The winter months are a perfect time to stop in for a quick walk to Niagara Falls in Goldstream Provincial Park. During the summer, water flow is low and the Niagara Creek slows to a trickle. When the rain arrives in November and December, the falls return to their dramatic flow. This Vancouver Island, British Columbia waterfall is definitely worth a visit!
How to Get to Niagara Falls
Niagara Falls is located in Goldstream Provincial Park. It’s a dramatic 48m drop down a narrow shoot into a steep walled canyon. Access is fairly easy. Driving into Victoria from up-Island, look for a gravel pullout on the right side of the road at the bottom of the Malahat. It is a great place for a quick stop when travelling to Victoria. A short, 5 minute walk takes you along Niagara Creek to the base of the waterfall.
A different strategy is needed when approaching the falls from Victoria. In this case, pull into the day-use area at Goldstream Provincial Park via Finlayson Arm Road. Follow the trails along Goldstream River towards the Visitor Centre. The trail intersects Niagara Creek and it is possible, during periods of low water flow, to use the tunnel underneath the highway to get to the waterfall.
If the tunnel is not passable, your option is to drive past the day-use area. Watch for a U-turn option about 5 km from the provincial park and circle back to the parking area on the southbound side of the highway. It is not advisable to attempt to cross the highway between the day-use area and the waterfall parking area on foot due to high traffic volume and the center barrier.
Visiting in the Fall and Winter
In winter, Niagara Falls is much quieter than the summer. The short trail follows the creek into a steep-walled gully that is lush with ferns and moss. Ancient big-leaf maple trees lean over the creek with moss covered branches reaching towards each other. Even though the waterfall is close to the highway, the sound of the water and the shape of the gully muffles the sound of the traffic. I photographed the waterfall from different locations for about 45 minutes. While I was there, less than a half dozen other people stopped as well.
Timing is crucial. Plan your visit late enough in the fall and early winter that water flow has increased and the falls are dramatic. Too early, and the waterfall will be a trickle. Too late, and Niagara Creek swells with winter rain. Access is tricky and sometimes dangerous when the volume of the water in the creek is high.
Photographing Niagara Falls
In order to slow down the shutter speed to blur the moving water a Neutral Density filter and tripod are required. When I took these photographs, I initially tried my Urth 10-stop ND filter. However, the overcast day and the steep walls meant that light was already low. Using a 10-stop filter made my exposure times too long so I switched tactics.
As a work-around, I changed to a circular polarizing filter. This type of filter also reduces the amount of light reaching the camera sensor which results in a longer exposure. It also has the benefit of reducing glare from reflective surfaces like water and wet rocks. Water becomes “more transparent” and the details of rocks under the water are clearer. With this filter, most of these photographs were in the 4 to 10 second range with camera settings of ISO 200 and an aperture of f/16.
Photographing these falls during low to medium flow makes interesting compositions possible. Waterproof boots allow you to cross the creek below the falls if the water levels are low and position the camera tripod in the stream if needed. In addition, the problem of droplets of spray on the lens is not an issue during periods of lower flow. Use common sense when choosing your locations and keep your safety in mind when working around flowing water!
Worth a Visit
Vancouver Island’s Niagara Falls is definitely worth a visit. It is easiest to plan your stop on the way south to Victoria. While it may be tempting to push on to Victoria if traffic is heavy on the Malahat, take the time to pull over and enjoy the short walk along Niagara Creek to the waterfall. You won’t regret it. In the winter it is likely that you will have the place to yourself. Fall, winter and spring are the best times to view this spectacular waterfall!
If you are looking for another quick waterfall stop on your way up or down Island, consider checking out Stocking Creek waterfall in Saltair (between Chemainus and Ladysmith). It is further off the main highway and the walk is longer but it makes for a good “off-the-beaten-track” stop.