The Rim Trail is undoubtedly one of British Columbia’s best day hikes.
Located in the alpine of Cathedral Provincial Park, the entire 11km loop hike is above 2000m sea level (13km with side trail). Spectacular views of surrounding mountain ranges abound, with a foreground of azure lakes and interesting geological formations.
The kilometers pass by fast on the Rim Trail, where something beautiful seems to lie around every corner. There’s a good chance that you’ll get to see mountain goats too!
Read on to discover more about this incredible hiking trail in BC’s interior region.
Here’s what to expect in this post:
- About the Rim Trail
- Our experience
- Rim Trail hiking guide
Location: Cathedral Provincial Park near Keremeos, BC
Distance: 11km (12km with side trail to geological formations)
Elevation gain: 650m
Hike type: Loop
Time: 6 to 7 hours
Dogs: Not permitted
Published September 2015, last updated 2022. There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase through one of these links, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Cathedral Provincial Park is located on the traditional territory of the Syilx Okanagan and Nlaka’pamux Nations.
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An introduction to the Rim Trail, Cathedral Provincial Park
The Rim Trail is located in the core area of Cathedral Provincial Park, also known as ‘Cathedral Lakes.’ The name of the path refers to the mountainous ridge along the western side of Cathedral’s core area.
This mountainous ridge path is combined with Pyramid Lake Trail, Ladyslipper Lake Trail and the Glacier Lake Trail to form the 11km Rim Trail loop route.
Along the way, hikers are rewarded with 360 degree views of azure lakes, endless mountain ranges and striking geological formations such as the basalt Giant Cleft and Smokey the Bear. The latter are visible from a short side trail near Stone City, a quartz monozonite formation.
Most hikers travel the Rim Trail Loop in a clockwise direction, starting at either Quiniscoe Lake or Lake of the Woods. Average time to complete the entire loop is around 5.5 to 7 hours.
About Cathedral Provincial Park
Cathedral Provincial Park is a lesser known protected area roughly situated between the Okanagan Valley and Manning Park in British Columbia, Canada. The southern boundary of the park meets the US border.
The village of Keremeos is the nearest community, about 40km to the east of the main access point. Be sure to visit after your hike to stock up on the best fresh fruit in BC!
Keremeos is just over 4 hours drive from Vancouver (350km) and about 10 hours from Calgary (818km).
Two Rim Trails?
There is an alternative Rim Trail route (click here to see the AllTrails map), which is 18km with around 1000m elevation gain. Instead of descending at Glacier Lake, hikers stay on the rim until the trail meets the Centennial Trail, which leads down to Quiniscoe Lake.
Obviously, this extended loop makes for a pretty long hiking day (7 to 9 hours). Most visitors choose to hike the shorter loop, which is why this post will only focus on that particular route.
If desired, the extra section of the longer Rim Trail route could be hiked on a different day, as part of a loop with the Diamond Trail and Lakeview Trail.
Hiking the Rim Trail: Our experience
Read on for a quick overview of our hike on the Rim Trail. Camping in Cathedral in mid August, we had experienced light snowfall while hiking the Diamond Trail the previous day. We felt very lucky to wake up to clear skies!
Lake of the Woods to the Stone City
We reached Ladyslipper Lake after 40 minutes of steep switchbacks from our campsite at the Lake of the Woods. The view of the mountains in the background was a great taste of the magnificence to come! Apparently, there is very good fishing here.
As we said goodbye to beautiful Ladyslipper, a steady climb began. It wasn’t long before we could spot the ridge on our left.
The one obstacle between us and the actual rim of the park was a giant pile of slate and rocks, with a steep drop on either side.
I’m not too good with heights but I was relieved we were heading up rather than walking down the slate slope. The views at the top were probably the best reward around.
The Stone City was waiting for us at the junction of the Ladyslipper Trail and the Rim Trail proper. It was like a giant’s playground with rocks of every size thrown about everywhere.
After our well-deserved lunch in front of the gorgeous view, we took the side trail and explored the Smokey the Bear and the Giant Cleft. Of course, JR got much closer to the edge than I did!
Traversing the rim
Looking to the south, we could see smoke in some of the mountain valleys. The morning after this hike we woke up to the smell of fire. Taking the bus back down the mountain, we slowly descended into a dark haze of smoke.
This smoke was from the huge fires burning in Washington State and didn’t lift for over a week. We thought we were lucky at the time to do this hike on the perfect day we had but we truly had no idea!
Out of the Stone City and back on the trail, we enjoyed the peace and quiet on the mountain ridge.
It seemed that most people that day hiked the other way around to us – from Glacier Lake to the Rim and then down to Ladyslipper Lake. I’ve since learned that clockwise is the usual way (the direction we hiked).
Indeed, we did not see any hikers after leaving the Stone City despite being able to see for what seemed like miles in every direction.
We sadly also did not see any mountain goats, which was something we had both really hoped to see. Oh well, you can’t have everything!
Finishing the trail
At Glacier Lake, we turned off the Rim Trail and descended back down towards base camp. And it is a pretty steep way down, as evidenced by the photo above!
