Backpacking in South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park, British Columbia

South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park

It was epic! For seven days, our group backpacked through the untrammelled wilderness of British Columbia’s South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park. This park has an incredible diversity of landscapes—snowy peaks, glacial lakes and flower-filled meadows all connected by over 200 km of wilderness trails. No need to worry about social distancing. We met only two other hiking groups during our week’s stay. It was rough going at times, but the scenic rewards and sense of accomplishment far outweighed the discomforts.

Lorna Lake to Tyaughton Lake Route

While best known for mountain biking, there are many options for exceptional day hiking and multi-day backpacking in South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park. We did a 7-day trip from Lorna Lake to Tyaughton Lake. Due to the significant elevation changes and route-finding challenges, this route is best suited for experienced backpackers. See end for other options and logistics.

Distance: 62 km (39 mi) route, not including day hikes

Time: 6-7 days with fly-in to Lorna Lake

Elevation gain: 3227 m (10,587 ft), not including day hikes

Elevation loss: 4136 m (13,570 ft) loss, not including day hikes

Day 1: Float plane to Lorna Lake & day hike along Sluice Creek

Our group of nine, chartered a float plane with Tyax Adventures for the 20-minute flight from their base at Tyaughton Lake to Lorna Lake. What a thrilling start to our trip! We were the first of only two hiking groups to arrive at Lorna Lake and we were able to snag the premier camping spot at the north end of the lake. Glacier-fed Lorna Lake is stunning, surrounded by vertiginous scree slopes, high peaks and sub-alpine forest.

Tyax Adventures float plane trip to Lorna Lake (spectacular!)
Arriving at Lorna Lake
Our campsite at Lorna Lake
Sandy-coloured scree meets turquoise Lorna Lake

It was tempting to spend the afternoon lounging in the sun at Lorna Lake, but the Sluice Creek area called out for exploration. We quickly discovered that the dotted lines on our Trail Ventures BC map do not represent trails, rather they are mountaineering routes (MRs) with little to no path. From Lorna Lake, we bushwhacked through fairly open forest to Sluice Creek. From there, we followed the creek upstream to a landscape that looks like a painting— gurgling creeks, vivid green vegetation, smoothed mountain contours, and even some graceful deer.

Exploring along Sluice Creek with Warner Ridge in background
Sluice Creek with Dorrie Ridge on the left

Day 2: Lorna Pass to Little Paradise Creek & day hike to Davidson Ridge

Today was our first “test” with our heavy packs and it started almost immediately uphill from Lorna Lake over Lorna Pass. The two hour climb on a well-maintained trail was hard but not horribly so. Coming down the other side, we were rewarded with vast meadows of wildflowers and enormous views.

Climbing up Lorna Pass from Lorna Lake
Wildflower meadows coming down Lorna Pass Trail

By lunchtime, we were at the Little Paradise Creek/Tyaughton Creek trails intersection where we decided to pitch our tents in a grassy meadow. Some of us opted for an afternoon hike to Davidson Ridge (about 8 km return). This pleasant hike along Little Paradise Creek Trail climbs through open forest with amazing flower displays, eventually coming to tree line where superb views over the rounded, warm-hued mountains reveal the diversity of this park.

Wildflowers along Little Paradise Creek Trail
Little Paradise Creek Trail
Break time on rocky perch below Davidson Ridge

Day 3: Little Paradise Creek to Lizard Tarns (almost)

To say that this was a tough day would be an understatement. We might be smiling in the photo below, but inside we’re cursing the boggy ground, the lack of trail, the endless bushwhacking, the numerous creek crossings, the boulder fields and the incessant mosquito presence.

I had anticipated some hardship based on our guidebook’s description of the Lizard Creek drainage :” Lack of a good trail above Lizard Pond—some route-finding and bushwhacking required.” The word “some” is misleading. We were rarely on a trail (even below Lizard Pond) and almost the entire way was a big challenge. Now we knew the definition of a mountaineering route in the Chilcotins!

Fortunately, we were a stoic group, pitching in to build bridges for creek crossings, providing encouragement to each other and taking turns leading through the rough terrain. By late afternoon, after more than nine hours on the “trail” (and less than 10 km travelled), we still hadn’t made it to our intended destination of Lizard Tarns. We were tired and disheartened and not entirely sure how we were going to find the bloody tarns. We decided to pitch camp in a nice-looking though slightly soggy meadow below a ridge, which we were “somewhat sure” would get us to Lizard Tarns.

