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My first backcountry camping trip: Landslide Lake

My first backcountry camping trip: Landslide Lake
My first backcountry camping trip: Landslide Lake

Earlier this summer, I went on my first backcountry camping trip. Over two days, we hiked to Landslide Lake and Glacier Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island.

The trip was incredible: from the countless waterfalls, to the mountain views, alpine lakes, climbing up to a glacier, and the feeling of accomplishment upon completing 40 km of hiking with a heavy pack. 

Camping Gear

Since this was my first backcountry camping trip and I have no camping equipment with me in BC, I picked up a number of camping supplies and gear before leaving. I’ll share my full backcountry camping packing list on Friday.

Getting to Strathcona Provincial Park

Strathcona Park is located on central Vancouver Island, past Campbell River and the Comox Valley. It is the oldest provincial park in BC, over 250,000 hectares in size, and is covered in mountain peaks, lakes, and waterfalls. With no cell reception and relatively far from the nearest town, the park is a remote paradise with endless places to explore.

On Friday evening, my friend Joy and I took the ferry from Vancouver and arrived in Victoria that evening. Our friend Nat picked us up at the ferry terminal, and we spent the night at her place. We left by 6:00 am on Saturday morning and began the 3 hour drive to Strathcona Park.

The start of the drive along the Malahat Highway is beautiful. On a clear day, it is worth stopping at the clearly marked roadside viewpoints for photos. Beyond Campbell River, you lose all cell service and enter Strathcona Park. Stop in Campbell River for any final food or supplies you may need. While the drive to Campbell River is a little boring, the scenery inside Strathcona Park is beautiful: mountains, lakes, forests, rivers. Pacific Northwest at its best! We couldn’t resist stopping a few times for photos.

Lady Falls

After stopping to admire Upper Campbell Lake (pictured above), we drove 5-10 minutes down the road and stopped at the trailhead for Lady Falls. The hike to the waterfalls is 15-20 minutes roundtrip on well-maintained, forested trails. It is by no means a necessary stop, but the falls are lovely and it is a good chance to stretch your legs.

Beginning the hike to Landslide Lake

Next, we drove to the Elk River Trailhead to begin our 2-day hike to Landslide Lake. After completing the hiker registry and paying our backcountry camping fee ($10 each), the hike began. We planned to hike to the second campsite on the Elk River trail where we would spend the night. On Sunday morning, we would hike to Landslide Lake, before returning to the campsite, and then the parking lot. I read varying reports of how long a hike it is to the second campsite. Directions suggested 9-11 km – it seems closer to 11 km.

The Elk River Trail is lovely, but largely forested so there is not much to see for the majority of the hike. The trail is quite well-maintained with minimal elevation gain and loss and a few stream crossings. Within minutes of starting the hike I quickly realized how much harder hiking is when you have a 40 pound pack on your back. I was grateful for the easier trail.

As we got closer to the campsite, we passed many waterfalls. I lost count by the end of the trip how many we saw! If you want to chase some waterfalls, Vancouver Island is the place to go. We stopped for lunch at the 2 hour mark and arrived at our campsite around 3:00 pm.

Camping on the Elk River Trail

There are two campsites you can stay at on the hike to Landslide Lake. We chose the second campsite, as it is closer to the lake. The first campsite is a 6-8 km hike from the trailhead. Upon arriving at the campsite, we quickly grabbed a spot. Despite the remote location, the campsite was filling up fast. We set up our tent, unpacked our bags, changed our shoes, and refilled our water at a river nearby.

Unfortunately, we were unable to have a campfire because of the province-wide fire ban, but that didn’t stop us from having a delicious dinner. The evening before I left for Victoria, I cooked up a batch of sweet potato chilli in the slow-cooker. It was heavy to carry with me but I am so glad I did. Having a hot and hearty dinner after a long day was such a treat.

While s’mores or banana boats would have been fantastic for dessert, without a campfire we settled on hot chocolate. This was followed by a photo shoot in our sleeping bags with mugs of hot chocolate in hand. Having woken up at 5 am that day and hiking for several hours, all of us were wiped. Knowing that we had an early morning ahead of us, we embarrassingly, got into our tent at 6 pm and were asleep by 7 pm.

