcountry campground and cabin
Fees: Overnight camping fees only
When to go: Late July to September
Dogs: Not permitted
- Always bring the 10 Essentials
- Know how to stay safe in the backcountry
- Remember to Leave No Trace to help keep the wilderness wild
- Understand how to avoid negative bear encounters
- Trying out backpacking for the first time? Read Backpacking 101
- Check out our packing guide with gear recommendations
- Sign up to our newsletter for a free backpacking checklist
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park, British Columbia
Established in 1922, Kokanee Glacier is one of British Columbia’s oldest provincial parks.
With much of the 32,035 hectares of terrain being located above 1800m, it is a place characterised by breathtaking alpine and subalpine scenery; soaring mountain peaks (some topped with glaciers), expansive meadows, meandering creeks and dozen or so brightly coloured lakes.
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is situated on the traditional territory of the snʕickstx tmxʷúlaʔxʷ (Sinixt), Syilx, Secwepemcúl’ecw, Ĩyãħé Nakón mąkóce (Stoney), Ktunaxa ɁamakɁis and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
The park’s most prominent glacier was named ‘Kokanee’ after the local species of salmon, which has its origins in the Colville-Okanagan Salish word kəkn̓iʔ.
Kokanee Glacier has an interesting geological history. Much of the park comprises granite rock known as the Nelson batholith, created millions of years ago as a result of a crystallisation process caused by plate movement
A fault line eventually developed and resulting fractures were filled with mineral-bearing fluids. Veins of copper, silver, lead, zinc, gold and other materials lie in the mountains and were mined in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The legacy of the various mines can still be seen today, with many of the access roads and trails originally built by miners.
The two-storey Slocan Chief Cabin, located near Kaslo Lake, was constructed in 1896 as a miners’ shelter.
When Kokanee Glacier became a protected park, the Slocan Chief transitioned to a rustic ski lodge. It was still used until 2003 when the new Kokanee Glacier Cabin was opened as a replacement.
The Kokanee Glacier Cabin was built in memory of 13 people who had lost their lives in avalanches in the park. This number has since increased. The most well-known avalanche victim was Michel Trudeau, son of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (and brother of Justin).
Quick Kokanee Glacier Park facts:
- The park has two developed backcountry areas, one on the western side (Kaslo Lake) and another to the east (Woodbury/Silver Spray)
- There are two backcountry campgrounds (first come, first serve), three cabins (by reservation)
- There are no fees or permits required to hike in the park, only overnight camping/cabin fees
- More than a dozen different trails crisscross the park, with even more unsigned routes
- Dogs are NOT allowed in the park. This is strictly enforced
- Campfires are not permitted
Where is Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park?
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is situated in British Columbia’s West Kootenay region.
The park protects a section of the Selkirk Mountains between Kootenay Lake and Slocan Lake. Nelson is the nearest city, situated to the southwest.
Unpaved roads provide access to the boundary of the park, with hiking trails leading into developed backcountry areas. Winter access, for experienced backcountry skiers, is by helicopter only.
The western side of the park features two campgrounds, a cabin, a historic museum/cabin and six signed trails, all centred around Kaslo Lake.
There is another developed area on the eastern side of the park, with two more cabins and three signed trails.
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park: Our experience
Kokanee Glacier had been on my ‘to-do’ list for almost a decade before we finally visited in 2023. And this was such a mistake. I’m such a huge fan of nearby Valhalla Provincial Park and I should have made Kokanee a priority!
I was blown away by the beauty and solitude found in this park. Yes, the main access route (Kokanee Lake Trail) is well-travelled and receives anything from 20-80 hikers most summer days. Beyond the Kokanee Trail, however, the park really empties out.
We hiked multiple trails without seeing a soul all day and stayed in a completely empty Kaslo Lake Campground.
My favourite experience was hiking the gorgeous Sapphire Lakes Trail, with a side trip up to the summit of Mount Giegerich.
Connected by waterfalls, the Sapphire Lakes are some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen in the subalpine. We enjoyed swimming here and also in Kaslo Lake.
We returned to Kaslo Lake Campground from Sapphire Lakes via Commission Creek, completing a loop hike rather than an out-and-back. I really enjoyed the route-finding challenge.
