Caves, Peaks and Lakes in Strathcona Provincial Park, Vancouver Island

Thanksgiving weekend rolled around quickly this year and for once I didn’t have anything planned for the long weekend. Not wanting to waste the opportunity to get out of the city, we decided last minute to board a ferry for Vancouver Island on Friday after work and head north to the Campbell River area.

Campbell River is the third-largest city on the Island, yet I had not heard very much about the city or surrounding area. I was pleasantly surprised to find a charming town on the waterfront, with beautiful views of the changing leaves on Quadra Island across the narrow channel and the white caps of the Coast Mountains in the distance.

Elk Falls Provincial Park lies on the city outskirts along the way to our destination- Strathcona Provincial Park- so we stopped in to stretch the legs. The falls themselves were impressive, and the new suspension bridge a cool addition, but the real attraction for me were the beautiful fall colours in the surrounding old growth forest. Yellow, orange and red leaves carpeted the mossy forest floor, creating a vibrant contrast against the green walls of the canyon. We ended up walking the River Trail to Moose Falls and the large, deep Dolphin Pool at its base (sadly, no dolphins or moose were spotted).

Back in the car, we continued our way along Highway 28 to Strathcona Park Lodge. This is the closest accommodation we could find to hikes in the park. Some of the camping areas were still open, but with rain in the forecast we decided to splurge and stay indoors. The Lodge mainly caters for school and recreational groups, and the meal options reflected this (buffet style only, served on a strict timeline). We opted to bring in food from the grocery store instead, and made sandwiches in the room. With most of the afternoon still available to us and with a break in the weather, we decided to rent mountain bikes and explore some local trails. The Bog Trail was the easiest trail we could find, but still had some interesting technical features that I struggled a bit on. I’m new to the sport of mountain/ XC biking and am still building up the courage to ride the drops off rocks and roots.

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The next day we headed over to the tiny town of Gold River, as I’d heard there were some caves outside of town. We looked eagerly in the rivers near town for salmon making their annual migration upstream, but couldn’t spot any. Too early in the season maybe? Approximately 20 minutes out of town, we saw the turn off for Upana Caves. We were the only ones in the parking lot. Luckily, there were comprehensive maps and explanations of the caves here, and it was apparent that the governing body encourages families and novices to explore. Armed with headlamps, we made our way to the Main Cave. After squeezing through the ‘Keyhole’ we descended into the dark, crouching low. A large cavern opened up inside, with several tunnels running off in different directions. Seeing a glimmer of natural daylight ahead, I found a pile of rocks and trees and looked up through an open hole at the surrounding forest. From above, I don’t think you would even notice this the honeycombed limestone network of caves underneath, and would easily find yourself falling 10 metres down into the dark. Exploring further, we found a tight gap that led to an underground pool and opened out into a canyon with waterfalls. Beautiful!

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A second cave system was called the Corner Cave and it was immediately apparent it was going to be a lot tighter squeeze. Getting down on hands and knees, we wriggled and squirmed down into the earth. Unfortunately, with all the heavy rain recently our journey was stopped short when I encountered a flooded chamber. We could go no further.

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The next cave, called the Resurgence Cave, had a fast flowing stream running out of it. We scrambled over some precarious logs that had been jammed at the stream’s outflow, hopping onto a ledge inside the cave near the water. Exploring further back in the dark, we found a still, black pool (reminding me of Gollum’s cave in The Lord of The Rings). It was eerie looking at the back of the pool and not being able to see where it disappeared under the rock.

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Emerging dirty and damp from the ground, we both had huge smiles on our faces. You forget how fun it can be to scramble around exploring new areas and finding exciting features like the underground pools.

After a quick lunch we turned back towards Strathcona Lodge. There were a few waterfalls I wanted to see along the way. Lady Falls was a quick 20 minute walk (Jacob decided to bring a beer along).

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Lady Falls

Karst Creek also had some nice falls, but foliage was unfortunately covering the ‘Appearing’ and ‘Disappearing’ streams (where the water runs into the limestone rock and reemerges suddenly further downstream).

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Karst Creek Falls

Lower Myra Falls was another short 25 minute hikes to large cascades tumbling over square rock, close to the shore of Buttle Lake.

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Lower Myra Falls

Tired after a long day of hiking and caving, we had an early night (easy at Strathcona Lodge as there is no TV!) and prepared for an early start the next day.

Nonetheless, it was 10am before we started our hike the next day. The objective was Bedwell Lake. I’d read this hike featured 600m of elevation change, beautiful views and two alpine lakes. Starting at the end of a gravel road, we set off on the 12km trail through lush forest. Suspension bridges crossed two raging streams, swollen with water from the recent rain. Winding up through the valley, we eventually left the boulder strewn creek behind and ascended through open forest and then blueberry fields. Steel ladders bolted to the cliffside helped in the steeper sections of the climb. Eventually, we came across Baby Bedwell Lake, where there is a campground, outhouses and beautiful vistas looking across the lake to a large, snowy mountain. After a quick lunch we continued around the edge of Baby Bedwell towards the main attraction, Bedwell Lake. I was surprised at how large this second lake was, with tiny islands dotting the surface. Looming large in the background was a wall of jagged mountains, their names I am unsure of. I could see at least three small glaciers near their peaks. We had the place pretty much to ourselves and enjoyed a good rest in the sun by the lakes edge before starting the long descent back to the car.

Bedwell Lake Hike

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Packing up and heading out, I was struck by how few people were around. Perhaps this park is too far north for a lot of mainlanders to bother with. Or maybe it was because a lot were at home with families enjoying Thanksgiving. Either way, I left refreshed and happy to have explored a new provincial park. I hope more will venture north and discover the beauty of this park.

 

 

 

 

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