I had a sleepless night feeling guilty that I had been the one who pushed for doing the Lizard Creek route, worrying about the next day and stressing about Mike’s state of mind (this was a lot more demanding that what he’d signed up for).

Smiling (or grimacing) in our sweaty bug suits
A nice reprieve at Lizard Pond (great swim spot)
Challenging terrain along Lizard Creek
Our bridge-building efforts got as all safely to the other side
Our camp just below the ridge that we think will lead to Lizard Tarns

Day 4: Lizard Tarns, Lizard Lake and Sheba Ridge to Deer Pass

If Day 3 was the low point, Day 4 was the absolute highlight. As we suspected, the ridge above our campsite, while a steep grunt, did lead to Lizard Tarns. We were elated at the top, awed by the alpine wonderland and relieved that we were “back on track”. We dropped our packs to explore the tarns (glacially carved pools) and nearby Lizard Lake.

Hiking up the rocky slope from our meadow campsite
It was worth the effort: Lizard Tarns, finally!
And, spectacular Lizard Lake

Now, we faced the challenge of finding our onward route up a scree bowl to Sheba Ridge. It was another steep slog with no trail, but the clear sight lines made route-finding far easier than on our previous day. The best moment of the trip for me was when we crested the ridge and looked over the huge, beautiful wilderness. I was so proud of Mike for persevering and pushing himself beyond his imagined limits. I sensed it was a special moment for our entire group.

Trudging up to Sheba Ridge from Lizard Tarns
View back to Lizard Lake and Lizard Tarns
Mount Sheba

Our campsite at Deer Pass was cold and exposed, but I didn’t mind. The setting was phenomenal and the grandeur of the day was intoxicating.

Views near our Deer Pass campsite
Feeling on top of the world
Deer Pass camp

Day 5: Deer Pass to Potato Patch

It was nice waking up knowing that today we’d be on actual trails and that the first section was all downhill—no stress and endless panoramic views coming down Deer Pass to the Gun Creek Trail.

The big draw of the Upper Gun Creek Trail is its gorgeous turquoise lakes. We didn’t have the time for a detour to Warner Lake but we enjoyed skirting Trigger Lake and having lunch at Hummingbird Lake. Much to our surprise, there was a picnic table and outhouse at Hummingbird Lake—such luxuries after days of no facilities.

A contemplative moment before leaving Deer Pass
Big views and easy going as we head down Deer Pass Trail
Deer Pass Trail
Lunch beside Hummingbird Lake
Gun Creek Trail along Hummingbird Lake

It was a long haul to our campsite at Potato Patch but we needed to make up ground to avoid excessively lengthy days during the last section of our route. The lovely wildflowers provided a soothing distraction for our tired bodies. At camp, the bugs were a nuisance though we kept them at bay with a roaring fire and were distracted by laughs as Mike was given a “blister operation” by nurse Helle, and traded toilet paper for pack-lightening service with Eva.

Day 6: High Trail over Windy Pass to the Eldorado Meadows

The High Trail starts just steps from the Potato Patch campsite, and from there it’s 640 m (2100 ft) up to Windy Pass. The trail travels first through forest and then quickly opens to meadows before the final push to Windy Pass. We were amazed at the distance we had covered over the last two days as we stopped to admire the views and saw Mount Sheba on the horizon.

One of my favourite parts of the trek was the the descent from Windy Pass into the Eldorado Meadows. We were captivated by a large group of mountain goats high on a ridge and by the many marmots darting in and out of their tunnels. Below the rocky terrain, the beautiful trail curves its way down meadows speckled with vibrant flowers and crisscrossed by clear, babbling streams. It felt like a scene from The Sound of Music.

Come dusk, the idyllic scene at our meadow campsite turned into another mosquito fest. We didn’t waste any time getting a fire started and we all pitched in gathering wood.

Looking down High Trail from where we’d come
Heading up to Windy Pass
Great scenery and hardy wildflowers at Windy Pass
High Trail just beyond summit of Windy Pass
Eldorado Meadows
A scenic break along High Trail in the Eldorado Meadows

Day 7: Eldorado Meadows to Tyax Lodge where fries and beer await

Our final day on the trail! I had mixed feelings during our 1000+ m (3280+ ft) knee knackering descent to Tyaughton Lake via the Lick Trail. I was so ready for real food (not the dehydrated stuff) and a bath in something warmer than glacial streams. At the same time, I wanted the serenity that comes with immersion in nature to continue.

