Cradled below towering mountains at the centre of Vancouver Island is a lake whose name tells the landscape’s history.
Landslide Lake caught the face of one the Island’s tallest mountains when a magnitude-7.3 earthquake shook it loose in 1946.
“The northeast slope of (Mount) Colonel Foster fractured off and fell into the lake. And the lake subsequently had a tsunami, or a big wave, that hurdled down the whole valley and took a whole bunch of trees or vegetation with it,” said Marlene Smith, co-founder of Friends of Strathcona Park.
Today, hikers can climb up the smooth rock face left by the wave’s path to reach the lake’s icy, teal waters.
Vancouver Island is well known for its coastal trails, but the alpine peaks and mountain valleys at its centre are also lined with day and overnight hikes in Strathcona Park, British Columbia’s oldest provincial park.
The journey to Landslide Lake begins at the Elk River Trailhead off Highway 28, between Campbell River and Gold River.
Hikers can stop at the nearby volunteer-run Strathcona Wilderness Institute for information about the park.
While experienced hikers can do the 26-kilometre round trip hike in about nine hours, Smith recommends packing a tent and making it an overnight adventure. An average hiker will take four to six hours to reach the campsite, which is another hour or two from the lake.
“It’s a beautiful trail, which is hikeable for almost all ages, although you have to be reasonably fit, because it’s quite long,” Smith said.
From the trailhead, a wide path meanders through old-growth stands of Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar. The toughest parts of the trek are its first and last sections, with a total elevation rise of 600 metres.
The trail mostly parallels Elk River, which is prone to gush when there’s too much rain, snow or glacial melt. There is also an avalanche risk in winter and early spring.
That makes July and August — the driest months — best for a visit, although hikers often make their way through between late spring and early fall.
“Bridges and parts of the trail are prone to flood, so I always recommend people check to make sure it is not flooded, but accessible,” Smith said.
Matthew Lettington, president of Island Mountain Ramblers, also warned hikers to plan their trips before they start, since cellular and satellite reception is spotty in the park.
He first visited the trail about eight years ago.
“I was surprised how deep between the mountains we were. There are sections in there, still, where we’ll lose our GPS signals because the mountains are so tall. It’s called a ‘box canyon,'” Lettington said.
For those interested in extending the adventure, a more rugged trail along the eastern edge of Landslide Lake leads to another turquoise, glacial lake known colloquially as Berg Lake.
Little icebergs may float at the surface or it may be frozen over, depending on the time of year.
Ice caves also form along its edge, but enter at your own risk, as they’re prone to collapse.
“Those aren’t there every year. Sometimes you have heavy, heavy snow and hard winters that persist into September. Other years, there may be no snow accumulated in those place, so it’s always changing,” Lettington said.
If you go…
— A ferry from either Tsawwassen or Horseshoe Bay in the Lower Mainland will get you to Nanaimo. Head north on Highway 19 to Campbell River, then west on Highway 28 toward Gold River. Park at the Elk River Trailhead.
— Campsites are available at Butterwort Flats (six kilometres in) and the upper gravel bar campsite (nine kilometres in). No camping is available at Landslide Lake.
— For general information, stop at the Buttle Lake information hut, located 300 metres past the bridge for the Gold River turn off. Hours Vary. Contact Strathcona Park Wilderness Centre by phone at: (250) 897-1507.