If you are looking for a place to truly unwind, and get away from it all, Strathcona Park is the destination for you.
Due to its distance from the main highway, as well as its rugged exterior, Strathcona Park is one part of Vancouver Island that is often overlooked.
But I assure you, it is well worth the effort!
The quietness, fresh air, and breathtaking views of lakes, mountains, and an overabundance of waterfalls will recharge your soul like no other place does. With no cell coverage, no WiFi, and the only amenity being pit toilets, you are quite literally leaving the rest of the world behind.
Strathcona Park is the oldest Provincial Park in BC, and with over 250,000 hectares to explore, it is also Vancouver Island’s largest.
The park is divided into two developed areas, Buttle Lake (accessible via Campbell River), and Forbidden Plateau (located adjacent to Mount Washington). Both areas offer spectacular outdoor adventure. The rest of the park has been largely left untouched and is a wonderment for those seeking a true wilderness and back-country experience.
Places to Explore in Strathcona Park
Buttle Lake offers the only two vehicle-accessible campgrounds available in Strathcona Park (Buttle Lake and Ralph River). Both campgrounds offer a beautiful setting of large trees and private sites. Their remoteness from a city centre makes it feel like you are backcountry camping, but without the hassle of carrying your gear.
Buttle Lake Campground is located closest to Campbell River, and is situated on the larger part of the lake; While Ralph River is located on the south end of the lake (a good 40km from the head of Buttle Lake).
As neither campground offers any amenities other than pit toilets and water pumps, they are best suited for those that are self-contained. But if you can handle the ruggedness you are in for quite a visual treat.
The majority of the campsites are available on a first-come, first-serve basis, however, a few can be reserved. Camping fees are $20 per night.
Please visit the Strathcona Provincial Park website for more information on how to reserve.
Popular Things to do at Buttle Lake
- Fish for Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout
The trails in Strathcona Park are the main attraction, only because of how many there are. No matter what kind of hiking you are looking for, this park has it!
While I can’t begin to list them all, here are a few of the more popular ones. And please note, all of the trails mentioned are easily found off the main road and via well-appointed signage within the park.
(All of the ‘Waterfall Trails’ mentioned below are on the Buttle Lake side of Strathcona Park)
- Lady Falls – A 900-metre path, which takes approximately 15 minutes (one way), leading to a platform for a spectacular view of the falls.
- Lupin Falls – Walk along a well maintained trail for approximately 15 – 20 minutes to reach the magical area surrounding Lupin Falls.
- Karst Creek – For views of limestone, sinkholes, and a waterfall that disappears, walk this 2 km (roundtrip) trail.
- Lower Myra Falls (pictured above) – A 15-minute walk down a fairly steep decline takes you to a myriad of colours and sights, as well as a string of connected falls.
- Upper Myra Falls – A 6km (return) trip on an easy trail takes you through old-growth forests to view the crystal clear water of cascading creeks.
(All ‘Short Walks’ mentioned below are on the Buttle Lake side of Strathcona Park)
- Elk River Viewpoint – This 10-minute walk leads to a platform with views across Elk River and towards the Roosevelt elk habitat.
- Auger Point – This 5-minute loop leads through an old-growth forest that was once devastated by a forest fire.
- Wild Ginger – This 15-minute loop trail leads you through an old-growth forest with views of large patches of wild ginger.
- Shepard Creek – This 1.5 km easy loop (approximately 45 minutes) takes you through a mix of marshy areas and open forest.
Long Hikes in the Buttle Lake Area
- Crest Mountain – With the entire 5 km trail being uphill, this one is known as being a real grunt. Once you reach the top you will reap the benefits of a spectacular birds-eye view of the surrounding area.
- Phillips Ridge – This 6km hike has an elevation change of 800 metres, and leads to Arnica Lake. Note of interest: there is a backcountry camping area at the north end of Arnica Lake. If you decide to camp, the next day you can continue on to Phillips Mountain.
