Located almost in the center of Vancouver Island, Strathcona Provincial Park is a rugged wilderness of more than 250,000 hectares.
Mountain peaks, some eternally mantled with snow, dominate the park. Lakes and alpine meadows dot a landscape laced with rivers, creeks and streams. In the valleys and lower regions stand forests that were already old in 1778 when Captain James Cook of the Royal Navy landed at Nootka Sound, on the west coast of Vancouver Island, a few kilometers from what is now the western boundary of the park.
Created in 1911 by a special Act of the Provincial Legislature, Strathcona is the oldest provincial park in British Columbia. The park is named for Donald Alexander Smith, First Baron Strathcona and Mount Royal, a Canadian pioneer and one of the principals in the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. On Nov. 7, 1885, in the Selkirk Mountains of southeastern British Columbia, Lord Strathcona drove the last iron spike into the twin ribbons of steel that united Canada from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
Vancouver Island’s separation from mainland British Columbia has resulted in many mammal species common to other parts of the province not being found on the island. Chipmunks, porcupines, coyotes, foxes and grizzly bears are absent, while species such as Roosevelt elk, the Vancouver Island marmot and wolf, black bears and the black-tailed deer are different from their mainland relatives. The park has a large deer population and a significant number of Roosevelt elk while wolves and cougars, though present, are seldom seen.
Birds of Strathcona include the chestnut-backed chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, winter wren and kinglet, as well as the gray jay, Stellar’s jay and band-tailed pigeon. The parks also supports numerous blue grouse, ruffed grouse and a limited number of unique Vancouver Island white-tailed ptarmigan.
Western red cedar, Douglas fir, grand fir and western hemlock of the coast forest cover much of the valleys and lower mountain slopes, giving way to sub-alpine fir, mountain hemlock and creeping juniper in the sub-alpine areas. Through the summer, the park offers a spectacular floral display in various areas from sea level to above 1,800 meters. Found at varying heights are varieties of heather, lupine, monkey flowers and violets, as well as Indian paintbrush, phlox and moss.
Buttle Lake, named for Commander John Buttle who explored the area in the 1860s, is the major body of water in the park. It and many of the other lakes and waterways can provide good fishing for cutthroat and rainbow trout and Dolly Varden.
Summer in Strathcona Provincial Park is usually pleasantly warm while winters are fairly mild with the exception of the higher levels where heavy snowfalls are quite common. Snow remains all year on the mountain peaks and may linger into July at higher elevations. Summer evenings can be cool and rain can be expected at any time of year.
Two areas, Buttle Lake and vicinity, and Forbidden Plateau have some visitor-oriented developments. The rest of the park is largely undeveloped and appeals primarily to people seeking wilderness surroundings. To see and enjoy much of the scenic splendor requires hiking or backpacking into the alpine regions.
A paved road joins Highway 28 (the Gold River Hwy.) near the outlet of Buttle Lake and winds its way southward, hugging the shoreline. Along this scenic road are numerous cataracts and creeks that rush and tumble into the lake. Myra Falls, on the west side of Buttle Lake near the south end, is the largest. Some of the more prominent peaks – rising nearly a kilometer above the lake – include Mount McBride, Marble Peak, Mount Phillips and Mount Myra. Elkhorn Mountain, at 2,192 meters, is the second highest mountain in the park. It can be seen along with Mount Flannigan and Kings Peak from Highway 28.
Forbidden Plateau has the roots of its name in Indian legend. The plateau was believed, so the legend goes, to be inhabited by evil spirits who consumed women and children who dared to venture into the area. The reward for those who venture onto the plateau today is an area of sub-alpine beauty. Small lakes, to be seen and fished, dot the plateau. Views of glaciers, mountains and the farmlands and forest stretching eastward to the Strait of Georgia are visual highlights.
The 440-meter Della Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in Canada, is located in the southern section of the park. The highest point on Vancouver Island, the Golden Hinde, elevation 2,200 meters, stands almost in the center of the park to the west of Buttle Lake.
How to Get to Strathcona Park
The cities of Campbell River and Courtenay are the primary access points to Strathcona Provincial Park. Highway 28 passes through the northern section of the park and provides access to Buttle Lake, 48 kilometers west of Campbell River.
There are two access routes to the Forbidden Plateau area from Courtenay. Paradise Meadows (Mount Washington) – from Hwy. 19, follow signs to Mount Washington Resort via the Strathcona Parkway. Twenty five kilometers up the Parkway you come to the resort’s Nordic Lodge road on the left. Go another 1.5 kilometers to Paradise Meadows parking lot.
