1.7 km to waterfalls;
457Elevation Gain (m)
Cliff Lake is a large, pleasing, subalpine lake about 1.5 km long in a narrow valley snuggled between light-coloured rock slopes of the nearby Rockies. Mount Patmore is on the west and an unnamed blocky summit rises on the eastern shore. Cliff Lake’s deep-blue water stretches out to the south. The rocky lakeshore is interspersed with pockets of subalpine meadows and dotted with sparse fir and spruce stands. Campsites on the shores of Cliff Lake are limited, due to the uneven bedrock sloping into the water, but you may find some soft meadows that are not too uneven.

There is, however, a small campsite much lower on the trail, just a couple hundred metres from the tarn Lemon Lake. It has space for two tents, and the best part is that it is perched on a gigantic boulder beside a creek. Visitors are treated to an inspiring view of the tall thin waterfall tumbling off the cliffs. The falls plunge 213 m (700 ft.) from Cliff Lake, and hikers at the boulder camp can see the waterfalls from 300 m across an open brushy basin.

The route to Cliff Lake ascends the cliff-like slope beside the waterfalls. Climbing the route to the lake is an aerobic endeavour, with only bits of trail to guide hikers up the slope. Most of the route up the cliff is not marked. There are plenty of foot- and handholds, but it is still very steep and feels exposed in places. This is not a safe hike in wet weather. After an overnight rain, some sections of rock can be very slick.

The hike to Cliff Lake takes three to four hours.

0 km: Trailhead on Van Creek Road, N99302-E17185, at 1460 m (4,790 ft.). Hike southwest on this neglected trail littered with many blowdowns. The first part of the trail is in forest.

1 km: Pass Lemon Lake. The trail is high above the tarn, a shallow, deeply sheltered tarn in the forest, about 45 minutes from the trailhead. In a couple hundred metres the trail ends at a creek crossing at the base of massive boulder. Scramble up the steep face of the boulder to a campsite perched on top of the rock at 1550 m (5,100 ft.).

1.4 km: From the campsite hike toward the base of the falls on a trail across a brushy meadow.

1.7 km: Base of the falls. Scramble up the right side of the cascade and head farther right as you climb. Most of the time the flagging-tape is either hard to spot or nonexistent. There are several routes up the steep bedrock face. Small bushes cling into the crags and many trees grow in deeper pockets between the rocks, with plenty of places to hold on to or step. The cliff part of the hike ascends 240 m (800 ft.) from the campsite.

2 km: As the grade becomes less steep, follow an undefined trail south (left) along the base of a second cliff-like wall. As the route angles gradually toward the turbulent creek, the trail becomes more defined. Follow cairns up the boulder slope. As you approach the lake the hike climbs up through the forest. The trail up the final pitch is well-worn and wide but squeezes between big boulders and the creek crashing beside you.

3 km: Cliff Lake north end, at 1915 m (6,280 ft.), N98065-E15279.


Road: high-clearance vehicle

Bull River Road branches off Wardner/Fort Steele Road (21.6 km from Fort Steele on Highway 93/95 or 9.7 km from Highway 3/93). See details for Wardner/Fort Steele Road

0 km: Bull River Road starts at Wardner/Fort Steele Road.

19.8 km: Turn left (northwest) onto the unsigned Van Creek Road (near the 32 km sign). Stay on Van Creek Road, N93370-E20852, and take the older, more established road straight ahead, ignoring the new-looking logging-road branches.

20.3 km: Turn right downhill and follow this good gravel road for another 8 km.

21.5 km and 23.4 km: Cross Van Creek (bridges replaced in 2003). Sometimes bridges are pulled after an area is logged. In 2008 the Forest Service noted the road was open.

28.6 km: Immediately after Van Creek Road crosses Van Creek (41 km sign), park in a wide pullout on the left (west) side of the road, N99302-E17185. If the old road starts to climb steeply north and levels off, you may have missed the unsigned trailhead.

Hike Map
Janice Strong

Janice Strong

Janice Strong is an established professional outdoor photographer. Her images grace collections all over the world and appear in many respected publications. She is passionate about hiking and is also an avid snowshoer and skier, exploring the outdoors of the East Kootenay in southeastern BC year round.

She openly shares her passion for the outdoors with others and has introduced hundreds of people to the joys of hiking. For a decade she led hikes for the City of Cranbrook – Parks and Recreation. With her guidance, many people have themselves become enthusiastic hikers.

Climbing mountains, finding new places and enjoying the experience of the journey have always been important to Janice. She cherishes the little things she sees along the trail, as well as the grand destinations.

When Janice is not writing, hiking or taking photographs, she is involved in various creative digital, website design or photographic projects for her clients. She and her husband, Jamie Levine, enjoy their rural property, near Cranbrook, BC.

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