Brilliant Overlook – Castlegar

Brilliant Overlook – Castlegar

Brilliant Overlook is a wonderful (or maybe brilliant) trail that overlooks Castlegar in the Kootenay Region of BC. We did this hike on a hot, summers day and loved the views down to where the Kootenay and Columbia Rivers merge. Parts of this trail are very steep, but it is not very long, so it is great for road trips when you want to hike for a few hours to stretch your legs between towns.

Brilliant Overlook Map

You can see our strava recording (with the extra section along the ridge) here.

Not bad views eh? This is the scenery from the top, as well as near the start.

Brilliant Overlook – the basics

Distance: 6-8km
Elevation gain
: 430-500m
Highest Point: 970 m
Time: 2.5-3 hours
What to bring: The 10 Essentials and Bear spray
Facilities: Pit toilet at the Brilliant Substation
Dogs: No. Dogs are not allowed up to the Rainbow Alpine area, even on a leash.
How hard is it? Moderately hard. It’s very steep in some sections, but the trail is easy to follow.

Brilliant Overlook – Getting started

There are a few different possible trailheads for this hike, but the easiest is at the end of McPhee Creek Road, next to Brilliant terminal station, the electrical substation. This is all just off Highway 3A, outside of Castlegar. We started on the Skattebo Reach trail which soon turns off onto the Brilliant Overlook trail. The start of the trail allows you to look up left at the steep cliffs above, where you are about to hike!

The steep parts

Once you turn onto the main trail, it gets pretty steep. There are railings, cables and steps to help you hike up the cliff. However the soil is sandy and slippery so step carefully!

Rock Field

The next obstacle along the route is a rock field. This area is right below the cliffs that may having falling or rolling rocks (especially in the springtime.) Do not linger in this area. Just zoom straight through.

After the rock field the trail  goes through pleasant, lush forest.


There were oodles of thimbleberries along the trail. These look a bit like raspberries, but have a more intense flavour when they are good. The ones here are really tasty.

First brilliant viewpoint

About 2km along the trail, there is a sharp turn. If you look to the left, there is a bench with a partially tree-screened view down to the Kootenay River. We did this hike on a very hot day in August so we were glad of the break.

After the first viewpoint, it is only 1.3km through the forest to the Brilliant Overlook.

Continue along Brilliant Ridge

We skipped the official Brilliant Overlook to start with, as we fancied exploring further along the trail to the highest point of the ridge first. As soon as you get above the trees, the views from the ridge are fabulous.

We stopped for lunch at the end of the trail on a helipad. There is a fantastic view down to where the Kootenay River merges with the Columbia River.

After hiking along the ridge we returned to the Brilliant Overlook. To reach the official overlook, you need to hike for around 300m downhill.

The Brilliant Overlook view

This really is a brilliant view; It is well named. You can see the Kootenay River and the Brilliant Dam (as well as Brilliant suspension bridge) below. The tree-covered hill below is called Dove Hill. It has a nice-looking hike with a viewpoint if you’d prefer an easier adventure.

Where the river curves off to the right is the Columbia River. Syringa Provincial Park where we camped the previous night is over that way. Castlegar looks quite small from here with just 6 streets. There are a few more streets, they are just hard to spot from up here.

Brilliant Panoramas

These give you an idea about how expansive (and lovely) the views are from the Brilliant Lookout, and along the ridge.

If you are looking for a fun hike near Castlegar with a good effort-to-epic-view ratio; The trail to Brilliant Overlook is a fantastic option. We were very hot by the end of this hike, but I loved every moment of it. Click on the pins below to save them.

Other adventures near Castlegar

We only spent one night near Castlegar on this road trip, but we did find a few other cool places nearby:


29 thoughts on “Brilliant Overlook – Castlegar

    1. The good ones are really sweet, almost like candy. I thought they taste somewhere between a grapefruit and a raspberry.

      The bad ones dry up and don’t have much flavour.