Forbidden Plateau (Wood Mountain) – Follow the signs for 19 kilometers from Hwy. 19 to the Forbidden Plateau ski area via Forbidden Plateau road.
Park Trail Information
The trails described below are well-defined and have improved walking surfaces. Distances, elevation changes and hiking times for ONE-WAY trips are approximate. Keep on designated trails, as shortcutting and using trailsides is unsafe, causes damage to plant life and can lead to erosion of soil and trail.
In addition to these hiking trails, there are a number of non-maintained cross-country routes. These routes are not signed or defined in any way, and should be attempted only by experienced, well-equipped hikers familiar with orienteering.
NOTE: All trails in Strathcona Provincial Park are closed to mountain bikes and horses.
Stratchcona Park Hiking in the Buttle Lake Area
This 11-kilometer trail starts at Hwy. 28 and follows the Elk River Valley for 10 kms before turning up to Landslide Lake. Five hours is the suggested hiking time. Use caution on bare rock sections.
While only five kms in length, the suggested hiking time is four hours. The trail starts at Hwy. 28. Use caution on single log crossings.
This 6.6-km trail starts at Phillips Creek Marine Campsite on Buttle Lake. Marble Meadows features viewpoints, alpine meadows and limestone formations. Six hours is the suggested hiking time.
This well graded, six kilometer trail starts from the trailhead just past Westmin’s mine operation and leads to Arnica Lake. Suggested hiking time is four hours.
This six-kilometer trail starts on Buttle Lake Road and features open hiking on a ridge. The trail is steep and rough to open alpine. Water can be scarce. Suggested hiking time is five hours.
Upper Myra Falls
This three-kilometer trail starts just past the Westmin mine operation and follows a gravel road for 700 meters before turning into a forested trail. The trail features old-growth forests and waterfalls. Suggested hiking time is two hours.
Starting from Jim Mitchell Lake Road, this six-kilometer trail has a number of viewpoints. Routes to Cream Lake and Bedwell Sound depart from this area. Suggested hiking time is 3.5 hours.
Price Creek/Cream Lake
Starting from the south end of Buttle Lake, this 8.5-kilometer trail follows a gravel road for the first three kilometers. A rough trail follows the main valley another 7.3 kilometers where it crosses Price Creek and deteriorates into a very steep, rough route to Cream Lake. Suggested hiking time is seven hours.
Nature Walks & Short Trails in Strathcona
Starting at the Hwy. 28 viewing platform, this 900-meter trails takes about 20 minutes to hike and leads to a picturesque waterfall.
Elk River Viewpoint
Starting at Hwy. 28, this 400-meter, 15-minute walk leads to a viewing platform. Keep an eye open for Roosevelt elk.
This 800-meter, short, circular 20-minute walk features cool forest and, in season, Indian Pipe and Candystick flowers.
This five-minute loop takes you through an area devastated by forest fire that is now being reclaimed by nature.
This two-kilometer trail passes through a limestone wonderland including sinkholes, disappearing streams and waterfalls. The hike takes about 45 minutes.
Beginning near Ralph River campground, this 20-minute loop passes through big timber and large patches of wild ginger and forest flowers.
This two-kilometer trail goes through a virgin watershed. Beginning near the Ralph River campground, the hike takes about 45 minutes.
Starting near the south end of Buttle Lake, this one-kilometer trail leads down to the falls. Use CAUTION when at the falls. The hike takes about 25 minutes.
Forbidden Plateau Area of Strathcona Park
From Paradise Meadows trailhead you can access:
Paradise Meadows Loop Trail
This 2.2 kilometer trail is an easy walk through sub-alpine meadows. Suggested hiking time is 45 minutes.
Helen McKenzie-Battleship Lake Loop Trail
This eight-kilometer easy hike goes through a mixture of sub-alpine forests and meadows. Suggested hiking time is three hours.
Helen McKenzie-Kwai Lake-Croteau Lake Loop Trail
This 14-kilometer trail offers access to beautiful sub-alpine lakes and mountain vistas. There’s designated camping at Kwai Lake. Suggested hiking time is six hours.
Helen McKenzie to Circlet Lake
From Lake Helen McKenzie the trail follows forested slopes over rougher terrain before rising to a rolling sub-alpine area. The Hairtrigger Lake area provides spectacular mountain views. There’s designated camping at Circlet Lake. Suggested hiking time is four hours.
Other Trails in the Area Accessed From Kwai Lake
Cruikshank Canyon Lookout
This 1.5 kilometer trail passes Mariwood Lake and Lake Beautiful. Suggested hiking time is one hour.
Other Trails From Circlet Lake
This 2.5-kilometer trail takes about one hour to hike.
This 1.6-kilometer trail takes about one hour to hike.
