Cathedral Provincial Park is located on the British Columbia/Washington State border in the southern Okanagan Valley, bounded on the east by Ewart Creek, and on the west and north by the Ashnola River. The 33,272-hectare wilderness park is in the transition zone between the dense, wet forests of the Cascade Mountains and the arid, desertlike Okanagan Valley.
This mountainous park presents a wealth of variety in its terrain, flora, and fauna, as well as hiking opportunities suitable for both the novice and the seasoned climber. The five major lakes in the heart of Cathedral are like azure gemstones, surrounded by jagged peaks mantled with alpine and subalpine wildflowers.
Douglas-fir predominates in the lower levels of the park, interspersed with stands of cottonwood and aspen along the waterways. Lodgepole pine and Engelmann spruce prefer higher ground, giving way to sub-alpine fir, balsam fir and Lyall’s larch. There are more than 230 plant species in the park, including over 20 that are rare in British Columbia, with heather, lupine and other varieties being fairly common at higher levels.
The focal points in the park are the Cathedral Lakes, which look like turquoise jewels in a granite setting. Each of the close-knit group of lakes - Quiniscoe, Ladyslipper, Scout, Pyramid, Glacier, and Lake of the Woods - has a unique charm. Equally as beautiful are the tranquil Haystack Lakes, which are within a day’s hike of the main lake areas.
Fascinating rock formations with names like Smokey the Bear, the Devil's Woodpile, and Stone City make hiking in this park a thrilling adventure. No water is available other than from lakes and streams as you cross the 20 miles (32 km) of hiking trails. Hikers are reminded that the park is a wilderness area without supplies of any kind. Hikers should be in possession of suitable maps, and all visitors must be prepared for outdoor living and be aware that freezing temperatures and snow may occur during any month.
Experienced, well-equipped hikers might want to tackle the Ewart Creek Trail Head to Core Area. This trail is 28 km in length and boasts an elevation change of 1,740 metres; hikers can complete it in 10-12 hours, but many people turn it into an overnighter by camping at Twin Buttes en route. Many other trails wind through the park, most starting in the core area around Quiniscoe Lake. All the trails are detailed in the park brochure available at the info shelters.
Cathedral Provincial Park offers three campgrounds in its core area: Quiniscoe Lake, Pyramid and Lake of the Woods. Quiniscoe Lake has 30 sites spread out along the southern shore of the lake amongst Engelmann spruce, Lyall's larch and Sub-alpine fir. The sites feature framed earth tent pads to minimize the impacts of camping by keeping people in designated areas. The sites are grouped together in clusters of three or four in order to share the picnic tables and fire rings. There are four pit toilets in the campground.
Lake of the Woods has 28 sites with framed earth tent pads along the northeast shore of the lake amidst smaller fir and larch trees. As a result, the sites are more open and less shaded than at Quiniscoe. his is a more rustic campground with two pit toilets and no tables or fire rings. Fires are prohibited. The location of the sites affords spectacular views of Lakeview, Pyramid and Quiniscoe Mountains, as well the jagged peaks of Grimface Mountain, the Macabre Tower and the Boxcar.
Pyramid Lake is the smallest and quietest of the campgrounds with 12 sites. The lake is nestled between the two sloping flanks Pyramid Mountain. The sites are in a thicker forest of large spruce similar to Quiniscoe. Some of the sites are located on a point overlooking the lake. The sites have framed earth tent pads but no tables or fire rings. There are two pit toilets and two wire mesh food caches.
An information shelter is located between the private lodge and the ranger cabin. At this shelter are self-registration envelopes and a metal vault. Upon arrival, campers should fill out the registration form and deposit their fee in the vault. This is for all three camping areas.
On the Lakeview Trail, wilderness, backcountry or walk-in camping is allowed only at Twin Buttes, Haystack Lakes, and Lindsey Creek . No facilities are provided at these sites and there is no fee.
Cathedral Provincial Park is definitely for the more adventurous. Other recreational activities besides hiking, camping and wilderness camping include fishing, mountaineering, canoeing and kayaking, and swimming. Although you can swim here, be aware that the lakes are glacier fed and the water is very cold. Horseback riding is not permitted in the park. Most of the lakes throughout the park contain rainbow and cutthroat trout, but all anglers must have a valid fishing licence before entering the park, as licences are not available in the park itself.
There is an abundance of wildlife in the park, including larger mammals such mule deer, mountain goat, California bighorn sheep and black bear. However you are more likely to spot a marmot scurrying about a rocky outcropping or a squirrel curiously checking out your campsite.
Cathedral Provincial Park is located 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Princeton and 11 miles (17 km) southwest of Keremeos. Access is via Highway 3: three kilometres west of Keremeos, a rough gravel road leaves the highway and skirts the north and most of the west boundary of the park, following the Ashnola River into the park. This road extends 48 kilometres upstream to the south end of the Ashnola Valley. There are three hiking routes that provide access to the park’s core from the Ashnola River corridor; Ewart Creek, Lakeview, and Wall Creek. The park is open from June to September.
Transportation to Quiniscoe Lake along the rough gravel road from the park's Ashnola River entrance on Hwy 3 can be arranged with the Cathedral Lakes Lodge. No vehicles should travel into the core area on the private access road, hike-in only to core area. Hikers will require at least a full day to hike one-way into the core area.