A visit to Elk Falls Provincial Park, Campbell River

We arrived at Campbell River in the late afternoon of Day 20 (May 15) and set up camp at the Thunderbird RV Park on Tyee Spit. We then had one full day and the morning of Day 22 to explore the Campbell River area. The summary is that we hugely enjoyed everything about this stay, and I’ve had to break our visit up into 3 posts, starting with Elk Falls Provincial Park.

The weather was stormy when we arrived at about 4:00 pm. The Cape Mudge lighthouse immediately caught my attention and I hoped to get over to Quadra Island to see it, but we ran out of time.

Cape Mudge lighthouse, BC
Our camp site provided a good view of Discovery Passage, which is a major shipping route. Boats of all types passed by often, and the tugs had some very interesting tows.

Tug towing a camp barge past Campbell River

That night, we experienced the wildest storm we’ve ever ridden out in the RV. Winds were reporting to have neared 100 kmh out on the spit where we were camped. The kitchen window on the side of the rig started leaking badly because of the force of the heavy rain being driven against it. I put the awning out about 8-10 inches to try to lessen the impact a bit, put a big towel under it, and went to bed. It was quite a ride, with the motorhome rocking, the wind howling, and the rain pounding the roof and walls. In the morning, though, everything was good. I almost lost my awning from the weight of the water that had accumulated on it, though.

Apparently gales like that aren’t unusual in Campbell River in November, but are in May. The very heavy snows that other parts of BC got hit with, though, made us feel better 🙂

Soon after we had arrived, we went to the Campbell River vet clinic. Bella had a sore paw that we needed to have checked out. We got an appointment for 09:00 the next morning. It turned out that Bella had a cut toe, perhaps from a shell on the beach. We it cleaned up and some Metcam, she soon felt better.

Campbell River Veterinary Hospital
We started our Campbell River tour at about 10:30, with Elk Falls Provincial Park the first stop. This Heritage BC Stop of Interest sign is about the Campbell River Fire: “On a hot day in July 1938, an ominous smoke pillar near Gosling Lake signalled a forest fire which was to ravage 115 square miles of logged and timbered land. Over 1500 firefighters battled grimly for weeks to save timber and communities. Costs and damages were enormous. reforestation, intensified for the Forest Service, helped to heal the black scar.”

Heritage BC Stop of Interest sign: Campbell River Fire
There are about 6 km of hiking trails at Elk Falls Park. A BC Hydro project that I’ll tell you about in a bit has changed a lot of park navigation, but we wanted to see the waterfall and suspension bridge. Access to them starts by crossing this bridge over 3 penstocks that take water from John Hart Lake to the power generation plant.

Wooden stave penstocks at the John Hart Lake power generation plant
I don’t think I had ever seen pipes this large built with wooden staves. Built in 1947, they’re 3.66 meters (12 feet) in diameter, and 1,100 meters (3,609 feet) long.

Wooden stave penstocks at the John Hart Lake power generation plant
The Millennium Trail leads hikers towards the falls and suspension bridge. The suspension bridge extension isn’t on the park trail maps yet.

The extensive network of stairs to a waterfall viewing platform and the suspension bridge are not dog friendly due to their open-grate construction (which is great for traction for humans). Cathy and I took turns going down while the other stayed with Bella and Tucker up top.

Stairs to the Elk Falls viewing platform and suspension bridge
The 64-meter-long Elk Falls Suspension Bridge is very impressive. It began as a vision by the Rotary Club of Campbell River in 2009. With funding and support from many organizations, most notably BC Parks and BC Hydro, it opened on May 8, 2015. The bridge itself cost $740,000 and the parking lot and access trails are valued at $2 million.

Elk Falls Suspension Bridge
The suspension bridge provides wonderful views of 25-meter Elk Falls. Prior to bridge construction, several people have died trying to get a good view of the falls.

Elk Falls, BC
It’s about 60 meters down to the Campbell River under the bridge.

Campbell River Canyon
I hear that the suspension bridge gets very crowded in the summer, but it was really pleasant when we were there.

Elk Falls Suspension Bridge
There are some extremely impressive trees along the trail.

A big tree along the Millennium Trail at Elk Falls Provincial Park, BC
We spent a while at the John Hart Project Interpretive Centre to find out what BC Hydro is doing here. The John Hart Generating Station Replacement is a $1.093 billion project to upgrade a 70-year-old power generating station. The John Hart is one of Vancouver Island’s most important generating facilities. The interpretive centre does an excellent job of explaining the project.

John Hart Project Interpretive Centre
Before leaving Elk Falls Provincial Park, we went into the Quinsam Campground for a look, for future reference.

The campground, which has 122 vehicle-accessible camp sites. The cost is $22 per night. The sites are very well spaced, and while the pads aren’t large, they’re large enough for our 32-foot RV.

We left the park just after 12:30, and headed towards Campbell River for more exploring in town.

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