It can be a bit overwhelming to decide where to camp when planning your first visit to Strathcona Park. Strathcona Park is home to about 268 camping spots spread across thirteen areas scattered throughout five core areas in the Park. Confused yet? Knowing where to camp in Strathcona Park to be closest to your objective will allow you to make the best use of your time when exploring the enormous park. Plus, it’s always good to know what’s available at each camping spot so you know what to bring and what you can leave at home.
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Established in 1911, Strathcona Park is British Columbia’s oldest Provincial Park. It is home to rare animal species, dense old-growth forest, high alpine peaks and numerous large bodies of freshwater. It even extends all the way to Bedwell Sound on the west coast! Because Strathcona is so big (250,000 hectares of wilderness!) it can be helpful to break out Strathcona Park into five core areas: The Forbidden Plateau, Elk River, Bedwell Lakes, Ralph River and Buttle Lake. Clustered within these areas are many popular hiking routes that vary from casual one-kilometre strolls to intense, multi-day alpine treks that require sound backcountry experience.
We’ll run you through a brief description of each of these core areas, along with what sort of camping is available and the popular hiking routes nearby. Then, you can decide which ones you want to tick off your bucket list and get planning your next adventure!
The Forbidden Plateau
The Forbidden Plateau is one of the most popular areas to visit in Strathcona Park because of its ease of access into the alpine. Located adjacent to the popular Mount Washington Ski Resort, the Paradise Meadows trailhead is accessible via Strathcona/Mount Washington Parkway. This gives you a 1,041-metre head start on elevation. From the trailhead there are several easy walking trails that crisscross through beautiful wildflower-rich meadows and around pristine alpine lakes, before connecting up with more difficult alpine approach routes deeper in the Plateau.
Within the Forbidden Plateau there are three backcountry campgrounds and one designated backcountry group camping site. These campgrounds are at: Lake Helen MacKenzie (8.9 km loop), Kwai Lake (15.6 km loop), Circlet Lake (23 km) and Croteau Lake (14 km loop). Lake Helen MacKenzie is home to 10 tent pads, Kwai Lake to 15, Circlet to 20. All camping spots are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, but do require the purchase of a $10 per person per night permit which can be purchased online before your visit. The group site at Croteau Lake works a bit differently, as it is actually the first BC Parks backcountry group site! It was designed specifically for groups, and features a day-use yurt for socializing along with 12 tent pads. It must be booked online ahead of time (hint: be sure to enter group campground in the reservation type!). All campsites in the Plateau feature pit toilets, access to drinking water (a filter is recommended) and a bear cache for safe keeping of food.
The popular hikes in this area are:
Elk River Trail is a beautiful hike on its own, and also the major access route to many of Strathcona’s prolific peaks. Expect to see glimpses of the surrounding peaks while hiking alongside the sound of the rushing Elk River. The Elk River area is home to two backcountry campsites that make excellent base camps when gearing up for many of the longer multi-day treks in their vicinity. The trailhead for the Elk River Trail is located off of Highway 28, in the northeastern area of the Park. From there, the first campsite is 6 km along the trail at Butterwort Creek, which features 10 campsites. The second campsite at Gravel Flats is roughly 10 km from the trailhead and is the last place to camp before Landslide Lake, where camping is not permitted. Outhouses and a bear cache are available at both sites. As backcountry camping sites, they are available on a first-come, first-serve basis but permits must be purchased ahead of time online at a cost of $10/person/night.
Popular hikes in the area include:
Mt. Colonel Foster
The Bedwell Lakes trail is a perfect introduction to backcountry alpine hiking in the area. The moderate hike into this area’s two large lakes (that are great for swimming!) is entirely doable for those looking to get into backcountry travel or families with kids. Within the area there are two lakeside campsites at Baby Bedwell (4 km from trailhead) and Big Bedwell (5 km from trailhead) Lakes. Each feature outhouses and food caches, along with 12 and 9 camping spots respectively. For those who want to adventure further into the backcountry, there are several day hikes accessible from these campsites. The most popular being the stunningly turquoise Cream Lake. Access to this southern region of the Park is via the Buttle Lake Parkway, on the very tip of Buttle Lake. As a backcountry area, the sites cannot be reserved ahead of time, however backcountry permits are required and can be purchased online ahead of time.
Popular hikes in the area include:
Mt. Tom Taylor
Ralph River Campground is an ideal base for exploring the Park with a bit more comfort at a central location. The campground can accommodate tents, vehicles and RVs, with camping spots dispersed throughout densely forested old-growth Douglas Fir adjacent to Buttle Lake. It is one of Strathcona’s front country campsites, which means some spots can be reserved ahead of time online. There are more amenities onsite than backcountry campsites, including washrooms and a water pump, and steel fire rings for a campfire (check for fire bans first!) at nearly every campsite. At Ralph River, there are 75 campsites, 20 of which are reservable and the rest available on a first-come, first-serve basis. The campsite is open from April 1- October 31. Camping sites start at $20/vehicle/site. If you are coming with a large group, it may be worthwhile to check out the Driftwood Bay Groupsite. It can accommodate up to 100 people and features a covered picnic area as well as wheelchair accessible pit toilets. Great swimming is available within walking distance from all Ralph River campsites, making it a great summer destination – especially with kids!
Popular Hikes nearby include:
The last of Strathcona’s popular camping spots is their biggest: Buttle Lake Campground. It features 86 campsites, 50 of which are reservable and 36 of which are first-come, first-serve. Buttle Lake campground is next to a sandy lakefront beach- perfect for swimming after a long day exploring! Its central proximity makes it an excellent starting point for shorter, lower elevation hiking or for the various marine recreation activities available on Buttle Lake. Popular ones include: swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, exploring marine campsites on nearby islands, fishing and windsurfing. Buttle Lake Campground also welcomes vehicle and RV campers, and features washroom and water pump amenities. Campsites all have a steel fire ring so that visitors can enjoy a campfire (when fire bans are not in place!). For larger groups the new lakeside Karst Creek group campsite is a great option. It can accommodate up to 80 people, with room for RVs and features an adjacent boat launch! The campground is open from April 1- October 31, and reservations can be made online.
We hope this gives you a head start on figuring out where to camp for your visit to Strathcona Park! There is a ton of area to cover- so we won’t be surprised if you end up visiting all of them as you keep being drawn back 🙂
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