Welsh Lakes

July 9, 2020

Welsh Lakes is a classic hike in the Purcell Range, and is a must do for nearly everyone in the Columbia Valley. The logging roads are in pretty good shape, depending on when the last rain fall was. Except for the last 1.5 km up the steep and rocky access road, it can be driven with a 2 wheel drive.

I have done this hike three times. The first time we drove a 4×4 truck. No problems. The second time I drove my minivan, with just my 12 year old daughters. The last section of the road was really soft, and I was worried the whole hike that I would get stuck on the way out. I was not able to get all the way to the start of the trail head, so we parked at the bottom and hiked the extra distance. As the hike into Welsh Lakes is not that far, the extra distance is completely doable.

2010 was our first trip to Welsh Lakes when our daughters were only 8 years old. Here they are in the back of the pick-up truck enjoying a snack before we started hiking.

When I returned in July 2020, I was driving an all wheel drive Santa Fe. It had no problem making it all the way to the trail head, thanks in part to the final access road being recently improved.

Click HERE for driving directions. I recommend checking official sites before you go in case anything happens to the road.

Gear

Hiking boots, poles, your regular day pack kit and bear spray. Bears in BC are way more common than Alberta. On all three trips, I have seen a black bear on the road driving in. I have never seen a bear on this trail, but it’s always best to assume they are there.

Welsh 1
A little black bear on the side of the road as we drove to Welsh Lakes. Up ahead, you can see some ruts in the soft dirt. There is only section with the soft red clay, but the ruts can be deep. We took care to stay on top of the ridges. If you have a 4×4, then this isn’t a problem.

Overview

From the trail head, start hiking up the trail. At the base of the rock slide, follow the trail up to the base of the headwaters dam, and traverse across. Continue up until you reach Welsh Lakes. To keep going, follow the shore trail to the next lake.

Trail Head

The main parking lot for Welsh Lakes is at the top of a 1.5 km long access road. This is where you will find the outhouse. As mentioned above, it’s okay to park at the base of this road and hike up. From the trail head sign, start hiking on the trail to the right. Almost immediately is a small bridge across Welsh Creek.

Trail Head sign. The trail starts just to the right. The chicken wire is for people parking overnight. The porcupines come out at night and chew on the vehicles.
Almost immediately, we crossed Welsh Creek.

Main Trail

After the bridge, the trail is in the trees for almost 2 km.

This is the view for the first 1.5 to 2 km. It was fine hiking in, but did get a bit monotonous on the way out.
The trail wasn’t all boring. On the whole, we had way more interesting views like this than the long forest walk.

The trail follows the Welsh Creek drainage, but you only get to see this after maybe 1.5 km. This section of the trail is lovely, with several views of Welsh Creek and the mountain range towering above.

Once out of the trees, we paralleled Welsh Creek for some time. The views of the creek and Irish peaks towering above were beautiful.

At around 2.5 km, the gradually inclining trail ends in a spectacular rock garden. For a Rockies hiker like me, it is an absolute joy to see a granite rock slide. The boulders stay put when you walk on them, and the trail is defined not by ground limestone, but by a lack of lichen on the rocks.

At the large granite rock pile / slide, we left the soft earth trail and started up the granite rocks. Above are the Welsh peaks.

Walk around the base of the rock slide until you reach the far side. From here, a trail through the rocks was easily found. My daughter Mackenzie is learning how to lead, and this was excellent practice for her to find and keep the trail.

This 1 km section is where we gained the majority of our elevation, basically going straight up the contour lines.

This is near the top of rock pile. On the left is the Welsh Lakes outflow waterfall. We will shortly be traversing across to reach the creek, and then the lake.

As we neared the top, the trail began to traverse around to the left. Above us was the head wall holding in the crystal blue waters of Welsh Lake. From here, we traversed across to Welsh Creek.

This is the short traverse section that goes around the lake head wall. Welsh Creek is ahead of us, and the waterfall is below.

Once across, we picked up Welsh Creek again, and followed it to the first “Lower Welsh Lake”.

There was still a lot of snow at this elevation, even for early July. It was a sensational snow year, and the spring was late. Welsh Lake is directly ahead.

This is a stunning view and a worthy destination all on its own. Distance to the first lower Welsh Lake is about 4 km, and time to reach it was about 1 hour, 30 minutes.

The turquoise waters of Welsh Lake. In past years we have brought up bathing suits and a towel. Not this year!

In the past, we have stopped here for a short swim, especially on super hot August days. This trip was in early July with a lingering snow pack. We opted instead to head up to the higher lake.

This is from our July 2010 trip to Welsh Lakes. Normally, it is hot enough to go for a swim, or even wade in with bare feet. Bring a towel!

We followed the shoreline trail around a little spit of land.

This is the pointy end of the little spit. The cute cove is directly in front of us.

