Nature Challenge
Strathcona Provincial Park
 
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  Buttle Lake Strathcona Park   Strathcona Park is named after Lord Strathcona, who was a key figure in getting Canada's Trans Continental Railway built and may be best known for driving the last spike that completed the first coast-to-coast connection. Fittingly, Strathcona was the first of British Columbia's Provincial Parks, with 2011 marking the 100th anniversary of its dedication. Located in the northern region of Vancouver Island this is a true wilderness park, with much of it's most spectacular scenery accessible to those who have the skills, equipment and desire to access the backcountry. Fortunately many of the parks wonders are also available from the front country, including many scenic hikes, climbing crags, kayak and canoe areas, nordic trails and excellent camping areas.  
 
  Hikers, backpackers, paddlers and skiers have a wealth of areas to explore, accessible from the parks two key areas, the Forbidden Plateau/Paradise Meadows and Buttle Lake, off the Highway 28 corridor.  
 
  Buttle Lake early morning   Both areas have excellent access to the parks spectacular backcountry. Trails reach from the valleys and into the alpine, where routes lead to some of the parks glaciers and high peaks (the highest on Vancouver Island). Designated camping is available on most trails and random camping is usually allowed otherwise. The backcountry is also accessible to nordic skiers and snowshoers from Paradise Meadows/Forbidden Plateau.  
 

Camping

The park has two front country campgrounds and a group camping site in the Buttle Lake Area. The Buttle Lake campground has some site which can be reserved through the Discover Camping website. Wilderness camping is available at designated (and in some cases random areas) in the south of the park (see Della Falls Trail), the Buttle Lake Area and Paradise Meadows/Forbidden Plateau.


Front Country Camping

Buttle Lake - 85 sites, Located near the eastern entrance to the park at the north end of Buttle Lake. This is the park's most popular campground and it has a nice sandy beach (unsupervised) along with access for launching a canoe or kayak (with a short carry). There are some sites available on the beach beside the lake.

Ralph River - 76 sites, Located at the southern end of Buttle Lake, the campground is usually less busy than the Buttle Lake site. 


Group Camping

Driftwood Bay is locate beside the lake near the Buttle Lake Campground. Contact the park for the requirements for using the site.


Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping (fee) can be practice in designate areas or at random sites at least one kilometre from the nearest road. There are five water access campgrounds in the park, one on Upper Campbell Lake and four on Buttle Lake (see the Canoeing and Kayaking section). At the south end of Buttle Lake you'll find backpacker accessible sites in the Bedwell Lake Trails area. The Della Falls Trail (accessible from Great Central Lake only) has a number of camping areas along the trail to the falls. The Elk River Trail has designated camping areas along the trail, which is accessible east of the Crest Creak Crags along Highway 28. The Forbidden Plateau has a number of camping areas which are located along the trail system. Always treat any of the parks water before drinking, practice no trace camping and use a camp stove (fires are prohibited). Vancouver Island is bear and cougar habitat. Always check with the park about conditions and closures before setting out.

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Hiking

This is a 250,445 hectare wilderness and has an extensive system of hiking trails. There are eight nature trails anywhere from 400 meters in length to 2 km. You'll find over twenty other trails for hikers and backpackers in the park. Always treat any of the parks water before drinking. Vancouver Island is bear and cougar habitat. Always check with the park about conditions and closures before setting out.

Buttle Lake Area

Lady Falls - 0.9km, easy, linear

A short hike (20 minutes) from Highway 28 in the middle of the park will take you to Lady Falls.

Lupin Falls - 0.8km, easy, loop

Located a short drive down Westmin Road from Highway 28, the trail takes about 15 minutes. Picnic facilities are available along with a kayak and canoe launch.

Karst Creek - 1.3km, easy, linear

Located a couple of kilometres north of Ralph River campground. A short walk takes you in to observe the cascading stream and the karst formations. There is a picnic area and a boat launch at the trail head.

Elk Viewpoint - 0.4km, easy, linear

The trail is located along Highway 28 just west of Lady Falls. As the name suggests, you may with a little luck, get to observe some of the parks Roosevelt Elk from the viewing platform at the end of the trail.

Wild Ginger - 0.8km, easy, loop

This trail is a short hike of about 20 minutes that follows the Ralph River from the campgrounds of the same name.

