North Tilley Lakes via Macpherson West Approach Trail

Rating: 5 stars.

Use: Hiking.

Difficulty: Difficult. Good route finding skills are required past the col above the end of the trail. 

Distance: 13 km return to the lakes.

Description: Whether you want to tick off another ‘seen from town summit’ by climbing Mount Tilley or just camp at the lakes, this is a great hike into an amazing area. Take my word for it, its a special spot. I have landed there many times over the years and it has always blown my mind. Access into this area has been made easier with the recent rebuilding of the English Creek bridge and brushing of the power line road above it. Using the Macpherson West Access Trail puts you up and over the col. With good route finding skills you will be able to work your way over to the beautiful North Tilley Lakes. Just for the record these cluster of five lakes north of Mount Tilley are ‘unnamed’ on official Geo BC maps. ‘Tilley Lake’ is actually located to the southeast of Mount Tilley between Mount Tilley and Mount Begbie. To avoid confusion I am calling the five lakes to the north the ‘North Tilley Lakes’. 

Directions: Drive west of Revelstoke on Highway 1. Just before the 3 Valley Gap ‘Resort’ hang a left onto the Three Valley – Victor FSR. Drive for 2.6 km on this road until you come to a Y. Take the  left hand road (100 Road) that leads into the English Creek drainage. Here you will cross the recently rebuilt English Bridge and head up the even more recently brushed access road. Follow the road beneath the powerlines until you reach a high point. Start down a small hill then drive through a small creek that runs over the road. Just past the creek there is flagging tape on a small cairn on the edge on the road, This is the trailhead. Recent reports indicate that some work has been done to the trail making it clear and easy to follow. Head up the trail that leads up the drainage to the small lake (where the trail ends) and onto the boulder gully that leads to the col. From the col you have a couple of options. If you have a real aversion for bushwhacking stay high contouring across the top of the cliff to the east of the boulder gully leading down to English Lake. Start dropping elevation where it seems reasonable. Without good route finding skills you may find yourself getting a little cliffed out. The second and probably safer option is to descend the boulder gully below the col towards English Lake. When it seems reasonable start contouring east until you hit the open meadows. The second crux of the route involves contouring the last stretch before dropping into the lakes themselves. There is a series of small benches and cliffs that you will have to negotiate picking the efficient route. The final point worth mentioning for those not so experienced in backcountry travel is that this route goes through prime grizzly country. Most people I have talked to that have done this route have seen clear evidence of bears around the English Lake area. Last summer when I hiked the West Approach Trail to get onto Mount Macpherson I came across a mother grizzly and four cubs. It was the closest and scariest encounter I have ever had in the mountains. Just something to think about. Make lots of noise!

Trailhead GPS:

  1. Three Valley – Victor FSR: N50 56.202 W118 25.939
  2. Branch 100 Road: N50 56.496 W118 24.344
  3. English Bridge: N50 56.693 W118 23.191
  4. Macpherson west approach trail parking: N50 56.566 W118 20.752
  5. Macpherson west approach trailhead: N50 56.409 W118 20.672
  6. Small lake marking the end of trail: N50 55.892 W118 20.503
  7. Macpherson west col: N50 55.496 W118 20.204
  8. Tilley Lakes Camp: N50 54.076 W118 18.515

Useful Maps:

North Tilley Lakes via Macpherson West Approach Trail Overview Map PDF

North Tilley Lakes via Macpherson West Approach Trail Detail Map PDF

Geo BC Map 082L089 PDF

Tilley Lakes via Macpherson West Approach Trail KML file on Dropbox

IMG_20150819_151324 English lake seen from cliffs near the col
Looking down the boulder gully leading down to English Lake. Laurent Saulnier Collection.
IMG_20150820_144831 - English lake and McPherson Col, seen from the summit
The route from the col showing the boulder gully and cliffs either side. The best route is to come down the gully then contour across until you hit open meadows. Laurent Saulnier collection.
IMG_2328_1024
The second half of the route contouring the Unnamed Summit. Ben Wilkey Collection.
IMG_4898
The view from the lakes. Scott Creighton Collection.
IMG_4893
North Tilley Lakes. Scott Creighton Collection.
IMG_4915
Upper North Tilley Lake. Scott Creighton Collection.
IMG_4930
The incredibly clear waters of the North Tilley Lakes. Scott Creighton Collection.
IMG_20150819_164100 clearings east of English Lake
Enroute the North Tilley Lakes. Laurent Saulnier collection.
IMG_20150820_073309 Campsite with Mt Tilley in the back
Camp at the North Tilley Lakes. Laurent Saulnier collection.
IMG_20150820_142617 Tilley 1 and 2 seen from summit
Taking in the views from the unnamed summit towards the multicoloured North Tilley Lakes. Laurent Saulnier collection.
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11 thoughts on “North Tilley Lakes via Macpherson West Approach Trail

