The Slesse Memorial Trail : Hiking To One Of Canada’s Worst Aviation Disasters

Last Updated on September 7, 2021

The Slesse Memorial Trail

The Slesse Memorial Trail is nestled in the Cascade Mountains near the town of Chilliwack, BC. This trail is famous for its huge Northeast Buttress that can be climbed but is a very special place to hike for an entirely different reason. The trail passes a memorial plaque and crash site, remembering one of Canada’s worst aviation disasters that happened on December 9, 1956.

On this day, a Trans-Canada Airlines plane, destined for Calgary from Vancouver, crashed into the east face of the mountain and killing all 62 people on board. This was, at the time, the worst airline crash in Canadian history. The plane also was carrying five CFL football players (Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Saskatchewan Roughriders) on board who were heading back East after the East-West All-Star game in Vancouver.

The Crash Site

The crash site was not discovered until May of the following year by some mountaineers. Immediately a recovery effort was started to bring home the bodies of those who had perished. However, the crash was too high on the mountain’s sheer rock face, so instead 582 hectares on the East face of the mountain were designated a protected memorial site.

After the memorial plaque, the hiking trail continues up to the base of Mount Slesse, also known as the propeller cairn, where a piece from one of the propellers from the plane is propped up and surrounded by other artifacts. After all these years, because of the ruggedness of the area, many pieces of the plane have still not been found.

Be sure that you are respectful of those who lost their lives and do not touch anything at the crash site. We felt very privileged to be able to walk this trek. It truly is a mass grave in a very beautiful setting. It is very humbling when you get to the memorial cairn and consider what happened at that mountain; the sudden and catastrophic loss of life.

Slesse Memorial Trail Details

Driving down Chilliwack Lake Road, you will pass the trail to Cheam Peak. Shortly after you will see a sign for the Slesse Memorial Trail. You will turn onto the Nesakwatch Forest Service Road. You will run into a dead-end 6km later, where you will park your vehicle. Keep in mind that you should not attempt the Nesakwatch Forest Service Road without a high clearance vehicle, as there are several cross ditches, a couple of them being quite deep. If you do, you will have to leave your car on the side of the road and hike the rest of the way to the trailhead. With the hike being 15km (out and back) from the trailhead, make sure you arrive early enough if you are adding a walk along the FSR into your hike.

There are two trails that start from the parking area, so make sure you are on the path for the Slesse Memorial Trail. The second trail goes to Mount Rexford. Shortly after the start of the trail, look for trail markers to your left. If you continue straight, you will only find a dead end and likely someone who has set up camp.

The start of the hike is nice and simple for the first couple of kilometers, crossing a couple of small bridges and then a bridge that takes you over Nesakwatch Creek. After that bridge, you will start a climb until you reach a long path that runs along a steep hillside, eventually with a switchback taking you in the opposite direction. The first spectacular view you will see is Mount Rexford. The trail will seem to end, but a quick climb up a few boulders will get you back on track.

Please pay attention to the signs that state you are entering the Slesse Memorial area, and not to remove any artifacts.

You will pass by a huge memorial plaque, with an incredible view of Mount Slesse. The plaque explains the history and importance of the mountain. This is also a great spot to stop for a snack or break.

The trail continues at a slow climb until another gorgeous view of Mount Rexford. You will follow the hillside again before another climb, with more peek-a-boo views of the breathtaking scenery.

The closer you get to the propeller cairn, the muddier it gets. The mud does not make the trail extra difficult, but it can make it slippery, so watch your footing.

Before the last climb to the final destination of this hike, the propeller cairn, you will enter an opening with breathtaking views of Mount Slesse and the valley below. You will make your way up a heather slope to the propeller cairn, where you will be rewarded with breathtaking 360-degree views. You will not believe your eyes!

The most impressive is seeing the massive Mount Slesse tower 900m above you. It is spectacular!

We like to wander the area below the propeller cairn, walking along the rocks. It is a neat perspective to feel with the mountains towering above you. It really puts into perspective how small we are.

This is an out and back trail, so when you have taken in the sights surrounding the propeller cairn, follow the trail back the way you came.

Crumbling Rocks

When we have visited Slesse, the trail has not been overly busy. This is wonderful because it allows you to hike in the beauty of nature without the beauty being overtaken by human noise pollution. You are likely to hear the rocks tumbling off the Slesse ridgeline down towards the valley. It can be quite startling at first listen but is really cool to hear the rocks falling down the steep parts of the mountain frequently.

