Hiking to Pinnacle Lake in BC’s Monashee Mountains

An amphitheater of steep rock walls and talus slope protect spectacular glacier-fed Pinnacle Lake. Waterfalls cascade down the cliff face while patches of snow continue to melt nearby, even in late summer. The shore of the lake provides a pristine spot to camp overnight or simply enjoy the magnificent scenery.

Lakeshore view of Pinnacle Lake with calm water and amphitheater of rock
Pinnacle Lake

The hike to reach Pinnacle Lake is almost as exciting as the destination, featuring old growth trees, calming valley views, eddying creek pools and an impressive waterfall.

The 4.5km one-way distance may be short but is made surprisingly challenging with numerous creek crossings and plenty of mud.

Pinnacle Lake is a beautiful alpine destination in the Monashee Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. Discover more about our hike to Pinnacle Lake, followed by a complete trail guide.

Pinnacle Lake
Location: Cherryville, BC
Distance: 9km return
Elevation gain: 450m
Hike type: Out and back
Time: 2 hours each way
Difficulty: Moderate to challenging
Camping: Yes but no facilities
Fees: None

JR standing at the edge of a waterfall looking into a valley on the Pinnacle Lake Trail
At the top of the waterfall on Railroad Creek, just below Pinnacle Lake

Beyond the beaten path

A recent trip to Monica Meadows and Jumbo Pass (both near Kaslo), sparked my inspiration for finding other hiking trails outside of provincial and national parks.

With our recent adventures in Vernon in mind, I turned my attention to the closest mountain range – the Monashees. Using our Kootenay Rockies Backroad Mapbook, I found a collection of short (15km or less) hiking trails in the Pinnacles, just east of Vernon. Bingo!

Published September 2020. Please remember to Leave No Trace while hiking to help maintain these beautiful places. This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase via one of these links. I may receive a percentage of the sale at no extra to cost you.

JR looking up at an old growth cedar tree on the Pinnacle Lake Trail
Old growth cedar trees on the Pinnacle Lake Trail

The magic of the Monashees

A small cluster of rocky summits, the Pinnacle mountains are part of the Monashees range. There are over 300 named mountains in the Monashee Mountains, varying from glaciated peaks in the north (near Valemount) to lower tree covered hills further south (Washington, USA).

While the highest summit is Mount Monashee (3274m), the most well known peak is Mount Begie, which sits prominently above Revelstoke. Before this trip, we had only ever appreciated the higher peaks of the Monashees from afar.

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The views of Pinnacle Lake are striking
JR standing in front of Pinnacle Lake looking at scenery

Pinnacle Lake Trail: Hike Experience

The 9km return hike to Pinnacle Lake starts with an introduction to the creek that the trail will follow for almost the entire journey. A rope strung across the crossing signifies the challenge of high water during the earlier weeks of summer.

The following trail section is unusually wide and flat. Old timbers peek out of the dirt underfoot. The name of the nearby river, Railroad Creek, hints at a previously industrious past.

Wide and flat grassy path at the start of the Pinnacle Lake trail
The start of the Pinnacle Lake trail

Over a cattle grid, through two small meadows and we arrive, to my surprise, in an old growth forest, with a soft carpet of ferns. The size of the cedars here are simply extraordinary, and not something I ever expected on this alpine adventure.

Close up of ferns on the Pinnacle Lake Trail
The old growth forest is full of ferns

A hidden waterfall

Cedar trees prefer a damp environment, so the mud wasn’t too far away. Giant swathes of it too, covering up to 50m of the trail at a time. Being late summer, the mud wasn’t so bad as it likely would be earlier in the season.

Beyond the mud, it was time for the biggest creek crossing yet. The other side greeted us with a narrow, damp path through shoulder height foliage. Stinging nettles brushed past our ankles as the trail started a slow ascent.

Avalanche chutes and rugged peaks started to appear high above us and then suddenly, a waterfall! Spilling out from a plateau above us, it was clear that route to Pinnacle Lake would take us pretty close to the tumbling falls. But I didn’t guess just how close.

Peeking through the trees to look at a cascading rock waterfall
Side view of the waterfall on the Pinnacle Lake Trail

The climb

As we approached the very base of the waterfall, the trail abruptly sent us the other direction to start a series of steep switchbacks. Most of the trail’s elevation is gained here. Fallen trees, rocks and giant roots proved to be both obstacles and assets as we climbed alongside the waterfall.

While we could hear the water, we could only catch glimpses. Near the very top, we were finally able to peer over the plunging water and take in the views of the valley.

