Della Falls Trail Drinkwater Valley Viewpoint

Della Falls Trail – Strathcona Provincial Park

In Mountain, Trail Guides, Trip Reports by MB

Welcome to our Della Falls Trail Guide! This resource includes information and tips to help plan your adventure in Strathcona Provincial Park. To skip to a specific topic of interest, use the quick links below for easier navigation.

Highlights

The boat ride to the Della Falls Trailhead is part of the whole experience. Ben Potter captained our groups across Great Central Lake on our last three trips. Eagles often watch from the tree snags.

The boat ride to the Della Falls Trailhead is part of the whole experience. Ben Potter captained our groups across Great Central Lake on our last three trips. Eagles often watch from the tree snags.

  • Great Central Lake. The only way to access Della Falls is across Great Central Lake. At 35 km long, it is the second-deepest lake on Vancouver Island. Whether you paddle or ride the water taxi, getting to the trailhead is part of the adventure.
  • Drinkwater Creek. Named after prospector Joe Drinkwater, your constant friend on the Della Falls Trail is Drinkwater Creek. You will cross it several times on your hike to the falls and hear it while you fall asleep.
  • Margaret Creek. There is a camp at gorgeous Margaret Creek, but it is also a prime spot to have your lunch break. The noisy waters are clear and green. Views can be had from the BC Parks bridge, or surrounding bluffs.
  • Waterfalls. The main objective of this trip is of course to see famous Della Falls! The Canadian Government recognizes Della Falls as the highest waterfall in Canada. However, the World Waterfall Database reports otherwise. There are also many other waterfalls tumbling down mountains to enjoy.
  • Love Lake. If weather and time permits, a day-trip up to subalpine aquamarine Love Lake is a must. The hike can be a hot march, but the reward is the best swim of your life. Bring a picnic and enjoy views of Mount Septimus and Mount Rosseau.

Overview

The north face of Nine Peaks is a prominent feature in the Drinkwater Valley. From the Love Lake subalpine zone, great views of this toothy mountain landscape are guaranteed on clear summer days.

The north face of Nine Peaks is a prominent feature in the Drinkwater Valley. From the Love Lake subalpine zone, great views of this toothy mountain landscape are guaranteed on clear summer days.

  • Location: Central Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada
  • Park: Strathcona Provincial Park
  • First Nations: Mowachaht and Muchalaht people of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation
  • Distance: 29 km (longer with side trips)
  • Duration: Typically hiked in three days, depending on fitness and route plan
  • Difficulty: Rainforest, valley, and subalpine terrain (intermediate backpackers)
  • Hiking Season: June – October. The Della Falls Trail is typically snow-covered from late October/November until at least June, and sometimes July.
  • Permit: None required.
  • Fees: There are no fees associated with the Della Falls Trail area.
  • Reservations: Required for Della Falls Water Taxi.
  • Pets: Pets/domestic animals must be on a leash and under control at all times.
  • Trailhead: BC Parks dock (west end of Great Central Lake).
  • Camping: Wilderness camping is allowed at designated back-country sites.
  • Structures: Cable car, wood bridges, metal bridges
  • Geologic features: Lakes, ponds, creeks, hills, mountains, summits, cliffs, gullies, scree, ridges, valleys, waterfalls
  • Flora: Western red cedar, Douglas fir, grand fir, western hemlock, sub-alpine fir, mountain hemlock, creeping juniper, heather, lupine, monkey flowers, violets, Indian paintbrush, phlox, moss campion, tiger lily, bunchberry, columbine
  • Mammals: Roosevelt elk, wolf, coastal black-tailed deer, cougars, black bears, Vancouver Island marmot
  • Birds: Gray jays, Stellar’s jays, ravens, varied thrush, American robins, hummingbirds, eagles, blue grouse, ruffled grouse, white-tailed ptarmigan, chestnut-backed chickadee, red-breasted nuthatch, pacific wren
  • Hazards: Topographical (rugged terrain, rockfalls, steep slopes, seasonal overgrowth, landslides, washouts, dangerous drops, exposure); weather (bad visibility, lightening, rain, wind, hypothermia, sun burn, heat exhaustion); human (inappropriate gear, missing equipment)
  • Emergency help: Cell phone service is not reliable in Strathcona Provincial Park. We carry a satellite phone.

