Hike of the Week: Stein Valley Traverse

Hike of the Week: Stein Valley Traverse

Welcome to our Hike of the Week series, where each week we strive to inspire you to get outdoors and explore some of the best hikes the world has to offer! From short overnight backpacking trips to week-long treks through remote wilderness, we hope you find the perfect trip for your next outdoor adventure.

This week's hike takes us to British Columbia, Canada to the Stein Valley Traverse, an 8-day, 7-night hike located in the Stein Valley Nlaka'pamux Heritage Park.

Why Hike the Stein Valley Traverse?

Situated about 3 hours north of Vancouver, the Stein Valley Traverse offers a little bit of everything that the Canadian wilderness has to offer. Along the trail you will pass through temperate forest areas, dry cedarwood, cypress, and pine forests, spring flower meadows (especially in the higher elevations), camp alongside pristine alpine lakes, and view magnificent glaciers. 

Stein Valley Park is also full of cultural remnants from the local First Nation tribe, including pictographs and petroglyphs. Some of these sites can be found on the map located in the Resources section below, but many are still a well-kept secret by the Nlaka'pamux people.

  • 55 miles (88 km) point to point
  • 6,500 feet of elevation gain
  • 13 established campgrounds, plus cabin near Lizzie Lake
  • Plenty of lakes, creeks, and rivers along the way to use for water sources
  • July through September is the best time to go, though you may still receive snow any time in higher elevations
  • Many improvements were made to all of the campgrounds in 2016 and 2017, as well as a recent footbridge installment replacing a cable car near Earl's Cabin. There was also major forest fire clean up around this time as well, though you may still find more recent fallen trees and blowdowns as you will with any trail.
  • Aside from the lower valley, you will likely not pass many other hikers, making this a perfect trip if you're seeking solitary time in nature.

Before you pack your bags, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • The Stein Valley Traverse is rated as difficult/extremely difficult for the sheer length and stamina needed for it, not to mention the elevation gains.
  • As such, this trail is for experienced hikers. As per the park's page, you must be “totally self-reliant as you will be days away from help in many areas of the park.” Traversing the Ridgewalk area can be especially tricky during high winds, wet, and foggy weather. Its steep vertical climbs/scrambles can be challenging enough without inclement weather. There are also boulder fields to consider as well.
  • Although the eastern trailhead is more convenient, some hikers recommend traveling west to east to make it easier so you're not gaining as much elevation.
  • You will need to park cars at either trailhead or arrange pickup at whichever trailhead you plan on ending by friends or family or hire a taxi as there doesn't appear to be any shuttle services in the area.
  • No campfires are allowed in any area of the park
  • Must use bear lockers provided or your own bear canisters
  • Many wild animals roam this area, including grizzly bears, cougars, wolves, and wolverines. You might consider bringing bear spray and/or a whistle along.
  • Bringing pets along is strongly discouraged because of issues with bears as well as their natural tendency to dig. (Stein Valley did not become a park until 1995 and still strives to keep the wilderness as undisturbed as possible.)

How do I get there?

If you will be flying into the area, Vancouver International Airport will be your best bet. From there, here are directions to either trailhead:

To western trailhead: From Vancouver, head north on BC-99 N. This will be a straight forward drive for about 105 miles. Turn right onto In-SHUCK-ch Forest Service Road on the north side of Lillooet Lake. (BC-99 N will continue straight) You will reach a parking area next to the trailhead on the left after about half an hour.

To eastern trailhead: Follow the signs to take the Trans Canada Highway/ BC-1 E to the south of Lytton, where you will turn left onto BC-12 N. Follow this, which turns into Main street through town, and turn left across from the elementary school to stay on 12. Follow around as it curves slightly left and turns into Lytton-Lillooet Highway. Shortly after you will make another left on Lytton Ferry Road. Once you cross over the Fraser River via ferry, continue on Lytton Ferry Road. Follow the road to the right for 4.8 kilometers to the junction with the Stein Valley Road (unmarked). Turn left and follow it to the parking lot.

