The Moat Lake Circuit is a challenging alpine route in Strathcona Park. Hike to the scenic summits of Castlecrag Mountain, Mount Frink, and Mount Albert Edward.
There have been many search and rescues from this zone over the years. Strong wilderness navigation skills and accurate route-finding techniques are essential for the Moat Lake Circuit. Bring the appropriate wilderness navigation tools (paper map, analogue compass, GPS, backup power supply) and know how to use them.
There are designated backcountry sites located in the Forbidden Plateau Core Area. Camping fees are applicable from June 15 – September 30. Fees are $10 per person (16 years of age and older) / per night, $5 per child (6-15 years of age) / per night, and children under 6 are free. BC Parks Backcountry Registration System allows you to purchase a backcountry camping permit before leaving home. The system does not reserve a campsite, but eliminates the inconvenience of carrying cash.
The Moat Lake Circuit is accessed from the Paradise Meadows Trailhead beside the Strathcona Park Wilderness Centre on Nordic Drive. The parking lot can be overflowed with vehicles on busy weekends. Google Map
- Moat Lake Circuit – September 2-4, 2020
- Moat Lake Circuit – July 6-8, 2020
- Moat Lake Circuit – June 5-7, 2015
Moat Lake Circuit – September 2-4, 2020
- Distance: 38.3 km
- Duration: 3 days
- Peak: 1937 m
- Gain: 1818 m
- Map: CalTopo
We completed a three-day backpacking trip into the Forbidden Plateau core zone of Strathcona Provincial Park. Our objectives linked two nights at Circlet Lake basecamp with a challenging day-hike on the Moat Lake Circuit. Highlights included near perfect weather and route conditions, low bug pressure, and epic views of the Strathcona alpine.
The forecast was for sunny skies and warm temperatures for all three days. The heat contributed to a few clouds forming above the mountains during the days, occasionally obscuring the peaks. Temperatures cooled down in the evenings and mornings were clear.
- Day 1: 1430 h, Paradise Meadows Trailhead. Elevation: 1090 m, Sky: few clouds, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 21.2ºC, Humidity: 57.2%, Wind: calm. 1900 h, Circlet Lake. Elevation: 1190 m, Sky: few clouds, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 17.6ºC, Humidity: 65.4%, Wind: calm.
- Day 2: 0730 h, Circlet Lake. Elevation: 1190 m, Sky: few clouds, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 10.0ºC, Humidity: 100.0%, Wind: calm. 1200 h, Castlecrag Mountain. Elevation: 1765 m, Sky: obscured, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 19.8°C, humidity 76.3%, wind light NW. 1400 h, Mount Frink. Elevation: 1950 m, Sky: few clouds, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 24.4°C, Humidity: 48.1%, Wind: calm. 1900 h, McPhee Lake. 1170 m, Sky: few clouds, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 10.0ºC, Humidity: 75.4%, Wind: calm.
- Day 3: 0900 h, Circlet Lake. Elevation: 1190 m, Sky: clear, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 14.7ºC, Humidity 80.2%, Wind: calm. 1430 h, Paradise Meadows Trailhead. Elevation: 1090 m, Sky: few clouds, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 24.4ºC, Humidity: 55.9%, Wind: calm.
Data logged with Kestrel Meters Drop D3
The Paradise Meadows Trailhead offers efficient access to the subalpine. The trail meanders SW towards Circlet Lake through a mixture of gravel paths, boardwalks, bridges, lakeshore, muddy roots, old-growth forest, steep slopes, flat meadows, and wet creek beds. The Moat Lake Circuit continues past Circlet Lake and includes a mixture of rocky plateaus, ramps, steep gullies, talus slopes, boulder fields, and seasonal snow patches.
- Day 1: Paradise Meadows Trailhead to Circlet Lake. Distance: 11.13 km, Duration: 4:05’42, Ascent: 460 m, Ascent Time: 1:38’30, Descent: 369 m, Descent Time: 1:37’16. Map
- Day 2: Circlet Lake to Circlet Lake via Castlecrag Mountain and Mount Frink. Distance: 16.05 km, Duration: 10:56’34, Ascent: 1376 m, Ascent Time: 3:18’54, Descent: 1389 m, Descent Time: 4:04’35. Map
- Day 3, Circlet Lake to Paradise Meadows Trailhead. Distance: 10.92 km, Duration: 4:07’58, Ascent: 309 m, Ascent Time: 1:22’32, Descent: 429 m, Descent Time: 1:41’02. Map
Data logged with Suunto 9 Baro
No mega fauna sign or sightings. Wildlife viewing was limited to birds, bugs, and flowers. We watched two pairs of ravens perform aerial acrobatics from the summit of Mount Frink. Swallows hunted bugs above our heads. We shared camp with a tiny brown Pacific wren and a noisy chipmunk. Canadian jays followed us in the meadows and descended nearby whenever we stopped for a break.