But as the temperature rose to the high 20s °C (mid-80s °F) and our last few kilometres on an uninspiring forestry road dragged on forever, all I could think of was a cold beer and fries. We pushed on, ecstatic to finally arrive at Tyax Lodge (just 2 km from where our cars were parked). The lodge rooms are closed due to the pandemic, but the pretty restaurant patio has thankfully remained open. We dumped our packs on the lawn and scattered based on our most pressing personal needs—some, like me, beelined it to the patio for a frosty beer, others raced to the lake to wash off a week’s worth of sweat, sunscreen and mosquito repellent. We all joined together for dinner on the patio and toasted our epic backpacking adventure in South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park.

View of Carpenter Lake Reservoir from Lick Trail
Verdant meadows along upper parts of Lick Trail
Tyax Lodge patio
Our hiking group on Lick Trail. Photo credit: Jay Timmerman

Thank you, Eva and Mats for introducing us to this park, and thanks to all of you—Helle, Finn, Susan, Jay, Ian, Mike, Eva, Mats— for your positive energy, perseverance, route-finding, fire-building, bridge-building, flower crown-making, animal-spotting, blister-healing, bear canister-schlepping and wonderful companionship. It was a pleasure hiking with you.

If you go:

  • Access South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park near Gold Bridge, approximately a five hour drive from Vancouver. Find directions here.
  • Independent hiking and multi-day backpacking trips in the park can be staged from Tyax Lodge, which has rooms, chalets and a campground (rooms are currently closed due to COVID-19). There are also several other campgrounds in the vicinity. There is no fee or reservations required for independent hiking/camping in the park.
  • Tyax Adventures offers float plane service, sightseeing flights, guided single day and multi-day backpacking, mountain biking and horsepacking excursions as well as backcountry hut accommodations.
  • The Trail Ventures BC guide book and map for Southern Chilcotin Mountains provide essential information for trails, routes, camping, wildlife, etc.
  • This park is an undeveloped wilderness area. Except for main trail intersections, there is little signage. Camping, with the exception of Spruce Lake, Hummingbird Lake, Trigger Lake and Lorna Lake is primitive—no pit toilets, food caches, tent pads, picnic tables…
  • As we discovered, mountaineering routes (that look like actual trails on the map) can be extremely challenging. Stick to the main trails if you lack experience (or want a less demanding trek), or take a guided trip with Tyax Adventures.
  • While our group didn’t encounter any bears, grizzly and black bears, as well as other other large mammals, are commonly seen. Be bear aware. If camping at primitive sites in the alpine/sub-alpine, bear canisters are essential (hanging food packs from trees isn’t always possible).
  • There are many water sources in the park, but filtration and/or treatment with tablets should be used.
  • Expect large temperature variations. In mid-July, we experienced below freezing temperatures at night and high 20s°C (mid-80s°F) in the day.
Lorna Lake To Tyaughton Lake route: Map from bcparks.ca
Elevation profile. Credit: Jay Timmerman

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50 thoughts on “Backpacking in South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park, British Columbia

  1. Excellent post Caroline! Lovely description, beautiful photos and stunning scenery.

    I especially like the view of Lorna Lake!

    Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. This trip was the highlight of my summer. I agree with you on Lorna Lake. It was amazing to see it from the air, and camping with the lake to ourselves was very special.

      Like

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    Liked by 1 person

  3. looks absolutely magnificent!

    Liked by 3 people

  4. AndyG

    Wow! Looks like you had an amazing time! That was a great read and the route looks stunning – the photos of Lorna Lake have just made me more determined to fly out there next time. And the flowers (and of course the bugs…!). How were the crossings of Big Creek and Tyaughton Creek? I hadn’t considered Lizard Creek as the approach – now I’m definitely not tempted! 🙂

    One thing that consistently surprised us was how a clear and obvious trail could disappear in a matter of a few metres leaving you totally high and dry with no clue as to where to go next. It’s definitely a place that requires a bit of confidence to explore!

    Liked by 3 people

    • You should absolutely fly into Lorna Lake, Andy. We would do this again and use it as a base camp for a few days…lots to explore from there. Warner Lake also looks spectacular (we only saw it from a distance). We were pleasantly surprised to find a bridge crossing over Big Creek so no problems coming out of the lake to Lorna Pass. We had no major issues with creek crossings except for our adventures along Lizard Creek. I think you summed up the hiking in Chilcotin perfectly: it requires a bit of confidence. Maybe that’s a good thing.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Tyax Adventures

    Hi Caroline. A great blog post and amazing photos! We’re glad you all enjoyed your hiking adventure in the South Chilcotin mountains so much and we look forward to seeing you back at Tyax Adventures again soon !