Unfortunately, none of us slept overly well and we were up and “ready” to go at 4:45 am. After a quick breakfast of oatmeal and instant coffee, the adventure to Landslide Lake began. It was dark and foggy outside, but we were optimistic that the weather would clear.

Hiking to Landslide Lake

On a sunny day, Landslide Lake is a breathtaking emerald blue-green and crystal-clear. The lake is formed by meltwater from the snowpacks of Mt. Colonel Foster, up above. Reportedly, in 1946, an avalanche or earthquake caused part of the mountain to crumble and fall into the lake, hence the name Landslide! Mt. Colonel Foster remains one of the highest mountains on Vancouver Island.

The hike to Landslide Lake from the campsite is approximately 1 hour. The trail is easy to follow, until you reach an open rocky area. Eventually, we noticed a series of inuksuks leading the way, easy to miss on a foggy day. Then the hike really begins, as you climb up rocks, through bushes, and beside waterfalls. 30 minutes later, we arrived at the lake. Unfortunately, the fog had yet to clear, and the lake was admittedly not that impressive.

Hiking to Glacier Lake

The day before, we passed a couple who told us they hiked beyond Landslide Lake to Glacier Lake. They assured us it was a short hike and the views were well worth it! We spent 10-15 minutes looking for the trail to Glacier Lake. Finally, we saw a trail marker leading us into the bushes on the lake’s edge.

And so began the treacherous hike to Glacier Lake. It was my idea to continue on, and I am so glad Glacier Lake was amazing. Or else I don’t think Joy or Nat would ever hike with me again! I’ve never hiked on such a terribly maintained trail. Much of it was bush-whacking, scrambling over rocks, and crawling over streams and roots. I fell a few times and we were all covered in mud by the end.

Along the way, we saw glimpses of Landslide Lake but couldn’t see much for the majority of the time. Several kilometres in, we left the forest and ended up in a thick meadow. From the meadow, we climbed up rocks, alongside a waterfall, for what seemed like forever. Finally, we reached the top of the waterfall. All that remained was the final climb up to Glacier Lake.

At this point, we started to realize what an excellent decision this hike was! The views of Landslide Lake below were unbeatable. The best part: the sun was starting to rise, the fog was clearing, and we were the only ones up there. After taking plenty of photos, we made the final ascent to Glacier Lake.

All of us shouted with excitement at we found: a real-live glacier and alpine lake, all to ourselves. Moments like these make me so appreciative of the natural beauty we have in British Columbia. There is nothing like the stillness, quiet, and gratitude you experience in places like this. Surrounded by two inspiring and adventurous women, it was hard not to be overwhelmed and take everything in.

We spent 30 minutes up at the glacier, taking plenty of photos, and soaking up as much as we could. By the time we left, the skies cleared and the sun was shining. After a weekend of rain forecasted, I can’t believe how lucky we were with the weather! Thank you Mother Nature.

The hike back to Landslide Lake was not nearly as bad as the hike to Glacier Lake. This time, we knew what we were in for. We arrived back to the lake around 10:00 am, and its emerald-green colour was starting to show. Then, it was back to the campsite to pack up and make our way to the parking lot.

Heading home

Joy and I needed to catch a ferry back to Vancouver, so that certainly encouraged us to move quickly along the trail. The hike to Landslide Lake is an out-and-back, which I often find a little boring, since there is nothing “new” to see on the way home. With no trail markers or maps along the way, it was also hard to know where we were and how far we were from being done. We ran into a couple, who ended up being minutes away from the parking lot. I think they were taken back by how excited we were to hear this!

Finally back at our starting point, we changed clothes, and piled into Nat’s car to drive to the Nanaimo ferry terminal. A few hours later, we were sadly on our way back to Vancouver.

Going into the weekend, I had no idea what to expect. Before this, I had only spoken to Nat and Joy online (we were Instagram friends) and I had never been backcountry camping. I knew I could hike the distance, but was nervous about hiking with a pack and camping in the middle of nowhere. I returned home feeling exhausted, happy, satisfied, accomplished, and hooked on backcountry camping.

Helpful Links

Planning to hike the Elk River trail to Landslide and Glacier Lake? Here are some helpful links:

Have you gone backcountry camping before? Where is your favourite place to camp?


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