Auger Point - 0.4km, easy, loop

A short loop trail accessible from Westmin Road, there is a a picnic facility and a canoe and kayak launch at the trailhead.

Shepard Creek - 1.5km, easy, loop

Located across Westmin Road from Ralph River campground, the trail is a short hike up the river passed a marsh area.

Upper Myra Falls - 3.3km, moderate, linear

The trailhead and parking lot are located at the bottom of Buttle Lake on the western side of Strathcona Westmin Park, just passed the mine area. The trail starts out on a gravel road, then changes into a forested trail with old-growth and a beautiful water fall. The elevation change is 600 meters and it should take about 2 hours to finish.

Lower Myra Falls - 0.8km, easy, linear

A short hike takes you to the cascades. Caution is advised near the creek. The trailhead and parking lot are located at the bottom of Buttle Lake on the eastern sided of Strathcona Westmin Park near the mine area.

Paradise Meadows/Forbidden Plateau

Paradise Meadows Loop Trail - 2.2km (0.4km access), easy, loop

Easily accessible from the Mount Washington Trailhead. This is a good introduction to the area and a family favourite.

 

Backpacking

The park is a huge wilderness area with lots of trails with designated or random camping areas throughout the park. Many of the trails become routes as they move into the alpine, necessitating a good knowledge of map and compass along with route finding skills. Campfires are not permitted, so ensure you have a good camp stove. Always practice no trace camping. Snow may be present well into the summer months. Food caches are available at most designated sites. Bring your own water or check the availability of sources before setting out. Always treat any of the parks water before drinking. Vancouver Island is bear and cougar habitat. Always check with the park about conditions and closures before setting out.

Buttle Lake Area

Elk River Trail - 11km, difficult, 10hrs, linear

The trail starts just off highway 28 (watch for the signs) between Crest Creek Crags and Lady Falls. The trial has an elevation gain of 600m as it follows the Elk Valley into Landslide Lake. There are designated camping areas along the trail.

Crest Mountain - 5km, difficult, 4hrs, linear

The trail is located off Highway 28 on the north side, just east of Crest Creek Crags. This trail is a climb with excellent scenic views from the upper reaches. The elevation change is 1,250 meters and it should take about 4 hours to complete. There is a single log crossing at one point on the trail. Snow lingers late into the season. Random camping is permitted along the trail.

Bedwell Lake - 6km, difficult, 3-4hr, linear

The trailhead is found off Jim Mitchell Road (4 wheel drive recommended) at the south end of Buttle Lake. The trail travels through old growth and into the sub-alpine. There are two designated camping areas on route at Baby Bedwell and Bedwell Lake.

Tennent Lake - 7km, difficult, 5hrs, linear

The trail is a very steep washed out road bed heading to Tennent Lake from the Westmin Resources visitor parking lot. It should take about 5 hours to complete and has an elevation change of 1,500 meters.

Price Creek/Cream Lake Trail - 8.5km, difficult, 3-4hrs, linear

The trail follows a dirt road starting at the south end of Buttle Lake for about 3 km but then turns into a strenuous climb on a rugged trail to Cream Lake. This is more a route than a trail and is no longer maintained, and is best left to wilderness experts. Snow may be encountered well into the summer. The trail should take about 7 hours with an elevation change of 1,200 meters.

Marble Meadows - 6.6km, difficult, 6hrs, linear

The trail starts at Buttle Lake and climbs to Marble Meadows, which has beautiful alpine meadows and limestone formations. There are steep and exposed sections but the wonderful views are worth the effort. The trail access is from the Philips Creek Marine Campground on the west side of Buttle Lake (see the paddling section). The elevation gain is 1,250 meters and the trail should take about 6 hours to compete.

Phillips Ridge/ Arnica Lake - 6km, moderate/difficult, linear

The trailhead is locate in the mine area at the south end of Buttle Lake. The trail has an elevation change of 800m. Camping is available at the north end of Arnica Lake.

Flower Ridge Trail - 6km, difficult/very difficult, linear

The trail has an elevation change of 1,040m with some very steep areas. The trailhead is off Westmin Road, south of Ralph River. The trails end provides an area with panoramic views. There are random camping areas.

