After watching Orcas play in the water and hitching a ride on a floatplane mail run, we shifted gears back to our usual activities. Our stop at Qualicum Beach was the midpoint of our island adventures, and a good place to do unavoidable mundane household chores and stock up the fridge. Steve also had to do a little more maintenance on our aging Betsy:
What we liked about this area was that everything we needed was only minutes away, with little traffic and the locals living on “island time”.
We happened to arrive on a Saturday, just in time to hit the farmers market and load up on some farm fresh goodies. We went home with two bags of local freshness, and started planning our next few meals.
The sponge-like shitake mushrooms sauteed with New Zealand spinach was delish, the roasted Russian Garlic tasted like sweet potato, the purple bell pepper was very nice and the blueberries were bursting with sweetness! Check out the dishes I made (Steve commented that most people pray before meals, not take pictures of them):
Between chores we explored the area’s quaint towns and discovered there’s no shortage of hiking and walking trails here. The regional and provincial parks were nearby, making them even more enticing. Ranging from easy to strenuous, we couldn’t wait to lace up our boots and give them a try!
Elk Falls Provincial Park
One of the many natural attractions at Campbell River is Elk Falls, described as a “plunge waterfall”, where the water falls vertically without touching the underlying rocks. To get there we hiked through the forest filled with towering Douglas Fir and Western Cedar. The falls could be viewed from several platforms, but the best vantage point was from the middle of the suspension bridge:
We followed the trail leading to the edge of the river just above the falls:
There are many areas of the Campbell River that we wished we had time to explore, and now I know why it’s hard to get an RV site here even months in advance.
Cutthroat Trail/Steelhead Trail
We originally followed the Log Train Trail, but our AllTrails app got us hopelessly lost after a mile. We retraced our steps and on the way back we found a well-traveled path near a salmon hatchery. Much better!
We noticed signs warning of a bear and cougar seen in the area, fortunately we didn’t meet up with them:
Top Bridge Regional Trail
The path we followed at Top Bridge Regional Trail included a series of up and down slopes in a lush forest, with some stairs mixed in. Another suspended bridge here spanned the Englishman River, connecting three parks and a conservation area. It’s used by locals as a rustic getaway from urban seaside to lush greenery:
Top Bridge is an historic place long enjoyed by area First Nations. It got its name as the site of the first road bridge over Englishman River during the 19th Century, connecting Alberni Highway to Port Alberni and Nanaimo.
Lighthouse Country Regional Trail
Almost all trails on the island are forested, and this one took us deep into the heart of a lush green coastal Douglas Fir forest, rich with dripping mosses, rotting stumps, draining marshes and towering second growth evergreens. Along with the foot bridges (I counted 15), countless culverts channel water beneath the trail to keep it walkable.
We saw a smoking gnome guarding a few slugs that were slithering slowly across the trail:
Macmillan Provincial Park
One of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas Fir trees on Vancouver Island is at Macmillan Provincial Park, a.k.a. Cathedral Grove. It’s an extremely popular trail, and the roadside parking along the highway was actually quite hazardous. Trails are accessed on either side of highway 4, and crossing it is like playing chicken with speeding vehicles of all types. Of course, screaming little brats always enhance the experience of walking through an ancient forest. OK, end of rant – we should have followed our own advice and gotten here earlier. But this is a “don’t miss” if you’re ever in the area:
We followed a network of trails under the shadows of towering ancient Douglas Fir, some more than 800 years old and standing 250′ high with a girth of 29′ in circumference. It’s called “a rare and endangered remnant of an ancient Douglas Fir ecosystem.” These are the last trees standing after a tremendous wind storm in 1997 blew hundreds of others down in an event known as “wind throw”, a combination of high winds and wet soil.
On the northern side of the highway were groves of ancient Western Red Cedar standing sentry over nearby Cameron Lake:
The ancient trees were majestic, but somewhat spoiled by their own popularity. Summer is not the time to come here for a walk in solitude.
Leaving Cathedral Grove, we continued on to Port Alberni to recon part of Betsy’s next drive west on highway 4. The town is known as BC’s “Salmon Capital”, so naturally our first stop was at a seafood store. Fortunately we always have our trusty ice chest in the back of the car for just such an emergency. We were thrilled to load up on freshly caught Coho Salmon and some smoked salmon as well. Guess what we cooked on the grill that night!
We drove around and checked out some local attractions:
Carved from yellow cedar, this Nuu-chah-nulth whaling canoe sculpture is a tribute to the seafaring culture of the local Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nations:
Qualicum Beach is located in Victoria Island’s central region, which includes Nanaimo, Parksville and Port Alberni. This was an excellent one-week stop to prepare ourselves for our next adventure to the more remote west coast of the island…
Next up: Wandering the rugged west coast of Canada