Sun exposure and dehydration were our main concerns. We drank throughout the day, re-applied sunscreen regularly, wore brimmed hats, and took breaks in the shade. Water sources were adequate with multiple tarns on our route. The route down Castlecrag Mountain’s SW ridge towards Mount Frink has a few sections of steep and exposed terrain. There are steep and slippery sections on the descent from Mount Albert Edward to Circlet Lake.
Moat Lake Circuit – July 6-8, 2020
- Distance: 36.6 km
- Duration: 3 days
- Peak: 1936 m
- Gain: 1763 m
- Map: CalTopo
I returned from my third solo training and reconnaissance mission into the backcountry of Strathcona Park. My objective was to spend two nights camping at Circlet Lake and day hike the circuit around Moat Lake. The low cloud ceiling that hung over the Strathcona alpine and the lingering snowpack added to terrain management challenges.
The forecast was for overcast skies with cool temperatures and a low probability of precipitation. The weather on day one was the same as predicted. On day two, I started hiking the circuit in the fog. I made my summit in the clouds and then got lucky with a momentary broken sky. The clouds dropped down again overnight and obscured everything until arriving at the parking lot later in the morning of day three.
- Day 1: 1400 h, Paradise Meadows Trailhead. Elevation: 1095 m, Sky: overcast, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 13.1ºC, Humidity: 67.8%, Wind: calm. 1800 h, Circlet Lake. Elevation: 1200 m, Sky: overcast, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 12.0ºC, Humidity: 80.1%, Wind: calm.
- Day 2: 0600 h, Circlet Lake. Elevation: 1200 m, Sky: obscured, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 6.8ºC, Humidity: 100.0%, Wind: calm. 1115 h, Mount Frink. Elevation: 1935 m, Sky: obscured, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 8.7°C, Humidity: 93.7%, Wind: light W. 1800 h, Circlet Lake. Elevation: 1200 m, Sky: broken clouds, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 10.1ºC, Humidity: 84.2%, Wind: calm.
- Day 3: 0600 h, Circlet Lake. Elevation: 1200 m, Sky: obscured, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 6.6ºC, Humidity: 100.0%, Wind: calm. 0940 h, Paradise Meadows Trailhead. Elevation: 1095 m, Sky: overcast, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 11.5ºC, Humidity: 99.2%, Wind: calm.
Data logged with Kestrel Meters Drop D3
The trail from the parking lot is wheelchair accessible for the first 900 m over gravel path and boardwalks. The trail then transitions into single track over dirt and roots with more boardwalk and stair sections up to Lake Helen Mackenzie. The trail gets rougher along the NW shore of the lake (rocks, roots, and mud) before climbing up to the plateau by the BC Parks Ranger Cabin. The next section includes rolling single track and boardwalk through beautiful subalpine meadows all the way to Circlet Lake. The clockwise circuit around Moat Lake begins with rough single track and bushy sections up the NW shoulder of Castlecrag Mountain. There is a challenging boulder crossing over the landslide debris below Castlecrag. Once beyond Castlecrag, the route gets tricky to follow in places that are still covered in seasonal snow. Any random cairns and flags should not to be relied on. In better weather, the summit of Mount Frink usually offers fine views of the Strathcona alpine. The route off Mount Frink towards the Albert Edward/Frink col traverses steep rocky ribs and snow fields. I took a tight line along the ridge above Moat Lake towards the Mount Albert Edward mainline. Once on the main trail, there is a wide path to the Albert Edward/Jutland col. The route down to Circlet Lake is steep but straightforward to follow. The hike back out from Circlet Lake to the Paradise Meadows Trailhead is a simple reverse of the way in.
- Day 1: Paradise Meadows Trailhead to Circlet Lake. Distance: 10.61 km, Duration: 2:53’20, Ascent: 391 m, Ascent Time: 1:19’22, Descent: 289 m, Descent Time: 1:12’15. Map
- Day 2: Circlet Lake to Circlet Lake via Mount Frink. Distance: 15.20 km, Duration: 7:27’28, Ascent: 1093 m, Ascent Time: 3:00’02, Descent: 1084 m, Descent Time: 3:01’05. Map
- Day 3: Circlet Lake to Paradise Meadows Trailhead. Distance: 10:53 km, Duration: 2:50’57, Ascent: 289 m, Ascent Time: 1:12’10, Descent: 403 m, Descent Time: 1:14’02. Map
Data logged with Suunto 9 Baro
No mega fauna sign or viewing. I heard an endangered Vancouver Island marmot whistling on the south side of Castlecrag Mountain. Three separate ptarmigan sightings all changing into their summer colours, including one with chicks. Other bird viewing included numerous fat whisky jacks, varied thrushes, hermit thrushes, Pacific wren, and a surprise encounter with a grouse. No-see-ums were abundant at times, but otherwise bug pressure seemed low for this time of year.
Hazards included slippery boardwalks between Paradise Meadows and Lake Helen Mackenzie. Slippery roots, rocks, hard clay, and mud is everywhere else. Snow patches started above 1450 m. Some steep exposed snowy sections between Castlecrag and Frink were avoided by rerouting along the adjacent rocks.