From here, we had the choice of following the creek (possible at low water levels) or more steep switchbacks for the final approach to the lake.

Cascading creek with mossy rocks and yellow wildflowers next to hiking trail
Beautiful Railroad Creek, just before Pinnacle Lake

Arriving at Pinnacle Lake

Full of eddying pools, moss and wildflowers, the creek is definitely the prettiest route of the two. Leading us right to the shore of the lake, the views opened up to reveal a spectacular cirque, ringed with rock, snow and trees.

Following a path to the left, I found a giant rock to sunbathe on while JR took a dip in the (freezing) lake. After lunch, it was time to return the way we came and leave the solitude of Pinnacle Lake behind.

In the five hours we spent in the area, we saw no-one else at the lake, nor anyone on the trail. To experience such beauty is always incredible, but to be alone in pristine wilderness is simply wondrous. For such a relatively short hike, this one left a big impression on me.

Lakeshore views of Pinnacle Lake with grassy island in front of rocky cirque, with waterfalls
THe beauty of Pinnacle Lake

Pinnacle Lake Trail planning guide

Inspired to check out Pinnacle Lake yourself? Read on to discover everything you need to know about this beautiful hiking trail near Cherryville, BC.

Close up of wildflowers on Pinnacle Lake Trail
Time it right, and you’ll see pretty wildflowers on the trail

When to hike the Pinnacle Lake Trail

The best time to hike this trail is late August and early September. The trail follows a creek for the most part and consequently has some very muddy sections. Later in the summer, mud dries up a little and is more manageable.

There are a number of creek crossings that may make this hike more difficult when water levels are high (spring/early summer). The creek crossing at the very start can have knee deep water July and into August.

During our visit (second week of September), water levels at this first creek were very low and made it very easy to cross. We still experienced mud on the trail, but only for reasonably short sections. The area at the base of the waterfall had lots of high foliage due to growth during the summer.

Another factor to consider is the elevation. The starting elevation for the Pinnacle Lake trail is around 1370m. Snow is possible at any time of year and can linger on the trail into July.

Hiking trail section with mud and foliage
Sections of the Pinnacle Lake Trail are very muddy

How to access the Pinnacle Lake trailhead

The Pinnacle Lake trailhead is located on the South Fork Forest Service Road (also known as Monashee Creek Road), southeast of Cherryville, BC. Cherryville is an easy 45 minute drive from the city of Vernon.

  • The turnoff for the South Fork FSR is approximately 5km south of the Gold Panner Campground on Highway 6. When approaching from Cherryville direction, the FSR entrance is on the left
  • I say ‘approximately’ above because we had a little trouble getting access to South Fork FSR. 1.7km south of the Gold Panner is a turnoff to the road marked on various maps as South Fork FSR and Monashee Creek Road. This road, however, is completely blocked
  • We went back on Highway 6, drove a little further south and the next left turn was the correct one, with a large sign after the turn. I’m assuming that the old entrance was decommissioned after the new one was built
  • The distance from Highway 6 to the Pinnacle Lake trailhead is 21km. It took us 40 minutes to drive each way
  • For navigation on this road, I’d highly recommend the Kootenay Rockies Backroad Mapbook
JR walking on trail with high foliage, some over his head
The foliage is very high on some areas of the trail

Driving the South Fork FSR

South Fork FSR is an industrial road, meaning that it is privately maintained. The surface is not paved. For the first 13km or so kilometres, it is fairly flat. During our visit, it was reasonably well maintained and easy to drive, with not much debris on the road.

After the signed junction (wooden signs pointed left for Monashee Lake, right for Pinnacle Lake and Vista Pass), the road becomes more rough and narrow. It starts to gain elevation here too. The final 2km were even narrower with a steeper ascent. Our van was scratched a little by plants on the side of the road.

While I wouldn’t have said that a high clearance vehicle was essential when we drove this road, I would say it is preferable. I personally wouldn’t take a low riding vehicle. This is still an industrial road and you should plan to drive slow and be prepared to receive some minor damage (body scratches for example).

Industrial vehicles always have priority on industrial roads. Be prepared to pull over quickly to give way at all times. This road may occasionally be closed to non-industrial traffic.

Rocky creek crossing with plan of water over water with rope guide
The first creek crossing on the Pinnacle Lake Trail – the water level was very low in early September

Navigating the trail

The majority of the Pinnacle Lake Trail is marked with colourful flagging tape. I didn’t notice many flags during the first 1km or so, but that is likely due to the trail being fairly wide and flat.