Not much of the Glacier remains nowadays, but we did see a smattering of snow and ice on the slopes. It was sad to say goodbye to the mountaintop views, but fishing and wine at Lake of the Woods was waiting for us!
Rim Trail hiking guide
In this section, I’ll share everything you need to know to start planning your Rim Trail hike.
How to access the Rim Trail
There is no public road access to the trailhead of this hike. Aspiring Rim Trail hikers must first travel from the Cathedral Provincial Park boundary into the core area of the park.
There are two ways to do this:
- Hike one of three strenuous trails
- Take the Cathedral Lakes shuttle bus
The most used trail into the core area is the Lakeview Trail. It is 16km long with an elevation gain of 1300m. Allow 6 to 8 hours. The trailhead is located on the Ashnola Forest Service Road. I’ve never hiked this trail but I’ve heard that it is not very scenic. More information on the BC Parks website here.
To save time and energy, most Rim Trail hikers take the Cathedral Lakes shuttle bus (which is actually a 4WD vehicle) to and from the core area. For the 2022 season, the return fee is $157.50 plus tax. Reservations are available online.
It’s not physically possible for anyone except the ultra fit to hike up from the parking lot and hike the Rim Trail on the same day and then hike down.
For that reason, plan to stay for at least one night at one of the core area campgrounds (Quiniscoe Lake or Lake of the Woods) or Cathedral Lakes Lodge. Personally, I’d recommend two or three nights. There’s a lot of excellent hiking here!
If camping isn’t your thing and you don’t have the budget for the lodge, it’s still possible to hike part of the Rim Trail on a day trip. The first bus is at 10am with the last returning bus at 3.30pm. It wouldn’t give you long (about 4 hours), but you’d be able to get a taste of the core area’s beauty.
The main access point of the park is on Ashnola River Road near the village of Keremeos. Head west on Highway 3 and turn at the signed junction, crossing the big red bridge over the Similkameen River.
Continue on this road. It becomes gravel after turning away from the highway but is fairly well maintained. There are many paid and free riverside campgrounds along the road.
The Cathedral Lakes Lodge shuttle parking lot is 21km along the Ashnola River Road. It is fairly large. The gate may be locked when you arrive but it will be opened when the shuttle arrives.
The Lakeview Trailhead is a little further along the road (approx. 1km).
When to hike the Rim Trail
The main hiking season in the core area of Cathedral Provincial Park is July to September. The most popular time to hike the Rim Trail is late July to early September, when the trail is snow-free and the weather is warmest.
Cathedral Lakes Lodge runs a shuttle bus to the core area from mid June to the end of September. Before this time, many of the trails are still covered (or mostly covered) with snow. The lakes are usually frozen as well.
By the end of September, they may be light snow on the ground.
Around mid to late September, the larch trees in the core area turn golden before dropping their needles. The exact timing of the colour peak changes from year to year, depending on the weather and temperature.
If you’re planning to camp, I’d highly recommend planning your trip for a weekday. Both core area campgrounds are exceptionally busy (over capacity) on weekends.
Navigating the Rim Trail
The entire Rim Trail Loop route is well used and established, but is easier to follow above the tree line. The shale sections need some attention, especially the steeper parts. The path down to Glacier Lake is rough in places and can be hard to see.
As mentioned, the Rim Trail Loop is a combination of hiking trails. For this reason, I’d highly recommend getting very familiar with the core area map before heading onto the trail. There is signage for the individual trails around the lodge area and sporadically along the route.
Here’s the order of trails when hiking clockwise from the lodge or Quiniscoe Lake:
- Pyramid Lake Trail
- Ladyslipper Lake Trail
- Cathedral Rim Trail
- Glacier Lake Trail
The above trails are all featured on our favourite hiking app, Maps.me. Be sure to download the relevant maps before heading to Cathedral and then you can use them offline. The app indicates your position on the trail.
Routing is also available on AllTrails, as ‘Pyramid Lake, Ladyslipper and Cathedral Rim.’
Back in 2015, two hikers went missing in the park for a week. Hiking in a heavily wooded area, they encountered some unexpected weather and subsequently lost the trail. Thankfully, they turned up safe.
Rescuers noted that the hikers were not well equipped (always bring the 10 Essentials). Notably, they were also hiking in late June, which is considered pretty early for Cathedral’s hiking season.
The Rim Trail is a moderate difficulty hike. When hiking clockwise, the majority of the elevation is gained between Pyramid Lake and Ladyslipper Lake (switchbacks, steep at times) and then Ladyslipper and the Stone City junction.
The latter starts with a steady climb to the treeline. Then a long, open traverse, before a steepish climb to through a scree/slate rockfield with an established (firm) path. There is a steep drop on both sides.
The descent down to Glacier Lake is steep and winding, with loose rock.
There are no fees to hike the Rim Trail or visit Cathedral Provincial Park.
Cathedral Lakes Lodge charges $157.50 for the return shuttle ridge from the parking area to the core area.
Camping fees are $10 per person, per night at the Quiniscoe Lake and Lake of the Woods campgrounds. No ‘wild’ camping (outside of these campgrounds) is allowed in the core area.
