Hitting Trails In and Around Qualicum Beach, BC

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:

He had to re-epoxy a panel under the windshield after our recent drives rattled it loose, obviously a high-tech procedure

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”.

Qualicum Beach

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:

The Elk Falls suspension bridge spans Campbell River
Viewed from the suspension bridge

We followed the trail leading to the edge of the river just above the falls:

Does he have magical powers?
My water-touching ritual of the Campbell River, just before it plunges into the canyon
We were on that bridge

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:

Wondering how we got lost while listening to water music.  Life can be so complicated!

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:

Look Pam, there’s an arch!

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.

Top Bridge suspension bridge behind a fellow hiker
Another ritual at Englishman River
A Red-legged Frog watches the crazy human

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:

Now this is how you make use of a downed tree!
We took our time, enjoying the silence and smells of the coastal forest

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:

See what I mean?

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:

Crystal clear Cameron Lake
Western Red Cedar trees are shallow-rooted and grow in wet areas, making them susceptible to falling in heavy winds
From a toppled tree emerges new life

Cameron Lake framed by Western Red Cedar

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.

Port Alberni

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:

Two towering Welcome Figures, carved by local Hupacasath First Nations people
Salmon carvings at Harbor Quay
High-five with the only bear we’d seen so far

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:

Nuu-chah-nulth whaling canoe sculpture
Description of the sculpture
Gazing out into Alberni Inlet

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…




  1. I have a deep love affair with the Pacific Northwest and have particularly enjoyed your journey in this part of the world! As always, I love your photo-rich storytelling. Did you get a chance to visit Free Spirit Spheres Treehouse Resort while in Qualicum Beach? Truly unique and inspiring…
    Safe and Happy Travels! Looking forward to your next BC destination!

  2. Hi
    I have been following your blog for a couple of years now, thanks for the trip.
    I live in Campbell River and am a member of the Search and Rescue team. You have posted 2 pictures of yourself and also Steve sitting near the top of Elk Falls. These are locations where other travellers have not been so lucky. We recovered them from below the falls. Could I suggest you delete these photos in the interest of not having someone think this is a safe thing to do under any circumstances. Travel safe.

  3. Those root veggies make such a colorful header photo! And your roasted garlic looks so yummy. We made a couple of stops mid-island in Qualicum to stock up, too, for our adventures north and west. But we weren’t there for the farmers’ market. 😦

    Wasn’t that Elk Falls hike cool, with the suspension bridge? Your photo of Steve with the rainbow is fantastic! And you’re so cute with the chainsaw bear sculpture. That was the only bear we saw, too, until we did the hike at Stamp River Provincial Park and had bears swimming toward us. 😳 But that was fall and the salmon were running, so they were after the salmon. You’ve given us some great ideas for more hiking when we return to Vancouver Island (and we really want to return, after reading your posts!).

  4. MonaLiza, Once again, you’ve outdone yourself with the beauty of your photos. We have spent a few weeks in that area of Vancouver Island and loved every minute of it. We hiked to many waterfalls and liked the ambiance of Nanaimo and Parksville. Did you by any chance see the country store with goats on the roof? It was there for years, but we haven’t been back for a while. Don’t know if it’s still there.

    Susan and Bob

  5. I don’t like mushrooms, but your photos of what you cooked up made me willing to give yours a try. 🙂

    The picture of you touching the water before it went over the falls made my heart stop, you crazy woman!

    You’re right, the Pacific Northwest is crowded in the summer with its shortened hiking season and vacationers. Crowd-avoidance becomes a sport of its own!

    While the photo of Steve’s magic rainbow skillz is magnificent, I think I prefer the one of him showing off his RV-fixin’ skillz 😀

  6. Finally got to visit a farmers market in Crested Butte. Your produce looks awesome! Elk Falls is beautiful. Love that suspension bridge and Steve sitting on the cliff with his magic rainbow! Oh, I would love Top Bridge Trail. Another suspension bridge, arch (yes), and those green ferns (reminds of the OP and rainforest). Aren’t those slugs just the coolest things! Who’s the beauty lounging on the dead tree…haha! Macmillan Provincial Park reminds me so much of Olympic NP with the huge trees, moss, and green ferns. Yes, summer is tough to travel with everyone else and the screaming kids. How neat is it when the new nurse trees use the fallen trees. Looks like a fantastic week! We do need to get to this area.

  7. We’ve been SO happy to get past the Labor Day barrier and instantly see a huge reduction in the number of visitors at many of these sites. I can totally understand your frustration, but at least things are quieter now. Hopefully, anyway!

    And Steve should know by now that we do nothing – no eating, reading, hiking, or gazing – without taking a photo first. Never forget the blog, Steve. Never forget!!! 😃

  8. I love those deep woods trails, a total sensory experience. Soooo green! The picture of you standing on the suspension bridge made me gasp! Don’t do that t a friend! Better slugs on the trail than rattlesnakes!

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