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Wow! Fantastic images and story, Caroline. What a grand adventure!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Mike Hohmann

    Beautiful trip, Caroline. A great time! I haven’t carried a bear canister in a couple of years, but haven’t missed it! Enjoy the fall weather soon to set in!

    Liked by 3 people

    • It was my first experience carrying that bulky canister. At least it doubles as a seat! The weather here is lovely right now but we can feel fall in the air already. Happy hiking Mike!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Wow, Caroline – this was clearly no casual walk in the park! I’m more than a little envious that you live just a couple hours’ drive from such unspoiled nature. So many of your landscape photos have a painterly quality to them… my favorites are the ones of Lizard Tarns and Mount Sheba. And my jaw practically dropped when I read that the backpacking trip included more than 3,000 meters of elevation gain and 4,000 meters of elevation loss. From the sounds of it, this makes the challenging three-day traverse of Mt. Rinjani look almost tame. Bama and I never had to do any bushwhacking or bridge-building, though we did end up picking our way across the debris of a landslide at one point! Curiously, mosquitoes were never an issue on any of our Indonesian volcano hikes. I had no idea they existed in such large numbers in BC’s wilderness.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I went back to your post about Mt. Rinjani. Amazing! It sounds pretty darn gruelling, James! But what rewards! I regret that I didn’t do this trek on my past trips to Indonesia…yet another reason to return.
      We hadn’t anticipated that our trip would be this difficult. Although I have done backpacking trips in the past, it’s easy to forget what a huge difference it makes carrying all that heavy gear on your back, especially when there’s a lot of elevation change. I would love to explore more of this park, but next time I think we might base ourselves somewhere and do day trips with light packs.
      My hiking pal Eva thinks I might have exaggerated the mosquito nuisance. Unfortunately, I’m always the one who gets attacked the worst. We do have lots of mosquitoes in the BC wilderness (not too bad in Vancouver but I still get bitten). Luckily the worst is over with cooler weather in late August.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I have drooled throughout this post like my German Shepherd did when I ate yoghurt. Apologies for the graphic imagery but I’m just so deeply, deeply envious. This is like Kyrgyzstan, the Alps and Iceland only combined!

    Now, how do I ditch London and move to BC?

    Fabrizio

    Liked by 3 people

    • Point well made with that graphic imagery, Fabrizio! I must admit that we are spoiled here in BC when it comes to nature and hiking opportunities. However, on Day 3 of this hike I would have killed for one of those cute alpine huts in Austria/Italy/Germany…serving warm strudel with vanilla sauce (I haven’t been to Iceland or Kyrgyztan).

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Caroline your photographs of the scenery, the wildflowers, the camping sites, the pools are absolutely magnificent! Seems like you had an incredible trip and adventure, save for day 3. Well done for arranging such an exciting trip.Sounds like this one will be memorable indeed. This is the kind of rugged hiking trip I only dream of but will probably never get the opportunity to go on. Oh well, thanks for doing it for me!

    Peta

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Peta! I’m glad I could take you along for the hike. I was just out on a morning walk with my friend Eva who initiated this trip. We were talking about what an amazing summer it has been discovering places here in British Columbia. I’m sure I’ll miss our international travels soon, especially once the rains start, but for now I’m really happy having these great adventures closer to home. Cheers! Caroline

      Like

  11. Can I please move in next door and be your best friend? I’d give a LOT to be able to get to these kinds of hikes, and to have other good friends nearby who appreciate them. This looks so heavenly to me (maybe minus day 3!), and I bet I’ve spent plenty of money getting someone else to arrange this kind of week for me. Congrats on a very successful outing!

