Hiking to Canada's highest waterfall

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of April 2-8, 1998
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River-rafting trips in October
Hiking to Canada's highest waterfall
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Hiking to Canada's highest waterfall
Question: My Lonely Planet guide, which tells me more about my own country than anything I learned in school, says that the highest waterfall in North America is Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island, and that you can hike to it. Can you find any more details about the trail conditions and how long it takes?

Deke Botsford
Toronto, Ontario

Adventure Adviser: At 1,443 feet, Della Falls is approximately half the length of the highest waterfall in North America, so don't give Lonely Planet too much credit. Della Falls is, however, the highest waterfall in Canada and well worth the hike. But be prepared for a long day of transporting yourself to the trail head before you actually take your first dusty step.

To access the trail, drive approximately 8 miles west of Port Alberni on Highway 4, turn right on Great Central Lake Road, and drive 6 miles to the Ark Resort on Great Central Lake. There is no road access from Great Central Lake to the trail head, so you'll have to rent a motor boat or canoe and travel 20 miles to the head of the lake where you'll see standing dead trees. The trail head is to the east. It generally takes five to eight hours to hike the trail, but you'll need an extra day or two to get there.

Originally built by a trapper named Joe Drinkwater, the 11-mile Della Falls Trail follows an old road bed for approximately 4.5 miles through mixed-growth forest to Margaret Creek. After you cross the bridge over Margaret Creek, the road bed gently gains elevation for 2 miles until you reach the Drinkwater Creek Gorge. The roughest section of the trail comes after crossing Drinkwater Creek, where a loose rock slide forces you close to the edge of the roiling water. After the rock slide, you'll pass your first waterfall followed by a hike through open, old growth forest into an avalanche runout zone that opens up to the base of Della Falls.

Though the hike is considered "intermediate," keep in mind that you'll be far removed from civilization and the trail has numerous bear problems as a result of poor camping practices. Be sure to bring along plenty of rope so that you can hang your food pack high out of reach. Garbage is also a problem so be sure to pack out whatever you pack in.

Before you attempt this hike, call BC Parks (250-337-2400) for the most up-to-date and accurate information about the trail. You should also consider investing in Hiking Trails III, a particularly helpful guidebook, as well as a set of topographic maps, all of which should be available through BC Parks.

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