This 1890s mining trail takes you through an impressive forest of red cedars before climbing steeply up the valley wall to Sapphire Lakes and the high alpine of Glory Basin. The bridge crossing Lemon Creek at 9km has been washed out for many years. There are no plans to replace the bridge and the trail is not maintained from the trailhead. Because of the good access to Glory Basin from the core area of Kokanee Glacier PP, that has replaced the way to get to Sapphire Lakes.
The small campground just north of the lower Sapphire Lake is closed.
Difficulty: Moderate, last portion strenuous. C3 (with scramble and bushwhack to bypass the creek crossing.
Elevation gain: 1128m (3700′)
Key elevations: TH 1250m (4100′); Sapphire Lakes & Lemon Pass 7450′; Sunrise / Outlook Col at south head of Glory Basin)
Distance: 9.6km one-way
Time: 5 hours one-way
Season: July to late September or October.
Map: 82F/11 Kokanee Peak
Drive: Lemon Creek FSR – HC 2WD. Lumpy and bumpy, loose small rocks, narrow sections. Biggest hazard is half-way up, at a right hand corner, a big hole that can swallow a tire.
From Silverton: 34.6 km (21.5 miles) south
From Playmor Junction (Hwy 6 and 3A between Castlegar and Nelson): Drive 38.9 km (24.2 miles) north.
0.0 Drive the Lemon Creek FSR (just south of Lemon Creek) east up the valley.
4.7 km (2.9 miles) Bear right and complete a reverse S curve. Then the road rises to about 150m above the south side of Lemon Creek, and descends to much nearer the creek the rest of the way to the trail, always on the S side for 16 km. (At the end, if you cross Lemon Creek on a bridge, you have gone too far.)
16.3km Park. TH Lemon Creek Trail. Turn right to drive 1.7km. This road has become overgrown, is occasionally brushed out, scratches likely. There is a big hole a minute before the lot. Advised to stop at the lower lot and walk.
18km Old trailhead 1250m (4100′). Drop about 25m to the main trail.
Nilsik Creek Trail at 2.4km (hard to follow). Sapphire Lakes 9.6km and Kaslo Lake 3.2km more over Lemon Pass.
From Nelson, it is shorter to drive Duhamel Creek.
0.0 Drive Hwy 3A from the orange bridge, 8km and turn left at Willow Point onto Six Miles Lakes Rd.
17km Cross to the east side of Duhamel Ck. Go over a long pass with lakes to
25km. Join the Lemon Creek FSR before the trail head.
Trail: Begin up an old road for about 1 km. The old original trail is at the road’s end and from here, the relaxing 6.4km of gentle trail rises up the valley passing giant cedars and hemlocks. There are many creek crossings so be wary of frost and wet bark. The trail is not maintained and thus has deadfall.
The trail steepens sharply before the valley’s towering headwall. Start several switchbacks up to the crest. Within 1.6km, the trail crosses Lemon Creek where it cascades down the steep slope. This bridge has been washed out for many years – and as a result this approach to Glory Basin is not used much.
There are several options to deal with the wash-out if you have come this far or plan on hiking this way. 1. Follow the normal trail and try to cross the creek at the best place. Lemon Creek would be difficult to wade until later in the season. There is also less water early in the morning. The banks of the creek here are difficult because of the concrete-hard, steep walls formed by the steep creek. Crampons might be useful! but have an ax and someone to help. 2. Stay on the north side of Lemon Creek. Instead of crossing, skirt under the cliffs of the headwall to the north. Cross where it is easy between the Sapphire Lakes. If coming down Lemon Creek, cross on top and stay on the right (north) side. This is probably the best way. 3. Instead of crossing to the north side down valley, stay on the south side of the creek and attack this side of the headwall. I have come down this way and it is no fun. Anything is possible with determination. The north side is easier.
From the brim, there are splendid views down the valley. Another .8km leads to a ramshackle cabin, a reminder of old gold, silver and lead mining activities. These claims, known as the Silver Crest Group, were worked sporadically until the early 1920s. The cabin was last home to a Mr McCleod, his family and 8 miners who worked the open cuts high on the ridge to the east in the summer of 1921.
Beyond the cabin, ascend meadows to the Lower & Upper Sapphire Lakes (9.6 km, 6 miles total), crystal tarns at the northwest end of a vast alpine basin – Glory Basin. Their cool blue waters invite the photographer and, in summer, the hardy swimmer. The campground at Sapphire Lakes is closed. It is a very fragile area.
The two Sapphire Lakes sit in Lemon Pass at 2271m, 7450 feet.
What to do?
1. Glory Basin. From Sapphire lakes, it can take a half day just to explore Glory Basin. The basin climbs three kilometres south to the Sunshine / Outlook col (2337m 7850 feet). East to west it is about 2 kms wide at the level of the lakes and narrows to about a kilometre in width at its south end.
2. Most of the day will be required to climb all the summits on the south end – all a short climb less than an hour from the basin: Sunshine Mt (2601m 8533′), Outlook Mt (2591m 8479′) and Mount John Carter (2602m 8540′) one km NNE of Outlook on the east edge of the basin.
3. Mt Giegerich (2438m 8000′) is 1km NW of Sapphire Lakes. Beyond is a long ridge extending to the northwest towards Enterprise Pass: Mt Giegerich, Nansen Mt (2469m 8100′), Mt Robert Smith (2470m 8104′) and Boomerang Mt (8210;). Boomerang is normally climbed from Enterprise Creek and Heather Lake. Climb Mt Robert Smith and Nansen from Timber Creek (inaccessible as Enterprise Creek FST is out at 5km). Now the only reasonable access to any of these summits is from Glory Basin and Kokanee Pass.
4. From Sapphire Lakes (Lemon Pass) Kaslo Lake and the core area of Kokanee Glacier PP is 3.2 km more – all downhill.
5. Nilsik Creek trail. From the Sunshine / Outlook col this route can be difficult to find and follow. From the top, the trail begins high and to the right. The start of the Nilsik Creek Trail is 2.4 km (1.5 miles) from the car.
6. Ski Lemon Creek to Six Mile: Sometimes the roads on either end are plowed giving access to high points. But usually ski doos track the route regularly making for easy skiing over the pass. Needs a shuttle.