Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.
Distance from Victoria : 4-4h30 drive
Elevation gain : about 700m to Foster Lake
24km round-trip to Foster Lake, about 12hrs total
This summer I was finally able to get my first overnight hike on Vancouver Island since the West Coast Trail back in 2013. I had planned to hike to Landslide Lake last year at the end of August, however, we had to cancel after reaching Campbell River due to the heavy smoke from the BC wild fires. This time, we made it with gorgeous weather and great trail conditions.
The trailhead is easy to find from the main road in Strathcona, not long after driving in front of the Buttle Lake Campground. There is also an outhouse near the parking to make sure you are all ready for the hike! I did quite a bit of research before arriving to the trail, as I found a bit of confusing information about the distances and times. I’ve read some people saying they did the trail to Landslide lake in a one-day round-trip in about 4-5 hours, which I think gave me a false impression of the actual time to expect on the trail. I am quite an experienced hiker, however I have never been a fast hiker whenever there is some elevation gain. I can usually trust the average reported times from hiking textbooks or popular hiking webpages as my hiking time including my breaks and lunch. In this case, the trailhead information stated that the trail was about 6-7hours round-trip to Landslide Lake, and that is what I would plan with a light pack. There also seemed to be a disconnect between reported distances between trip reports and hiking books (GPS trip reports showing about 2km extra than stated in books) – however, as I do not track my own trails, I will report here the information I had from trail map and books.
The first portion of the trail until the campgrounds is mainly covered in the forest. The first portion is a second growth, and the second portion of the trail up to the second campground is in an old growth forest. At first, you will cross a valley under some powerlines and then start going uphill along switchbacks in the forest. The river will be on your left most of the time, sometimes accessible and visible, sometimes just as an echo of the rushing water going down the rocks. The first campground is 6km from the trailhead. If you had a late start, this is probably where you want to stop and camp. I was surprised by the “wildness” of the camping area in this park. Coming from the mainland, I was used to have a designated tent pad area and very strick zones in the backcountry. The campgrounds here are pretty much clearings in the trees near the water or in the forest, and pitch you tent as you see fit. I was happy that we pushed to the second campsite, so we were closer to the lake for our second day.
Between the first and second campground, you will reach a few major creeks (mainly dried or crossing on a bridge), as well as see 2 bigger waterfalls on your right. We hiked this trail in early July and didn’t have any issue with the water level, although I have heard it can be a bit trickier if you hike it earlier in the season. After 9km from the trailhead, you will reach the second campground where we set camp for 2 nights. I wouldn’t stay that the trail up to that point is difficult – the ground is quite even, a bit rocky sometimes with lots of roots, but nothing really difficult to deal with. However, do not underestimate the distance, especially with a heavy pack. We were quite tired by the time we got to the campground, even though we only gained about 550m elevation gain from the trailhead (most of which was felt in the last 2 km).
The beautiful thing about staying 2 nights at the same spot is that we can actually take our sweet time in the morning before heading the trail. We slept in, had hot chocolate and a nice breakfast, and started hiking up towards Landslide Lake around 1030AM. You will follow the river for a bit before crossing the bridge and reaching the other shore. At this point, keep your eyes open. The trail to the lake is immediately on your right, following the river. There are many cairns and a few odd colour flags in the trees/bushes that you should follow. Do NOT keep going straight after the bridge, or you will be taking an approach route up the valley and mountains in front of you.
At this point, you will follow the cairns and the river (which is now on your right) for a bit before heading back in the forest and out multiple times. If you ever have doubts, raise your head and look ahead – there will usually be a flag somewhere in a tree in the distance to confirm your direction.
You will gain elevation and start seeing Mount Colonel Foster on your right. The peaks are quite impressive and let you know that you are approaching your final destination. There will be less and less shade and more and more rocks on the trail. This was my favourite part of the hike.
It took us 1h30 from the second campground to reach the lake. From there, we took a snack and a short rest before continuing our journey to Foster Lake (or Iceberg Lake, depending on your reference). I had done a bit of research on the trail leading to the second lake and I didn’t find that much information about it. From the first lake, there is one large rock at the end of the trail where everyone seems to sit to rest and leave their things while they go for a swim. Behind this rock, there is a stick with a men’s underwear on it (…) – it actually indicates the start of the trail leading to Foster Lake. Follow that little trail, which heads right quickly and will follow along the lefthand side of Landslide Lake. This part of the trail is quite technical and tiring. Not so much because the trail itself is difficult, but because it is quite overgrown, has wet rocks, a bit of mud, creek crossings, going up literally in the creek, and eventually reaching rock and boulder area up to the lake. We took 1h each way between the 2 lakes, and I don’t think we could have done it much faster without risking to slip and hurt ourselves. If you have the time, definitely go for it. The views are sweet.
We stayed at Foster Lake about 1h, having our lunch and enjoying the view. There was still quite a bit of ice floating on the lake (July 3rd), but it seems like most of the glacier is slowly disappearing. I had heard about some ice caves in some posts I had read, but this might be very early in the season or years ago… not sure which one.
On our way back to Landslide Lake, we stopped to have another snack and swim a bit. The water is REALLY cold, but very refreshing. We went back down to the campsite where we spent another night before heading out on our 3rd day. It took us about 3h30 hours to hike back to our vehicle. Once again, the trail isn’t difficult, however the distance is long and our legs were quite tired at that point.
This was a gorgeous trail and I definitely recommend it. I would advise to do your research and plan according to your fitness level – I am happy we did this as an overnight, as I feel like I would have been way too tired to do it all on a day trip and I would not have appreciated it as much.