The core area of Cathedral Provincial Park is busy with visitors in summer, but it still located in a remote backcountry area.
Here are some of the main hazards to be aware of:
- Weather. Conditions can change quickly in high elevation areas such as this. Snow is possible even in the middle of summer. The weather on the rim may be different than in the campground.
- Elevation gain. The climb to the rim is steep in places. If you do not hike regularly, you may still find it very tiring. Pace yourself
- Communication. There is no phone signal in Cathedral Provincial Park. Tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to be back. Bring a satellite communication devices (Inreach or Spot) for emergencies. If you need urgent help at the campground, head to the lodge or find the PFO (park facility operator)
- Navigation. As mentioned above, most of the trails in Cathedral are reasonably well defined but would be easy to get distracted and miss a turning (especially in forest areas). Pay attention to your surroundings
- Wildlife. Please read the information below about how to stay safe around Cathedral’s mountain goats.
Cathedral Provincial Park is home a wide range of animals including bighorn sheep, mule deer, badger and marmot. Sightings of black bear and grizzly bear are pretty rare but not impossible.
The most well known residents of Cathedral are the mountain goats. The park is home to around 30 goats, which are often sighted in and around the campgrounds and along the slopes of the surrounding mountains.
Unfortunately, Cathedral’s mountain goats are in danger of being too habituated (used to humans).
When habituated, wildlife are more likely to closely approach humans and can become aggressive. Mountain goats can be very large and use their horns to defend their personal space.
The chance of encountering an aggressive mountain goat in Cathedral is very unlikely. When they do approach humans, they are usually looking for sources of salt – urine and sweaty clothing.
To prevent the goats becoming more habituated, you can help by:
- Maintaining a safe distance from mountain goats (at least 50m)
- Not urinating on the ground in the campgrounds
- Not urinating on or near trails, move at least 50m off the trail
- Disposing of grey water (waste water from washing dishes) in outhouses
- Not leaving sweaty clothing and equipment outside of your tent
If a mountain goat does approach you, move away to a safe distance. If it continues to approach, chase it off by yelling and throwing rocks. Report the incident to the campground’s PFO (park facility operator) as soon as possible.
The above information is from BC Parks.
It is not possible to camp on the Rim Trail itself but there are two established campgrounds in the core area of Cathedral Provincial Park:
- Quiniscoe Lake – Located less than 300m from the lodge and shuttle drop-off. 30 campsites along the southern shore of the lake, clustered in groups of three or four with shared picnic tables and fire rings
- Lake of the Woods – 1.1km from the lodge and shuttle drop-off. 28 campsites along the northeast shore of the lake, no picnic tables or fire rings (no fires allowed)
The campsites feature large framed earth tent pads and are first come, first serve.
Both campgrounds have outhouses and wire mesh food caches. The latter are not bearproof and are intended for protection against small critters like squirrels and chipmunks. Unfortunately, we didn’t find them to be very protective as the frame of the cache was partially broken at the time of our visit.
The hike between Quiniscoe Lake and Lake of the Woods is fairly flat, with about 35m elevation change. Allow 20-30 minutes.
There is a third campground at Pyramid Lake but it has been closed for at least 7 years. Pine beetles have eaten their way through the trees and created many hazards.
Camping fees are $10 per person, per night (cash). There is an information shelter with payment slips and a vault near the ranger cabin on Quiniscoe Lake. Alternatively, you can pay the PFO (Park Facility Operator). They usually do their rounds in the late afternoon or evening.
Recommended items to bring
As well as your 10 Essentials, I’d recommend bringing the following items on your Rim Trail hike:
- Warm layers. No matter what the forecast says, bring a mix of clothing on your Cathedral adventure. It was easily 25 degrees on the August day we hiked the Rim Trail but the morning before, we had hiked in light snow
- Sun and snow protection. On the same theme as above, bring a warm toque (and a pair of gloves!) as well as a sun hat and sunscreen. Weather conditions can change quickly. It can also be windy on the rim.
- Portable charger. Be sure to bring a power bank for your phone – there is so much to photograph! There are no facilities to charge items in Cathedral Provincial Park unless you stay at Cathedral Lakes Lodge
- Hiking poles. The ascents and descents on the Rim Trail are quite steep. I would highly recommend bringing hiking poles to help with knee strain. My favourite poles (and the ones I used on the Rim Trail) are the Black Diamond Distance Z. They are super light and also are easy to fold down when not in use
- Insect repellent. We didn’t have a problem with bugs in August but I imagine there may be quite a lot of flies and mosquitoes earlier in the summer. Be sure to bring your favourite insect repellent
- Fishing gear. Cathedral’s lakes support both rainbow and cutthroat trout. Fish tend to be on the small size (6 to 10 inches) but are plentiful, especially at Ladyslipper Lake. Don’t forget to bring a paper copy of your fishing license
- Extra cash. Cathedral Lakes Lodge sells ice cream and other supplies (including alcoholic drinks!) to campers
- A dogsitter. Sorry, dogs are not permitted in Cathedral Provincial Park
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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