360 Degree Views

The 360-degree views from the propeller cairn are absolutely spectacular. As you stand in front of the humbling Mount Slesse, you can also see across the valley to Mount Rexford, Illusion Peak, Crossover Peak, Mount Parkes, the Cheam Range, and the international mountains in Washington state.

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How Long Did The Trail Take?

The hike took us three hours at a steady pace to reach the top, and two hours to make it back down. That does not include the time we spent stopping to eat lunch, fly the drone, or take photos. Allow extra time for yourself and time to relax up top with the views. We found a lot of varying trail distances online; the trail is around 15km (out and back) with an elevation gain of 994m. The trail is well-marked.

As always, to ensure you have a successful hike, having high-quality hiking accessories is extremely important. Never discount the importance of great gear, even on a day hike. Also, make sure you have the right travel photography gear to capture this gorgeous hike.

We were lucky with the clearest views during this hike as the smoky skies were rolling in from all of the horrible wildfires our US neighbors are battling. On the descent, the views quickly became covered in smoke.

A Dog-Friendly Trail

Dogs are also able to use the Slesse Memorial Trail. Please make sure you clean up after your dog and know their limits when hiking.

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Is the Slesse Memorial Trail Worth The Climb?

Even though the trail does not go to a summit, the views will take your breath away. The trail itself is switchbacks through the forest with peek-a-boo views along the way. We found it scenic enough to keep us going. The trail is a little overgrown but is well-marked. The ruggedness of the trail only adds to the fun. The last time we visited there was also quite a bit of mud towards the end, but that only added some laughter; be careful to not slip.

When Is The Best Time To Hike the Slesse Memorial Trail?

The best time to hike this trail is in the middle of summer, or it will be covered in snow. You will still likely find snow on the rocky area below the propeller cairn, but if you want a snow-free trail, the best time is usually between July and October. Both times we have ventured on this trail, it was in early September.

You also want to make sure the views will not be clouded over, as on this trail the final view is the reward. Otherwise, it’s just a walk through a forest that you can do anywhere and with easier access to a trailhead. The first time we did this trail the haze from the roaring wildfires was taking over. I was glad we still went as it was still stunning, even covered in haze. However, our second attempt where the skies cleared and we were left with clear views and blue sky were the best. Slesse is also so massive that it will end up clouded over first, so make sure you see the view you are hiking for.

Slesse Memorial Trail Difficulty

This trail is rated as hard on AllTrails, but how hard is it really? I would rate it as moderate-hard.

There aren’t really any overly steep parts, there is no scrambling or exposure, even when you are reaching the top viewpoint and propeller cairn. The consistent climb can be a little tiring at times, but most should be able to keep a consistent pace through the journey.

You will find, however, that you will need to be aware of your footing. The trail has some fun rugged terrain, so you will be watching your feet to look out for the many roots and rocks.

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How To Get To The Slesse Memorial Trail

Follow Highway #1 (Trans-Canada Highway) to Chilliwack. Take exit #119 South. Follow Vedder Road until a round-about just before a bridge crossing the Vedder River. Go left onto Chilliwack Lake Road. After almost 30Km, turn right onto Nesakwatch Creek Forest Service Road. 400 meters after turning onto the service road, turn right at the t-junction. Follow this road for 6km to the trailhead.

HOWEVER, you will need a 4×4 vehicle or one with high clearance as you will be driving through many water bars (ditches). Otherwise, you could get stuck and damage your vehicle. Some drive as far as they can, leave their vehicle on the side of the road, and walk the rest of the way to the trailhead. Arrive earlier if you are adding in the walk along the FSR to the trailhead.

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Best hikes in Chilliwack
We were totally in awe and humbled by these magnificent views. If you’re looking for a hike near Vancouver that will take your breath away, this is a great one!

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Know Before You Go

  • You will not have cell service on this hike. Expect to lose cell service when you turn onto Chilliwack Lake Road.
  • This trail is of intermediate difficulty.
  • Dress in layers for changes in weather.
  • Bring extra water.
  • Hiking boots are recommended.
  • Do not attempt the service road without a 4×4/high clearance vehicle.


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