The Elk River Trail leads to the highest peaks in Strathcona Park. Hike to Landslide Lake for views of Mount Colonel Foster, Elkhorn Mountain, and Rambler Peak.
The accessible Elk River Valley backcountry is great for beginner backpackers to practice skills and try out gear. The rushing green Elk River is a constant companion along the way, with two designated gravel bar campsites at 6 km or 9 km to choose from. Energetic hikers can walk all the way to Landslide Lake and back in one day, stopping at the beautiful campsites for picnics instead.
There are designated backcountry sites located in the Elk River Trail Fee Collection Area. Camping fees are applicable from June 15 – September 30. Fees are $10 per person (16 years of age and older) / per night, $5 per child (6-15 years of age) / per night, and children under 6 are free. BC Parks Backcountry Registration System allows you to purchase a backcountry camping permit before leaving home. The system does not reserve a campsite, but eliminates the inconvenience of carrying cash.
The Elk River Trail is accessed from Gold River Highway BC-28. The parking lot can be overflowed with vehicles on busy weekends. Google Map
- Elk River Trailhead to Landslide Lake – July 22-23, 2020
- Elk River Trailhead to Landslide Lake – May 2-3, 2015
Elk River Trailhead to Landslide Lake – July 22-23, 2020
- Distance: 21.6 km
- Duration: 2 days
- Peak: 895 m
- Gain: 687 m
- Map: CalTopo
For this simple two-day trip, I drove up Buttle Lake to the Elk River Trailhead and backpacked all the way into Butterwort Camp in the late afternoon heat. The cool shade of the trees made the journey pleasant. The next day, I hiked up to my Landslide Lake objective, enjoyed the views, then hiked all the way back out to the trailhead.
The forecast was for mainly sunny skies, a zero to low probability of precipitation, and warm temperatures with a cooling trend. Day one was toastier. Day two was perfect with nice temperatures and no bugs.
- Day 1: 1415 h, Elk River Trailhead. Elevation: 340 m, Sky: broken clouds, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 24.0°C, Humidity: 54.9%, Wind: calm. 1800 h, Butterwort Camp. Elevation: 480 m, Sky: scattered clouds, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 21.2°C, Humidity: 65.6%, Wind: calm.
- Day 2: 0700 h, Butterwort Camp. Elevation: 480 m, Sky: clear, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 10.1°C, Humidity: 96.8%, Wind: calm. 1000 h, Landslide Lake. Elevation: 900 m, Sky: clear, Precipitation: nil, Temperature: 16.7°C, Humidity: 73.4%, Wind: calm.
Data logged with Kestrel Meters Drop D3
The Elk River Trail is a valley bottom hike below some of Vancouver Island’s highest summits. There is a slight elevation gain to Butterwort Camp at 6 km. The terrain gets rougher and steeper up to the Gravel Bar Camp at 9 km. The trail travels exposed bedrock to the edge of Landslide Lake. The north shore offers the best views of Mount Colonel Foster to the southwest and Elkhorn Mountain to the northeast. There is the option to continue along the east shore of Landslide Lake up to Berg Lake.
- Day 1: Elk River Trailhead to Butterwort Camp. Distance: 6.68 km, Duration: 2:06’08, Ascent 217 m, Ascent Time: 1:08’37, Descent: 90 m, Descent Time: 20’13.0. Map
- Day 2: Butterwort Camp to Landslide Lake. Distance: 4.89 km, Duration: 1:50’23, Ascent 461 m, Ascent Time: 1:22’53, Descent: 44 m, Descent Time: 10’36.0. Landslide Lake to Elk River Trailhead. Distance: 10.87 km, Duration: 3:16’59, Ascent 112 m, Ascent Time: 26’46.0, Descent: 677 m, Descent Time: 2:11’56. Map 1/2
Data logged with Suunto 9 Baro
No megafauna sighted. Lots of birds, including hermit thrushes, varied thrushes, Pacific wrens, an unidentified woodpecker, and hummingbirds. Bugs did not bother me on this trip. I enjoyed watching dozens of dragonflies hunting above my camp at Butterwort.
Elk River Trailhead to Landslide Lake – May 2-3, 2015
- Distance: 26 km
- Duration: 2 days
- Peak: 890 m
- Gain: 790 m
We were excited for a refreshing weekend on the Elk River Trail. On Saturday morning, Mike and I hiked up the green valley, found a premium campsite on the gravel bar, made two spectacular trips to Landslide Lake, and exited the emerald forest on Sunday. We completed 13 km each day for a trip total of 26 km. A decent effort for a weekend!
Day 1: Trailhead to Landslide Lake to Upper Gravel Bar Camp
Our hike along the lush Elk River Trail was great fun. After climbing the ridge near the trailhead, we dropped into the forest moon of Endor. The soothing white noise of the Elk River was a welcome friend the entire trip. Besides the waterfalls, the beaver dam was one of my favourite sights on the trail. Not quite as large as the monster viewable from space, this dam has dramatically altered the landscape. Chewed-off logs with teeth marks were all over the area. We took a water stop at sunny Butterwort Creek Camp (6 km) before continuing to Upper Gravel Bar Camp (9 km). Mike and I secured the premium spot (the higher of the two riverside camps), with views of Elkhorn Mountain and Rambler Junior. After setting up, we hiked up rusty bedrock (watch the green slime) and forest switchbacks to historic Landslide Lake (11 km). I was excited by this close view of jagged Mount Colonel Foster, with random sounds of sliding snow and falling rock. The shoreline was boggy, so we didn’t attempt the route to Foster’s Lake (or Iceberg Lake or Burg Lake, depending on source or sign). After sunning like reptiles, we descended to camp for noodles (13 km).
Day 2: Upper Gravel Bar Camp to Landslide Lake to Trailhead
The watch alarm went off at 0600 h. It was 2 degrees C in the tent and ice was on the door. Why sit around a cold camp or pack wet gear? We got up, grabbed our food from the locker, and hiked back to Landslide Lake (15 km) to see Mount Colonel Foster in the morning light. Our rock by the shore was a fantastic place for coffee and breakfast. The air was soft and quiet, with only a few birds singing. Even though humans aren’t supposed to camp at Landslide Lake, we saw evidence of fires on the rocky areas above the lake outflow. After photos, we headed back to camp (17 km) to pack…including our now dry tent! A rufous hummingbird dive-bombed the lime tent poles and butterflies gathered around our colourful stuff sacks. We retraced our steps back through the emerald forest, stopping at Butterwort Creek Camp for lunch and cold drinks (20 km). The temperature was perfect for our final leg out. We saw an American dipper swimming for bugs in the beaver pond. Mike and I took time to really breathe the fresh air and appreciate our great weekend.