Moat Lake Circuit – June 5-7, 2015
Distance: 40.5 km
Duration: 3 days
Peak: 2093 m
Gain: 1003 m
For the first hot weekend of the year, Mike and I made a beeline back to the gorgeous and accessible Forbidden Plateau area of Strathcona Provincial Park. These peaks are familiar to Vancouver Island locals, but the traverse experience was a first for me. Sunny skies and residual snow made our Moat Lake Circuit a fantastic challenge! After base camping at Circlet Lake on Friday night, we powered up three summits on Saturday: Castlecrag Mountain, Mount Frink, and Mount Albert Edward. Throughout the trip we spotted Jutland Mountain, Mount Elma, Mount Brooks, Strata Mountain, Mount Septimus, Nine Peaks, Big Interior Mountain, the Golden Hinde, Morrison Spire, Mount McBride, and Elkhorn Mountain. A delicious Sunday brunch overlooking Hairtrigger Lake and a cooling swim in Lake Helen Mackenzie finished the trip perfectly.
Day 1: Paradise Meadows to Circlet Lake
Mike and I left Victoria after work at 1500 h on Friday afternoon. We gobbled a quick burrito at Delicado’s, and arrived at the Paradise Meadows trailhead (0 km/1090 m) at 1930 h. The evening was soft and warm as we quickly organized gear. We hit the trail at 2000 h, eager to pass the heavily rooted and muddy section west of Lake Helen Mackenzie in the light. After popping up on the little ridge between Mount Brooks and Mount Elma, the light faded quickly. Frogs sang as we hiked past the tarns, sometimes stopping when we came too close. At 2200h, we turned on our headlamps for the rest of the moonless journey through the subalpine wonderland. We slowed down a little, being careful with our feet to avoid tripping into mud puddles. Circlet Lake Camp finally materialized around 2300 h (10.5 km/1200 m). The ghostly glow of a few tents was visible, and we easily found a secluded pad. After base camp was set and chocolate was eaten, we crashed around midnight. Mike set the alarm for hiker’s start, a slightly more civilized and gentler version of the alpine start.
Day 2: Castlecrag Mountain, Mount Frink, Mount Albert Edward
“Put on your bug glasses!” I peered out the tent to see Mike in his insulated jacked, hood tight, sunglasses on, and a cloud of mosquitos buzzing about. We quickly organized our day packs and headed to the green shores of Moat Lake (13.5 km/1180 m) for breakfast. Our plan was simple: traverse three peaks in one day and take lots of photos. After cereal, we headed toward Castlecrag Mountain (18 km/1740 m), crossing boulder fields and climbing gullies. Wildflowers decorated the route: marsh marigolds, globeflowers, and yellow lilies. We summited Castlecrag at noon, the sun baking the surrounding rock. On the way to Frink, we stopped in patches of shade to drink. I cooled my red face with handfuls of snow. Eventually, we ascended Mount Frink (20 km/1948 m) and took in spectacular views of Strathcona Park’s famous peaks. I even spotted (Where’s Waldo) Morrison Spire! Pressing onward, we laughed and slid down snow slopes before climbing up Mount Albert Edward. We crossed talus and snow, noticing purple phlox and lady bugs. At the summit (23 km/2093 m), we took a long rest, removing wet shoes and eating the last of our food. We were exhilarated from the day’s effort and scenic reward. A white-tailed ptarmigan took a dust bath near the summit cairn, while small birds hunted bugs on cornices. Soon it was 1900 h, and camp was still several hours away. We descended the snowy ridge carefully in the fading light, making it back to Circlet (30 km/1200 m) at 2200 h. I had a few sweet minutes of dreamy happiness before slipping into a deep coma
Day 3: Circlet Lake to Paradise Meadows
“What time is it?” I asked when I woke up. “It’s sun-on-the-tent-time!” replied Mike. There was no rush to leave camp on Sunday morning, so we took our time getting organized. The easy subalpine hike back from Circlet Lake to the Paradise Meadows trailhead was warm and gorgeous. Bright white and pink mountain heather coloured the earth. We took a shaded meal break overlooking Hairtrigger Lake (33 km/1275 m) and had a refreshing swim on the north shore of Lake Helen Mackenzie (37 km/1154 m). An osprey swooped down to capture a fish right in front of us, soaring back to his nest with the wriggling prey. Our last few kilometres through the shady forest were peaceful and we arrived at the trailhead with big smiles on our faces (40.5 km/1090 m). I reflected on how special it was to have such easy access to non-technical mountain peaks. All the challenge and beauty were there for the taking. I learned many new skills on this trip. Mike taught me how to find routes and lines in sparsely marked terrain. He encouraged and guided me when my body and mind were fatigued. Together, we noticed the small creatures who make the park their home, and named the delicate alpine flowers living among the stark talus. We were so appreciative to have experienced this beautiful Strathcona Park weekend!