- Flower Ridge – A 6km hike with some beautiful viewpoints full of alpine flowers in almost every season. Please note: this trail is steep and rough until you reach the alpine ridge. As well, water can be scarce.
- Bedwell Lake – Another 6 km hike, although this one has a unique terrain with well-constructed bridges, steep stairs, and creek crossings. There is backcountry camping available around the lake area. Hikes to Cream Lake and Bedwell Sound also leave from here. Camping fees apply (see below for further information).
For more detail (and more hikes) in the area, check out the article created by 10 Adventures: Hikes in Strathcona Provincial Park
Forbidden Plateau Area Trails
The main access to Forbidden Plateau is from the Paradise Meadows trailhead, which is found by heading up towards Mount Washington Alpine Resort.
Just before reaching the resort, turn left onto Nordic Lodge Road and follow the signs to the Paradise Meadows parking area. There is a fully wheelchair accessible Wilderness Centre, which provides lots of great information about Strathcona, as well as many other BC Parks. They also have a few snacks for sale.
There is a fully accessible outhouse, as well as washrooms inside the Wilderness Centre. Please note: there are no toilet facilities along the trails.
- Paradise Meadows Loop Trail – This 2.2 km trail is wheelchair accessible, and has both boardwalk and hard-packed gravel sections.
- Helen MacKenzie-Battleship Lake Loop – This 8 km (approximately 3 hour) easy hike is on well-developed trails that meander through a mix of sub-alpine meadows and forests. Make sure to take in the spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
- Helen MacKenzie to Circlet Lake – This 9.5 km (approximately 5 hour) hike starts at Lake Helen MacKenzie. The trail follows forested slopes over rougher terrain before rising to a sub-alpine area. There is designated camping available at Circlet Lake. Camping fees apply (see below for further information).
- Helen MacKenzie-Kwai Lake-Croteau Lake Loop Trail – This 14 km trail offers hikers access to beautiful alpine lakes and mountain vistas. There is designated camping available at Kwai Lake. Camping fees apply (see below for further information).
There are designated backcountry camping sites available at the following locations:
- Bedwell Lake / Cream Lake Trail
- Elk River Trail
- Lake Helen MacKenzie
- Kwai Lake
- Circlet Lake
- Della Fall Trails (no camping fees apply)
Backcountry camping fees are $10.00 per person, ages 16+, and $5.00 per person, ages 6 – 15.
You can prepay using the Backcountry Camping Registration system, however, this does not mean a spot is reserved for you. Prepaying only gives you the convenience of not having to carry cash or a cheque.
Pit toilets, food caches, and tent pads are located at most of the backcountry camping locations.
Fires are not permitted anywhere in the backcountry area of Strathcona park. This means you will need to bring a portable stove for cooking.
Points of Interest
Myra Falls Mine
Within the Strathcona Park boundaries, there is an active mine that you can drive to. In fact, you have to drive right through the mine site in order to get to the Upper Myra Falls trail.
The Myra Falls Operation of Boliden-Westmin Resources Ltd. produces mainly zinc and copper ore. They have also produced significant quantities of precious metals, *yielding nearly 22 million grams (700 000 ounces) of gold and over 778 million grams (2.5 million ounces) of silver.
Myra Falls is the only mine in BC that is located within a Provincial Park. In 1966 operation began as an open-pit mine. Today mining is an underground operation only. As the mine is surrounded by a Class A park all mining activities fall under a park-use permit. Constant monitoring ensures that environmental concerns and public safety are an integral part of the continuing mine program.
In the past they allowed groups to tour the mine. However, when we were there (late August), no tours were available. I wasn’t able to find any information on whether or not the tours will start up again.
It is a bit of an effort to get there, but if you can find the time and have the energy, hiking to Canada’s tallest falls (1456 feet/444 metres) is something you should consider while visiting Strathcona Park.