    Liked by 3 people

    • You can never have enough hiking friends. As I think I’ve mentioned to you before, I’m really fortunate to have a wonderful group of hiking friends, like Eva who initiated this trip. I believe you mentioned pre-COVID that you guys might make a trip to the Vancouver area. I was looking forward to this! It would be so nice to meet you in person Lexie and go on a hike or three. Let’s hope that this can happen!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Reading this post made me smile — not because it wasn’t me who had to deal with those mosquitoes, but more of the sweet memories of my past hikes your photos and story evoked. Kudos to Mike for persevering! I will usually become that person who keeps complaining (albeit silently) when I go hiking, but all of that always disappears when I reach the summit or when the whole thing is over. Such beautiful and refreshing shots, Caroline!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks Bama; I’m glad it made you smile. I remember some of your hiking posts and challenges you faced. It is reassuring that we tend to forget the hardships (or at least they don’t seem as monumental) when there are such great rewards for experiencing nature, physically/mentally pushing yourself and making it to that summit or goal. I was a bit worried that Mike might never go on another backpacking trip with me, but when he talks about this trip now, he does so with such enthusiasm. I think he surprised himself with what he’s capable of. Here’s to you getting out hiking again, hopefully in the not too distant future!

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Epic indeed! This must have been an incredible week in regards to both views and hardships.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Wow! Just wow. Epic indeed! Wonderful storytelling that had me along with you (which is about the best I could do on this kind of trek) and fabulous photos. I love beautiful BC!
    Alison

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Alison! I am so happy that I’ve had the chance to explore more of beautiful BC this summer. I guess we could have done more in previous years, but somehow we never ventured far from home in summer, preferring to travel internationally during other times of the year. Travel in BC has been a great silver-lining for us during COVID (we’ll see how I’m dealing with it in November!)

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Wow! The landscape is truly epic. But I guess it would be more perfect without the horde of mosquitoes 😛

    Liked by 2 people

    • Unfortunately, those mosquitoes come with the territory in many parts of Canada. Had we visited now, there would have been less mosquitoes due to the cooler late summer weather, but we wanted to be there during the peak of wildflower bloom. It was pretty perfect, even with the bugs!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. Although it sounds challenging, the hike looks awesome. The views are amazing with so much time above the tree-line. The worst sounding part to me are the mosquitoes, did your bug suits work? I’ve never used them. I love that the hike ends at a patio! They all should 😊.

    Liked by 2 people

    • One of my favourite things about this hike was precisely because so much was above tree line, and even in the forest, there were many open sections…unlike the dense stuff closer to Vancouver.
      The bug suits do help but they are sweaty and it’s tough to eat when you have them on. I kept forgetting to open the flap and would jam a spoonful of food into the mesh😂.
      Tyax Lodge and the patio restaurant are great. We stayed at their campsite, which is nice too.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Just gorgeous. Except for the mosquitoes!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Your multi-day backpacking trip from Lorna Lake to Tyaughton Lake certainly sounds (and looks!) epic. You know it’s going to be quite the adventure when you have to take a float plane to access the trail. The trail looks challenging, but the landscape is breathtaking. Also, I think I have the same tent as you or someone from your group: the MSR Hubba Hubba NX.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It would have been far more challenging without the float plane drop off. It’s a great service and gets you into the heart of the park in 20 minutes.
      Several of us have the MSR Hubba Hubba. I’ve used it for multiple longer excursions and have been super happy with it (love the light weight).

      Like

  19. Oh my goodness 😍 This sounds like an amazing adventure! I had no idea this place even existed. What a challenging and rewarding thing to have accomplished.

    Also I have to ask… why does one member of your group have a giant bucket strapped to his pack?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I had never heard of this park until a few years ago. I guess it is sufficiently far from Vancouver and very remote, plus hikers have much closer options. It’s absolutely worth the effort getting there though and I loved that there were so few others there.

      Haha, I figured someone would ask about the bucket. He used it as a bear-proof canister to store all his food/smelly stuff. The rest of us managed to fit our canisters inside our packs, but his didn’t fit. While hiking, he put all his food in the pack and strapped the empty canister outside. It’s quite the look, isn’t it!

      Liked by 1 person

  20. jawatson852

    Wonderful photos, amazing views. You all deserve credit for tackling and completing such an ambitious
    week’s worth of hiking. Well done!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks John! It was totally worth the effort. I was worried that Mike might never hike with me again after this, but he’s talking quite enthusiastically about it now.

      Like

  21. Amazing

    Liked by 2 people

  22. I feel exhausted after reading your post, but what an amazing wilderness, impressive. Thank you for sharing the photos, if not the effort.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The hike and the post were both longer than usual! Thank you for persevering. I figured many people wouldn’t read the whole thing unless they were interested in doing a similiar trip, and I hoped that the photos would keep more casual readers entertained.

      Like

  23. That’s some gorgeous scenery!!

    Liked by 3 people

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