Maple Bay Day Use Area at Cultus Lake

Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) trees provide some bright autumn leaf color at Maple Bay Day Use Area in Cultus Lake Provincial Park in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada.

beautiful fall foliage at cultus lake

Fall Foliage at Cultus Lake’s Maple Bay (Purchase)

Cultus Lake Provincial Park is an area I enjoy visiting in spring and fall. I tend to avoid the area in the summer as it is one of the more popular Fraser Valley provincial parks and can be very crowded. I was at Cultus in late October of 2021 which was the perfect time to visit for a few reasons. First, there was some great fall foliage from the Black Cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) trees around the lake. Second, this was just about 16 days before a massive atmospheric river dumped roughly 200-300mm of rain in about 36 hours. There were some dramatic outcomes of this storm including large scale destruction of parts of the Trans Canada Highway in the Fraser Canyon (1), the Coquihalla Highway (5), Highway 8, Highway 7 near Hope, and the flooding of Sumas Prairie farms and farmland. Less publicized damage from this and the atmospheric rivers we had in the following weeks were impacts on parks such as Cultus Lake and Coquihalla Canyon (Othello Tunnels) Provincial Parks. There is so much damage around the Othello Tunnels I have to wonder if it will ever reopen.

The Cultus Lake area will probably look a little different when I am able to visit again this winter or spring. Maple Bay specifically had a lot of damage. When I drove on the eastern side of the lake heading towards the Lindell Beach area on the southern end, I noticed the very bright fall leaves on the Cottonwoods at Maple Bay Beach. So I parked on the other side of the campground and walked through to the Maple Bay beach. On the way I followed the creek bed for Watt Creek from the campground to the beach. This was a wide creek bed that was maybe about 2.4 meters (8 feet) deep in some spots, the edges lined with small rocks a bit larger than gravel. At this point in late October there was almost no water flowing in the creek. The photograph below shows the beach area at Maple Bay with some fall leaves lining the Cultus Lake shoreline. These are the rocks I’m referring to, and they make up much of the beach area. You can also see the area where Watt Creek drains into Cultus Lake and has carved a small channel into the beach rocks. The first photograph here shows this view from the opposite direction, and you can see the raised edges of the Watt Creek bed in the green trees behind the colourful Cottonwoods.

fall leaves at maple bay beach on cultus lake

Fall Leaves along Maple Bay Beach on Cultus Lake (Purchase)

All this description of rock is relevant in terms of the damage suffered here after my visit. Apparently so much new rock came down the creek with the rush of water from the mountains above that it filled the creek bed entirely. Watt Creek then had to choose a new path and decided flowing down the path through the picnic area offered the least resistance. After this and subsequent storms there was a lot of damage to the picnic area from erosion by the creek as well as the deposit of roughly 1-1.5m (3-5 ft) of new rocks which in some places covered the picnic tables. I don’t know if they’ll dig it all out or just raise the picnic tables on top of that new rock but either way there is a lot of work to get that part of the park open for visitors again! I feel fortunate to have visited and photographed this area (and quite a few others) just before they were altered by these storms.

I found this video of the damage that shows what the area looks like after the storms. Categorizing this as a slide seems incorrect but it does show the area well. It looks like some excavation has occurred on the Watt Creek bed as I presume they aim to send the creek back into its old path.

fall leaves cottonwood trees

Fall Foliage on Black Cottonwood (Purchase)

These very large Black Cottonwood trees are what drew me to the area from the main road. I don’t think many recent years have had this kind of fall leaf color in the Cottonwoods – but it was great this year. After walking through the campground to Maple Bay beach I made the photograph above of the vibrant color of the Cottonwood leaves. While the fall leaves draw more attention, the trunks of these Cottonwoods were very large and interesting as well. I was trying to show how imposing they are in this particular spot (there are 6-7 large trees growing together if I recall correctly) by looking through the gap between two of them to the picnic tables just beyond.

cottonwood tree trunks and picnic tables

Black Cottonwood Trunks and Picnic Tables (Purchase)

One of the views I was not expecting at Maple Bay on Cultus Lake was Mount Cheam (Lhílheqey) – and with some fresh snow on it as an added bonus. If the park reopens I’ll be back here this winter or spring to try to take in this view again, maybe with some better weather. That said, the clouds had the courtesy to not block Cheam while I was photographing that day. The building in the foreground is at the Honeymoon Bay Group Campground which is also part of Cultus Lake Provincial Park.

mount cheam and cultus lake

Mount Cheam and Cultus Lake (Purchase)

While the clouds did not block Mt. Cheam they did bring an interesting rain storm over the Chilliwack area that I viewed from Maple Bay just before I left. The patterns in the clouds were quite interesting and I was fortunate they were not just south of their location or I’d have been quite wet. When I drove back through the area to Chilliwack the rainfall was quite heavy and that is always better to run into after a 20 minute walk back to the car rather than before!

storm clouds over cultus lake

Storm Clouds north of Cultus Lake (Purchase)

For more photographs of Cultus visit my Cultus Lake Provincial Park gallery.