Map

Love Lake should be on every summer Della Falls Trail trip plan. Weather permitting, the hot climb rewards the hiker with fantastic views and a refreshing swim. Sometimes, winter snow can linger here well into July.

Love Lake should be on every summer Della Falls Trail trip plan. Weather permitting, the hot climb rewards the hiker with fantastic views and a refreshing swim. Sometimes, winter snow can linger here well into July.

The standard maps for navigation are Natural Resources Canada topographic maps.

  • 92-F05. Scale 1:50,000. Edition 05. Bedwell River. British Columbia. Published in 1994 by the Canada Centre for Mapping. Department of Energy, Mines, and Resources. Information current as of 1989.
  • 92-F06. Scale 1:50,000. Edition 06. Great Central Lake. British Columbia. Published in 2011 by the Centre for Topographic Information, Natural Resources Canada.

We prefer GeoBC 1:20,000 maps. These maps are based on the most current Terrain Resource Information Mapping (TRIM) data available.

  • MAP 092F033. Scale 1:20,000. Copyright 2016, Province of British Columbia.
    View or Download: MAP 092F033 (PDF, 4.2 MB)
  • MAP 092F043. Scale 1:20,000. Copyright 2016, Province of British Columbia.
    View or Download: MAP 092F043 (PDF, 5.0 MB)

GeoBC MAP 092F043

Guide Book

Love Lake is well worth the hike up from Della Falls campsite. The larger trees provided welcome shade for a picnic. We were the only humans there that day. After a swim with ducks, we had lunch with butterflies under Mount Septimus.

Love Lake is well worth the hike up from Della Falls campsite. The larger trees provided welcome shade for a picnic. We were the only humans there that day. After a swim with ducks, we had lunch with butterflies under Mount Septimus.

We use two guide books to plan hiking trips on the Della Falls Trail. We write pre-trip notes and carry guide books as digital e-books on our phones.

  • Stone P. Island Alpine: A Guide to the Mountains of Strathcona Park and Vancouver Island. 1st ed. Wild Isle Publications. 2003. www.wildisle.ca
  • Vancouver Island Trails Information Society (VITIS). Hiking Trails 3 – Northern Vancouver Island. 10th ed. Vancouver Island Trails Information Society. 2008. www.hikingtrailsbooks.com

Island Alpine Guide Book Cover

Hiking Trails 3 Guide Book Cover

Permit

Wilderness camping is allowed along the Della Falls Trail at designated back-country sites. There are no camping fees.

BC Parks Logo

Access

The Della Falls Trailhead is a tiny dock at the western end of Great Central Lake. We hiked out in good time so we could enjoy a swim in the warm water. Swallows skimmed the surface for bugs, their homes in the tops of drowned trees.

The Della Falls Trailhead is a tiny dock at the western end of Great Central Lake. We hiked out in good time so we could enjoy a swim in the warm water. Swallows skimmed the surface for bugs, their homes in the tops of drowned trees.

The Della Falls Trailhead is only accessible by water. The trip is an out-and-back hike to Della Falls with one trailhead: the BC Parks dock near the west end of Great Central Lake. If you are energetic, you can paddle 35 km to the trailhead…or hire the Della Falls Water Taxi like we do!

Della Falls Water Taxi

The Della Falls Water Taxi provides transportation service to hikers of the Della Falls Trail. The water taxi must be reserved in advance. The operator follows a daily schedule from May to September, which is somewhat flexible. The boat trip takes about 50-55 minutes depending on weather and water conditions. The trip is scenic and educational!