The trail then curved around a cute little cove, which would have been even cuter without all the super annoying bugs. I don’t think they were biters, but we were covered in clothing head to toe, so really, who knows.

Looking back at the spit of land from the other side of the creek crossing.

Once around the cove, the challenge was crossing the stream coming down from Aberystwyth Lake above. I imagine that later in the year this would be no problem. We managed to catch it at its full run off. We poked around, and found several crossings up and down the stream.

We picked the easiest crossing, which was a ways up from the shore. There was a faint trail to start, but it quickly petered out. We stomped through the bush for a bit until we caught the main trail again.

After we crossed the Aberystwyth Creek, we stomped through the bush. We found this gorgeous mossy meadow with a little waterfall. After this, we managed to get back on the main trail.

Once back on the main trail, it was simple enough to follow the trail to the end of the “upper” Welsh Lake.

This is part of the main trail to the upper Welsh Lake.

While we had thoughts of continuing up to the third and final lake, we were stopped by a wall of snow. Normally this would not deter us, but we were not prepared with spikes or ice axes. In addition, we had someone else’s daughter with us. If something happens to my kinds, well, that’s on me. If something happens to someone else’s kid … It’s just not worth the risk.

Upper Welsh Lake. The weather was turning a bit nasty, and a light rain was sprinkling down. The third Welsh Lake is above this rock wall on the right.

We bundled up and enjoyed our lunch, hoping that the soft rain coming down would remain soft and not turn into a deluge.

This is the view at the far end of the upper Welsh Lake.

Time to the upper Welsh Lake was 2 hours. Distance was 5.6 km. Total elevation gain to this point is 586 m.

We did enjoy some on hill entertainment over lunch. Mike and Mackenzie, never ones to sit still, decided to climb up the snow wall. Mike kicked steps, which Mackenzie followed for a bit until it got too steep. She then wisely stepped aside and made her own steps, in case her dad came tumbling down.

The wall of snow is bigger and steeper than first appeared.

Snow sliding is an art, and the more you can safely practice it, the better. Just this year alone, I slid down a section on Heart Mountain and lost about 2,000′ from the summit of Mist Mountain. This really saves the knees and I would highly recommend it!

Mackenzie sliding down the snow slope. Doing this in control is an important mountain skill to have.

The view from the top was worth the effort.

The view from above really shows off Welsh Lakes tortoise blue waters. You can see our little lunch spot on the left. Behind us are a couple of tent sites for backpackers.
The view of the lake from the shoreline.

Upper Welsh Lakes Return

On the way back from the Upper Lake, we took the same trail until we got to the end of the cute cove. Instead of going around the spit to the right, we instead turned inland and went straight ahead. This cut off a bit of time and distance.

When looking at the spit, we took a trail at the far left side. The trail was left of the curl of smoke from a camp fire on the left side of the photo.

This short cut, while not as popular as the main trail, was still well used.

The shortcut trail was a mix of rock and snow. I imagine later in the year it would be all melted out.

While the trail was quite steep on the final descent section, it popped us out right back on the main trail, directly at the start of the traverse across the head wall. This is a fairly big trail, and I imagine people who are heading to the upper or higher lakes would take this cut off on the way in to save time.

Our view of the valley back to the trail head, as seen from the end of the short cut trail. The head wall traverse is just to our right.

After this, we simply followed the trail back down the rock slide, and all the way back.

If you found this post useful, please do me a huge favour and click the Star button to “Like” it. You can also follow my blog, follow me on Instagram, or join my FaceBook page Al’s Adventurers.

Alisen

Totals – Tracked on Strava

Date:  July 9, 2020
Group:  Five (Alisen, Mike, Kayla, Mackenzie and friend)
Distance:  11 km
Elevation:  586 m (1,934′)
Time:  4 hours

Welsh Lakes are two beautiful lakes almost side by side. There is a third lake above, accessed by another head wall. We were turned back on this trip by too much snow.
The trail gradually inclines for the first several kilometres. Once at the rock slide, the trail quickly gains the majority of elevation. Once at the lakes, the trail is fairly flat, with small undulations.
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Posted in Adventures, Hiking
13 comments on “Welsh Lakes
  1. Sliding down that snow wall looks so much better than climbing up it. Sounds like this was quite a fun hike with lovely views of the mountains along the way.

  2. A. says:

    You have beautiful blog! Compliments!

  3. Looks soo lovely…❤❤

  4. asthaisha says:

    Beautiful blog 😍😍❤️

  5. cheriewhite says:

    Love this post! But I would’ve tumbled down that mountain! 😀

    • alisendopf says:

      Ah, that made me laugh! Yes, well, we do work up to that. Also, this is a good point to make – we would never do that on an unending snow slope, or if there was danger at the bottom, like a cliff or rocks. For safe snow travel, like across glaciers, we carry ice axes, are roped up, and have crevasse rescue training.

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