Wildfire smoke started to roll in on our last day. I felt so lucky we had been able to explore this magical place without much haze. I definitely know, however, that we’ll be back soon to explore more!
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park hiking guide
Inspired to explore Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park? Read on to discover what you need to know to start planning a backcountry trip.
When is the best time to visit Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park?
For hiking, late July to late September is the most ideal time to visit Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park. Before and after this period, snow is likely to be present on the high-elevation trails.
The Kokanee Lake Trail, the main access route to the western side of the park, has a slightly longer hiking season. It is usually snow-free from mid-July to early October.
If you can, plan a mid-week trip. The park is quieter at this time and there will be very few people on the trails (with the Kokanee Lake Trail being the only exception). The Kaslo Lake campground is likely to be uncrowded as well.
If backcountry skiing is more your forte, the best conditions are usually seen from December to March.
How to access Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park
The three routes travel into the Kaslo Lake core area (western side of the park):
- Kokanee Lake Trail (south, trailhead on Kokanee Glacier Park Road)
- Lemon Creek Wilderness Trail (southwest, trailhead on Lemon Creek Road or Six Mile Road)
- Enterprise Creek Wilderness Trail (northwest, trailhead on Enterprise Creek Wilderness Road)
The Kokanee Lake Trail is the easiest and most popular access route.
BC Parks does mention another road approaching the Kaslo Lake core area from the northeast (Keen Creek Trailhead), but it has been closed for a number of years.
Kokanee Glacier’s eastern side is accessed via Woodbury Road (high clearance required, 4WD preferable). There is a singular trail from the parking lot, though it soon splits into the Woodbury Trail and the Silver Spray Trail.
In winter, the Kokanee Glacier Cabin is accessible by helicopter only. The other cabins and backcountry campgrounds are all closed.
Kokanee Glacier Park Road
The Kokanee Lake Trail starts at the Gibson Lake Trailhead at the end of Kokanee Glacier Park Road. The junction for this unpaved road is 19km northeast of Nelson on Highway 3A. It is well signed, with brown BC Parks placards.
The 16km long road gains over 1100m as it climbs above Kokanee Creek. It takes around 45 minutes to drive (one way).
The first 4 kilometres of the road features steep switchbacks. This section can be quite busy with mountain bikers and people heading to the nearby zipline. The road is also rougher, with some uneven terrain and small potholes.
The rest of the road is easier, though it features juddery washboard throughout. Be sure to secure any loose items before heading up! The road is quite dusty too.
If you’re not used to driving unpaved mountain roads, you may find the drive challenging. There are some narrow sections along the road with some steep drop-offs. Look for other vehicles and give way as soon as you can.
BC Parks suggests visitors should use a high clearance vehicle (no RVs) and I would agree. I would not say that AWD or 4WD is essential, however.
If you have the time, consider hiking the Old Growth Cedar Trail on the way up/down. It’s 2.4km return, with the trailhead located 11km from Highway 3A (4.4km from the Kokanee Lake Trail parking lot).
The Gibson Lake Trailhead features a large parking lot (40+ vehicles) with two outhouses and some interpretive signage.
Overnight hikers are recommended to protect their vehicles with chicken wire to deter porcupines from chewing on rubber hoses and tires.
Chicken wire (enough for 8-10 vehicles) is usually piled up around the parking area along with an assortment of rocks and wooden stakes. If in doubt, bring your own.
The Kokanee Lake Trail: What to expect
As mentioned, the Kokanee Lake Trail is the easiest way to access the Kaslo Lake core area of the park. It’s also a beautiful day hike in its own right.
BC Parks rates the first part of the Kokanee Lake Trail (Gibson Lake to Kokanee Lake) as moderate, with the second section (Kokanee Lake to Kaslo Lake) as easy.
The Gibson Lake to Kokanee Lake section has a continuous, sometimes steep ascent with an elevation gain of 450m over 4.5km. While not technically difficult, most people will find this a workout, especially when carrying a backpack.
In contrast, Kokanee Lake to Kaslo Lake is 3km with only 100m or so of elevation gain and a similar amount of loss. It is a much easier hike.
Read on for a detailed breakdown of the Kokanee Lake Trail.