Prices:

  • All prices include 5% GST
  • $135.00 per adult round trip for groups of 2 or 3
  • $125.00 per adult round trip for groups of 4 to 7
  • $70.00 per child under 12 years old round trip
  • One-way trips available

Base: Great Central Lake Marina
Website: dellafallswatertaxi.com
Phone: 1-250-723-4720 (home) or 1-250-720-5363 (cell)
Email: [email protected]

Della Falls Water Taxi Logo

Accommodations

Port Alberni is the staging area for the Della Falls Trail. Accommodations book up quickly in the high season. Reservations are recommended.

Port Alberni Accommodations
Hello BC

Sproat Lake Campground 
Website: BC Parks
Make a reservation online

Sproat Lake Campground

Weather

The bright side of a rainy trip in the Drinkwater Valley is that Della Falls is at it’s best! Our group wore nice bright colours to shine through the gray gloom.

The bright side of a rainy trip in the Drinkwater Valley is that Della Falls is at it’s best! Our group wore nice bright colours to shine through the gray gloom.

We study the weather before our trip using a few different resources. On trip we access weather updates with a satellite messenger. You will be hiking in an exposed mountain environment. Be prepared for all kinds of weather!

Route

BC Parks maintains several structures along the Della Falls route, such as bridges and a cable car. These metal spans over Drinkwater Creek are built to stay strong during the heavy snowfall of winter.

BC Parks maintains several structures along the Della Falls route, such as bridges and a cable car. These metal spans over Drinkwater Creek are built to stay strong during the heavy snowfall of winter.

The Della Falls Trail is a scenic backpacking experience. We rate the hike as moderate because of the longish distance (16 km to Della Falls Base) and some route-finding.

The first 8 km of the Della Falls Trail is a shady, level, rail-grade, mostly gravel path. The second 8 km is more difficult due to increasing elevation and more rugged terrain: logs, thick seasonal overgrowth, washouts, flooding, blowdowns, ditches, roots, holes, rock beds, and creeks. BC Parks maintains wooden bridges, metal bridges, and a cable car. There are plenty of creeks and places to get water, but we recommend not passing any of them up. The Love Lake Trail intersection is located 130 m before the Della Falls Main campsite.

The side-trip up to Love Lake is more strenuous, especially if the day is hot. The elevation gain through the subalpine is just over 960 m. The trail switchbacks through the forest before breaking the ridge. Water is hard to find on this climb, so pack enough fluid to hydrate you all the way to the ridge. Some route finding is required to navigate the rocky bluffs to Love Lake.

Along the Della Falls Trail and Love Lake Trail there are historic 100-year-old mining artifacts to spot, including rusty buckets, saw blades, shovels, pipes, and the remains of an aerial tramway. These should be left alone, as they are now part of a “museum.” Big Interior Mountain, the most prominent mountain in the area, has a fascinating history.

BC Parks publishes an updated trail conditions report May through October.

Campsites

Historic 100-year old mining artifacts are part of the Della Falls Trail experience. Some pieces are large, like this rusted engine part marking the campsite near the base of the falls. Others are smaller and harder to spot along the way.

Historic 100-year old mining artifacts are part of the Della Falls Trail experience. Some pieces are large, like this rusted engine part marking the campsite near the base of the falls. Others are smaller and harder to spot along the way.

The Della Falls Trail has designated back-country campsites.

Great Central Lake
A large, dark campsite looms just above the trailhead dock. There is a rack to store your canoe or kayak, half-picnic tables, pit toilets, and food cache. This isn’t a camp we like to hang around too long at. The better tent pad locations are the ones further up the creek, just beyond the BC Parks trailhead sign. Last time we were there, fishhooks poked up around the tables. It’s a gloomy place…best used ONLY if necessary.

Margaret Creek
The campsite at Margaret Creek is pleasant zone, located about 7 km from the trailhead. We’ve never stayed the night here, but we always stop at Margaret Creek for a snack break. There is a waterfall and deep-blue green water swirling in a canyon beneath the bridge. Amenities include a pit toilet and food cache.

