Mystical Nature in Gold River
Guest Bloggers: Justin & Olivia of @genericvanlife
Justin & Olivia spent the winter touring around the Campbell River region finding all the best rec sites. We invited them to take their exploration a step further and sent them out to #meetourneighbours. They headed west to the Villages of Gold River and Tahsis. Read on to find out their thoughts about the communities and their tips on what are must do experiences while you’re in the region!
Most folks who have visited Vancouver Island, whether for a few days or a few years, have soaked in the sights of the lower island and probably made it a point to check out the ever-popular Tofino for some panoramic views and year-round waves. If you came to the Island for surfing, hiking and all around breathtaking nature then why stop there? Venturing just 1.5 hours north from the Nanaimo Ferry, Campbell River is the perfect place to start your outdoor adventure trip. From there, a playground of exploration opportunities and incredible scenic road trips are right at your fingertips – or in our case, right at our front tires.
We decided to head west from Campbell River for a 90km journey along the BC-28, or Gold River Highway, to you, guessed it, Gold River. Gold River was never a town that had been on our radar and clearly, we had been majorly missing out because of it. The first stop you’ll make is at Elk Falls Provincial Park where you can walk the infamous suspension bridge and ogle the powerful yet serene waterfall that gives this park its name. If you like what you see so far, then you definitely want to continue on the winding highway that hugs the shores of Upper Campbell Lake, a man-made lake created after the construction of the Strathcona Dam in the 1950s. Although these waters may not have been here for long, the new lake has created an ecosystem rich with flora and fauna that paints a striking picture as you enter the park.
Our first foray into the forests of Strathcona Park began with a short hike up to Lupin Falls. This place has enchanted forest written all over it with masses of large old growth cedar trees and layers of lush green moss. The waterfall itself is tall and skinny, rushing rapidly down the rocks in all its spring run-off glory. The trail only takes about 20 minutes to complete and doesn’t disappoint for a mid-day fresh air fix.
Once you hit Buttle Lake, veer off of the BC-28 and continue down Westmin Mines Road for some beautiful mountain views and the start of several long and short hiking trails. With only one day in the park, we opted for a few shorter hikes and added the Elk River Trail and Bedwell Lake Trail to our must-sees for a longer stay next time. We ditched the van and hit the dirt at Karst Creek where the rocky landscape has been shaped by dissolved limestone (called karst), forming a sinkhole and a network of underground creeks that give the illusion of disappearance. Similarly rich in limestone and vibrant jewel-toned waters is Lower Myra Falls. The trail opens up to two viewpoints that allow you to observe the falls from above or get up close and personal with the tropical looking waters (it’s a trap, they are NOT tropically warm) among several pools formed out of the rocks. The final stop on our Strathcona adventure led us back onto the BC-28 and west of Gold River to Lady Falls. The name may make these falls sound dainty and elegant but they flow with a powerful force that envelops you with a fresh mist of glacial water that would make for a perfect cool down on a hot summer afternoon.
After an incredible day filled with mystical waterfalls and spellbinding forest trails, we made our way to Muchalat Lake, just 20 minutes north of Gold River to camp for the night. This is an amazing recreation area where you could spend a number of days getting lost in the surrounding forest and boating or paddling your way around the pristine mountain lake. Visiting in early spring meant that we shared the large campground with just one other camper and enjoyed the perfect silence that this remote area has plenty of.
The next morning, we headed into the Village of Gold River and stopped for a coffee at Clayworks Café, a cozy coffee shop and pottery gallery owned by a local Gold River couple. Neil, one of the owners, was happy to hear we were uncovering the area and made a gleaming review of the Antler Lake Trail, a one-hour nature walk just north of town. Unfortunately, a busy day ahead of us meant that we didn’t have time to check it out but as a local favourite, it’s a definite activity for our next visit. With our brains awoken and bellies full, we headed toward the inlet on the south side of Gold River to board our historic mail flight with Air Nootka. A floatplane ride with Air Nootka is worth it to chat with the pilot, Scott Carlsen, alone. We jetted off for a two-hour ride around Nootka Sound making stops in the remote coastal communities of Kyuquot and Zeballos to drop off mail and medical supplies. Scott gave us the rundown on the rich First Nations history of the area and the inside scoop on all the best surfing and hiking spots. An aerial view of the rugged Nootka Trail had us lusting over the raw, unspoiled beauty that makes the west coast of the Island so spectacular. We also got to see the Tahsis Inlet from another perspective and were lucky enough to observe a herring spawn that attracted some humpback whales to the almost unbelievably blue waters. This experience was truly a once in a lifetime adventure that sparked an immense sense of wonder and appreciation in us that we hope to share with future travellers.
Once we returned to the Air Nootka docks, we took some time to unwind against the backdrop of blue skies and energizing mountain air before heading to the Strathcona Park Lodge where we’d stay for the night in a gorgeous cabin on the waterfront. The grounds surrounding the Strathcona Park Lodge are deep-rooted in logging history and preservation efforts that now shape the Lodge’s admirable environmentally driven ethos. There is no TV, Internet or grid-connected electricity to be found on the premises and almost all of the food served in the dining hall, The Whale Room, is sourced from local farmers and fishers who are working together to promote a healthy and sustainable lifestyle for Strathconans (definitely not a word but you get the idea). The Lodge is the perfect place to take a kayak out for a spin or to experience the glacier-crafted “floating forest” at the Sundew Bog.
Although Gold River was never a vacation destination we had considered, exploring the area proved to make for an incredibly memorable experience that should be on more people’s bucket list. We got to admire everything from rocky, snow-capped peaks to vibrant aquamarine waters that you just can’t experience anywhere else. If you’re looking for a truly unique outdoor adventure off the beaten path, then a road trip to Gold River is definitely in order.