Waterfalls, Alpine Meadows and Idyllic Camping in Northern Vancouver Island

As soon as you go north from Campbell River things become a lot more wild. The towns shrink to villages and the traffic dwindles. Our first port of call was Elk Falls Provincial Park where a short walk led us to a swing bridge and two overlooks to view the mighty falls from. It was a really pretty area and the dam was letting out water so the waterfall was gushing and causing a mist to fill the air. We found a nice spot to camp for free right beside a small lake and enjoyed a campfire while listening to coyotes or wolves howling in the woods.

The following morning we headed into Strathcona Provincial Park. For 50km our road wiggled alongside the shores of a narrow lake framed by mountains. We were heading right down to the southern edge of the lake to visit Myra Falls. The waterfalls were beautiful – dropping in three stages until they flowed into Buttle Lake. Between each waterfall was a deep, turquoise coloured pool begging to be jumped into. We actually chickened out, it was a bit of a chilly day with the sun dipping behind the clouds but we watched some teenagers doing some wild jumps and then shivering like mad. We enjoyed the afternoon at the lake instead where the water was much warmer.

We visited another area of Strathcona a few days before by climbing 1000m up a road to an alpine area by Mount Washington Ski Resort. A network of trails went along the Forbidden Plateau, passing numerous lakes along the way so we opted for the 16km loop hike up to Kwai Lake. The first section was very pleasant, walking along a boardwalk surrounded by pea-green alpine meadows. I don’t know if we were early or late in the season but there weren’t any wildflowers around which was a shame.

We got a couple of brief glimpses of snowy peaks but we were mostly walking through forest and it was actually a pretty dull hike. I think if you did a multi day hike the park would be really rewarding with open views of the peaks and even some turquoise glacial fed lakes. But we just had pond style lakes and trees blocking the mountains. The route from Kwai Lake back to the carpark seemed to take forever as we were traversing through a dark forest over a pathway riddled with tree roots. We were surprised too about the lack of wildlife, it seemed like such a pristine area for deer, bears etc but we barely heard a chipmunk rustle in the leaves. We broke the journey up with a refreshing lake swim and five hours after starting we made it back to our van.

As we continued north we stopped at a lake down a dirt road where I’d read there was a lovely free campsite with just four sites. We managed to get the best spot with a picnic table and campfire set on a lovely beach front location. The drizzly morning cleared up and the warm sun pierced down so we pumped up our boat and went for a paddle. We originally planned to stay one night but it’s rare to find such an idyllic location to kick back and relax so we ended up staying three nights. We moored Roland the rowboat in the water by our private beach and used it as a sunbathing platform. I was a little apprehensive about leaving her there overnight as it wasn’t exactly a secure mooring – merely just a stick jabbed into the lake and our rope tied to the top. So before I went to bed I peaked out the window and there she was, lit up by the moonlight.

We woke to a thin layer of fog across the lake and the wonderful sound of loons flying above us. A nice retired couple also camped in the area and had a sweet dog who we happily played with everyday. The owner had recently bought an ATV (kind of like a quad bike with four seats and a roof) which was his new toy so he offered us a ride in it. We’ve never been on one before so it sounded like a fun thing to do and he took us all the way up a steep dirt road to a ski hill. It was quite a long way and he’d warned us it would be dusty but I hadn’t anticipated quite how dusty it would be – I looked like I was a survivor from an explosion in a flour factory. The ski hill was really quaint and rustic, with only about 50 cabins, a lot of which seemed to have out-houses so I guess it’s not connected to water in the area. The cabins were so pretty though, mostly made of wood with steep roofs for the snow to slide off. We expected that to be the end of the trip but he suggested a 20km detour to the little village of Woss where the track was in much better condition so we were flying through. We ended up being out for almost three hours and I was pretty bored by the end of it. Maybe it’s more of a man thing but driving up bumpy roads in a cloud of dust isn’t that fun, although we greatly appreciated him taking us out I think it was more to give him company. I couldn’t wait to run in the lake and get the damn dust off, my hair was white like an old ladies and it felt like one giant dreadlock.

With our ferry back to the mainland fast approaching we left our little slice of heaven and did a couple whale trips which I wrote about in my previous post. One of the tours was from Telegraph Cove which was a very sweet coastal village. Colourful wooden buildings were built atop stilts and a boardwalk led around the bay. It had a nice rustic charm to the place with a couple of eateries and historic plaques on the buildings.

Near Port Hardy was Storeys Beach which was a very pleasant sandy bay with forested islands. Behind the beach was a First Nation cemetery with beautifully carved totem poles marking each site. A big painting was across the village big house and even the tiny school had totems. They were mainly animal designs with eagles, bears and orcas rising up from one another through the pole. All day a storm seemed to be brewing in the air and we were treated to some beautiful mammatus clouds which tend to form before a storm and are shaped like layered bubbles.

After three weeks on the island it was time for us to board a 10 hour ferry across to the Great Bear Forest and try our luck with some fishing grizzlies!

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