Drinkwater Creek Gravel Bar
There is a wilderness camping area on the gravel bar of Drinkwater Creek. Leave-No-Trace principles must be practiced as there are no pit toilets or food caches. Unfortunately, we have noticed that some campers in this location do not follow those rules. This spot is scenic, with cool temperatures and gorgeous water. However, a potential risk of the gravel bar campsite is a sudden ride in creek level in the event of a rain storm.

Della Falls Main
The Della Falls Main Camp is about 870 m from the actual base of Della Falls. It’s the primary objective for Della Falls Trail backpackers. Sometimes the large camping area under the trees is called “Saw Camp” because of the huge logging saw artifact marking it. We prefer to camp a little further north along the creek. “Saw Camp” has lots of old trees surrounding that are potentially hazardous in wind or heavy rain. Della Falls Main Camp has a pit toilet and food cache. There is lots of good water in Drinkwater Creek.

Della Falls Base
On our last trip, we discovered a designated campsite closer to the base of the falls. This area is a little smaller and potentially more private than the main camping area.

Here are some tips to enhance your camping experience:

  • Bring bug spray and apply it early.
  • All fresh water should be treated before consumption.
  • Rehydrate fully at camp. Water sources may be spread out during dry summers.

Gear List

The Della Falls Trail is usually completed as a three-day trip: one day in, one day to Love Lake, and one day out. A shorter trip means lighter packs and the ability to base camp for both nights.

The Della Falls Trail is usually completed as a three-day trip: one day in, one day to Love Lake, and one day out. A shorter trip means lighter packs and the ability to base camp for both nights.

We update these gear lists before and after each trip. Click to download and/or print. The lighter you make your pack, the more fun you will have. Every gram counts!

Della Falls Trail Mikes Gear 2016

Trip Reports

Our Della Falls Trip in 2016 was very very wet. We made the best of three days in the rainforest. Unfortunately, it was too wet to take many pictures. This is one of a few images from that trip. We were still smiling, which was a good sign.

Our Della Falls Trip in 2016 was very very wet. We made the best of three days in the rainforest. Unfortunately, it was too wet to take many pictures. This is one of a few images from that trip. We were still smiling, which was a good sign.

Great Central Lake to Della Falls & Love Lake
June 13-15, 2015

The base of Della Falls is a short 870 m from the main campsite. It’s a nice way to stretch the legs after the 16 km hike in. Our photo shows the lower horsetail falls on a low-flow trickle in mid-June.

The base of Della Falls is a short 870 m from the main campsite. It’s a nice way to stretch the legs after the 16 km hike in. Our photo shows the lower horsetail falls on a low-flow trickle in mid-June.

Distance: 37 km
Duration: 3 days
Peak: 1282 m
Gain: 1841 m
Map: CalTopo

Day 1: Trailhead to Della Falls Camp

Tiger lilies are a favourite subalpine wildflower. There were many orange clusters on the Della Falls Trail, with increasing numbers on the trail up to Love Lake. The hummingbirds enjoyed them too, drinking the “high-energy flight fuel”.

Tiger lilies are a favourite subalpine wildflower. There were many orange clusters on the Della Falls Trail, with increasing numbers on the trail up to Love Lake. The hummingbirds enjoyed them too, drinking the “high-energy flight fuel”.

We zoomed out of Victoria at our usual 1500 h on Friday afternoon and drove straight to Port Alberni for a pre-trip meeting with our guests. Afterwards, we enjoyed a picnic supper at the Sproat Lake Provincial Park Upper Campground while organizing gear under the curious eye of a hermit thrush. At 0800h Saturday morning, our group met Ben Potter at the Great Central Lake RV Resort and Marina. The Della Falls trailhead is only accessible by water; folks can paddle the 33 km from the marina, or ride the Della Falls Water Taxi with knowledgable Ben. Our hike from the trailhead dock to Della Falls was a cool, relaxed 14.5 km. The first half was a wide, “cruisy,” rail-grade trail with stones and soil. The second half after Margaret Creek  was more difficult due to increasing elevation, a cable-car crossing, landslide areas, blow downs, washouts, bushy growth, boulder fields, and muddy creeks. The ladies really enjoyed the scenery, photographing wildflowers and plants along the way. Located on the banks of Drinkwater Creek, Della Falls Camp provided a fine rest spot. We secured the famous “Saw Campsite,” with its crazy collection of rusty logging and mining artifacts. Mike played Masterchef “Backcountry Edition” and cooked delicious cashew-mango curry for supper. Over chocolate, we planned our trip to Love Lake the next day. The final adventure was a short hike to the actual base of Della Falls, through tiger lilies and berry bushes. Back at camp, I fell asleep to the lingering notes of varied thrushes, loud and strong over the rush of Drinkwater Creek. Nothing feels better than a body weary from physical exertion, listening to songbirds in the grey dusk.

