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  • Ine Vandenwyngaert

The Ultimate Hiking and Outdoor Guide: Strathcona Provincial Park

Updated: Sep 21, 2022

Looking for the best hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities in Strathcona Provincial Park? This blog post will break down the best trails, along with information on where to go, when to go, how to get there, and how to make the most of your adventure.

Located in the heart of the island, British Columbia's oldest provincial park is a must-see destination on Vancouver Island. With over 250,000 hectares of rugged mountains, snow-capped peaks, shallow rivers, impressive waterfalls, stunning lakes, and an abundance of wildlife, Strathcona Provincial Park is home to some of the best hikes on Vancouver Island! However, due to its vast distances and wilderness, this place is often overlooked in Canada. Let this blog inspire you to plan a trip to Strathcona Provincial Park!

Watch our video on Cream Lake to get a sense of the beauty that is waiting in Strathcona Park!

Want to explore all the hidden gems on Vancouver Island? Download our free Vancouver Island bucket list and check off your epic adventures as you go. Including secret waterfalls, hidden beaches, and hikes you probably don't know.

When to visit Strathcona Provincial Park?

Just like any other place on Vancouver Island (and Canada in general), this park is affected by seasons. While the summers are comfortably warm but short, the winters are fairly cold, snowy (at higher elevations), and long. Snowfalls on the mountain slopes and most trails are common from November through March. Certain spots in the park are not even snow-free before July! Generally, the best season to explore is from the beginning of June to the end of September. During this time of the year, it is also less likely to rain. However, rain showers remain unpredictable throughout the year. So dress properly! Check out our hiking gear article and find hiking essentials together with recommendations on hiking gear for women, men, and winter.

Before heading out, it is important to check the weather and conditions. The BC Parks website has information on the conditions of the trails, roads, and campsites.

where to stay in Strathcona provincial park

Where to go in Strathcona Provincial Park?

Strathcona Park consists of two main areas that are accessible and open to visitors: the Buttle Lake area and Forbidden Plateau. This means that the rest of the park is a largely unexplored and unspoiled wilderness region with limited accessibility. However, the two visitor-friendly areas are extremely scenic and have so much to offer in terms of outdoor activities that you don't have to look any further!

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The Buttle Lake area

Nestled in an impressive valley to the west of Campbell River, the Buttle Lake area is a little deeper into the Park. The surrounding mountains, lakes, wildlife, and waterfalls can be easily explored: from short waterfall walks and stand-up paddling on Buttle Lake to multi-day hiking excursions deep into the alpine region.

The Forbidden Plateau

The Forbidden Plateau area is to the west of Comox and comprised of alpine meadows, lush forests, and pristine lakes surrounded by jagged mountains. The region is home to some of the most beautiful hikes and the only ski resort on Vancouver Island, Mt. Washington. To truly see and explore the magnificent landscapes, however, you will need to hike and possibly camp.


The Best Hikes in Strathcona Provincial Park

1. Landslide Lake - the best hike on Vancouver Island!

Length: 21km officially (our total was closer to 28km, including going to the lake above Landslide lake)

Elevation gain: 1,027m

Hours: 12 hours (including tons of breaks)

Difficulty: hard because of the trail conditions (roots, rocks, etc)

Camping: Yes, at 6km or 9km (we prefer 9km next to the river)


With its teal color, Landslide Lake is probably the most impressive lake in all of Strathcona Provincial Park and on Vancouver Island! In order to get there, you will need to hike the Elk River Trail. This trail is by far the most popular destination in the park, so don't expect to have the trail all to yourself. For the most part, the trail follows the scenic Elk River which takes you through the Valley. While the trail to the second campsite (km 9) makes a moderate hike with a gradual incline, the last 2 kilometers to Landslide Lake become very steep and slippery at times. It is worth the climb though when you finally reach the beautiful Landslide Lake, nestled between the snowy peaks of Mount Colonel Foster. If you are feeling more adventurous, hike up to the upper lake (follow the less-maintained trail to the left side of the lake).

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Due to its length, I would recommend doing the hike in two days. There are two backcountry campsites along the trail, one at km 6 and the other (nicer) one at km 9. A camping spot costs $10 per person per night, and the campsites include toilets and food caches (no water tap available). Even though the trail is said to be 21 km total (out and back), my iPhone 'Health App' measured the trek as 28 km. We are in relatively good shape and it took us a total of 12 hours (including lunch and picture breaks as well as hiking up to the second lake above Landslide Lake). Nonetheless, I have heard of people who did the hike in one full, long day.

