Saturday 6 August 2011

Buttle Lake

Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook 4th Edition - Map 23 B1
Atlas of Canada Link: Buttle Lake


Degrees, Minutes, Seconds: 49° 37' 50" N 125° 31' 52" W
Decimal Degrees: 49.631° N 125.531° W
UTM Coordinates: 10U 317220 5500634
Topographic Map Sheet Number: 092F12

Trip Date: July 27, 28, 29

View from the Beach at Ralph River looking North
It's been awhile since I stayed in a provincial campground and I have to say it was a pleasant experience -- especially the clean, comfortable, and virtually odorless outhouse!

In fact the last time I stayed in a provincial campground was October of 2008. coincidentally I stayed at the Buttle Lake site on a solo paddling trip. The campground then didn't make much of an impression. Anglers and families were enjoying a last camp of the season, their voices rising and falling through the trees while I drank my tea and looked up through through the treetops at a star filled sky. It was a melancholy trip, with brown leaves in the wind and dead wasps on the surface of the water drifting past the canoe.

But the Ralph River campsite has a different feel when we drive in. The folliage along the road is slightly soft with dust but not as dusted as all the trees on nearby logging roads. There is the sense that all nature is approaching the fullness of summer, everything extended like a cat stretched out in the sun.

All the sites on the water side are occupied, but we find a nice spot near one of the trails to the beach.

Our Campsite at Ralph River
We set up camp, talk of automobiles and canoes, and our children, and then after the day's wind dies down we go out on the water with our canoes.

The sun goes beyond the peaks of Strathcona mountains, the sun wash from the eastern hills slides upwards, the shadow of clouds almost stationary, the calm of dusk fills the valley. 

We circumnavigate the bay in front of the campground, exploring a sheltered cove full of toad tadpoles. We get out on a rocky shore and walk carefully to avoid stepping on one of the thousands of tiny toadlets hopping around, some still with their tadpole tails.

We paddle back towards the campground and  up Ralph River a short ways past two fly anglers, one in an anchored boat and one stalwart fellow standing in the icy water up to his thighs. Paul has fun playing in the current in the Rendezvous and we retire in the fading light to a cup of tea and quiet evening in camp.

The next morning we are on the water again and paddle out past the point of land on the far side of the bay towards the source of sound we heard in the night, a cataract cascading towards the lake down the very steep western slope.

We admire the clarity of the water and that lovely color that mountain water gives to objects below the surface...

...including large stumps and roots of trees that were harvested, we imagine, prior to the flooding that occurred with the construction of the Strathcona Dam in 1958. The dam backs water up into both Upper Campbell Lake and to a lesser degree,  Buttle Lake. The Strathcona Dam is part of a three dam network including the John Hart Dam (John Hart Lake/Resevour) and the Ladore Dam (Lower Campbell Lake) and was developed in part to meet the needs of the Elk Falls Mill.  

BC Hydro intends to invest more than 1 billion dollars beginning in 2012 to upgrade the three hydropower facilities on this system. Together the three projects generate 237 megawatts and produce up to 20 percent of peak demand on Vancouver Island in the summer and 10 percent of peak demand in the winter. Other hydro electric projects on the island are much smaller.

Some 3186 hectares of land were flooded around Upper Campbell and Buttle Lakes. The entire bay in front of the Ralph River Campground was dry land prior to the construction of the dam system.

We are happy the lake is at a high level and we can glide over the the stumps admiring their eery shapes. We also spot large house-sized boulders under the water that had clearly tumbled off the nearby mountainside, one appearing to be laying on top of a sheared of log.

"The current practice of operating the Buttle/Upper Campbell reservoir near full pool during
summer likely reduces impacts on fish by providing stable littoral habitat but there is little
benthic productivity in the drawdown zone (Sinclair 1965; Lewis et al. 1996). Access into the
three main spawning streams (Ralph and Thelwood creeks, Elk River) is not affected by
drawdown levels (Lewis et al. 1996)." -- Bridge-Coastal Fish and Wildlife Restoration Program
STRATEGIC PLAN Volume 2 (December 2000).

After Lunch we head to Jim Mitchel Lake for a nice paddle before returning to Buttle and putting in at the Price Creek trailhead and paddling up Thelwood Creek.


Thelwood Creek appears to be at a high level, and this years robust snow pack might account for it's generous flow. The Canada Geese we disturb seem almost unable to fly. I've seen this behaviour a few times recently and wonder if it has to do with the breeding season.

After returning to the put-in we continue out under the bridge. In the following video keep an eye out for the family of mergansers as we head under the bridge.


Despite the threat of rain we head out into the lake towards Myra Falls. We don't hear the roar of the falls untll we round the corner and are almost upon them.


Despite the strong head wind on the way back we consider seeing Myra Falls to be a highlight of the trip.

Morning View from Ralph River Campground of either Mount Thelwood or Mount Myra, I'm not sure which...
Back at camp we relax after a very full day of paddling.


  1. This is probably my favourite provincial campground. I've usually been lucky enough to score one of the waterfront sites which means it's easy to launch the canoe.

    I've always found the tree roots and stumps underwater somewhat eerie. But the paddling is very pleasant if you get out before the wind which usually kicks up in the afternoon.

    I'll make a point of paddling south to the waterfall next visit. Great photos.

  2. Impresionante el paisaje...¡Qué envidia! Me he quedado alucinado con vuestro tesoro.
    Un saludo desde España.

  3. Harold,

    I think Ralph River Campground might be a bit of a hidden treasure. There are a lot of waterfront sites, too, so I guess chances are probably pretty good that you will get one, especially on the shoulders of the season.


    Here is Google's Translation of your comment, "Stunning landscape ... What envy! I've been amazed at your treasure. Greetings from Spain."

    We really do have some beautiful places on the island and I feel blessed to be able to enjoy and share them.

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!


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  5. very nice! have been 'beached' for a long while.... love the pics and clips - feel like I'm there too, and that was great fun! ty :)

  6. Thanks Monica, it is good for me to look back on this too and feel a bit of the calm! Such a special place. Hope you are able to get out there and enjoy some of the beauty and peace soon. Thanks for the comment, here and on the video.