If you haven’t had a chance to walk out to Christie Falls in Ladysmith, British Columbia make sure to add it to your list. You have a number of options to hike out to the short trail that leads to the waterfalls. However, the easiest access point is via Arroyo Road.
The first part of the walk is along a gravel road that ends at the Bush Creek hatchery and includes Cowichan Valley Trail. This part of the walk is easy and around three kilometres in length. The road passes through a western white pine (Pinus monticola) trial forest that was planted in 1988. For naturalists, this is an interesting stop. Listen for robins scolding and you might be lucky and find a barred owl like we did!
Climbing to the Main Waterfalls
At the hatchery, the hike leaves the road and climbs up alongside Bush Creek to the main Christie Falls. From the trail many smaller drops are visible but getting a clear viewpoint for photography is challenging. The single-track trail follows along the upper right hand side of the deep valley formed by Bush Creek. The path climbs about 75m in elevation from the hatchery before you get to the first major waterfall.
Main Waterfalls at Christie Falls
The trail takes hikers to the base of the first major waterfall which is about 400m from the hatchery. In mid-June the water flow was excellent and the spray from the waterfall was refreshing. However, that did make for difficult long-exposure photography. It was necessary to frequently remove water droplets from the lens of the camera! Several different angles are possible here. Note that there is a lot of downstream debris that makes things challenging.
The trail continues past this waterfall over a log bridge that crosses the creek. From there, a short walk takes you to the main drop of Bush Creek and the largest waterfall at Christie Falls. Depending on water flow, these seasonal waterfalls are spectacular. The pool at the base of the falls is quite large and on a hot day is refreshing! However, if the creek levels are low, the waterfalls will be less impressive.
The pool at the base of waterfall is an excellent place to sit and enjoy the view. Water flows down the main drop of Christie Falls and then continues in a series of drops that split and rejoin as Bush Creek. Below the pool are a number of other smaller waterfalls. With some caution, these are worth exploring.
Climbing to the Top of Christie Falls
On the far left hand side of the main waterfall is a rough trail that climbs to the top of Christie Falls. This part of the trail is steep and as a result, it takes a bit of effort. Fortunately, there are some rope sections to help through the steep parts of the trail. The reward is a great view and another small waterfall just above a split where Bush Creek flows down the main drop and the first large waterfall.
When water levels are high the rocks can be wet and slippery. As a result, make sure to be careful as you move through this section. Be wary of the drops!
After enjoying the view, retrace your steps back to the main trail. Descending the steep slope is fairly straightforward and the ropes are helpful.
Planning Your Visit
At the right time of year, Christie Falls is an excellent destination. In the spring and winter, water flow is strong and the waterfalls are impressive. In early summer, water levels are still good and vegetation around the waterfalls are green and lush. Later in the summer and early fall, the falls may be reduced to just a trickle.
There are a number of beautiful compositions for waterfall photographers to choose from. Depending on the water flow, use a ND filter or a polarizing filter for a slow shutter speed and blurred water. I used a polarizing filter and a very small aperture to get a slow exposure time of between 1/20 and 1/3 of a second long for these photographs. Try different settings until a suitable shutter speed is achieved. Polarizing filters are also useful to reduce unwanted reflection in the water and wet surfaces. At this location, I usually would have tried an ND filter to gain more flexibility with choosing a suitable aperture. There is less glare and contrast on cloudy days, therefore this type of weather is preferable for waterfall photography. I photographed the falls in mid June.
A nearby alternative to Christie Falls is Stocking Creek Falls. Even though the waterfall at Stocking Creek is smaller, it is still a beautiful destination. While both trails are suitable for children, the trail to Stocking Creek Falls is short and easy—a perfect distance for younger children.
From Highway 1, turn onto Grouhel Road (north end of Ladysmith). Turn right onto Christie Road. Follow Christie Road, then turn left onto Arroyo Road. The trailhead is located at the end of Arroyo Road. There are a number of gates where the paved road turns into a gravel logging road. Consider parking outside of the first gate to prevent being locked in. The road to Bush Creek hatchery leaves the main road to the right and and is also gated. This gate is sometimes open if there are people at the hatchery but closes at unpredictable times. Often hikers will park inside the first logging road gate but outside of the hatchery gate. The total walking distance is approximately 6.5 to 7km.