Gibson Lake Trailhead to Kokanee Lake
The Kokanee Lake Trail starts at the Gibson Lake Trailhead. Consider checking out Gibson Lake before heading to the trailhead at the northeastern corner of the parking lot.
The hike begins with a long-ish flat section before transitioning into a couple of uphill switchbacks. The trail is surrounded by forest. The second switchback turns the trail northwest, where it remains for the majority of the rest of the hike.
The steady climb becomes a little steeper here but thankfully, views of the surrounding mountains start appearing too. A fabulous view of Gibson Lake appears at the 2.2km mark.
The trail continues to climb just after the viewpoint, with a series of very short switchbacks. The path is wider and a little rocky. There is also very little shade, so it can get hot.
The ascent doesn’t let up after the switchbacks, with more rocky sections through the pass. There are some steps. The views remain impressive, with peaks rising to the left and the forested valley behind.
A couple more short switchbacks and the deep blue expanse of Kokanee Lake appears in the valley ahead.
The final approach is downhill. The southern tip of the lake has a great rest area, with bench and rock seating.
At this point, you have hiked around 60% of the hike. It takes most people around 2 hours or less to reach this point. Kokanee Lake is a great place to stop and have a snack. There is an outhouse nearby.
Kokanee Lake to Kaslo Lake
Shortly after leaving the lake rest area, the trail splits. The path on the right leads to an outhouse and another section of the shoreline.
The left fork continues along the main trail, which skirts the rocky western side of Kokanee Lake.
The path crosses an avalanche path and can still be snowy into mid-July. I believe that this is the area where Michel Trudeau was swept into the lake by an avalanche.
The lakeside trail becomes progressively rockier, with the final section featuring some large boulders. The path is narrow in places with some drop-off.
Eventually, the trail gently delivers hikers down to lake level and a wide meadow area.
The path runs right through the meadow, crossing a winding stream several times.
A short switchback climb awaits at the end of the meadow; the trail’s final ascent up and over Kokanee Pass. Another meadow and creek are located on the other side with scattered rocks and ponds. Mountains form the backdrop.
The campground junction is 1.3km after the pass (about 20-25 minutes).
To reach the other end of the lake and the Kokanee Glacier Cabin, continue on the meandering trail above the shoreline for another 800m. The trail gains and loses small amounts of elevation along the way.
At the signed junction, turn left for the Kokanee Glacier Cabin and Kaslo Lake. A right turn leads to the Slocan Chief Cabin (a worthy side trip).
Kaslo Lake to the Gibson Lake Trailhead
For most day hikers, Kaslo Lake is the turnaround point. The return route is via the same trail.
The Kokanee Glacier Cabin is open to visitors from 10am to 2pm. The cabin host is usually around to answer any questions.
If you still have a little energy left, consider the short trail to the historic Slocan Chief Cabin (details below) before leaving Kaslo Lake.
Those with a lot of time and more energy to burn (such as trail runners) may consider heading up to Sapphire Lakes. Return the same way or complete an unmarked loop back to the Kokanee Lake Trail following a rough route along Commission Creek.
Some adventurous day hikers detour onto the challenging Keyhole Trail on the way back to the trailhead.
Other hiking trails in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park
The Kokanee Lake Trail is only one of a dozen beautiful trails in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park.
The most accessible and approachable trail in the entire park is the Gibson Lake Loop Trail. The trailhead is at the end of Glacier Park Road, near Nelson. This easy loop trail is 2.5km long and takes around 1 hour to hike.
