Strathcona Provincial Park, Vancouver Island
Trip report by BestHike editor Rick McCharles.
Click PLAY or get a glimpse of the scenery on YouTube. (3min)
Paradise Meadows is the best and most convenient trailhead in Strathcona, largest and oldest (1911) Provincial Park in B.C..
It’s easy access to the Forbidden Plateau on paved Strathcona Parkway up to Mt Washington Alpine Resort 1100m, 20km up from the inland highway.
Close to Courtney, Cumberland, and Campbell River. The nearest airport and ferry port are at Comox.
Looking from Raven Lodge at the trailhead, the most distinct peak is sharp Albert Edward, 6th highest mountain on the island.
It seemed to me in 2020 that Strathcona Park did not have as much staff as they would like. Happily the volunteers of the Strathcona Wilderness Institute are often in person at Paradise trailhead. Make a donation if they help you out.
With loops for all ability levels, this area is ideal for children and well-behaved dogs.
→ Centennial Loop (2.5km)
→ Paradise Meadows Loop (4.2km)
→ Lake Helen Mackenzie – Battleship Lake Loop (8km)
→ Helen MacKenzie-Kwai Lake-Croteau Loop (14km)
Those trails closest to the trailhead are best maintained: bridges, pit toilets, good signage and much boardwalk. In fact, the Centennial Loop is wheelchair and scooter accessible.
Check the map. I hiked in to Circlet Lake on yellow, mostly looped back on green. But there are MANY possible different interconnecting loops.
Here’s the original Park map online.
Most hikers on the Forbidden Plateau stay down in the subalpine: forested hills, postcard pretty lakes, babbling brooks, and lovely meadows.
It’s wet. Expect rain.
Expect mud. 🙃
If we couldn’t enjoy all this beautiful boardwalk, we’d often be wading wetlands.
Water water everywhere, yet I found I had to treat almost every source. There are not all that many fast running creeks.
I passed one picturesque Ranger cabin.
Three first-come, first-served campgrounds are quite good, the closest at Lake Helen Mackenzie near the trailhead. Each has pit toilets and bear proof food lockers. (CAD$10 / person / night in 2020)
I was there late September 2020. Very few mosquitoes! That’s not always the case here.
I hiked in to Circlet about 9.5km one way. About 4 hours walking. Stayed 3 nights.
Arrived just before dark. Camped on pretty Duck Pond rather than the lake itself.
Circlet is not likely to fill up — but you MIGHT find no space left at Helen Mackenzie and Kwai Lake campgrounds on a busy day during the short summer season.
I love the large wooden tent pads in Strathcona.
Click PLAY or see Circlet from the air on Vimeo.
From Circlet base camp:
day 1 – hiked Edward Albert (trip report & video)
day 2 – hiked Castlecrag (trip report & video)
Both are excellent. Myself and others I met while there both liked Crags better, even though it’s lower.
From Circlet, I also tried and failed to find the trail to Amphitheatre Lake. There’s no signage.
If I had found Amphitheatre, I would have tried to continue up to Sunrise Lake.
Moat Lake is lovely, however. If you camp at Circlet, definitely make the short day hike up to Moat if not all the way to Castlecrag.
Rather than backtrack on my return, I looped.
One detour without pack took me to Cruickshank Canyon Lookout.
It’s a bit depressing to see a lot of clearcut from that vantage. Seems to me the forestry industry should repair damage more quickly.
One highlight is looking for large, weird mushrooms.
The autumn colours were lovely too.
I stopped at Kwai Lake to recharge my batteries figuratively and literally. There’s no electricity in Strathcona so I used solar on this trip.
Croteau Lake is a 4th campground opened 2018, only available for groups booking in advance.
I wandered leisurely — stopping often for photos and video — back to Lake Helen Mackenzie campground for 1 night.
I highly recommend the Forbidden Plateau.
See all the full resolution photos from this hike on Flickr.
Here’s the official Strathcona Provincial Park website.
The best hiking guidebook is Exploring Strathcona Park. Dead tree version available only.
See our list of the best hikes in North America.