- Distance: From end of Great Central to Della Falls is about 16km .
- Difficulty: Pretty easy, gentle uphill slope with some sections of steeper elevation gain. The trail is usually in good shape and fairly well maintained, however the steel bridge is pretty sketchy and one of the wooden bridges was destroyed when I went in the summer of 2008. The trail to Love Lake and the Della Falls Viewpoint is much more difficult, with tons of elevation gain and very steep sections. This trail is not nearly as well travelled or maintained as the main trail.
- Hiking Time: Approximately 4-5 hours one way from the end of Great Central to Della Falls (in good trail conditions). About 2-3 hours one way from Della Falls Trail to Love Lake/Della Viewpoint.
- Fees: No camping fee
- How to get to there: Drive west on Highway 4 from Port Alberni toward Sproat Lake. Turn right on Great Central Lake Rd and follow it all the way to Great Central Lake/Ark Resort.
You need to find a way to the end of Great Central Lake. If you have a boat you can have a friend drop you off and pick you up in a few days. I don?t recommend leaving a boat at the end of the lake for risk of theft/vandalism. You can also arrange for a ride from the guys at the Ark Resort (see link). If you have a few extra days, you could also canoe to the end of the lake with all your gear (remember that the Great Central Lake is over 45km long).
Best time of the year to go is in the summer. Depending on the snowpack from the previous winter, you don?t want to go too early in the season as you may run into a lot of snow. You also don?t want to go too late in the summer as the falls may dry up, which makes them far less impressive. We went in July and there was very minimal snow and the falls were still flowing fairly well.
Both campsites are nice but have no bear caches.
Campfires are prohibited in Strathcona Park, with the exception of designated campfire pits at Camp 2.
Water is crystal clear and drinkable (at your own risk of course, due to potential concerns of Giardiasis, etc. We didn?t filter and we were fine)
The trail to Canada's highest waterfall, Della Falls, makes for an epic 3 day journey into the edge of Strathcona Park and provides some of the most breathtaking views British Columbia has to offer.
I did this hike on a beautiful weekend in July 2008 with two of my buddies. We were lucky enough to have my friend?s brother offer to take us to the end of Great Central Lake in his boat and pick us up in 3 days. We left early and were on our way in the boat by 7:00am. The boat ride is about an hour to the campsites at the end of the lake, where is where the Della Falls Trail Begins. When we arrived we found out that the trail was officially closed due to extensive windfalls and damage to the bridges from the winter strorms. We had been looking forward to this weekend for too long to turn back now, but we had no idea what we were in for?
We quickly found out that extensive windfalls means that the trail is absolutely destroyed. I could never have imagined the number of fallen trees that buried the trail, making it very difficult to navigate. The fact that we had 3 days worth of camping gear and food on our backs only made things even more interesting, as we had to crawl under, climb over, or hike around gigantic trees lying across our path for the majority of the way up. One of my friends (showing incredible dedication, I might add) actually counted the number of trees that lay across the 16km trail. Try to guess the number, and I will reveal it later in the write up.
Fallen trees aside, the trail generally follows Drinkwater Creek the entire way up, crossing it several times. One of the first river crossings has a very well built bridge, and is a great place to stop for lunch and a (cold) swim. After another section of trail you come to Camp 1, which is right before a wooden bridge that crosses Drinkwater Creek. Here we had our first (very distant) view of Della Falls. This bridge was the one that was destroyed the summer that we hiked the trail. Though some hikers might have dared to cross the splintered and flipped bridge, we opted to take a small bushwhacked trail that led about 400m upriver to a waist-deep and slower moving section of river that we could cross. This little adventure added about an hour to our trip as opposed to being able to simply cross the bridge. Back on the trail again we arrived at a part of the trail that was fairly overgrown and had difficulty finding our way. We eventually found the trail and used our machetes to make it more noticeable and flagged it as well.