The following trails start in the Kaslo Lake core area:
- Slocan Chief Cabin – 2.4km return with 130m elevation gain. Short uphill trail to a historical cabin with views of Kokanee Glacier (highly recommended). Starts near Kaslo Lake, 300m from Kokanee Glacier Cabin
- Helen Deane Lakes – 4.2km return with 182m elevation gain. Continue beyond the Slocan Chief Cabin on a meandering meadow trail to pretty tree-lined lakes with a view of Kokanee Glacier. Starts near Kaslo Lake, 300m from Kokanee Glacier Cabin
- Toe of the Glacier – Approximately 3km return with 300m elevation gain. Uphill trail across rock gardens to a viewpoint below the ‘toe’ of Kokanee Glacier. Starts at Slocan Chief Cabin, also signed as ‘Kokanee Glacier Trail.’ Smuggler’s Ridge Trail also starts at the same trailhead
- Tanal Lake – 1.8km one-way with 60m gain, 200m loss. Moderate-level hike to Kokanee Glacier’s second backcountry campground. Starts at Kokanee Glacier Cabin (follow Enterprise Creek signage)
- Sapphire Lakes – 6km return with 330m elevation gain. Varied moderate difficulty trail up and over Lemon Pass to a series of brightly coloured sub-alpine lakes. Far-reaching views. Highly recommended. Starts at Kokanee Glacier Cabin
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park has a ton of potential for experienced hikers looking to explore beyond the main trails and summit peaks. Here are three examples of popular routes (no signs):
- Mount Giegerich – 1.6km return with 190m elevation gain. Short off-trail ascent to summit near Sapphire Lakes. Amazing views of the Valhallas and Purcells from the top. Detour on Sapphire Lakes Trail, from Lemon Pass (3km from Kokanee Glacier Cabin)
- Sapphire Lakes Loop – Approximately 7km with 330m elevation gain. After visiting Sapphire Lakes, complete a loop back to Kaslo Lake via a rough cairned route down Commission Creek. Trail-finding skills required
- The Keyhole – 4.8km return with 780m elevation gain. Short, very steep and scenic route with lots of scree and boulders. Challenging. Starts 900m south of Kokanee Lake
- Mount John Carter – 6km return with 350m elevation gain. Steep off-trail route to 2,606m summit, spectacular views of Sapphire Lakes. Challenging. Starts at the southern end of Kokanee Lake
The eastern side of Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park has three main hiking trails, both starting at the same trailhead at the end of Woodbury Road:
- Woodbury Trail – 16.9km return with 870m elevation gain. Moderate level trail with a steady ascent through burn area (lots of views!) finishing with switchbacks up headwall to reach Woodbury Cabin. Moonlight Peak Trail continues towards the glacier
- Silver Spray Trail – 14.4km return with 1050m elevation gain. Steep climb up through burn area (again, lots of views) to bowl and headwall. Silver Spray Cabin awaits at the top with an optional detour to Violet Mine
- Sunset Lake Trail – 3km return with 200m elevation gain. Easy hike up old mine road to pretty lake. Reportedly a good spot for fishing
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park accommodation
The Kokanee Lake Trail is the best way to explore the park on a day hike. If you’d like to go further, staying overnight is the best (least tiring) option for most hikers.
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park has three cabins and two backcountry campgrounds for overnight accommodation.
The Kokanee Glacier Cabin
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park has three cabins, with the Kokanee Glacier Cabin being the largest. Opened in 2003, it was built to honour those who have lost their lives in avalanches in the park.
With running water and electricity, the Kokanee Glacier Cabin is sometimes referred to as the most luxurious backcountry hut in Canada.
The main floor comprises a kitchen and comfortable living space, with the communal sleeping area located upstairs (bunks). Mattresses and cookware are provided.
The kitchen boasts a fridge, coffee maker (bring your own filters), a real oven, hot showers, filtered tap water and flush toilets.
The Kokanee Glacier Cabin has a sleeping capacity of 20 in summer, which drops to 13 in winter.
Reservations can be made through the Alpine Club of Canada website only. Summer reservations are available up to six months in advance, while winter reservations are issued by lottery only (which usually happens in April each year).
The rate is $25 per person, per night. The family rate (two adults, up to two children) is $50 per night.
It is not necessary to be an ACC member to stay at the hut in summer, only in winter. There is an on-site ACC host at this cabin.
Kaslo Lake Campground
Kaslo Lake hosts a beautiful lakeside backcountry campground, accessible via the Kokanee Lake Trail.
This campground is one of my favourites anywhere in BC. Not only is the setting incredibly scenic, but it is exceptionally well organised with excellent facilities. Swimming in the lake is also SO refreshing after a hot hike!
The campground has 10 well-separated tent pads, three of which have lake views.
Upon entry to the campground from the Kokanee Lake Trail, there are four tent pads situated in the forest to the left (‘group camping’). The remaining six tent pads are found on the right-hand side, across the creek and closer to the lake.