  1. Has anybody done this hike and linked it to Begbie trail as the trail out. I’m hoping to do this trip late this summer. The plan is to go to English lk over to Tilly lakes in the front and back down to lk revelation and over to Begbie. Out the Begbie trail. Climbing Tilley is possible if time allows. I would appreciate any info you might have. Cheers

    1. Did this afew years ago. Requires ice axe to make to Tilley ridge, then the summit is a stroll. Dropping down to the begbie lakes was relatively easy Great hike we camped 3 nights 1 at lake between English lake and Tilley ridge 2begbie lakes 3 below begbie glacier. 837 2657

      1. Thanks so much Andy, this trip is my goal for this summer and ill be sure to pack my ice axe and crampons. I plan to do it as a single overnight trip.

    1. Judging by the (lack of) snow, it would likely be August or September. Most areas at and above treeline in this range are usually still mostly snowbound until early-mid July at the earliest (some until early August)

  2. Does anyone know if the approach road to the trail head is washed out this year?
    I would like to go soon.

  3. We went in there for an overnighter on the Labour Day weekend. The road in is in pretty good shape that most any high clearance vehicle should be able to handle with the trailhead being easy to find. We did come across quite a bit of flagging tape marking a route on the north side of English Lake that worked out quite well. A little bit of bushwhacking here and there but nothing major. No recent signs of any bears, or any other wildlife for that matter, on our chosen route in.
    Definitely a spectacular spot! We had entertained thoughts of scrambling up Mount Tilley from this side but once we eyeballed the approach on the north-west col, we realized crampons and ice axes would be needed and we had brought along neither. Looking forward to coming back for another visit to this amazing area.
    And thanks for the info

  4. Craig and I have just returned from working on this route, July 30-Aug.1, 2018. The road was good. We pruned and chainsawed out most of the deadfalls up to the broad col where the route up to McPherson forks off to the left. I am not exactly sure where this is and so did not mark it.
    We went part way down the right side of the rock gully overlooking English Lake. I marked and labeled it at the top with a yellow square trail marker. We concentrated on clearing the ugly next bit of traverse to the east over to the more open north/south height of land. Although it is probably less than a km. the side hill is steep and unpleasant. This is probably what is described above as the 1st crux. I marked our line with yellow squares about every 100m and it is heavily flagged. Although I guess this part can no longer be called a bushwack, it certainly is still a very difficult hike with a full pack.
    Our timing was not so good. The heat was brutal and the mosquitoes and biting flies, well, the head nets and long sleeves never came off. In my opinion at the present it is as bad as can be. Thank goodness for the gallon of DEET we packed in there. Such is life in the mountains, you never know what they will throw at you next. Strange what some people do for fun.
    Our marked trail turns south and ends at the far end of the north/south ridge near a small woodland tarn. From here you head up and are on your own.
    Oh, also we had some serious issues with lack of water but fortunately there is a small disappearing rivulet coming off McPherson and on to the height of land.

    1. Hello Doug and Craig, a HUGE THANK YOU!! for clearing and marking off this magnificent trail! 4 of us girls hiked in with overnight packs and camped at North Tilley Lakes Sept 2-3. Having the trail cleared and well marked made it a pleasant hike in with little route finding other than after it ended. It was still very straightforward after the last yellow marker to the lakes. Weather: good ol mountain weather. Day 1 was cool partly cloudy up till 1900 then a storm came in with a vengeance with wind, rain and then eventually coated our bivi, and tents with heavy slushy snow till 0700 until it finally let up. It was a crazy night! Woke up to at least 2cm of fresh and chilly temps. Thankfully the weather improved, the hike out was wet and slippery careful footing was needed. All in all it was a great weekend and more hikers should venture into this magical area. Road to trailhead is in great shape I would recommend 4×4 or park before the last big hill and hike an extra 1km. Trailhead is marked with flagging tape and some old CMH flagging posts just after the last creek crossing. The flagging tape along the trail changes from pink, red, and trail tape. When you get to the last yellow marker you will eventually follow cairns, pink tape with black poke a dot to the South. On the descent we followed pink poke a dot tape heading West but it will lead you to English Lake. Depends where you want to go but be aware what route you want to follow. Happy Hiking!!

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