North Island Explorer: Guide to North Vancouver Island















 Kayaking on Buttle Lake: Trumpeter Swans and Permian Crinoids.

Buttle Lake: beach encampment, Trumpeter Swans, and Permian crinoid stems.























Buttle Lake, which is over 30 kilometers in length, is at the heart of Strathcona Park. It is nestled among steep rock bluffs and snow-capped peaks. With its easy access and pristine beauty, it presents kayakers with an attractive winter alternative to the briny drink.


Several times during this last winter season, I've headed out to Buttle Lake for a short day paddle. I have yet to encounter another soul on the lake, which surprises me because even in winter there is a lot to do and see. A trip to Buttle Lake can make for a great day of hiking and paddling.  Bring your gloves though, and some warm clothing; it's cold on the lake.


There are several places with easy access to the lake. If you take Highway 28 from Campbell River to Gold River, you eventually come to the Gold River turnoff. Instead of heading towards Gold River, head down the Westmin Road. After another five minutes of driving, you will come to the Lupin Falls pullout. You can park here and it is a short walk to the beach. The trail to Lupin Falls is a nice five-minute walk and ends in a picturesque view of the falls. It's well worth a short diversionary trip.


Launching your kayak, you can head straight across and then paddle along side the bluffs until you eventually come to the Wolf River. The first time I launched from this point, I ended up hiking the bluffs on the other side in search of shed deer horns. Being winter, we hit the snowline within an hour and vowed to come back at a later date. We also figured the mouth of the Wolf River might make for some good trout fishing when then weather got a bit warmer in the spring.


A second option for launching your kayak is at Karst Creek or possibly Auger Point. Karst Creek and Auger Point are a good 15-20 minutes farther down the lake. Again it is a short haul to the beach. Karst creek also has a short trail to a waterfall that disappears into a limestone cavern. The creek itself now runs dry for most of the year (possibly all) as the water is diverted into the cavern.  This feature is common among limestone formations. If you follow the loop trail instead of just the short walk to the falls and back, you will eventually hit the disappearing stream, which seems to appear out of nowhere and then 300 meters later disappear into nowhere.


Launching your kayak, you can head straight across to Phillips Creek on the other side and hike the trail to Marble Meadows, which takes about six hours return (when the trail is clear). However, in the winter, the hike promises to be much shorter as snow will impede hiking to the meadows. The campsite at Phillips Creeks is amazing and since it is boat access only, it promises to be quiet. The campsite isn't open until April and I can't imagine wanting to camp there any earlier! Even with the sun shinning, it is cold on that side of the lake.


If you do head towards Phillips Creek in the winter, there is a good chance you will run into the migratory Trumpeter Swans, which seem to like the shallow estuary-like area in front of the creek to forage for aquatic plants. Trumpeter swans are the largest swans in the world. They are also one of the rarest, coming back from near extinction at the turn of the 20th century. About 7000 swans use Vancouver Island as a winter nesting ground, which is about a third of the total number of Trumpeter Swans in the world.


Another thing to keep your eye out for is limestone formations, which formed under Permian seas roughly 290 million years ago. Anywhere you find limestone, you'll probably encounter fossil deposits of crinoid stems, an ancient echinoderm (commonly known as sea lilies) that covered the Permian ocean floors. They appear as small, eroded circles in the limestone or like stacks of poker chips. If you are lucky, you might even encounter fossil bryozoans, a kind of moss-like animal that formed colonies, resembling sea fans. You can find fossils at the mouth of Phillips Creek (a short hike up the creek), along Karst Creek, and at Marble Meadows. However, it is illegal to collect fossils in a provincial park without a permit so take only pictures please!


Finally, some words of warning: Buttle Lake is extremely cold in the winter (in summer it warms up enough so that you can take a brisk swim in it). A tipped kayak could be disastrous. Buttle Lake is also prone to sudden winds, usually in the afternoon, but possibly at anytime. Finally, there are numerous stumps just below water level, especially near the shore. These are remnants of the forest that existed before the lake rose when the Upper Campbell was dammed.


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