The premier campsite, in my opinion, is located furthest to the right hand side of the campground (no. 6). This tent pad has lake views and no near neighbours, so the privacy is unparalleled. There is easy access to the water too, perfect for afternoon swims.
The Kaslo Lake Campground has a glass-walled shelter (the perfect escape from early-season bugs), an elevated outhouse and greywater disposal.
There are four tall food storage containers near the outhouse and eight more square storage bins in the shelter. The latter also features several picnic tables and a large stainless steel cooking ‘shelf.’
The tent pads are allocated on a first-come, first-serve system only (no reservations). The fee is $10 per adult, per night (youth are $5). More details in the next section.
In the event that all of the tent pads are occupied, wait until the host arrives at around 6pm-7pm. They will direct you to ‘overflow’ spots – the areas of the campground that are more durable for tent use.
I asked the camp host how often the campground fills up and Petra advised me that it does happen occasionally. Weekends are definitely popular (especially holiday weekends) but random weekdays can be busy too.
Tanal Lake Campground
There is a second backcountry campground in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park at Tanal Lake. It is located 2.5km northwest of Kaslo Lake and is not used very often.
The campground features two tenting areas (no tent pads), an open-air toilet throne and secure food storage.
The easiest way to reach the Tanal Lake Campground is to hike first to Kaslo Lake via the Kokanee Lake Trail and then continue on the Enterprise Creek Trail to Tanal Lake. From Kaslo Lake, the trail first gains a little elevation and then descends just over 200m.
Fees and permits
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is operated by BC Parks and it is completely free to visit (unlike Canada’s national parks). There is no day-use fee, parking fee or permit required.
Overnight camping at the backcountry campgrounds costs $10 per adult, per night ($5 for youth 6 to 15 years old).
Camping fees can be paid online before your visit OR in person with cash/credit card. The park host comes by the campground around 6pm to collect payment.
To pay online in advance (up to two weeks before your desired arrival date):
- Navigate to the BC Parks reservation portal
- Click the ‘backcountry’ tab and then ‘backcountry registration’
- Select ‘Kokanee Glacier’ from the drop-down menu and your arrival dates, party size and entry point (Gibson Lake for most people)
- Click the green backcountry diamond on the map below, add your exit point on the drop-down menu then select reserve on the right
- Log in to BC Parks and finish the payment process
- Print or screenshot your receipt and bring it to the campground with you. The host will need to see proof of pre-payment
As mentioned above, there is no reservation system for the Kokanee Glacier backcountry campgrounds. The 10 tent pads in the Kaslo Lake campground operate on a first-come, first-serve system.
There is a $25 per person, per night fee at the park’s three cabins. There is also a $50 nightly family rate available for two adults and up to two children. Payment is taken during the reservation process on the ACC website.
Planning to spend a few days exploring the western side of Kokanee Provincial Park? If you’re an intermediate-level hiker, I would consider the following:
- Day 1 – Hike the Kokanee Lake Trail into Kaslo Lake (3 to 4 hours). Check into Kokanee Glacier Cabin or set up tent in Kaslo Lake Campground. Hike to Slocan Chief Cabin and back (1 to 1.5 hours), optional extension to Helen Deane Lakes (add 40 minutes)
- Day 2 – Hike Sapphire Lakes Trail (3 hours minimum, 4 or 5 preferable with chill time at the lakes), optional Mount Giegerich summit (add at least 1 hour)
- Day 3: Hike out to Gibson Lake parking lot (3 hours)
Alternatively, you could check out the Slocan Chief Cabin/Helen Deane Lakes before packing up and hiking out on day 3.
Have an extra night to spend in the park? Save the Slocan Chief Cabin and Helen Deane Lakes for day 3 and combine with an optional hike up to the Toe of the Glacier (around 2 hours). Hike out on day 4.
Kokanee Glacier’s official trails are signed at trailheads and major junctions with brown BC Parks signage.
The Kokanee Lake Trail is the most used trail and is therefore the easiest to follow. The path is very well established. This is a similar case for the trails to the Slocan Chief Cabin and Helen Deane Lakes.
The Sapphire Lakes Trail is less defined than the Kokanee Lake Trail but is still relatively straightforward to follow.
The official BC Parks’ Kokanee Glacier map provides a good overview of the trails, campgrounds and cabins.
