I didn’t know much about Strathcona Provincial Park before we decided to visit, but after a google search I quickly arrived at the conclusion that Landslide Lake is one of the most popular hikes in the park. Vancouver Island isn’t really known for its mountains. Even though I know the island has mountains, it’s always the coastal hikes that come to mind when I think of the island, so I was keen to do Landslide Lake and explore some of the more mountainous regions.
We spent the first night car camping and got up early to hit the Landslide Lake trail. It’s right off the highway on the way to Gold River. It was a weekday in mid September, so there were a lot more cars in the parking lot than we were expecting. It seemed several large groups had camped up there overnight, but most of them were exiting the trail as we were hiking in.
It’s not a challenging trail. It starts with a short uphill climb before leveling out along Elk River. It is mostly uphill, with some slightly technical sections, but overall not a difficult trail. It just feels long. It’s around 7km to the first campsite at Butterwort Flats, which is located next to the river but primarily in the trees, then it’s another 3km to Upper Gravel Bar Campsite, which is where we were planning to stay. It took us around 3 hours at a pretty brisk pace to reach the campsite.
There was no one there when we arrived, so we set up our tent along the river and had lunch. It’s another 3km to Landslide Lake, but you’re not allowed to camp there, so people just day hike up and back from the campsite. It’s steeper heading up to the lake and the trail can be a little bit confusing at times. There’s a lot of uphill over bare rock and while it’s really obvious which direction you want to go (due to the valley), it’s easy to lose the trail, so watch for the cairns. It took a bit longer than we were expecting due to the heat, but there’s a nice waterfall on the way up and eventually we made it to the lake. There were a few day hikers there, but they soon took off and we went for a swim in the cold water and had a snack.
We probably should have called it a day there, but both of us were keen to check out Foster Lake (aka Iceberg Lake) while we were up there. It’s only about 1.5km to the next lake, but there’s no official trail and it’s a bit of a bushwack at times to get there. We didn’t really have trouble following the trail, but it’s really technical with lots of brush and ups and downs, so we were cursing and swearing pretty much the whole way there. It’s very forested around the back of Landslide Lake and then once you get to the end of the lake, you follow the creek bed for a bit before climbing up over scree and boulder fields. To be honest, some of the best views of Landslide Lake are from the boulder field at Foster Lake, because the angle of the afternoon sun from the base makes it hard to get any good photos.
We strongly debating throwing in the towel and turning around, but we’d come so far and knew we were unlikely to come back, so we kept going while we grumbled. I am glad we persevered, but my advice to others would be to either give yourself an entire day for it (2 nights at the campsite), or skip it. I can’t deny Foster Lake is pretty cool, it’s definitely alpine terrain and there’s a glacier at the back of the lake that you can explore if the conditions are right. If we had a whole day for it I wouldn’t mind exploring around the area a bit more, but we had less daylight because it was September and we were tired from the hike in. We enjoyed the view for 15-20 mins before turning around and heading back to make supper. The trail was just as annoying on the return trip and by the time we made it back to camp, we’d clocked in almost 20km for the day.
I liked the campsite because there was only us and 2 other groups, but I’d guess it gets pretty busy in the summer. That said, there is a lot of room for tents along the river and in the trees, so I wouldn’t be deterred from going on a weekend. It is a bit dark in the forest, but at least there’s an outhouse and bear cache. We had one of my leftover SCT meals for dinner and Brandon made us some soup to go with it. It was the time of year where it’s hot in the day, but can get quite cold overnight. I didn’t have any trouble sleeping, but it was damn cold getting out of the tent in the morning!
We didn’t waste too much time making breakfast and packed up to start our hike out. I’d got it in my mind that we could drive into Gold River for a nice lunch, so we made quick time hiking back down the trail. We only stopped briefly to chat with two guys who were also hiking out and we quickly identified each other as Newfoundlanders, so we had a good chat about life on the west coast vs. the east coast. We made it to the parking lot around 12:30pm and changed into some clean clothes before heading into Gold River for a rewarding cafe lunch!