Summit Mt. Cokely via the Historic CPR Trail
Canada › Mount Cokely via CPR Trail
Added by Rumon Carter
This is the most accessible trail to the alpine on Southern Vancouver Island. That being said, it's a beast of a climb at 1000m of elevation gain over 10km distance to reach the top of Mt. Cokely. However, shorter and easier hikes are possible to (1) a midway lookout (via the Lookout Trail) or (2) following a beautiful creek through old growth (along CPR Trail). There are widely varying habitats as you climb from lakeside near sea-level up to the rocky alpine summit at 5302 ft / 1616 m. Enjoy Stellar 360-degree views on a clear day of Southern Vancouver Island, the Georgia Strait, the Coast Range, the mountains of Strathcona Provincial Park and west to the Pacific Ocean. You'll be hiking through Canadian and Vancouver Island history along the Island's oldest intact trail, first used in the early 1900s by guests of one of the Canadian Pacific Railway's chalets (which also included the Banff Springs Hotel and Jasper Park Lodge).
The trail from Cameron Lake to the top of Mount Cokely (5302') provides the most ready access to the alpine on Southern Vancouver Island. The route is straightforward and non-technical, albeit physically challenging. Expect to spend 6-8+ hours if hiking the entire route described below (which we ran/hustled in ~ 5 hours).
To reach the trailhead from the Island Highway (19), take Highway 4 westbound towards Port Alberni. Approximately 7.5 km past the Whiskey Creek gas station (where you should definitely stop for ice cream on the way back) and just before Cameron Lake comes into view, watch for a wide dirt road on the left. This is the start of the trail. Park on the other side of the road, in the main Cameron Lake parking area. After crossing the road, the initial doubletrack trail climbs slightly then contours to the trailhead proper, which is signed.
Climbing steeply now up mostly well-graded switchbacks, about 1/3 of the way up the route (shortly after re-entering old growth following climbing through a small area of regen) the trail forks east along the Lookout Trail or west along the historic CPR Trail*. If not planning on completing the summit climb or a loop topping out near the site of the old ski hill, you have a decision to make. A short distance further up the eastbound fork along the Lookout Trail is (surprise surprise) a lookout, affording views of the Strait of Georgia and Coast Range to the east and the Cokely summit to the west. On the other hand, the westbound fork along the CPR Trail is arguably the more aesthetically pleasing through the forest, and along a beautiful creek. The suggestion, if looping or summiting - and the route followed in the photos above - is to ascend the Lookout Trail and descend the CPR Trail.
The second third of the climb continuing along the west fork past the Lookout (it's a very short and worthwhile diversion) undulates and is generally less steep as you approach the sub-alpine with some picturesque ponds, bogs and rocky areas along the way. Shortly before reaching a logging road the intersection with the CPR Trail is reached at one of these rocky areas - continue on this route if wishing to complete a keyhole loop (4+ hours roundtrip) without the Cokely summit or descend from this point post-summit to see a stellar stand of old growth along the historic CPR Trail on your way down. The picturesque ends abruptly a short while later when you emerge onto and have to continue climbing along a logging road that provides access all the way to the base of the old ski hill. (Should you wish and have decent tires - the road is quite well graded, though subject to erosion - you can drive all the way to this point along the Pass Main logging road, accessed just west of the Alberni Summit on Hwy 4. If you do so, however, you will be considered soft.)
The final section of the route climbs from the base of the old ski hill, up the overgrown former ski runs (now, unfortunately, the play area of ATVers), to a level area with a couple of small tarns. From here it is a steep and steady climb up the final pitch to the summit. While it is possible to go off the main route marked by orange paint, keep your eyes open and you won't lose your way. One point, referencing the photos above, is that while we climbed a small snow gully at the top of the climb, this was simply to provide kicks for the member of our party who was seeing the Island Alpine for the first time, and is not recommended. The regular route climbs to lookers right of the gully.
Above the gully, if the weather is favourable - which it very often is not given Mount Cokely's big brother creates his own weather - you'll be afforded stellar, dominating views across to the Mountain Arrowsmith massif and down to Jewel Lake. Up the final bump to join the radio repeater atop Cokely your views are expansive.
Head back down via the CPR trail, watching for the intersection described above, stop along the way for animated conversations atop fallen logs and then soak your legs in Cameron Lake before hitting Whiskey Creek for that very well-deserved ice cream.
*The CPR Trail: The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) in 1910 built a tourist chalet at the East end of Cameron Lake. In 1912 the CPR built this historic trail to service guests at their Cameron Lake resort to an overnight hut at 4200' on the slopes of Mt. Cokely. From here visitors could do an easy day hike to Cokely or a more challenging day to Arrowsmith's summit. (via westernforest.com)
For a more detailed and very worthwhile history of Mount Arrowsmith, Mount Cokely, the CPR Trail and environs, visit telus.net
All photos were taken on the fly with a Sony NEX-5N amidst a trail run / hustle of the route described above, on May 30, 2015.
Further details from that outing, including GPS track, elevation profiles, etc., can be found here, c/o Donald Peterson: movescount.com.
- Trail runners or hiking boots
- Bug spray (spring)
- Hiking poles (optional)
- Rain gear if there's any hint of clouds (weather moves in fast around Arrowsmith)
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Wow! Just ran the CPR route thanks to your trip report and loved it. I had no idea such a fantastic forest route connected Cameron Lake to Cokley and was blown away by the beauty of his trail-right off the highway. Waterfalls, Coastal rainforest and of course an epic summit for those who persevere to the top. I'll be back many times I'm sure. Thanks for the report Rumon! SS
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