Insider Tip: If you decide to do the hike in two or three days, drop off your gear and set up your tent at one of the campsites. Then hike up to Landslide Lake and the second lake with a small backpack. Don't forget to bring your camera, warm clothing, lunch, and snacks.

The best hike on Vancouver Island
Landslide Lake
The best hike on Vancouver Island in Strathcona Provincial Park
View of Landslide Lake from the upper lake

2. Bedwell & Cream Lake - the most diverse hike on Vancouver Island!

Length: 24km officially (our total was closer to 26km)

Elevation: 1,328m

Hours: 10 hours (including many breaks)

Difficulty: Hard (especially the first part to Bedwell lake)

Camping: Yes, at Baby Bedwell or Bedwell lake (also possible at Cream Lake!)


Another one of our favorite hikes in Strathcona Park is the hike to Bedwell Lake and Cream Lake. It is a backcountry and (multi-)day hiking destination in the Buttle Lake area. The trail winds through some old-growth forest, climbing over 500m in elevation. Before reaching Bedwell Lake, you will pass by Baby Bedwell Lake at km 4. This tiny lake has a campsite which overlooks the lake with Mt. Tom Taylor in the backdrop. From here, you continue along the east side of the lake for another 2 km until you arrive at Bedwell Lake (km 6). There is also a campsite at this lake, which is the ideal stop if you are heading to Cream Lake on the next day. Hiking the additional 6km to Cream Lake (km 12) is an absolute must as it has gorgeous views and passes incredible alpine wilderness.

The hike to Bedwell Lake took us approximately 2-3 hours, while the hike to Cream Lake took us an additional 2-3 hours. Even though we did this as a day hike with a total of 10.5 hours (including many breaks!), we do recommend hiking for two days when including Cream Lake. The campsites at Baby Bedwell and Bedwell lake are amazing as you can sleep right next to the lake! Camping fees total $10 per person per night, including toilet facilities and bear caches.

3. Crest Mountain

Length: 11.4km

Elevation: 1,270m

Hours: 6-7 hours

Difficulty: Hard (very steep!)


If you are searching for spectacular mountain vistas and a challenging steep trail, then the Crest Mountain trail in the Buttle Lake area is for you. Crest Mountain is perfect for a day hike, taking about 6-7 hours total. The majority of the hike goes through an old-growth forest on a steep hill with an elevation change of approximately 1,270 meters. It is physically demanding even though the trail is "only" 5 km to the summit (one-way). When you finally reach the summit, you will be rewarded with a small lake and breathtaking views of Kings Peak and Elkhorn Mountain.

The best hikes in Strathcona Provincial Park
Crest Mountain views

4. Mount Albert Edward - The best hike on the Forbidden Plateau

Length: 32km

Elevation: 1,723m

Hours: 12-16hours (2 or 3 days required)

Difficulty: Hard (summit hike)

Camping: Yes, best at Circlet Lake


The most popular hike on the Forbidden Plateau is the scenic Mount Albert Edward trail. Peaking at 2,093m (6,867 feet), this mountain is the sixth highest on Vancouver Island. With 1000m elevation and 32 km total distance, this trail is best done in 2 or 3 days with a base camp at Circlet Lake. The draw of this hike is the variety of landscapes and wildlife you'll encounter. From the lush green Paradise Meadows to the dark Circlet Lake, to the old-growth forest, and the alpine meadows filled with wildflowers, this is a hike that will blow you away! Hiking up to Circlet Lake is relatively easy, taking about 3 to 4 hours. From the lake to the summit will take an additional 3 to 4 hours, which is why it is recommended to camp at Circlet Lake (km 10). There are also alternative campsites along the trail, one at Lake Helen McKenzie (around km 3) and another one at Kwai Lake (about 7km). Each campsite has toilet facilities, platforms for tents, outhouses, and food caches. The camping fee is CAD$10 per person per night.

5. Century Sam Lake Hike

Length: 8.7km

Elevation: 510m

Hours: 4-6hours

Difficulty: Moderate


Century Sam Lake is another beautiful day-hike and is located in the Comox Valley (which is neither on the Forbidden Plateau nor the Buttle Lake area). In the last year, this trail has gained immense popularity and thus you will never find yourself alone on this trail! The out-and-back trail is 8.7km total, which means you can spend plenty of time at the lake itself. The road to the trailhead is often closed in the summer for logging and requires a 4WD with good ground clearance. If you can't get to the trailhead, there is the possibility to walk up the road. Bear in mind that this adds an additional 4km to the hike. Besides the lake itself, the main attraction is the ice cave which you can get into! It's a unique sight.

Insider tip: Check with the landowners to determine accessibility (sometimes the gate is closed). Another good source of information is the group 'Hike Vancouver Island' on Facebook.

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