The hike to the base of the falls is 15 km, with the viewpoint being another 3 km after that. One should also note that access to the trailhead is only accessible by water transportation (boat, kayak, canoe, etc.) with a 33 km trek from one end of Grand Central Lake to the other. With all of this in mind, the hike to Della Falls is typically a multi-day trip. In fact, a 3-day trip is recommended.
For those who don’t own their own boat, or would like to avoid paddling the great distance, there is a water taxi service available that takes you right to the trailhead.
You might be happy to know, a lake cruise can be arranged for those who don’t find the hike appealing.
General Information about Strathcona Park
- Please be advised that most trails are snow-covered from late October/early November until at least June. The higher elevation trails are often snow-covered until mid-July. For those exploring the park during the snow cover season, make sure you are well equipped for changing conditions. Also please check avalanche reports prior to heading out.
- There are no open fires allowed in any of the backcountry areas. Where you are allowed pit fires, you must only use the designated fire rings provided.
- Strathcona Park is a prime location for wildlife viewing. The most commonly seen are black bear, Roosevelt elk, deer, Bald eagles, Trumpeter swans, whiskeyjacks, and quite often cougars. Always be cautious around wildlife, and maintain a safe distance.
- As mentioned, there are extremely limited facilities once inside the Park boundaries, so please make sure you are well equipped with food, water, and gas for your vehicle before you go.
While you are in the Area
There are a few other places you might want to check out while you are traveling to, or in the general area of Strathcona Park.
Toted as the “Salmon Capital of the World”, Campbell River is well known for its sport fishing. Whether you are casting off from Discovery Pier (Canada’s first-ever saltwater fishing pier near the government wharf on the downtown waterfront), or out at sea, fishing enthusiasts rave about their adventures in Campbell River. For a comprehensive list of Chartered Guides, visit HelloBC.
The thundering waterfall, as well as the newly built (2015) suspension bridge over Elk Falls Canyon, makes this area in Campbell River a sought after location.
From the bridge you have incredible views of the falls. But for those who would rather not make the crossing, there is also a viewing platform located just before the bridge.
The bridge was built to provide a destination attraction for those visiting Elk Falls Provincial Park.
The Provincial Park is only 3 km from the Elk Falls Day use area, and is considered one of Vancouver Island’s best campground accommodations. There is an extensive 6 km trail system within the Park, which is home to the only significant stand of old-growth Douglas fir north of MacMillan Provincial Park (Cathedral Grove).
For more information and/or to make camping reservations, please visit the government website for Elk Falls Provincial Park.
Strathcona Park Lodge & Outdoor Education Centre
Founded in 1959 with the idea to teach and run summer programs to young people and tourists, the Strathcona Park Lodge is considered today a leading centre for outdoor education and wilderness tourism. In 1977 a full-scale apprenticeship program, for those seeking a career in outdoor education and leadership, was launched. Today the same course is called the Canadian Outdoor Leadership Training Semester Program (COLT), and is considered Canada’s top outdoor education program.
The general public can utilize the offerings of the lodge as well. They have accommodations, plenty of guided activities, and two restaurants to enjoy!
For further information please visit the website for Strathcona Park Lodge.
Mount Washington Alpine Resort
Mount Alpine Washington Resort has two distinct seasons, Winter and Summer.
In the summer months the resort is open for mountain biking, alpine hiking, scenic chairlift rides, disc golf, mini-golf, and a bungee trampoline. And if you are looking to nourish your body before heading out on an adventure, Ted’s Bar and Grill, as well as the Fresh Market Cafe are open during the summer for your dining enjoyment.
If you happen to be in the area in the late spring (June) and/or early fall (before the snow sets in), make sure to check their website before you go. They have very limited hours of operation during this time.
So, have I given you enough reasons to venture to this beautiful part of Vancouver Island?
If you have experienced Strathcona Park, let me know your thoughts in the comments below!