Map of Recommended Route

The following map outlines our recommended route. Click the "Load Interactive Map" button to load the correct map. Once loaded, you can navigate along the route and view recommended camp sites.

For the Stein Valley Traverse, we recommend an 8-day, 7-night trip.

  • Day 1: Riverside Camp (14 km)
  • Day 2: Cottonwood Creek (14 km)
  • Day 3: Avalanche Camp (15 km)
  • Day 4: Stein Lake (9 km)
  • Day 5: Puppet Lake (7 km)
  • Day 6: Caltha Lake (8 km)
  • Day 7: Lizzie Cabin (8 km)
  • Day 8: End at Western Trailhead (13 km)

Trail Description

Day 1 - Riverside Camp

Starting from the southside of the Stein River at the eastern trailhead, your first day is a fairly easy hike alongside the picturesque river. Enjoy today's leisurely pace, views of the river rapids, and Ponderosa pine forests. Near the end of your day, you'll come across a large suspension bridge, which has recently replaced a former cable car crossing of the river. About a kilometer or so past the footbridge you will find your camp for the evening. Please note that there are no amenities at this camp, such as a pit toilet and bear cache.

Day 2 - Cottonwood Creek

Since the lower valley area is the most popular for those out on day hikes and shorter backpacking trips, you will likely not see nearly as many other hikers on the trail from here on out. Day 2 will take you through several different biomes, including more Ponderosa pine forests, brushy areas, humid cedarwood forests, and marsh-like areas. You will also cross several boulder fields. Your night will be spent next to Cottonwood Creek. This campground has a fire ring, bear cache, pit toilet, and a map. Don't miss your chance to check out Cottonwood Falls while you are in the area. It is a short 5-minute walk.

Day 3 - Avalanche Camp

You'll begin day 3 by crossing another footbridge over Cottonwood Creek. Nice, easy walking through the woods is in store for the first part of today's journey but beware of the fireweed through here earlier in the season. You'll find another cable car crossing over Scudamore Creek which was also replaced in 2016. Follow along the river for quite a ways (about 7km) until the trail starts angling up and away. You'll find yourself a lot more exposed to the elements here. While much clean-up has been made to this forest fire-scarred area, you may still find it overgrown with additional blowdowns as well. Once you reach Avalanche Camp, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the canyon and river below. Beware, though: This area is notorious for rodents stealing anything and everything they can get their hands on. Some hikers have nicknamed it “Packrat Camp”.

Day 4 - Stein Lake

Start day 4 with plenty of ascents and descents along the canyon wall on your way back down to the Stein River. More easy hiking lies ahead after the cable car crossing. Enjoy the shade of old-growth forests of Douglas fir and cedars trees as you amble alongside the river for the next several kilometers. Stein Lake lies just beyond the second cable car crossing. If you're so inclined and have the gear and license, this can be a fun spot to fish at.

Day 5 - Puppet Lake

Day 5 will be the most challenging one. You will be climbing about 3,000 feet. Start on an uphill climb until the view opens up, making for a beautiful look back at Stein Lake. Things start getting rocky as you scramble your way up to what is known as the Ridgewalk. Be very careful as this part of the trail is pretty narrow with crumbly rocks beneath larger, smooth-faced slippery ones. As you can imagine, snow, rain, and fog can make this area even more dangerous. The weather can be quite unpredictable at the top as well, so be prepared for winds and snow. For all of your work, you will be rewarded with amazing views of the surrounding lakes and glaciers. Continue your walk along the rocky Ridgewalk (keep a lookout for hiker-made cairns along the way to help you not lose the path) until you reach another steep descent down to Puppet Lake.

Day 6 - Caltha Lake

The trail continues to be faint on Day 6 since not many people make their way out this far, so be sure you come equipped with good navigational skills, a map, and a compass. You will make your way back up to the ridge and continue over difficult, steep, scrambling terrain. Continue your trek across some easier scrambles and large boulders until you come upon the Tundra Lake Camp. More steep climbs await you until you reach a large boulder field. Soon you'll make your way down to a meadow and Caltha Lake for some much-needed rest for the night.

Day 7 - Lizzie Cabin

Day 7 brings more boulder fields at the start, but you'll also enjoy some flower-filled meadows if you pass through in the spring/early summer. Today's hike is mostly downhill with some sharp descents, so your trekking poles will likely come in handy again. Gravel and snowfields will greet you as you make your way through the pass. You'll finally be able to enjoy some easier hiking after this through more meadows and reach the treeline again. Just before reaching Lizzie Cabin you'll cross some more steep boulder walking terrain.

Day 8 - Hike Out

The final leg from Lizzie Cabin to the western trailhead looks long on the map, but it is fairly easy walking for about 8 miles. Begin by making your descent down to Lizzie Lake, continuing until you reach an old logging road. You will be walking along this for most of the day (about 9km), but it is said to be fairly even. Eventually, you will reach a washout area of the creek, where you can attempt to cross over it by rock hopping, assuming the water level isn't too high and fast, or take a detour up the side of a hill. You'll need to cross over the creek again and may have some luck by rock hopping again, though you may end up needing to wade through the cold water as well. Luckily, it is just a short distance to the parking area from here.

What will I need?

You will want a tent that is sturdy, yet lightweight for a trip of this length, the potential of inclement weather in the higher elevations, and cool temperatures at night.

Paria Outdoor Products Bryce 1P Backpacking Tent

Our Bryce 1P backpacking tent is lightweight and weatherproof, which would make it a great option for the Stein Valley.

Speaking of chilly night-time temperatures, Stein Valley Park's average lows during the warmest months of July and August hover around 40°F, and, naturally, even lower in the higher elevations. Be sure to bring along a quality sleeping bag or quilt with a lower comfort rating to stay nice and warm at night.

As mentioned before, the journey across the Ridgewalk area can be arduous. Invest in some lightweight trekking poles to help you up the scrambles as well as boulder fields along the trail.

Also, as previously mentioned, bears can be quite active along the trail and bear canisters are required if you are camping in an area that does not already provide a bear locker. Be sure to invest in one of these and consider a whistle as well.

If there's anything else you need to complete your pack, visit our full line of high-quality, affordable backpacking gear.

Shop Backpacking Tents
Shop Ultralight Tarps
Shop Backpacking Quilts
Shop Down Sleeping Bags
Shop Insulated Sleeping Pads
Shop Backpacking Pillow
Shop Folding Trekking Poles
Shop Titanium Cookware
Shop Tent and Tarp Accessories

Finally, to make sure you don't forget something at home, use our Ultimate Backpacker's Packing List. It even includes a convenient printable checklist!

Do I need a permit?

No permits are required to hike the Stein Valley Traverse.


Ferry Information for the Eastern Trailhead
Map of the Park and Campsites
Important Park Information
Stein Valley Park Guide
CalTopo Map with lots of information 

The Stein Valley Traverse is a long, challenging hike, but can be just the right trail if you are looking for some real seclusion in the great outdoors and want to experience the best of what the Canadian wilderness has to offer.

Have you visited the Stein Valley Nlaka'pamux Heritage Park or completed the Stein Valley Traverse? What other great hikes have you been on that you would like us to write about? Leave your comments and suggestions below!

Read Next

If you're looking for more hike ideas in the west, read our "Best Backpacking Trips on the West Coast" roundup post. Also, the following Hike of the Week articles cover other amazing hikes in British Columbia and Alberta.

Hike of the Week: West Coast Trail
Hike of the Week: Nootka Trail
Hike of the Week: Sunshine Village to Mount Assiniboine
Hike of the Week: Della Falls Trail
Hike of the WeeK: Chilkoot Trail

For even more amazing backpacking trips visit The Trailhead, our interactive hike map. It contains a curated list of dozens of hikes, each with a detailed writeup like this one.

The Trailhead - Interactive Map of Backpacking Trips

Finally, check out our comprehensive list of backpacking articles that cover just about everything there is to know about backpacking. If you're just starting out, our Backpacking 101 section covers all the basics. If you already have a few trips under your belt, you can find more advanced topics covered in our Expert Articles.

Canada Hike of the Week

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