We were surprised to find the trail so relatively established, though it was, obviously, fairly late in the hiking season. It could be that it is harder to find earlier in the summer. This trail is, however, not that well used.

Maps.me is our go-to app for on-trail navigation, but only a portion of the Pinnacle Lake trail marked (as ‘Railroad Creek.’) You can find it listed on AllTrails but offline navigation is limited to paid members only. Alternatively, this trail is also marked on Trailforks.

Red flag next to trail with waterfall and snow capped mountain behind
The Pinnacle Lake Trail has flagging like this along most of its length

Trail hazards

I really enjoyed hiking this varied trail but if you plan to go, you should be aware of:

  • Creek crossings (as mentioned above). There are a number of them, though most have some means to help cross them e.g. logs, rocks etc
  • Mud. A substantial portion of this trail follows a creek and so there are some very muddy parts
  • Stinging nettles. The area around the base of the waterfall (about 3km along the trail) is prevalent with stinging nettles. They can grow pretty tall and brushing against them is enough to hurt. This initial sting can develop into a rash
  • Bears. This area is grizzly bear territory so be careful to stay alert at all times. The dense foliage, steep switchbacks and creek noise may make particularly difficult to spot or hear a bear (and vice versa)
  • General difficulty. Despite the relatively short length (only 4.5km each way), this is still a relatively challenging hike. This would be especially true when carrying an overnight backpack. Some sections are very easy but they creek crossings and mud slowed us down. The ascent near the waterfall is very steep at times, with plenty of tree roots and rocks
JR crossing Railroad Creek on logs and rocks
One of the more difficult creek crossings on the Pinnacle Lake Trail

Camping at Pinnacle Lake

There is an informal Recreation Site for camping at Pinnacle Lake. I say informal because there are no facilities at all, only cleared tent areas and rock fire pits. This area is completely user maintained, meaning that the responsibility of keeping the campsite clean is on campers.

It is therefore crucial to follow Leave No Trace principles to protect the pristine beauty of Pinnacle Lake and its surroundings. To do this, you should be prepared to pack out everything you brought in, use an established campsite, minimise campfire impacts and be careful to dispose of human waste properly.

Camping overnight at Pinnacle Lake allows for further exploration around the lakeshore. I’ve read quite a few trip reports which feature hikers climbing the talus to the ridge above.

Silhouette of trees in front of Pinnacle Lake
Views from one of the cleared camping areas behind the lake

Essential items to bring

  • The 10 Essentials: Situations that would usually be slight inconveniences elsewhere (changes in weather, injuries, other unexpected events) can easily turn into life-threatening emergencies in the backcountry. Never forget to bring the 10 Essentials when exploring BC’s backcountry
  • Bear spray – Considering the location and level of isolation, bear spray is an absolute must when hiking the Pinnacle Lake Trail. Be sure to store it somewhere handy using a holster. JR and I usually carry one bear spray each on trails like this
  • Hiking poles – I found it very helpful to have hiking poles on this trail. I usually only ever use one but I found myself using two on a number of a sections – specifically the muddy parts, creek crossings and steep climb near the waterfall. Incredibly light and foldable, Black Diamond’s Carbon Z poles are my tried and tested favourite pair
  • Leave No Trace supplies (trash bags, trowel) – As mentioned above, there are no facilities anywhere on the Pinnacle Lake Trail. This includes at the camping area and parking lot

Before heading out to the Pinnacle Lake trailhead, be sure to let someone know where you are going and when you plan to be back. There is zero phone signal after leaving Highway 6

Pinnacle Lake is a beautiful alpine destination in the Monashee Mountains of BC. This glacier-fed lake sits within a protective amphitheater of steep rock walls and talus slope. The 9km return hike to reach it is almost as exciting as the destination. Click here to find out more! offtracktravel.ca
Pinnacle Lake is a beautiful alpine hiking destination, sitting within a protective amphitheater of steep rock walls and talus slope. Located near Cherryville in the North Okanagan, Pinnacle Lake is a must do hike! offtracktravel.ca
An amphitheater of steep rock walls and talus slope protect spectacular glacier-fed Pinnacle Lake. Waterfalls cascade down the cliff face while patches of snow continue to melt nearby, even in late summer. The shore of the lake provides a pristine spot to camp overnight or simply enjoy the magnificent scenery. Click here to discover more about Pinnacle Lake in BC's Monashee Mountains! offtracktravel.ca

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A Complete Adventure Guide to Valhalla Provincial Park

8 Fast and Fun Hikes in Vernon

How to Go Camping in BC Without a Reservation

Okanagan Valley Road Trip: What to Do and Where to Stop

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