 

Paradise Meadows/Forbidden Plateau Area

Helen McKenzie - Kwai Lake - Croteau Lake Loop Trail - 14km, moderate, loop, 6hrs

This is a 14 km loop in the Forbidden Plateau Area that takes you to views of beautiful alpine lakes and mountain vistas. It should take about 6 hours to complete and has an elevation change of 185 meters. Camping is available at the designated areas at Helen McKenzie Lake or Kwai Lake. The trailhead is at the Wilderness Centre at Mount Washington.

Helen McKenzie to Circlet Lake - 9.5km, moderate, linear, 4hrs

The trail starts at Lake Helen McKenzie (see the listing for Helen McKenzie) then passed Kwai Lake, through Whiskey Meadows to Circlet Lake. Camping is available at Helen McKenzie Lake, Kwai Lake and Circlet Lake. The elevation gain is 270m.

Amphitheater Lake - 1.6km, easy, linear

This is a short trail which is accessed from the Circlet Lake campsite. The elevation gain is 70m.

Mount Albert Edward - 6.5km, difficult, linear, 5hrs

This is really a route through the alpine with significant rewards provided by the exceptional views. The route starts from the Circlet Lake campsite, which is the main staging area for the climb. The trail also connects into the routes into Moat Lake and Castlecrag Mountain.

 

Park South

Della Falls Trail - 16km, difficult, 7hrs

This trail goes along an old railway grade up the Drinkwater Valley to almost the base of the 440 meter Della Falls, one of the 20 highest waterfalls in the world. The trail works its way through an elevation change of about 350m and should take about 7 hours to complete. The trail has designated camping areas on route. The access to the trail is by water only via Great Central Lake, which has road access just outside of Port Alberni well to the south of the park. To reach the trailhead, you can include the long paddle on the big lake in your plans or engage a water taxi. See our resources section for more information.

 

There are also routes from the the Forbidden Meadows area into Mount Becher and through the McKenzie Meadows area starting from the Wood Mountain parking lot. The Comox Glacier is also accessible but the access is difficult. For those with the skills there is also a route from Mount Albert Edward to the Buttle Lake area. Parts of the park are glaciated. Check with the park for further information on backpacking, mountaineering and climbing. Always check with the park about conditions and closures before setting out.

 

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Nature

Some of the parks flora and fauna is different from the same species found on the mainland. In addition you'll find a different mix of species on the island. Cougars (rarely seen) have higher concentrations here, grizzlies are completely absent (although, there is some evidence of recent migration) while fox, porcupine and coyotes are also no where to be found. Watch for deer and roosevelt elk in the park. Kinglets, nuthatches, chickadees and the stunning stellar's jay may be seen.

Lupin Falls, Lady Falls (Lady Falls Trail) and Karst Creek are just a short distance from the road and provide viewing platforms. The trailheads to Myra Falls (upper and lower) are also road accessible. Della Falls (440m) requires boat access to the end of Great Central Lake as well as a long backpack into the falls. Della cascades down three separate sections and is amongst the highest in Canada (see the trails section for more information).

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Cycling and Mountain Biking

There is an area around Kunlin Lake near Gold River where you can mountain bike in the park. By far the your best bet is just on the edge of the park at Mount Washington (access to Paradise Meadows/Forbidden  Plateau) which has 37km of downhill trails with  lift access and North Shore features.  Rentals are available at the resort. Further afield you'll find excellent biking at the Snowden Demonstration Forest just outside Campbell River. Always check with the park about conditions and closures before setting out.


Canoeing and Kayaking

The main lake for paddles in the park is Buttle Lake. Campbell Lake is also popular but most of the lake is located just outside of the park. Strathcona Park lodge is located on Upper Campbell Lake. Campbell Lake has one wilderness area for canoe campers at the Upper Campbell Marine Site. Buttle Lake has island camping along with three wilderness camping areas on its western shore. To gain access, you have to register, pay your fees then paddle to the sites. There is parking with lake access along the eastern shore off Westmin Road at Auger Point, Karst Creek and Lupin Falls. From north to south the camping areas on Buttle Lake are Rainbow Island with five sites, Titus with five sites, Wolf River with four sites and Phillips Creek, which also has four sites. You can also launch your boat (with a carry) from the two main front country campgrounds as well as the Driftwood Bay group site, all of which are located along Buttle Lake. Paddling big lakes can be hazardous, particularly in the afternoon when winds are often at their peak. Check with the park on conditions, access, campsite availability and fees. Always check with the park about conditions and closures before setting out.