A little further up the trail you cross Drinkwater Creek again, only this time it is a sketchy steel bridge about 20 inches wide with no handrails. Now, crossing a solid metal bar that wide usually wouldn?t make you think twice, except the section of river it crosses is furious whitewater. Needless to say you should cross with extreme caution. After this bridge the trail begins to gain elevation more than it has up until now. The next major landmark is a bridge that crosses Love Creek, with a view upstream of Love Creek Falls. Another section of trail brings you to the trailhead that leads to Love Lake. It is on the right hand side of the Della Falls trail and marked by a sign in the Tree that states ?Mt Septimus via Love Lake?. Another 5 minutes walk and you arrive at Camp 2, which is actually a series of good campsites that stretches along the trail almost right up to the base of the falls.
So 1,017 fallen trees, one destroyed bridge, and 12 hours after our hike began, we finally arrived at our campsite. It should be noted that in good trail conditions it should only take 4-5 hours to arrive at these campsites. We stayed in the first of the sites, which has a giant sawblade and chain mounted on one of the trees. It had a large flat area and a good fire pit. It was nearly dark by the time we set up camp, and we had absolutely no desire to walk any further so seeing the falls up close would have to wait until tomorrow.
We woke up early and debated whether we wanted to go to the base of the falls or hike Love Lake first. From the direction of the sun, we decided it would be best to hike Love Lake first so that we had the sun shining on the falls when we saw it from the viewpoint. This turned out to be the right decision.
We hiked back to the Love Lake trailhead and started up. This trail is a lot less worn and not maintained, so some sections early in the trail were fairly overgrown and difficult to navigate. However, once we started up the steep switchbacks the trail was fairly easy to follow. This is a very steep trail and you gain a ton of elevation over a very short section of trail. It took about 2 hours of climbing to reach the viewpoint, which was instantly worth every step. The view was absolutely incredible; a perfect view of not only Canada?s highest waterfall, but also some amazing mountains. Della Lake spills over a ledge 440 meters (1443 ft) down to form Drinkwater Creek. To the left of Della Lake lies the majestic Nine Peaks. To the right is Big Interior Mountain, standing 1,857 meters high. You can also see all the way back to the starting point of the journey, the shores of Great Central Lake, at the end of the winding valley created by Drinkwater Creek.
We decided not to continue the trail up to Love Lake, but instead to return to the campsite for lunch and then a hike to the base of the falls. We found our campsite in disarray after a bear had ravaged one of the tents and carried it a few meters out of the campsite trying to get at the apples that we left inside and forgot to put up in our self-built bear cache. He never got the apples and spited us by leaving a big steaming present in the middle of our campsite.
After lunch we hiked to the base of the falls. I didn?t find the base of the falls to be as impressive as the viewpoing, as you can?t see the entire cascade but only the bottom section, which is about 150 meters high. However, it is still gives you an up close appreciation to the size of the waterfall and the volume of water cascading over it.
We had an early dinner and then decided to pack up our camp and hike down to Camp 1 to spend our second night in order to give us an easier pass through the fallen forest on our final day.
Our final day was a lot less eventful but a lot more relaxing than our first two days. We had a fairly uneventful hike back down to the lake. This was the hottest day of the trip and we stopped for a swim in the river at the nice bridge. We arrived at the lake at about noon, and we were ecstatic to have the rest of the afternoon to just relax in the sun and swim in the crystal clear water of Great Central Lake before our ride picked us up at 4:00.
I absolutely loved this hike, and will definitely be doing it again. The fact that we had to work our way over thousands of fallen trees made it one of the most physically exhausting hikes I?ve ever done, which also made it a much more rewarding experience. Apparently a week or two after we did the hike BC Parks sent in a crew to clean up the fallen trees. I hope the crew was large and they had a good portion of time to work in there, because that would be an enormous job. As of the end of summer 2008, I believe most of the trees were cleared but I?m not sure what the status of the destroyed bridge is. Current trail conditions should be posted on the BC Parks website (see links).
Trees over Trail
Strathcona Provincial Park - BC Parks
Della Falls Water Taxi - 6498 Smith Rd, Port Alberni - Ben Potter - 250-723-5170
Della Falls / Love Lake day trip - islandhikes.com
Della Falls - clubtread.org
Della Falls Trail - besthike.com
Great Central Lake RV Resort & Marina water taxi closed 2012 [formerly the Ark Resort - water taxi service, and rental canoes]