Strathcona Park is a majestic setting on Vancouver Island

Strathcona Park on Vancouver Island is the oldest provincial park in British Columbia. Located in the center of the island, it is extremely large and offers visitors a multitude of recreational opportunities, including camping. The park mainly offers natural beauty with few modern conveniences. Within the boundaries, there are no provisions for electrical or water hook ups for recreational vehicles. Instead, the available campsites are rustic and set into the park with minimal disruption to the environment.

Darkis Lake, BCCredit: self

There are two provincial camping areas designated for general use. The Buttle Lake campsite is located at the northern end of the park. It is situated at the top of Buttle Lake and is very close to Campbell Lake, a lake not included within the park. This campsite offers visitors beautiful scenery and sandy beaches. The water in the lake is fairly warm during the latter part of the summer. Many people bring canoes or small boats as there is a boat launch ramp nearby. Fish can be caught in both Buttle and Campbell lakes. This campsite is also located very close to Darkis Lake to which a short excellent trail leads. If the activity level of Buttle Lake is too much for you, take the 15 minute hike to Darkis Lake. There you will find a totally pristine environment that is usually devoid of human presence. Be prepared for the occasional sound, however, as the lake is home to eagles, deer and other wildlife that may be surprised by your appearance.

Further south, at the end of Buttle Lake, the Ralph River campsite is available for camping as well. This rustic setting is nestled in an area of large Douglas Fir and cedar trees. The river runs cold year round and the beach area is not as welcoming as at the northern campsite. Still, Ralph River is beautiful and worth a stay. Fishing is often excellent in this area. Be aware that regulations forbid fishing in Ralph River or tributaries of Buttle Lake. The only fishing allowed is within the lake itself either from shore or from boats. Power, row and sail boats are permitted on the lake. There are no buildings of any kind on Buttle Lake. It can be magical fishing in the early morning with your roll casting fly rod from shore or using another top quality fly fishing rod from a boat. Excellent catches of trout are available year round.

Strathcona Park also offers some backcountry camping opportunities. A series of wilderness trails penetrate the mountains in the area. Hikers may traverse the mountains from near Courtenay directly to Strathcona Park. While this route is much shorter than the highway, it is a high altitude trek that must only be considered by those prepared for such adventures. The area is blanketed by large quantities of snow each winter. So much snow falls that it often does not fully melt away until June or even July. Summers are short and nights are often cold so adequate protection for hikers and backcountry campers is a must.

While camping in Strathcona Park, visitors may want to enjoy the scenery located near Myra Falls at the south end of Buttle Lake. A series of large waterfalls may be viewed with access via good trails. The trails are fairly steep so visitors should be cautious especially if the weather is cold or wet.

Goldstream Park

Goldstream Park is a general purpose recreational area just north of Victoria. There is a campsite available. Wildlife can be viewed in the stream, particularly in the fall when salmon return to the river to spawn. Eagles, bears and gulls feast on salmon during this time. The outfall of Goldstream River into the ocean is reserved for wildlife at all times in order to preserve natural habitat.

Tragically, there was a spill of fuel on the highway through Goldstream during April, 2011. This resulted in many thousands of litres of contaminants reaching the water. A massive kill of young fish and other marine creatures resulted. Cleanup efforts have continued since the incident. The area will be monitored for long term impact but damage to the ecosystem has been observed.

Rathtrevor Beach

When you think of gorgeous, sandy beaches, you could hardly imagine a nicer setting than Rathtrevor Beach near Parksville on Vancouver Island. The sand stretches for many acres during low tide periods. Youngsters enjoy swimming in the shallow water as the tide returns over the sand. Due to the sun heating the sand, the incoming water is very warm as it floods the beach.

A large campsite is located near the beach. There are no services at the individual sites but modern plumbing conveniences, including warm showers, are offered at bath houses located in the park. This campsite is very popular with campers each summer. Visitors are advised to contact the BC park reservation service to pre-book their campsite. Drop in accomodation is rarely possible between the months of May and September each year.

West Coast Trail

This is an adventurous hike with camping that is unique. The trail is part of the Pacific Rim National park and requires reservations and usage fees. There are only 60 hikers allowed onto the trail each day. Thirty can start at each end, Port Renfrew and Bamfield on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The fee per hiker is $155, (2011). Because of the demand and the low number of reservations allowed, the trail is often difficult to reserve. The park wardens do have an on-call list for those who wish to take any available vacancy. The posted wait time is 0 to 2 days for people on this list.

If you do make this hike, expect to take 5 to 6 days for an experienced hiker with adequate equipment. The trail winds along the rugged west coast and never travels inland very far. Originally established as a salvation route for shipwrecked mariners, the trail historically saved lives. Now it is the ultimate in wilderness hiking adventures. While the park staff and volunteers work to keep the trail in good condition, it is very rustic. Conditions can be muddy as the area is subject to tremendous amounts of rainfall at any time. Parts of the trail traverse beaches which are only passable at low tide. There are established campsites along the trail for overnight stops. Hikers are required to pack out their trash and use appropriate disposal sites at all times.

Cape Scott

This park at the extreme northern end of Vancouver Island was the site of a historical Danish colony in the 1800's. Access is via a rustic trail. This area is subject to intense rainfall which renders the trail muddy and creeks difficult to cross. Hikers must be prepared for cold and wet conditions. Trails lead to San Josef Bay, (2.5km), Eric Lake, (3km), Nissen Bight, (15km) and more. The North Trail is a 43km extension to the park that was established for adventurous hikers. Traversing a wilderness that is completely unspoiled and barely accessible, the trail remains passable to only the most experienced and outfitted hikers. The North Trail utilizes boardwalks and rope bridges in sections. It was severely damaged in September 2010 flooding and is expected to be closed until July 2011.