Elk Falls – Table of Contents
- Hike Introduction
- Hike Statistics
- Elk Falls Video
- Map and Elevation
- Hiking Route Description
- Camping at Elk Falls
- Directions and Parking
- Free PDF Download
Elk Falls Hike Intro
Elk Falls Provincial Park, on central Vancouver Island, is a popular destination. The main attractions are camping, salmon fishing, and an incredible 25-meter (89-foot) waterfall.
Located near the town of Campbell River, Elk Falls is a great hike for families. The powerful waterfall and suspension bridge make for a fun outing, and the old-growth forest makes for a serene setting.
In 2015, an impressive suspension bridge was added to the park, just above Elk Falls. The suspension bridge opened on Elk Falls Provincial Park’s 75th anniversary.
If you only want to see Elk Falls and the bridge, you can complete the hike in about 30 minutes. But, it’s worth checking out the different viewing platforms and extending the hike to Deer Falls. This allows you to hike the trail in a loop and is the route we will describe below.
Because the river is diverted for hydroelectric generation, the flow of Elk Falls remains fairly constant throughout the year. However, it may be flowing slightly stronger in the springtime and after strong rains.
Elk Falls Hike Stats
Distance: 4 km
Elevation Gain: Minimal
Highest Point: 165 m
Time Needed: 1.5 Hours
Type: Partial loop
Dogs Allowed: Yes, on leash
Est. Driving Time from Vancouver: 5 Hours
Trailhead Coordinates: 50.038659, -125.329396
*For a better understanding of the stats and difficulty rating, check out the Hiking Guides page for details. Always carry The Essentials and fill out a trip plan.
Elk Falls Video
Here is a 2-minute video of our experience on this hike!
Elk Falls Hike Map and Elevation
Elk Falls Hiking Route
From the parking lot, you’ll see an information centre and a sign marked Millennium Trail Junction (400 m) / Viewing Area (1.2 km). Follow the trail that leads from the sign.
The trail is flat, wide, and well-groomed doubletrack. After a few hundred meters, you’ll cross a road, and then a metal bridge over a wood stave water pipeline. The unique pipeline was built in 1946 to carry water from the John Hart Dam to the generating station nearby.
Once you cross the bridge, you will go down a few more meters and take a left onto the Millennium Trail. After you make a left, the trail begins to drop down. There is a wooden railing on your right, and the trail remains wide. Walk down into the forest filled with towering Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars.
At the bottom of the hill, you will come to a junction. Go right, towards Elk Falls. On your left, there’s an overlook of the impressive falls.
Continue along the trail, and in a hundred meters, you’ll come to a set of metal stairs. Follow the stairs down. You will come to a viewing platform on the left, and the suspension bridge over Campbell River.
The best view of Elk Falls comes from the lower viewing platform, where you can see the full height of the falls. The sound of the massive waterfall is thunderous. Elk Falls is a ‘plunge waterfall’, where the water falls vertically and loses contact with the exposed bedrock.
Crossing the 60-meter-long suspension bridge gives you a great look into the Elk Falls Canyon. As you cross the bridge, you can watch the Campbell River’s path through the canyon below. The river carries east towards the Campbell River estuary. From the viewing platform on the other side of the bridge, you’ll also have a view of the upper falls.
Cool fact: “At 64 meters above the Campbell River, Elk Falls Suspension Bridge is the highest pedestrian bridge on Vancouver Island.” [source]
After soaking in the views, retrace your steps to the previous junction. Follow the sign for Deer Falls and Lower Falls Lookout.
You will follow the trail to an old parking lot, where you will find an outhouse. Follow the trail for a few more minutes before coming to another junction. Go right, down to the Campbell River. It only takes a few minutes to get down. Near the bottom, the trail splits again. To the right is an 85 m detour to a viewing platform. This is the closest spot from which to view Elk Falls, and you can feel the heavy wind and spray of the falls.
Go back up the trail and take the other split. Here, you can reach the edge of the river just above the falls. The rocks can be wet and slippery. Take caution here and stay back from the edge of the river. Fatalities have occurred here.
There are small pools along the river’s edge, and you may be able to find some small freshwater crayfish in them.
After viewing the upper falls, climb back up to the top of the trail and take a right, carrying back along the River Loop Trail towards Deer Falls. Follow the river upstream with the river on your right.
You will have periodic views of the river as you make your way along the trail. You’ll make it to Deer Falls, above which lies John Hart Lake and the dam.
In the summer, this is a nice spot to swim. It also makes for a good spot to hang out and eat lunch.
Continue back on the trail when you’re ready. It will climb up and come to a switchback. You’ll come to another large junction with a park map. Go left, now along the Old Growth Loop Trail. After 400 m, you will connect back at the old parking lot near the Lower Falls lookout where the outhouse is.
Retrace your steps for the rest of the way back to your car.
Download the PDF version of this guide for offline use
Camping at Elk Falls
Elk Falls Provincial Park offers camping at the Quinsam Campground with 70 reservable campsites. The campground is reservable from late March to the end of October.
Winter rates are in effect the rest of the year, with no services provided.
Directions and Parking
Take the Horseshoe Bay ferry to Departure Bay, Nanaimo. From Nanaimo, take the BC-19 N, all the way to Campbell River.
In Campbell River, head left onto Campbell River Road. Drive past the Quinsam campground, until you reach Elk Falls Park Road on your right. There will be signs for Elk Falls, and a large parking lot.
Google Map directions are here.
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Other great hikes on Vancouver Island
- Goldstream Trestle (easy)
- Yeo Point (easy)
- Little Qualicum Falls (easy)
- View all hiking guides here
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