Cobalt Lake in Bugaboo Provincial Park

9144Elevation Gain (m)
The deep cobalt-blue water of Cobalt Lake sparkles below a small glacier. The irregular shaped tarn looks like many other alpine lakes of the Purcell Mountains. That is, until the fog lifts. Then the landscape reveals the thousand-metre-high, sheer granite spike of Brenta Spire emerging above the pass. Cobalt is the largest lake in Bugaboo Provincial Park, at about 750 m long. Alpine heathers and mountain avens crowd small meadows around the lakeshore, while all around the small lake rises the intensely steep, barren rocky slopes that are famous as the “Bugaboos.”

Cobalt Lake is one of the few areas in the park’s core that is a hike and not a mountaineering climb. The majority of the hike is on a trail to the pass on Black Forest Ridge. Then the route is through open alpine, and cairns may mark the way.

This is not a hike for remote isolation, as heli-hiking is permitted in this BC Park. For more information on Bugaboo Provincial Park, see Bugaboo Provincial Park earlier in this chapter. Helicopters make frequent fly-overs and drop-offs in and around the Cobalt Lake/Ridge area.

0 km: Trailhead and parking, N22200-E20500. Good trail climbs steeply in alder and pine stands, switchbacking in long, smooth strides.

1.4 km: Small creek (the only water on the trip until you get to the small muddy tarn beyond the pass). Another 100 m farther is a wooden bench. At 2.1 km and 2.5 km in summer there are dry tiny creek crossings.

3 km: Junction to Walter Cobb Lake. The tiny tarn is 500 m off the main trail. Keep climbing on the main trail through alpine meadows up switchbacks to the pass.

4 km: Wow! The first look at Cobalt Lake with Brenta Spire is wonderfully unique. The pass is on the wide, smooth Black Forest Ridge, N23100-E20500. Turn north (right) and hike along the gentle ridge for just over 1 km and the trail disappears in alpine meadows. (Don’t descend straight off the ridge from the pass and go directly toward the lake. Unseen from the ridge, the slope rolls away into a very steep and unstable route.)

6 km: After hiking north along the scenic ridge for 1km, gradually descend in the open alpine. Head northwest (left off the ridge) away from Cobalt Lake to the headwaters of Vowell Creek. Walk north along a small creek in the flat alpine to a tarn. Cairns may mark the route. The route by the tarn takes a sharp U-turn. Head south now toward a rocky notch and descend 150 m (500 ft.) over the moderate slopes to the valley below Cobalt Lake. Routefind south to a short waterfall streaming off the rocks from the lake above you. Follow the creek by the waterfall uphill to the lakeside.

8.5 km: Cobalt Lake, N23100-E17400. The view of the spire at the lakeside is not nearly as spectacular as it is from the ridge high above. The lakeside features gigantic boulders and gravel with few plants. Camping is not allowed at the lakeshore.


Road: any vehicle; road open late spring to fall, potholes, washboards, dusty

0 km: Turn right into Bugaboo Provincial Park at the sign and drive southwest on the rocky road.

750 m: A prominent trailhead, parking, map and sign for Cobalt Lake.

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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