  1. I love the vantage point from the height of the trail. Those thimbleberries look lovely. I think the elevation gain may be a challenge for me.

    1. This one didn’t have much elevation gain, but the trail did get pretty steep in a couple of spots. You might still love the area by relaxing on a boat (to avoid the steep trails!) 😉

  2. What an amazing guide to help me understand what I should expect on this hike. The views are gorgeous! I love Canada and hope to explore it more. Also, Thimbleberries are new to me! The look delicious, I’ll have to try them sometime and when I do, I’ll undoubtedly think of you!

  3. We really need to plan to spend some more time in the Kootenay region in BC. With those views it would be worth a steep climb at Castlegar. But I would sure be watching for falling rocks!

    1. I am not sure how often they actually fall ( we didn’t hear any on our hike… we’ve been on hikes when you hear them crash down…) I guess early spring would be the most dodgy time when the snow melts.

  4. Thimbleberries? Everytime I am in BC and see these I assumed they were slightly fuzzy raspberries. I learned something new today :).
    The view looks amazing and worth the elevation gain

    1. Oh did you try them last time? The texture is really different to raspberries! We also have salmonberries that can look like raspberries too.

  5. Fantastic photos, thanks for sharing. I’m going to have to add this to the list of hikes when I make my way out there.

  6. Wow! What spectacular views. This looks like a lovely hike- a great way to spend the afternoon – or take a break from a road trip as you suggest. The rock field looks fun and I have never heard of Thimbleberries. I would love to try one! I hope to return to Canada with my family and all of these amazing hikes one day!

  7. I need to get myself to British Columbia! These views at Brilliant Overlook that overlook Castlegar are, well, brilliant! Gorgeous place to hike!

  8. It’s not often that photos manage to capture the beauty of some view, but your photos of Brilliant Overlook are stunning. Or should I say brilliant. I also started to wander about the thimbleberries. It’s always fascinating to encounter new fruits or berries, and taste something completely new for the first time. Raspberry is my favorite berry and while I know few of its relatives, I don’t think they are the same as thimbleberry. Learning something new again!

    1. I totally agree. I was so excited to start learning about the berries and other foraging foods when we moved here. It took a while as I don’t taste them until I’m sure what we have found.

      Thimbleberries (and salmonberries) are both fab… but you are right, it’s always exciting to find wild raspberries!

  9. Wow, what a gorgeous view!! I love how you can see all the twists and turns of the river. That would be so rewarding after sitting all day on a road trip, like you said. It really makes a big difference to break things up and stretch my legs or else I start to go crazy. I think I’d be glad for the steepness to shake me out of my coma lol.

    1. Lol I know what you mean! The only bad part was we drove for several hours after this so we were a bit hot/sweaty in the car! Ah well… it was worth it.

  10. That view is certainly brilliant!! I love that kind of reward on a steep hike. I love thimbleberries but haven’t had them since I did a week of sea kayaking near Johnston Strait in BC a while ago.

  11. Brilliant Overlook definitely looks like a brilliant trail to me! That lush forest looks so inviting. And thimbleberries! I have never heard of those. I would love to try them! I love trying local fruits wherever we travel.

    1. I appreciate your perspective from the elevated vantage point on the trail. The sight of the beautiful thimbleberries must be delightful. However, I understand that the elevation gain might pose a challenge for you.

  12. Locals often do the Brilliant Overlook as a circular hike, stopping at the Overlook first, then hiking along the ridge to the telecommunications tower and helipad. We then head down a trail which starts behind the small building, close to the road. Unfortunately that trail is not maintained at present and is becoming rather tricky to follow in places. Best to be with someone who has done it before, but it does avoid returning down those very steep and often slippery early parts of the trail. The round trip, which we did today took 4 1/2 hours, with two snack and ‘enjoy the views’ stops.

    1. Oooh thank you for sharing! We did see that route on the map, so I was wondering about making it into a loop. It is such a beautiful area. I hope we can go back and explore some more trails nearby (or finish the whole loop…)

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