Brigade Lake Trail Hike

This summer I decided to check out some of the less frequently hiked trails between Port Alberni and the west coast. In mid-August, the Brigade Lake Trail was my hike of choice. The idea of a moderate hike in the forest with a lake destination at the end was appealing, especially during the heat of the summer.

Brigade Lake, Vancouver Island, BC
The destination – Brigade Lake, Vancouver Island, BC

Access to the Brigade Lake Trail trailhead is a bit tricky and I did some second guessing before finding the start of the trail. I parked at the road that accesses the gravel pit off of Highway 4, then followed the gated logging road up for a short bit before following a short rough trail up to the next logging road and the trailhead. You can also walk in from a parking area on this upper logging road (about 30 to 40 minutes). My route was steeper but it took only ten minutes to get from my car to the start of the trail.

The First Climb

Many of the trail descriptions on-line mention an elaborate set of stairs in the first part of the trail. Unfortunately, these stairs are now removed which may indicate that trail access will soon be formally restricted. The trail follows their old location up and over some steep rock, but most will not have difficulty on the way up. This section is a trickier on the way out and requires moving slower and carefully, especially in the full sun and when tired. Beyond this point, the trail is in fairly good shape and works its way up the steep hillside. Some short sections of stairs further in give an idea of what the first section might have been like.

Old wooden stairs
Old wooden stairs on the Brigade Lake Trail.

Old Forest

The trail switchbacks up the slope and climbs steadily through old growth Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar. There are some big trees on this trail! Most of the hike is in this type of forest. As a result, you are in shade most of the way. However, getting an early start is a good idea because the trail is long and you’ll want to maximize your time at the lake.

Douglas fir/Hemlock forest on the Brigade Lake Trail
Morning light through Douglas fir and hemlock forest on the Brigade Lake Trail, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

There are many interesting plant communities in this first section with some good devil’s club, queen’s cup (in berry), and five-leaved bramble. Salal and huckleberry are common understory plants. Fortunately, these botanical diversions provided plenty of excuses to stop and take a break for water and photography.

Five-leaved bramble (Rubus pedatus)
Five-leaved bramble (Rubus pedatus)
Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)
Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)

Logging Legacy

Trail is well flagged and generally in good condition. Short sections of stairs and boardwalk remain that give an idea of what it might have been like over 30 years ago when it was built by laid off loggers as part of a BC Forest Renewal Project. Some parts are showing their age and occasionally deadfalls have to be navigated around.

Old stair on the Brigade Lake Trail.
Old stair on the Brigade Lake Trail.

Near the top of the ascent, trail passes close to the edges of cutblocks that are mostly overgrown. Flagging tape marks the edge of the logged areas and additional tape indicates the path of future logging roads that cross the trail and go deeper into the forest. Hopefully these old trees aren’t slated for logging, but likely they are. The flagging tape suggests that there may not be much time left to enjoy the old forest that the trail passes through.

Road Location tape
Road location tape on the Brigade Lake Trail, Vancouver Island, BC.

The Crest and Descent

At the end of the long ascent the trail levels off and passes through rolling terrain. There is a bit more of a push to get to the lake (about 30 minutes or so) of gentle elevation gain and it can seem that lake is still some ways off. Push on, the views and swim are definitely worth it!

The trail eventually crests the last rise and descends down to the lake. In this section, fringed grass-of-parnassis (Parnassia fimbriata) is common in the wet seeps.

Fringed Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata)
Fringed Grass-of-Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata)

Brigade Lake

Brigade Lake, Vancouver Island, BC
Swimming rock at Brigade Lake, Vancouver Island, BC

The lake at the end of this hike is amazing with good views of Mount Klitsa in the distance. The swimming in Brigade Lake is excellent and likely you’ll have the place to yourself so don’t bother to bring a bathing suit – I didn’t! Be careful at the water access point because the rocky shelf is slippery with algae. The water is an especially good way to cool off on a hot day and makes the effort to get to the lake all the more worth while.

The Details

The Brigade Lake trail is a 10km out and back trail with an elevation gain of 887m. There are options to extend this trail into an overnight ascent of Mount Klitsa. Access the trailhead off of Highway 4 on the west side of the Sutton Pass. My hiking time was 4 hours up and 3 hours out.