Total Distance: 22 km
Return Time: 8-10 hours
Elevation Gain: 842 m
Traditional Territory: KFN, WRFN
The view of the Kaskawulsh Glacier from the plateau on top of Observation Mountain is stunning. From the viewpoint, you can see the glacier converge around Kaskawulsh Mountain and run straight below you and down the valley. The hike is long and you have to get to the end to enjoy the view, but what a view!
This hike is accessible from the Slim's River West backcountry campground, and therefore requires a 23 km hike in to get to the trailhead. See that hike for directions. Note: Parks Canada requires registration for any backcountry overnight trips in the park.
Start from the campground of Slim's River West trail and walk southwest to the base of Observation Mountain until you reach Canada Creek. The creek is braided and will have to be crossed multiple times. If it is really deep, you may have to head to your left (east/downstream) until it is braided enough to cross. Cross all sections of the creek until you get close to the mountain (just under 3 kms from the campsite) and then walk upstream (west).
Continue following up Canada Creek until you reach another creek which flows in from your left. This is Columbia Creek. Turn left (south) to follow along the left (east) side of Columbia Creek. There should be rock cairns along the way to guide you up the creek. From where you started to follow Columbia Creek, it is 1.2 kms to the trailhead up the mountain (the Parks Canada website says it is 500-800 m to the trail, but this is wrong). If you don't have a GPS, an easy way to gauge where the trailhead is, is to look up Columbia Creek for a treed slope on the right which comes down to the creek bed. The trailhead is on the left, shortly after this treed slope. If you were to continue walking on the left side of Columbia Creek past this treed slope, you would soon hit a rocky cliff which comes right down to the creek bed and would force you to walk in the creek. The trailhead is just before that cliff.
The trail becomes steeper now as you climb up to the rocky ridge. The views of the valley below open up and are fantastic. Follow the ridge up to the vegetated mountainside where the trail climbs steadily up. Soon the trail will become faint, and will head to your right (west), cutting across the mountainside.
Cairns will mark the route, but if you lose the trail, just pick your way up to the top of the ridge (heading to your right as much as possible). On top of the ridge is an open plateau. You want to traverse this plateau (south) for 3 kms to the end where the Kaskawulsh Glacier lies beneath. There isn't much of a trail, so just walk across the open plateau towards the glacier (you should be able to see a bit of it by now). At the end of the plateau, rest and soak in the view. When you're done, follow the same way back so you don't end up over a cliff or bushwhacking for hours.
You can also climb to the top of Observation Mountain from the plateau if you feel like it (this will add time, distance and elevation gain). You can't see any more of the glacier, but you do get a view of the surrounding valleys and mountains.
Jenna September 16, 2020
Did this hike from Canada Creek on July 31 (hottest day of the summer) - we were the only ones on the trail that day. Saw no wildlife. The braided creek crossings gave us no problem (though the water is VERY cold), and the route was fairly easy to follow, though it took longer than expected to get to the base of the mountain trail. Overall it was a long and challenging hike, especially in the heat, and especially after the long 23km hike with packs the day before - we did not make it back down the mountain in time to cross Canada Creek before the sun went down (~11pm) and opted to wait out the darkness on a rock bed by the creek, then crossed at 530am back to the campground. We would have been very cold in the night if not for our emergency blankets - I'd highly recommend bringing these or ideally a sleeping bag on the hike in case your trip takes longer than expected, or if the creeks are too high to cross when you return at night (we spoke to two groups at the campground who had pretty high waters crossing back at 9/10pm the day before, another reason we opted to wait until morning). Overall, this was an awesome experience - but I'd recommend leaving as early as possible for the hike, being prepared for waiting out creeks, and considering adding some time to the full Slims River valley hike - we wished we'd planned 4-5 days overall for Slims and Observation, to be less tired and enjoy it all even more.
Christine August 31, 2019
Hubby and I hiked this beginning of July last year. We did this in three days, hike to camp, up Observation and back. We crossed Canada creek a few kms with my husband in front of me which reduces the power of the current. We also unbuckled our packs as someone died there in 2015 trying to cross. We had a grizzly approach us during a break about 8km in. We had the spray ready but he was more curious then threatening. It approached within 30ft then did a bluff charge and ran off. We ran into several other hikers who all saw a grizzly so hikers must be prepared. The hike to observation was amazing. We spent an hour on the plateau and ended up getting a canvas done of one of our glacier pics. The hike down is scary for someone with a fear of hikes (aka me). It was very windy and from the ridge you look straight down. If you have a fear of heights you have to do this hike to see the glacier because who knows how long it will be around BUT the way down sucks. The hike out on the 3rd day was a breeze as you can sadly now walk where the river once was.
Felix Ossig-Bonanno June 12, 2018
Got back from this yesterday, so was up on the 10th. I think I was first on the summit this year... still lots of snow and I didn't see any other tracks (to the top. someone had been up onto the plateau). Expect some post-holing... I went in up to my waist a couple of times. I'll attach a photo of the plateau to give an idea of snow.
kyliestravel August 22, 2017
Did this hike as apart of the slims river trail on August long weekend (discovery day). The information may be a bit outdated, as there is only 1 river to cross. The hike is steep and is very easy to get lost on alpine - I met parks canada guy up there who was looking to review the markings of the trail - so fingers crossed.
Yukon Hiking July 5, 2017
Hi Toby, yes, as with all our hikes, there is a GPS track available for download via the link below the Google Map near the top each hiking page.
Toby July 3, 2017
Is there a GPS Track available?
Darren June 16, 2014
Was up here a few days ago. Creek crossings were fine. Be sure to use the directions here and not the ones from Parks Canada, as they are confusing.
Overall, a great area that I'll surely return to (particularly because I got lost and did t see the glacier!)