Our favourite trails app, Organic Maps, features the Kokanee Glacier trail with accurate detail for the Kokanee Lake Trail, Slocan Chief Cabin, Helen Deane Lakes and Sapphire Lake Trails. Download the offline maps before heading to the trailhead.
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is home to a variety of mammals and birds including grizzly bears, black bears, mountain goats, marmots, pikas, blue grouse and golden eagles.
One of the park’s primary purposes is to protect important grizzly bear and mountain goat habitats. The main trails have been designed to avoid these areas.
Negative wildlife encounters are rare in Kokanee Glacier. Some things you can do to help include:
- Leave No Trace. After eating, make sure you haven’t left any food or wrappers at your location (read more Leave No Trace tips)
- Don’t feed wildlife! Yes, the park’s marmots, ground squirrels and pikas are super cute but they don’t need human food (it can make them aggressive and dependent on humans)
- Make noise while hiking. This alerts wildlife to your presence and gives them a chance to avoid you. As a general rule, animals don’t want to be close to humans
- Give wildlife space. If you do see any animals, keep your distance – ideally 100m or more. This offers them an escape route
- Know what to do if a bear approaches you. Always remain calm. Depending on the behaviour of the bear, different techniques are required (read our bear safety post for more info)
- Bring bear spray and store it in an accessible place. An aerosol deterrent made with chilli pepper oil, bear spray is a ‘last resort’ tool intended to be used only when other methods have failed
Some of the most prevalent (and annoying!) creatures in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park are mosquitoes. These are more common during the earlier part of the summer, from July to early/mid-August depending on weather conditions.
Before this trip, I read many accounts of people referring to ‘clouds of mosquitoes’ around Kaslo Lake.
On our early August trip, however, we didn’t find that they were bad until the sun started to set. The campground cooking shelter provides great protection.
As with any backcountry hike in BC, I would recommend tick awareness. Perform a tick check after hiking and know how to remove them properly.
Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park is located in remote mountainous terrain. While the Kokanee Lake Trail is well-travelled, you are likely to be alone on the other trails.
To help stay safe, keep the following in mind:
- There is no phone signal in the park or at the Gibson Lake trailhead. We carried an InReach device in case of emergencies. The park host at Kokanee Glacier Cabin can contact emergency services if needed
- Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back (check out our outdoor safety guide for more tips)
- Due to the elevation, weather conditions can vary and change quickly. Snow is possible at any time of year. Bring extra clothing in case of cold or wet weather
- There may be snow on the Kokanee Lake Trail until mid-July, sometimes even later. This access route crosses some avalanche paths
- Some sections of the Kokanee Lake Trail have very little shade. Bring sun protection and plenty of water (or the means to filter some) in warm weather
- The majority of the trails in Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park are moderate or challenging difficulty. Depending on your experience, you may find the elevation gain (and overall elevation level) tiring
- Besides these hazards, it’s also important to be aware of wildlife, particularly bears (see previous section)
- Always purify or filter water before drinking. On this trip, we utilised a gravity hydration bladder system with the MSR Thru-Link In-Line Microfilter
To expand the last point, we found many places to filter water in the park. Kokanee Lake and Kaslo Lake are the main water sources, with Sapphire Lakes and Helen Deane Lakes also options. There are streams and creeks between these water bodies.
Essential items to bring
Visiting Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park for the day? Wear a pair of tried and tested hiking shoes/boots, consider bringing a pair of hiking poles and remember to bring the 10 Essentials in your daypack (we use an Osprey Talon 22):
- Extra clothing for the coldest possible conditions during the season you are travelling in
- Sun protection to prevent sunburn and sunstroke (sunscreen, sunglasses, lip balm, sunhat)
- Map to identify your location and how far you need to travel
- Food, including lunch and snacks
- Water, at least 2l during warm weather. Bring a method to purify or filter water
- First Aid supplies in case of injury or sudden illness
- Fire starters, carry matches at a minimum
- Personal light to illuminate your route if delayed (such as a headlamp)
- Repair kit and tools, such as a knife and a small amount of duct tape
- Emergency shelter, carry an emergency blanket at a minimum
- Signalling device such as a whistle. There is no cell phone signal in this area. Bring a satellite device for extra security
I would also recommend bear spray, in an easily accessible holster. Toilet paper in a Ziploc bag is also helpful to have as the outhouses may have none.