Day 2: Della Falls Camp to Love Lake

The last part of the hike to Love Lake involved micro-terrain navigation. Rocky subalpine meadows created a jumbled landscape with an aquamarine lake at the centre. The snowy north face of Nine Peaks towered across the valley.

The last part of the hike to Love Lake involved micro-terrain navigation. Rocky subalpine meadows created a jumbled landscape with an aquamarine lake at the centre. The snowy north face of Nine Peaks towered across the valley.

The team woke and got hiking at a reasonable hour. Sunday was warm as we climbed through the montane forest to the subalpine jewel of Love Lake. Along the switchbacks, we heard the deep drumming of blue grouse, and even startled a few from their hiding places as we hiked by. More wildflowers, especially tiger lilies, decorated our trail. Gardens are everywhere in nature, if we take the time to notice them. Just before breaking the ridge, a viewpoint gave us epic views of all three tiers of Della Falls, Della Lake, Beauty Falls, Nine Peaks, and Big Interior Mountain. Climbing a little further revealed gorgeous Love Lake, situated at the base of Mount Septimus and Mount Rosseau. Last year, Mike and I explored two different shorelines. We took our guests to the nicer of the two, where large rounded rocks dipped into the lake for premium relaxing. After lunch, the ladies explored the jumbled south shore followed by two ducks, while Mike and I took photos. I was just as mesmerized by the place as ever, in awe of the stillness and silence, the deep blue of the water, and the rusty streaks bleeding down from Septimus. Eventually, we took a last look at the lake and retraced our steps back down to camp. Mike cooked us another yummy dinner, this time a Thai peanut noodle dish. Everyone was tired from the day’s heat and climb, and we retired to our cool tents in the fading light.

Day 3: Della Falls Camp to Trailhead

The Margaret Creek Bridge is an excellent spot to take your first long break. Located about 6 km from the trailhead, there is a campsite and good spots to rest. After Margaret Creek, the trail starts to get more challenging.

The Margaret Creek Bridge is an excellent spot to take your first long break. Located about 6 km from the trailhead, there is a campsite and good spots to rest. After Margaret Creek, the trail starts to get more challenging.

Our group got a nice 0800 h hiker’s start on Monday, giving us plenty of time to descend the 13.6 km back to Great Central Lake. Travelling in this direction meant the day got easier as time went on. Soon all the major natural and artificial obstacles were behind us. We took our lunch break on a cliff overlooking the swirling pools of Margaret Creek. Afterwards, the group relaxed into the flat and shaded last half of the trail. Our guests took lots of pictures to remember the green beauty of this part of the journey. Eventually, the funny half-picnic tables of the Trailhead Camp and the blue haze of the lake came into view. Ben Potter greeted us early, relaxing and reading his book on the dock. With his encouragement, we all took a refreshing swim in the lake. Swallows flew around our heads, catching bugs just inches above the surface. I felt happy seeing their small homes in the flooded snags just beyond the dock. With most of the dirt rinsed off, our group motored home with Ben across the water. An eagle pair watched us go by, unfazed by the swallows diving around them. The trip ended with a shared meal and warm wishes. We hope the ladies return home with great memories of their trip to the Vancouver Island wilderness!

Della Falls Trail Strathcona Provincial Park