The Kwai Lake loop hike in Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island offers hikers and backpackers access to pretty subalpine lakes, flower studded meadows and mountain vistas. Although the loop is about 15.6 kilometres long, there isn’t a whole lot of elevation gain, perhaps 200 metres in total, so it can be done comfortably in about five hours.
The hike starts at the Paradise Meadows Parking Lot near the Nordic Lodge. There is excellent signage around and lots of parking. Start the hike by walking on boardwalk that’s in great shape. You travel through some truly beautiful forest early on in the hike – at least if you go in a counterclockwise direction.
Lake Helen Mackenzie was the first lake we reached – just 3.7 kilometres in. It was a peaceful sight with not another soul around though every time we stopped the whiskey jacks showed up. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a high concentration of these birds as I did on this hike.
Continuing we passed a Ranger Station before arriving at beautiful Kwai Lake at the 7.3 kilometre mark – about halfway into the hike. We did lose the boardwalk for many kilometres, substituting a rock and dirt trail that actually had a little elevation gain on route to the lake. At the lake you’ll find some tent pads. If you planned a backpacking trip in late summer or early fall when the bugs were gone, the lake would be a fantastic place to hang out. We noticed lots of fish jumping as well.
There is another hiking option if you want a longer day. Before you reach Kwai Lake turn right at an intersection signed for Cruikshank Canyon Lookout and follow it to the end, 1.4 kilometres on. Another longer option would take you to Mount Albert Edward but it would be best done as a backpacking trip as it’s at least another 8.9 kilometres one way from the turnoff before Kwai Lake.
From Kwai Lake head south following the signs towards Murray Meadows. Again you run into boardwalk over some of the soggier sections on route to Croteau Lake. Do look for masses of wildflowers if you visit in summer. From there it’s an easy 3.0 kilometre walk to Battleship Lake. Then continue southeast for 1.7 kilometres to reach a maze of trails that make up the Paradise Meadows route. We stuck to the western trail so we never retraced our steps. We were on boardwalk for quite some time near the end so the walking was quick.
In the summer there’s a small building by the parking lot – before you reach the Nordic Centre that is set up with educational material about the area and someone manning a desk to offer information. Should you be thirsty or hungry you can also buy a cold drink or a snack here.
This is a superb hike with some mountain views but the big appeal is the five lakes you pass.