 

Climbing and Mountaineering

The park has a designated climbing area called Crested Creek Crags. There are over 150 routes with a variety of difficulties. The area is easily accessed along Highway 28 at the western edge of the park. You'll find crags on both sides of the highway with a large parking area on the south side. This is a beautifully developed and maintained area.

The park has access to alpine areas with a number of high peaks including the Golden Hinde at 2200m, the highest peak on Vancouver island. Many of these peaks can only be reached through rugged wilderness, and some require glacier travel, so plan carefully and make sure your skills are a match for your destination. Snow pack can be very deep in the park and the snow may last into July in higher elevations. Always check with the park about conditions and closures before setting out.

 

Skiing and Snowboarding

Mount Washington Alpine Resort on the edge of the park (Forbidden Plateau/Paradise Meadows) has excellent skiing and boarding with all the amenities. The area usually gets a huge amount of snow and on clear days the views from the mountain alone are worth the price of admission.

 

Nordic Skiing and Snowshoeing

The Forbidden Plateau is well know as a backcountry touring area with a number of different routes to choose from. Remember this is a true wilderness area and you must have the skills and equipment required. Avalanche training, first aid and winter survival skills are essential.

Cross country skiers can take advantage of the Mount Washington Resort trails which will take you as far into the park as Lake Helen Mackenzie. There are over 55km (34miles) of groomed trails. There are rentals available.

Snowshoeing is popular at the resort as well, with 20km (12miles) of trails available. Rentals are available. Always check with the park about conditions and closures before setting out.

 

Caving

While there are no developed caving opportunities in the park, the Upana Caves are situated just to the west outside Gold River and the Horne Lake Caves can be found to the south of the park. Vancouver island has over a thousand known caves.

 

Maps

The National Topographical Series of maps at 1:50,000 cover the park with 92F/5, 92F/6, 92F/11, 92F/12, 92F/13 and 92K/4. You'll find a general map in the parks brochure as well as a .pdf version online at BC Parks website under Strathcona.

 

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Note: Vancouver Island is bear and cougar habitat, inquire with the park for more information.

Interactive Map of Strathcona Provincial Park


View Larger Map

 
 
 

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Resources

  Strathcona Park Sign  

Getting Here To get to the park follow the Island Highway (19) north from Victoria or Nanaimo. The main park access road is Highway 28, which cuts through the top of the park from the turn off at Campbell River (48km). This is the access for the Buttle and Upper Campbell Lakes area. Paradise Meadows/Forbidden Plateau can be reached from the turn off to Mount Washington outside Courtney (27km). Further south watch for the turn off to Wood Mountain (19km) from Highway 19. In the shoulder seasons and the winter, always carry chains. There are no services available from Campbell River to Gold River along Highway 28.

 
 

Resources

Accommodations

Many of these listings are a good distance from the park, check out their websites for more information.

 

Vancouver Island and British Columbia Tourism & Travel

Out-There's Vancouver Island
Out-There's British Columbia

Nanaimo Tourism
Victoria Tourism
British Columbia Tourism

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Rentals, Tours and Attractions in the Surrounding Region

Many of the companies listed are a good distance from the park.

 

Related Links

 

Links of Interest

Canadian Geographic
Conde Nast Traveler

Islands Magazine
National Geographic
National Geographic Adventure
National Geographic Traveler
Outside Magazine
Sunset Magazine
Travel and Leisure Magazine
Wavelength Magazine

 

Out-There's Destinations

 

For current conditions, along with definitive information on the park, contact the park authorities. For regional information check with the local chambers of commerce and tourism offices. Outdoor shops, outfitters and clubs in the vicinity of the park may be other excellent sources of information. If your in the Paradise Meadows/Forbidden Plateau area be sure to drop into the Strathcona Wilderness Centre on the edge of the park at Mount Washington Resort.


 

 

Strathcona Provincial Park
Buttle Lake - Highway 28
Forbidden Plateau (Mt. Washington) - Strathcona Parkway

 

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