Hiking in the Forbidden Plateau: To Circlet Lake and Back

I wanted to make the most of my last set of days off on Vancouver Island before prepping for the big move to Vancouver, so after spending the first couple of days packing up the apartment and attending a Knit Night at my favorite brewpub, I decided to plan out a backpacking trip in the beautiful Forbidden Plateau area on Vancouver Island. The Forbidden Plateau is just a small portion of the much larger Strathcona Provincial Park – and if the idea of spending a day or two surrounded by sub-alpine fir, mountain hemlock, native wildflowers, quiet lakes and (relatively) few people appeals to you, then you should definitely visit this part of the Island.

The morning of our hike didn’t look promising, with a constant drizzle of rain on the drive from Nanaimo to the trail head, but we had heard rumors that it would clear up later on in the day. We stopped for a quick bite to eat and some coffee, waiting for the rain to end, at an amazing little cafe and roastery  called Creekmore’s Coffee in Coombs. Well fed and awake (I was on my third espresso of the day at this point) we ventured on towards the trail head at Raven Lodge. It was a perfect drive to get a few more rows done on my Ramble shawl.

The rain was still going strong when we reached the trail head, and continued on for the entire duration of the hike. It didn’t bother me too much at this point, as the mist and fog gave the trail an ethereal feel.

The trail is fairly well maintained, with appropriate signage, making it hard to lose your way. I would still recommend downloading the Maps.Me app, as it has the entire Forbidden Plateau trail system on your phone and you don’t need reception to view it (you just have to download the appropriate map before you head out).

We made it to the camp site in about 3 and a half hours and quickly set up our tent under the rain.

Due to the weather (and the fact that it was a Monday) we weren’t expecting to find too many others at the Circlet Lake campsite upon our arrival at 3pm, and were relatively surprised to find the camping area about 75% full. The rest of the day was mainly spent in the tent, as the non-stop rain and soaking wet shoes and socks didn’t give me the necessary motivation to explore, despite the beauty of our surroundings. The rain continued throughout the night, and we went to sleep with the hopes that at least some of our gear would be dry for the following morning.

Note to self: Always expect rain when camping on Vancouver Island and don’t forget to bring a rain cover and tarp!  Also, down jackets do not mix well with wet weather.

By the following morning, the fog had lifted, and we were treated to a stunning view of Circlet Lake. The lake was calm and still, and the surrounding landscape was reflected, mirror-like, on the lake’s surface.

Pascal decided to try his hand at some fishing, and it didn’t take long before he got a bite! The lake is stocked with Rainbow Trout, and had it not been raining when we arrived the previous night, would have been excellent to catch our meal.

Many of our fellow backpackers were getting ready to make the hike up to Mount Albert Edward, which is an additional 5 kilometers or so and 1,000 m elevation gain. Yes, the thrill of climbing to the top of a mountain did sound appealing, but my soggy socks and shoes convinced me otherwise. Instead, we took our time to appreciate the beautiful sights and good weather on the trail back.

Ranger’s Cabin at 6 km from trailhead

The Stats

  • Distance: 21 km (return) from trailhead to Circlet Lake campsite
  • Total Elevation Gain: 402 m (measured using my Runkeeper App, see screenshot below for elevation profile).
  • Time: 3-4 hours one way from trailhead to Circlet Lake campsite
  • Cost: $10 per person per night for a backcountry campsite until September 30th (payable online or in cash at the trailhead)
  • Fun Rating: 70% Type 1, 30% Type 2 (mainly due to soggy socks and shoes and lack of fitness)
The time it took us was closer to 3 and a half hours (as I forgot to turn off my Runkeeper app when we reached the campsite).

Additional Info and Links:

Have you done backcountry camping in rainy weather before? How did you deal with it?