Rhododendron Lake is a hidden gem in Nanoose Bay that takes a bit of effort to get to, but definitely more than worth it.
The lake is unique in that it is home to the wild Pacific Rhododendron, a rare shrub native to the Pacific Northwest which only grows in very few locations on the island. (There is another small grove near Shawnigan Lake on the road to Port Renfrew).
Local botanists believe this stand of wild rhododendrons belongs to a strain that survived the last Ice Age.
A Bit of History
This lake was originally discovered around 1912 by George Tranfield, grandson of the first colonial settler and sheep farmer on Lasqueti Island. It was formerly called Kalmia Lake but was officially renamed in 1978 on the MacMillan Bloedel Recreation Map.
In its heyday, the area was a popular picnicking and forested camping site maintained by MacMillan Bloedel, and a fee was once collected at the main gate to do so.
At that same time, an interpretive trail loop was created around the lake with signage sharing information about the native plant life found in the area.
Over the years, partly due to logging the surrounding areas, and possibly due to vandalism, the campsite was decommissioned. Due to inactivity, the loop trail has become largely overgrown. Yet, in amongst the shrubbery, you’ll find those interpretive signs still intact.
Reasons to visit Rhododendron Lake
Starting beginning to mid-June, the land surrounding the lake is a colourful sight with beautiful pink Rhododendron blooms. As with all spring blooms, unfortunately, the beauty is short-lived. However, this pretty little lake does offer more than just pink blossoms.
According to the MidIsland Castaway Fly Fishing Club, the lake is stocked with Cutthroat, Rainbow and Steelhead trout. So if you are looking for a peaceful, remote area to fish, this may just be the perfect spot.
If you are willing and able to bring an inflatable kayak with you, this lake would make an ideal paddling spot.
The scenery is beautiful! You are in ‘backroad country’, so don’t be surprised to see lots of wildlife along the way (more likely on your drive up to the lake).
Keep watch for Eagles, Vultures, Black Bear, Deer, and Elk – we saw all of the above while exploring the area.
Traveling to Rhododendron Lake is tricky, but more than doable.
Firstly, it is accessible only on the weekends due to being on private land (owned by Mosaic). They do allow access to this backroad area through a controlled gate. The operator is a friendly gentleman who is more than willing to give out information when asked.
The other setback for some is that you are travelling along rough logging roads. On our recent visit up there we saw a variety of vehicle types, and not all were 4-wheel drive. However, it is definitely advisable to use one if you have it.
The gate entrance is off Northwest Bay Logging road at 1420 Island Highway. Once past the gate, follow 155 main.
You’ll be happy to know there are signs to Rhododendron Lake! At the first fork in the road, veer left and follow those signs. If you keep following the signs and stay on the main road you can’t miss it.
At one point, the signs seem to stop and just as you start to think perhaps you are lost, the official sign for Rhododendron Lake will be on your left. Keep going a wee bit further until you see a larger parking area.
Park your vehicle and follow the short trail down to the lake. This is the west side of the lake and where you’ll find the Rhododendrons and interpretive signage.
If shore fishing and/or kayaking is what you are after, then there is a better spot for that further along…
Carry on past the trail parking area and turn left at the Hydro lines. There will be a rough road that leads to the lake. Please note, this road is popular with the ATV groups.
If back roading is something you enjoy, I highly recommend getting yourself a Vancouver Island Backroad Mapbook. We have discovered all kinds of amazing places by looking through this book!!
If you’ve missed the beautiful blooms this year (and that’s what you want to see), make sure to save this article on Pinterest for future use: