The Buttle Lake area (off Hwy. 28) and the Forbidden Plateau area (accessed through Courtenay) both have something to offer visitors. Just outside the park boundaries, Strathcona Park Lodge offers lodging, dining, and a variety of activities. The rest of the park is largely undeveloped and requires hiking or backpacking into the alpine wilderness to see and enjoy much of its scenic splendor.
A paved road joins Hwy. 28 (the Gold River Hwy.) near the outlet of Buttle Lake and winds its way southward, hugging the shoreline. Along this scenic road are numerous cataracts and creeks that rush and tumble into the lake.
Some of the more prominent peaks include Mount McBride, Marble Peak, Mount Phillips, and Mount Myra. Elkhorn Mountain, at 2,192m (7,192 ft.), is the second-highest mountain in the park. Elkhorn, along with Mount Flannigan and Kings Peak, can be seen from Hwy. 28. The highest point on Vancouver Island at 2,200m (7,218 ft.), the Golden Hinde stands almost in the center of the park to the west of Buttle Lake.
A second area of the park, Forbidden Plateau, is accessed by gravel road from Courtenay. Those who hike into the plateau are rewarded with an area of subalpine beauty and views that extend from the surrounding glaciers and mountains to farmlands and forest.
The 440m (1,444-ft.) Della Falls, one of the 10 highest waterfalls in the world (and the highest in Canada), is located in the southern section of the park, and is reached by a rugged multiday hike.
Forbidden Plateau: What's in a Name?
The Forbidden Plateau is a high-elevation lake basin that stretches between the snow-clad peaks of Mount Albert Edward and Mount Washington within the boundaries of Strathcona Provincial Park. As its name suggests, this area is the subject of curious legends and stories, many of them rather creepy. According to one legend, the Native Comox people sent their women and children to the plateau to protect them from raids by other coastal tribes. Once, when warriors from the Cowichan tribe were about to attack the Comox, the women and children fled to the Forbidden Plateau for protection. After the raid, the Comox men climbed up to the plateau to fetch their wives and families, only to discover that they had all vanished without a trace. However, the plateau was covered in snow that was tinted a mysterious pink color. According to the story, the women and children had been killed by evil spirits and the snow had been stained by their blood. The entire plateau became taboo due to the feared presence of malevolent spirits, and when British settlers came to this area in the 19th century, they could find no Native scouts to guide them through these highlands. Stories of mysterious events continued as prospectors and frontiersmen began to settle on the Forbidden Plateau, including a series of unexplained deaths. Adding to the sense of menace, the Forbidden Plateau was the epicenter of a 7.3 level earthquake in 1946, the strongest on-land earthquake ever recorded in Canada. A ski area once operated near the Forbidden Plateau, though the structures were repeatedly damaged by unexplained fires and the resort ceased operation in 1990s -- the abandoned lifts and lodges only add to the general haunted atmosphere.
Whatever you make of evil spirit legends, there is a scientific explanation for the pink-colored snow, a phenomenon that has been noted by many visitors to the plateau. It turns out that pink snow can be caused by a snow-dwelling algae called Chlamydomonas nivalis. As sunlight becomes stronger in spring, the algae develop a pink-colored outer surface to protect against ultraviolet rays, giving a rosy cast to their snowy home.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.