Having recently done the ≈ 25 km hike to Moat Lake a couple of weekends ago, I felt that I was ready for the long slow hike up the Elk River Trail to Landslide Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park. I’d done the 11 km (one way) hike to the lake years ago (when I was in better shape and working as a naturalist out of the campgrounds on Buttle Lake) and wanted to take advantage of the good weather to do it again before this year’s winter rains set in.
Unlike most of the other day hikes in the Buttle Lake corridor, the Elk River Trail is typically much longer, but with about half the elevation gain. Nearby Crest Mountain gains 1200m+ over the course of 5.5 km, Elk River gains just under 600m over the course of 11 km. It’s a good option if you’re not looking for a long climb. And Landslide Lake makes for a spectacular final destination.
At this time of year, an early start is recommended. Factor in the time it takes to drive from Courtenay or Campbell River and plan accordingly: I left Courtenay at about 6:30 and got to the trail head around 8:15. Even though the sun had been up for an hour, the first section of the trail was fairly dark. Light doesn’t start to reach down into this valley until two to three hours after sunrise. Something to consider for the hike out as well—because the trail runs through a rather high sided valley, the light disappears quickly. The first time I hiked the trail I hadn’t expected that and ended up walking in the dark on the last kilometer or so.
The first 6 km of trail to the campsite at Butterwort Creek is relatively easy walking. There’s a short ascent at the very beginning, but the trail soon dropped back down to the river valley and wound through riverside flats of tall devil’s club, highbrush cranberry and salmonberry. Mushrooms were plentiful at this time of year, but it was difficult to take photographs due to the dim light. Some sections of the trail were a little tricky to navigate where seasonal streams have created gravelly washouts in the forest, but for the most part it was well marked with reflectors (handy if coming out near dusk).
The final 3 km stretch to the 9 km campsite is more up and down as the Elk River becomes narrower and more canyon like. It’s necessary to gain a little more elevation to cross above the rocky bluffs and the stream gullies (dry at this time of the year) that are passable higher up. Overnighters might want to make the extra effort to get to the second campsite since it is a little more open and gets morning light earlier than the 6 km campsite. Plus, you’ll be closer to Landslide Lake as a day hike.
From the second campsite at the gravel flats is another 1 km of relatively flat hiking until the trail enters the washout area. When part of Mount Colonel Foster directly above the lake collapsed in 1946 during a major 7.3 magnitude earthquake, most of the slope below the lake was scoured clean by the torrent of water and debris that was pushed out of Landslide Lake. Today there’s still plenty of bare rock and a series of cairns guides hikers up alongside the lake outflow. It’s moderately steep, but easy going, for the final kilometer.
I arrived at Landslide Lake at noon and enjoyed a pleasant lunch and a gorgeous view of the slide and the lake. There were two other hikers having a siesta on some of the bleached logs near the outflow of the lake, but they were far enough away that I felt that I had the place to myself. Great place to savour a good cup of coffee and the quiet.
Being conscious of the time and shorter day, I decided not to press on to Foster (also called Iceberg) Lake at the far end of the lake. This would have added an additional 4 km to my day (return) which would have made my hike out a little more challenging and my right knee was feeling a little strained. I explored the edge of the lake and the outflow for about an hour before starting to head back to the trailhead. The other hikers had already left by the time I started working down along the washout. At the bottom I stopped to take some photographs of the long “waterfall” that works its way down the rock but the sun was in exactly the wrong position. One more reason to make this hike an overnight affair—better light to capture this magnificent flow of water.
The walk out was fairly long and, in the lower sections of the trail, the light was already beginning to wane at 3:00 pm. Not wanting to get stuck in the dark, I walked on despite the fact that my knee got stiffer as I continued. Four and a half hours later I was back out at the parking lot, pleased with the day.
Need to Know:
- My average hiking time to Landslide Lake (11 km one-way)—4 to 5 hours, you might be faster or slower!
- Keep track of your time since it gets dark on the trail quickly, plan to be out 2 hours before sunset or pack headlamps in case you take more time.
- Good boots recommended, my light hikers (Keen’s Targhee II Mids) didn’t really cut it for this length of hiking and by the end of it I could really feel all of the roots and rocks on the trail. Should have worn my heavier multi-day hikers.
- Bring a camera for the lake and the waterfalls along the way. Most of the trail is heavily wooded and in shade so photography can be challenging without a tripod or the ability to shoot in low ISO.
- Would make a good weekend overnight hike, lots of good possible side trips.
- Club Tread report on the Elk River Trail (to Landslide Lake)
- Lonny Barr’s Elk River Trail to Landslide Lake (and Iceberg Lake)
- Ross Collicutt’s Elk River Trail to Landslide Lake
- More photos on my Tumblr blog Landslide Lake