Sam Lake, Theagill Lake, and Cabin Lake

Posted: August 1, 2013

Written by Peter James

If you have a penchant for North Shore hiking trails, you no doubt have spent at least one summer afternoon jumping into a frigid lake in an attempt to shed the sweat and dust from your body.

After the initial shock of temperature change wears off, you’re left with a wonderfully paradoxical experience; the heat of the sun above and the melted snow below. Okay, it’s not the Caribbean, but it’s free, it’s cleansing, and it’s the answer we all provide when asked by a curious onlooker, “How’s the water?”

Refreshing.

There are plenty of options for hiking alpine lakes, and I thought it might be worthwhile to review which are a good choice on days when the sun is hot and the sweat is dripping.

To help out those who haven’t tried a particular lake, I’ve put together a simple rating system based on four subjective factors: swimability, relaxability, accessibility, and scenery. (To any English teachers reading this, just try to ignore the first two). There is a maximum of three points per category, so the best lake out there would score 12 and an inaccessible drainage ditch inside the Massey Tunnel would score 0.

Sam Lake

Sam Lake

Sam Lake

Near: Cypress Mountain
Hike length: Approx. 3.5 km (one way)
Elevation gain: 300 m
Swimability: 3
Relaxability: 2
Accessibility: 2
Scenery: 2
Total: 9 out of 12

Directions: From the Cypress Mountain Parking Lot, follow the Baden Powell trail to Black Mountain, staying with the BP Trail at the diversion to Cabin Lake. Sam Lake is approximately 500 m, or 15 minutes from Cabin Lake (mostly downhill). You’ll first glimpse Theagill Lake through the trees on the way, but Sam Lake is only a few more minutes. Scramble uphill after turning right at a signed intersection then follow a small dirt path on your left for 50 meters until you reach the lakeshore.

Sam Lake is a beautiful spot with plenty of areas to throw down your pack, pull out a sandwich, and relax. The water is clear, although some plants do grow along the northern shore of the lake. Regardless, if you’re looking for serenity and a nice swim, Sam Lake answers the bell. On a mid-July trip I encountered all of one couple sunbathing and eating. On that same day, I saw more than 50 people at Cabin Lake.

Shaped a bit like a cloverleaf, Sam Lake’s entrance area is at the “stem” of the leaf, with two large rocks suitable for sunbathing/eating/resting located there. Depending on the time of year and the water levels, you’ll find a very shallow area where you can walk in ankle deep for about 10 feet or so, at which point the rock gives way to a much deeper depth. Take a few minutes to look for the Northwestern Salamanders that make this their summer home, munching on mosquitoes and other insect delights while you enjoy your peanut butter sandwich.

More adventurous sorts can take a swim to the opposite shores, but the combination of cold and deep water means you are best advised to know your abilities before you tackle that challenge. Remember, you’ve just hiked about an hour – at least – before you got here, so don’t underestimate how tired your body might be. With few folks lining the shore, you won’t have much in the way of help should trouble arise.

Theagill Lake

Theagill Lake

Theagill Lake

Near: Cypress Mountain
Hike length: Approx. 3.5 km (one way)
Elevation gain: 300 m
Swimability: 1
Relaxability: 0
Accessibility: 2
Scenery: 1
Total: 4 out of 12

Directions: From the Cypress Mountain Parking Lot, follow the Baden Powell trail to Black Mountain, staying with the BP Trail at the diversion to Cabin Lake. Theagill Lake is approximately 500 m, or 15 minutes, from Cabin Lake (mostly downhill) and is located on the north side of the Baden Powell Trail.

A pencil-shaped lake adjacent to Sam Lake, Theagill Lake lacks any decent shore area for enjoying its beauty and, as a result, is even quieter. You’re certainly welcome to take a swim there, but unless your idea of a post-swim routine is clambering around mud and rocks, you’d probably regret it.

To be fair, Theagill is a pretty lake, and some might find that rewarding compared to other spots on the North Shore. But for our purposes, Theagill Lake doesn’t merit your time.

Cabin Lake

Cabin Lake

Cabin Lake

Near: Cypress Mountain
Hike length: Approx. 2.5 km (one way)
Elevation gain: 300 m
Swimability: 3
Relaxability: 2
Accessibility: 2
Scenery: 3
Total: 10 out of 12

Directions: Follow Baden Powell trail to Black Mountain from the Cypress Parking Lot up to a junction, staying right at the signpost. Cabin Lake is about 100 meters from the sign; you’ll cross over a couple of boardwalks to get there. Or, you could just follow everyone else.

Cabin Lake is one of the premier swimming holes on the North Shore and tends to draw large (relatively speaking) crowds in the summer. With plenty of areas for relaxing, great diving spots, and simple directions, don’t be surprised if you encounter dozens of companions when you reach the lake.  Honestly, there are times when I’ve been up at Cabin Lake and wished that a cabin would materialize so that I didn’t have to make the trip back down.

The main spot for occupants is right at the end of the boardwalk, where a few large boulders offer plenty of space for enjoying lunch, taking a dip, or just resting. Rudimentary trails extend around the lake, but take care not to trample on the flowers and bushes that are growing; just like us, they only get to see the sun for a few months every year, and they’d like to enjoy it, too. Berry bushes abound surrounding the lake, so finding a mid-August snack isn’t difficult to do if you forgot to bring a treat.

Across the lake’s entrance area, you’ll no doubt see a handful of hikers enjoying themselves on the opposite shore. Swimming to the other side isn’t a difficult proposition for strong swimmers, and young ones with life jackets have been known to make the trek as well. After enjoying a dip in the lake, you can take side trails to Black Mountain or to a viewpoint over Yew Lake and beyond; the trails extend in opposite directions from one another, and both offer splendid photo opportunities. Gray Jays and Northwestern Chipmunks will nip at your trail mix if you aren’t careful, and Northwestern Salamanders abound in the shallow areas of the lake.

More than anything, you’ll be awestruck by the beauty at Cabin Lake. To think that it takes a mere 25 minute drive from the city and a 30-45 minute hike to this oasis is almost surreal. Crowds notwithstanding, Cabin Lake is a definite worthwhile summertime lake. At 2.5 km and 300 meters in elevation gain, the trail is definitely accessible for younger children, although you’ll want to make sure that you take plenty of energizing snacks for them along the way.

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