Kokanee Glacier backpacking list
If you’re staying in one of the three cabins, plan to also bring the following:
- Sleeping bag
- Headlamp (we love our Petzl Actik Core)
- Personal items (toiletries, medication etc)
- Toilet paper
- Hut shoes (I’d recommend these super cosy slippers)
- Towel (for swimming)
- Insect repellent
For Silver Spray or Woodbury cabins, you’ll also need water purification equipment (e.g. filter) and lighter/matches and paper to light the wood stove.
Kokanee Glacier Cabin has board games and books for entertainment.
Visitors planning to camp will need the 10 Essentials plus lightweight camping gear.
Remember that backpacking is all about balance – keeping pack weight low while still having everything you need to be self-sufficient and comfortable.
Here are all the items we carried into Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park (you may find our backpacking gear guide helpful to make your own list):
- Backpack – (Osprey Aura AG 65 for Gemma, Osprey Aether 65 for JR)
- Tent (Big Agnes Copper Spur 3)
- Tent footprint
- Sleeping bag (Neutrino 600 for Gemma, Draco for JR)
- Exped double sleeping pad
- Hiking boots (we both use Salomon Quest 4D)
- Stove (Jetboil MiniMo)
- Fuel (110g isobutane propane)
- Cup (GSI Infinity Backpacker Mug)
- Bowl/plate (we use a folding bowl)
- Utensils (2 x long spoons like this)
- Cleaning supplies (CampSuds and tiny scrubber)
- Food storage container (we used a dry bag)
- 1.1lb of food/per person/per day
- Water filtration (MSR Thru-Link with Aquatabs as backup)
- Water storage (2 x 2l Osprey bladders)
- Communication device (InReach SE+)
- Headlamp (Petzl Actik headlamp with rechargeable battery)
- First Aid kit with Leukotape for blister prevention
- Sunglasses and sunscreen
- Insect repellent (didn’t use it)
- Knife (this one)
- Emergency matches
- Tenacious tape (for repairs)
- Toilet paper and hand sanitizer in Ziploc bag
- Camera (Pixel 7 Pro)
- Portable battery charger and phone cable
- Bear spray x 2
- Camp shoes (I love my Teva sandals)
- 5 Dice Game (Yahtzee)
- Printed reservation and map
- Vehicle keys, cash and ID
Where to stay near Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park
The biggest choice of accommodation near Kokanee Glacier Provincial Park can be found in the small city of Nelson. Choose between motels, B&Bs, hotels and vacation rentals, all just over an hour’s drive from the Gibson Lake Trailhead.
The Adventure Hotel is a good mid-range option. The rooms are updated and the downtown location is very convenient for restaurants (there is one downstairs as well). Parking is a little tricky, however, with the hotel’s lot only having 11 spots.
The Alpine Inn & Suites is a good option for groups. I stayed in a suite with my parents on a previous trip to the area and the extra space (and kitchenette) was appreciated. It’s a 15-20 minute walk to downtown but the parking situation is a lot easier.
Camping? BC Parks’ Kokanee Creek Park is located at the bottom of the Kokanee Glacier Park Road. There is a choice of campgrounds, all with access to showers.
An alternative to Nelson is Ainsworth. This lakeside tiny community has natural hot springs in a cave. It’s the perfect way to relax after a long hiking trip! Ainsworth is also just over an hour’s drive from the Gibson Lake Trailhead.
Our favourite accommodation in Ainsworth is the Sunset Suite at Ainsworth Suites Guest House. We’ve stayed here twice, once with friends and once with family. The deck with views of Kootenay Lake is fabulous as is the location (directly opposite the hot springs!)
Other hiking posts you may enjoy:
Valhalla Provincial Park: Complete Adventure Guide
15 of the Best Day Hikes in British Columbia
Jumbo Pass Trail near Kaslo: Complete Hiking Guide
Where to Find Golden Larches in British Columbia
Monica Meadows Trail near Kaslo: Complete Hiking Guide
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One half of the Canadian/British couple behind Off Track Travel, Gemma is happiest when hiking on the trail or planning the next big travel adventure. JR and Gemma are currently based in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada