WELCOME TO THE STEIN VALLEY & SURROUNDINGS!
Nestled within the rugged mountainous terrain of inland southwestern BC, lies this land of many traits which differentiates it from all others of this region. An incredible diversity of plants, animals and ecosystems reside within this watershed stretching from it’s confluence with the Fraser River, amidst one of the driest and hottest climates in Canada, to the colder, watered, high elevation alpine area to the west. In between, reside several extensive wetland areas alongside the Stein River. And thanks to all of those that fought to save this valley from development, this unlogged watershed has been protected for nearly 30 years as the 1,060 km2 Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park, which is co-managed by BC Parks and the Nlaka’pamux Nation.
The proximity of the confluence area and lower canyon to the lower mainland provides relatively easy access to a land of striking contrast. A relatively short and easy hike into the lower canyon from the trailhead bestows some of the spectacular forest, mountain and river scenery this area is famous for. As well, the climate of this portion of the Stein makes for an excellent destination during the shoulder seasons when the weather can be colder and wetter elsewhere.
The Stein River Trail, being the main trail, stretches a great distance from the lower canyon area upstream for ~52 km to remote Stein Lake. Several campgrounds are interspersed along the way, as well as a few cable car crossings where needed. Side trails include the Stryen Creek Trail which leads from the lower canyon area up the ‘The Forks’ with its old growth forest and historic cabin. From here, two trails continue upstream and which provide mountaineers with an approach to nearby summits. The more used E Fork Trail once provided access to a mine exploration site and now can be used to reach camping at a small nearby lake. Much further up the Stein valley, the Cottonwood Creek Trail see moderate use and extends from the Stein River Trail junction for ~20 km upslope to the sublime ‘Blowdown Pass’ alpine area.
From Stein Lake, a lesser trail branches off from the Stein River Trail to ascend steep slopes en-route to a high ridge as part of the Stein Traverse. The Stein Traverse is the name given to the trail/route which runs from the Stein River Trail trailhead to the In-Shuck-Ch FSR (Lillooet Lake Rd) or vice versa. The traverse continues westward from the high ridge as a challenging route often through scree fields past beautiful Tundra Lake, Caltha Lake, Iceberg Lake and Arrowhead Lake before dropping down through meadows to Lizzie Cabin. From here, the Lizzie Creek Trail descends through subalpine forests to Lizzie Lake, then follows Lizzie Creek downstream via old road to the trailhead. Many backpackers do the traverse in the opposite direction. Nearby to this trailhead are several excellent campgrounds hemming lovely Lillooet Lake.
Just outside the Stein watershed lie several alpine areas well worth exploring. These include upper Lizzie Creek, upper Van Horlick Creek, ‘Blowdown Pass’, upper Texas Creek and upper Siwhe Creek. All of these areas have trails which provide access and offer a multitude of potential mountaineering/scrambling routes to lakes, passes, ridges and peaks. The Kwoiek Creek FSR at the southern edge of the Stein watershed gives access to mountaineers for mountaineering routes to Skihist Mountain, the highest peak in southwestern BC, at 2,968 m elev. as well as other lofty peaks.
Somewhat further afield from the Stein divide, lay two other popular areas for outdoor enthusiasts: Joffre Lakes Provincial Park and the Nlhaxten/Cerise Creek Conservancy. Popular Joffre Lakes boasts a very well constructed trail which delivers outstanding views over several picturesque lakes including that of Upper Joffre Lake, set below impressive, overhanging glaciers. A rustic campground is also located here and a challenging side trail/scrambling route, for experienced hikers/mountaineers, leads to nearby high summits.
The Nlhaxten/Cerise Creek Conservancy appeals more to the avid hiker and mountaineer. The trails here are much rougher yet the rewards are well worth the effort required. The popular Keith’s Hut shelter operates here for those seeking a cozy abode and which is in high demand in the winter months due to the backcountry skiing and mountaineering that occurs here. During the summer, this area boasts many viewpoints, lovely ponds and tarns, interesting glacial features, meadows, glaciers and high peaks.
Forests of the region include ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, subalpine fir, spruce, white bark pine, cedar, hemlock, cottonwood, birch, alder, aspen and willow trees. Above, patchy meadows with wildflowers exist in some places which grade to alpine tundra. Wildlife can be found throughout and includes grizzly bear, black bear, marmot, pika, mule deer, wolverine, mountain goat, cougar, coyote, gopher snake, rubber boa snake, woodrat and mice. Many types of birds also exist here including eagles, hawks and owls. Salmon spawn up the Stein River and various types of trout inhabit the lower elevation lakes and some rivers.