Mount Albert Edward
This 6.5-kilometer trail climbs steadily onto the ridge and continues to the summit. Suggested hiking time is five hours.
Strathcona Park Trails From Forbidden Plateau
Mount Becher Summit
This five-kilometer trail starts at the ski lodge, goes up one of the runs to the trailhead near the T-bar. The trail and summit provide excellent views of the Comox valley and northern Strait of Georgia. Suggested hiking time is two hours.
Drabble Lake, Douglas and McKenzie lakes to Murray Meadows
This 17-kilometer trail is somewhat rough and passes through a variety of landscapes. Camping is available at McKenzie and Douglas lakes. Suggested hiking time is seven hours.
Other Trails in Strathcona Park
The 16-kilometer trail starts at the west end of Great Central Lake and follows the old railway grade up the Drinkwater Valley to near the base of the falls. Della Falls, at 440 meters, is one of the ten highest waterfalls in the world. The trail goes by historic sites from the early days of railroad logging and accesses Love Lake and Della Lake. Some unbridged river crossings can be hazardous. Hand rails are removed for winter season on the bridge over the Drinkwater River. NOTE: Some trail maps have a rough trail marked from Bedwell Lakes to the top of Della Falls. This route is not possible — do not attempt to access Della Falls from this vantage.
This four-kilometer trail starts at 15-kilometer marker on the way to Della Falls and ascends to Love Lake. Suggested hiking time is two hours.
Access to the trail takes about two hours via active logging roads from Menzies Bay on Hwy. 19, north of Campbell River. Follow the Salmon River main logging road for 30 km to a short spur that is marked by a small sign indicating the trailhead. It is one kilometer along this road to a small parking area and the start of the trail that traverses flat valley bottom terrain to good camping and excellent fishing at Gold Lake. Suggest hiking time is two hours.
Road access to this area is very poor. Follow Comox Lake Logging Road to Cruikshank Canyon, then follow the spur towards Comox Creek until you reach the bridge-out area. Start hiking. Stay on the road for about 10 kilometers until you reach the actual trailhead. This steep trail is not maintained, and is suitable for advanced hikers and mountaineers only. The suggested hiking time is five hours.
Tennent Lake-Mount Myra
The seven-kilometer trail starts at Westmin Resources visitor parking lot at the west end of the mine site and follows a very steep, washed out roadbed to Tennent Lake. Suggested hiking time is five hours.
NOTE: All suggested hiking times are ONE-WAY. Additionally, the rugged wilderness areas, glaciers, snowfields and mountains of Strathcona Provincial Park require that visitors who wish to venture off maintained trails and away from developed areas be entirely self-sufficient, properly equipped and experienced. Pack out all garbage and bury human waste. Campfires, particularly in the sub-alpine areas, are not encouraged. It is recommended you take a small, lightweight cooking stove into back-country areas. In the Strathcona Park area, cougars have been known to attack domestic pets. Black bears can also be provoked by pets. DO NOT take pets on hiking trips. If you insist on bringing your dog, keep Grover on a leash.
Nature Conservancy Areas
Three roadless tracts within Strathcona Provincial Park – Big Ben, Central Strathcona and Comox Glacier – with a total area in excess of 122,500 hectares, have been designated nature conservancy areas. Each area contains outstanding examples of scenery and natural history, uninfluenced by the activities of man, and is dedicated to the preservation of the undisturbed natural environment. Internal combustion engines are prohibited within the nature conservancy areas.
Strathcona Provincial Park has:
- Two campgrounds – Buttle Lake (85 sites) and Ralph River (76 sites). Both are located on Buttle Lake, accessed by Hwy. 28 (the Gold River Hwy.) west of Campbell River. The campgrounds have water, toilets and firewood.
- Back-country users are permitted to camp one kilometer from main roads or, where provided, at designated sites.
- Four marine back-country camping areas are located on the western shore of Buttle Lake and one on Rainbow Island.
- Picnic grounds are located at several sites on and near Buttle Lake.
- There is an adventure playground at Buttle Lake campground.
- Crest Creek Crags – Off the Crest Mountain trailhead, this area has over 100 climbing routes. All users must ensure adequate skills and equipment to climb safely.
- Two boat launch ramps are located on Buttle Lake.
- There is good swimming near the Buttle Lake and Ralph River campgrounds. NO lifeguards are on duty.
- Many of the park’s lakes offer great fishing.
- A park interpreter is in the park during July and August. Information may be obtained from the kiosk at the east entrance portal and campground info shelters.
- Forbidden Plateau and Mount Washington have extensive alpine and Nordic skiing and winter recreation facilities. Mount Washington also offers all types of accommodations and summer programs.