Vancouver Island, British Columbia (part I)

August of 2006 meant only one thing…time for our annual summer vacation! This year’s destination was guided by the fact that I was considering college on the west coast and wanted to check out some schools. None of them were in Canada, so I’m not sure how my dad ended up choosing Vancouver Island. But boy am I glad he did!

Most people I know haven’t even heard of it and even fewer have actually been there. But I highly recommend it.

We started out by taking the San Juan ferry from Anacortes, WA to Sidney, BC, located on the Saanich Peninsula that protrudes from the southeast tip of the island. It wasn’t the clearest of days; in fact, I think it was a bit drizzly and definitely windy. Nevertheless, my mom and I spent the entire ferry ride out on the bow with the wind in our hair and smiles on our faces. There’s just something so refreshing about the cool ocean air.

Supposedly there’s the possibility for seal, whale, and dolphin sightings while on the ferry, but all we managed to spot was a giant dead jellyfish. Of course, the minute I stepped inside to go to the bathroom was when someone spotted 3 dolphins. Le sigh. I guess seeing dolphins in the wild will have to wait for another time.

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Our ferry to Vancouver Island
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San Juan Islands from the ferry

Upon arrival to the island, we headed off for our first destination: Englishman River Falls Provincial Park (I think this is also where we camped), on the eastern (inland) coast of the island, not far from the port city of Nanaimo. We also stopped at nearby Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. There are short hikes to waterfalls at both locations, but seventeen year old me apparently wasn’t very good at operating a camera so I don’t have any decent photos of them.

Just a few miles further inland from Qualicum Falls on the Alberni Highway (Route 4) is MacMillan Provincial Park. Though it’s located on the shores of Cameron Lake, the main attraction of the park is Cathedral Grove, a large old-growth forest.

Continuing up Route 19, the Inland Island Highway, our next stop was Strathcona Provincial Park. (I don’t remember the timeline of our trip or how many days we spent in each location, but I’m sure we’re at least three days in at this point.) The park is located smack dab in the middle of Vancouver Island and consists of lakes, waterfalls, a plateau, and more large trees. It also holds the distinction of being British Columbia’s first provincial park.

The long, narrow Buttle Lake is probably the main attraction, and provides many recreational opportunities. Multiple hiking trails depart from parking areas along the lakeshore. Apparently, though, the only one we took was to Myra Falls.

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Buttle Lake – Strathcona Provincial Park, BC

Forbidden Plateau is, as the name might suggest, somewhat more primitive and less accessible than the rest of the park. From Buttle Lake, you have to leave the park and drive around to a separate entrance station. Once there, the road dead-ends rather abruptly and further access is by trail only. Nevertheless, the altitude and relative isolation lend themselves to a much more peaceful experience, with miles of hiking trails to a dozen or more high-elevation lakes. While most other trails in the park are easily traveled in a day or less, Forbidden Plateau is probably better explored over the course of a two- or three-day backpacking trip. Adding that to the list for next time.

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Forbidden Plateau – Strathcona Provincial Park, BC
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Battleship Lake – Strathcona Provincial Park, BC

To be continued…

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