Strathcona Park (& west to Gold River)

Fav ride for all

This cycle tour ride starts and finishes in Campbell River, gateway to north and NW Vancouver Island. The main attractions are the incredible stretch of paved riding south down the east shores of Upper Campbell then Buttle Lakes, along with spectacular Strathcona Provincial Park, BC's oldest park. You have the option to do the NE portion of this ride as a loop, heading west to Upper Campbell Lake following Elk Main, a well maintained backroad, while returning via Highway 28 (Gold River Highway). 

Some highlights:

  • Gorgeous riding down the paved, sparsely travelled east shores of Upper Campbell then (particularly) Buttle Lake

  • Great camping sites like Ralph River Provincial Park or Strathcona Dam Rec Camp

  • Into Strathcona Provincial Park, BC's oldest provincial park, with lakes, high mountains, trails, wildlife and no logging. A Vancouver Island treasure

ADD ON - at the bottom here, I've added a section on the stretch of Highway 28 that continues west from Upper Campbell & Buttle Lakes out to Gold River . This is ~44kms on paved Highway 28, mostly through Strathcona Park, with a number of worthwhile Rec stops for hiking, viewing and such (go there now).  Gold River is a gateway to further backroads riding (like the Gold River Tahsis fav backroads ride). 

South end of Buttle Lake. The paved road continues a little further, up the SW shores to Myra Falls Rec area, near the inactive mine.

UPDATE - I've heard the mine is being reactivated, so there will expectedly be occasional  big truck traffic.

South Buttle Lake | Strathcona Provincial Park | cycle touring Vancouvr Island | Ralph River Provincial Campground

Days for Ride:  Overall, this trip is ~201km (including short side trips), with overlap riding down & back along the lakes. Suggest this as 2 nights, 3 days, so you can check out a couple of camping options and explore the park (night 1 at Strathcona Dam, night 2, after a short day, at Ralph River). It is also possible as an overnighter down to Ralph River Provincial Campground.  

 

Difficulty:  Medium. The ride here is actually moderate, but feels a little wilder as you get out into some remote areas. Watch out for a stretch of Hwy28 starting about 10kms west of Campbell River, where's there's no shoulder. There can be working truck traffic. 

 

For variety, I've included an option to ride west to Upper Campbell Lake along Elk Main (a backroad) to start, returning on the highway. You might meet logging on Elk Main, but it is well maintained and used often by the public. If you do ride Elk Main in dry summer weather, bring a dust mask.   

Echo Lake | south off Highway 28 , west of Campbell River | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Fishing on Echo Lake (snapped from Elk Main). There's a fine Rec site near here on the south shores of the lake, before Elk Main crosses Hwy 28 to the north a few kms further west.  

There are good side trip options.  ​

  • The ride takes a 6km side trip north to Strathcona Dam Rec Camp. If you want, you could ride further north to connect with the incredible region of lakes and Rec Camps NW of Campbell River (see ride - Campbell River NW Lakes

  • You can follow Argonaut Main south off Hwy 28 to some nice camping options at Upper Quinsam (a favourite), Wokas and other lakes.  

  • Here's a big one: at the south end of Upper Campbell Lake, rather than continuing south along east Buttle Lake, cross the bridge to continue on Hwy28 west to Gold River.

  • For backroads riders only: the route map notes the turn-off to to Berry Creek Main near NE Upper Campbell Lake. This leads to a rough, steep backroad diversion passing south of Gooseneck Lake before hitting Argonaut Main and rejoining Hwy28 about 20kms west of Campbell River. The area around Gooseneck Lake is very popular with hunters in season so avoid this area in October and November.

Following the east shores of Buttle Lake south. As the Gold River highway branches west north of Buttle Lake, there's very little traffic along this sweet riding road. The mine near Myra Falls is currently inactive.  

UPDATE - I've heard the mine is being reactivated, so there will expectedly be occasional big truck traffic.

Fine cycling along Buttle Lake | cycle touring Strathcona Provincial Park | cycle touring Vancouver Island

On my early morning ride back up Buttle Lake in the fall (hunting season), I saw lots of roadside deer. They just disappeared as soon as I got outside the park. Smart critters.

There are a good number of informal camping options in this area. I really like the Rec Campsite at Strathcona Dam (free, run by BC Hydro).  But there's only a small number of nice sites (maybe 6-8), so you may be out of luck in season.  There are nearby informal pullout sites on the road in from Elk Main, as well as along the NE shores of Upper Campbell Lake.  Ralph River (a fav campsite) may also fill up in summer, so check reservations.

Informal camping along Upper Campbell Lake | cycle touring Strathcona Park | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Informal 'pullout camp' along NE shores of Upper Campbell Lake. You'll see a number of such places, as well as some more formal Rec sites, as you ride south down the lakes.

Here's the distance / elevation view.  

The ride is spread out over 200km, so hills look exaggerated. The highpoints are the climbs east from Upper Campbell Lake. 

 

To recap - the route here out to Upper Campbell Lake is along Elk Main, and back from the lake is along Hwy 28. You can see the long flat middle stretch down Upper Campbell & Buttle Lakes, then back up. In the middle of this stretch is the climb up near Myra Falls. If you stopped at Ralph River Campground, before the south of Buttle Lake, you'd avoid this segment.

As you head west from Campbell River, you may note that a higher than usual portion of traffic will be trucks. As traffic is limited, this will mostly be the case near the start and end of the working day. This reflects the resource basis of the economy in more remote areas. Just a few kms outside Campbell River are the major sand and gravel sources for the town. 

Fav ride distance / elevation chart | cycle touring Strathcona Park | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Here's the distance & direction guide. Unless you're planning a ride, you'll likely want to skip this section, or risk getting put to sleep. 

There's some side short trips on the route: up to Strathcona Dam (5+kms each way), Myra Falls, Buttle Lake Park, etc.  

The ride heads west from Campbell River along Elk Main (dirt backroad), which crosses Highway 28 about 22kms out. On the way back, the ride sticks to paved Hwy 28 (Gold River Hwy). Note that about 10+kms west of Campbell River, there's a stretch of Hwy28 where the shoulder disappears. 

Elk Main to Strathcona Dam turnoff is 36kms, then 5+ more km into the campsite (a favourite). From north Upper Campbell Lake south to the bridge west to Gold River is 20km. The bridge spans between south Upper Campbell and north Buttle lakes. From the bridge, south to Ralph River Provincial Park campsite is 28+km, then a further 13 kms south, with a short hook NW, to Myra Falls. On the way back, you'll pass on the right the junction onto Berry Creek Main (tough side trip option) about 3kms before the road bends east away from Upper Campbell Lake.  From there it's 32kms back to Campbell River, a few kms shorter than the Elk Main route out. 

Fav ride route map | cycle touring Strathcona Park | cycle touring Vancouver Island | Upper Campbell Lake | Buttle Lake
 

Add on section:

Strathcona Park (& west to Gold River)

The above ride into Strathcona Park already gets folks west from Campbell River to the bridge between south Upper Campbell & north Buttle Lakes. I found I needed a section to rope in the rest of paved Highway 28 out to Gold River. From Gold River, you can check out the Gold River Tahsis backroads ride.

Overall, from Campbell River west to Gold River, is about 90kms. From the bridge between the lakes out to Gold River, is ~45 kms., most of this through incredible Strathcona Park. Of note are a succession of Recreation sites you'll pass on the way. Once you pass Buttle Lake Provincial Park Campground (and companion Driftwood Bay Group Campground) at the north of Buttle Lake, the rest of the park facilities are day use areas. However, most are alongside water, have picnic tables, outhouses, secure garbage bins, and clearings, so if you need to put up a tent for a night in a pinch, they would serve well.

Highway 28 alongside Elk River | cycle touring to Gold River | cycle touring Strathcona Park

Highway 28 heading west alongside the scenic Elk River. Some fine riding.

Starting from the bridge, here are some of the sites (all signed) you'll pass by: 

  • two pullout day use areas, with clearings, fire pits and boat launch possibilities, down alongside the lake about 9kms west of the bridge. They seem to have seen better days. You can see signs and rough access roads heading down from the north side of the highway

  • between these 2 pullout areas, you'll see Big Den Rest Area - 3 picnic tables, outhouses, secure garbage, trail down to the lake

  • From Big Den Rest Area, it's 9kms further west to Lady Falls Park Trailhead. Facilities plus trails

  • Then, under 3kms to Elk River View Area Park, off the road to the north. There's a parking area, with facilities, and a rideable trail into a river viewing area 

  • Then 8+kms to Crest Lake Day Use Area. The access road branches off ~1/2km before the picnic site at the east end of the lake. Facilities. Looks nice in season.

  • Finally, Crest Creek Crags Day Area - less than 1km to the turnoff to the south of the highway. Apparently a site for climbers. ~1/2km access track. See pic below. 

Check out the route map below for another view of this info.

From Crest Creek Crags turnoff to the west boundary of Strathcona Park is another 1km, and to the east end of Gold River town is a further 11+kms. It's 5kms south of town along Muchalat Drive then Mill Road (beside the Gold River) to the municipal campground, a good option for camping. North of town is Muchalat Lake Rec Campground, a favourite. 

Picnic area at Crest Creek Crags Area. Near trailhead. Facilities at nearby  parking lot.

Crest Creek Crags Rest Area | cycle touring Gold River | cycle touring Strathcona Park

Here's the distance / elevation view, starting from Campbell River out to Gold River.  Note it's a little longer than reality, as I have a habit of checking out a few side trips along the way.

The chart actually starts in Campbell River, but I'll pick up things at the bridge at around km50 (see above for the start).  Since Highway 28 came down a little to Upper Campbell Lake at ~240m, this elevation has roughly been sustained, and continues until one reaches the Lady Falls Park Trailhead at ~km68, when it starts a gradual, modest climb up to Crest Lake. Then, it's largely a descent into Gold River, with a few ups and downs along the way.

Distance / elevation chart, Campbell River to Gold River | cycle touring Gold River | cycle touring Strathcona Park | cycle tourng Vancouver Island
North Gold River | cycle touring Gold River

Coming down into Gold River from the NE. Angling left will take one into the village centre and beyond some kms to the municipal campground (see pic at bottom). You branch right here to head to Muchalat Lake & Tahsis. Back and up a bit to the right is a decent pub & restaurant

Route Map: Campbell River to Gold River
 

This shows the route from the bridge between south Upper Campbell and north Buttle Lakes, west to Gold River

Route map | Strathcona Park to Gold River | cycle touring

Camping at the municipal campground, 5-6 kms south of town, along the west banks of the Gold River, A nice campground, though getting a little worn down in a few places.

Gold River Municipal Campground | cycle touring Gold River

Caution - Safety First:

This website does not encourage anyone to undertake activities in the backwoods without considering fully issues of safety, access and readiness. There are no guarantees with any information provided in this website.  Please read  the FAQs, research further as appropriate, and use your judgement at all times