Vancouver Island Stories and Tips

Woody Wonders: Parksville and Provincial Parks Nearby

The ancient woods Photo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Parksville is a small community (around 11,000 inhabitants) on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, about 40km north along Highway 19 from Nanaimo.

The town itself is a popular summer tourist destination, with a lot of beach action including a popular Parksville Beach Festival which incorporates the Canadian Open Sand Sculpting Competition, a sandcastle building contest which takes advantages of vast areas of hard packed sand exposed when the tide recedes.

The waters of Georgia Strain warm up well and the weather is generally much better (read: drier) on the east coast of the island than on the west coast, so sunbathing and swimming as well as windsurfing (and kayaking) are all popular options.

There are plenty of facilities for visitors, including a good playground for the children and several golf courses in the immediate vicinity of Parksville.

Nearby is the Qualicum Beach, a picturesque and arty seaside town with more gentle beach and just outside Parksville the Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, with a huge sand-and-shingle area ideal for beach-combing

Parksville is a very convenient base for exploring Vancouver Island, sitting as it is on a junction of roads going north towards the Comox valley, Powell River, mountains of Strathcona; south to Nanaimo and Victoria and west via Port Alberni to Pacific Rim National Park with Tofino and Ucluelet.

But the interior of the island nearer to Parksville has also plenty to offer. Within an approximately half hour drive (and some accessible by public transport via the bus to Port Alberni) are three outstanding nature parks.

Englishman River Falls Provincial Park has a striking canyon linking two quite impressive waterfalls. Waterfalls seem to be everywhere on Vancouver Island and all quite amazing by our standards. A site that would be a major national tourist attraction in many countries in Europe is here a provincial park, warranting a couple of rough camp-sites and an outhouse loo. The Falls here are sited in an old-growth forests, not as spectacular as the Cathedral Grove, but still pretty impressive, with statuesque red cedar, arbutus, fir, maple and hemlock. Ferns spread lushly in the undergrowth and moss hangs from branches as the trail winds its way from the upper to the lower falls, and a clear pool of dark water by a small pebbly beach below the lower falls (locals swim here in the summer).

Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park is located slightly further away from Parksville, 15km west on the Highway 4. It is one of the bigger provincial parks in the area and follows the course of the Little Qualicum River, with more beautiful waterfalls, rapids and pools suitable for swimming in the summer. There are also trials to the nearby Wesley Ridge (2-3 hours one way). Cameron Lake, the beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and bordering the Cathedral Grove virgin rainforest, is part of the park.

The queen of them all is undoubtedly the MacMillan Provincial Park, furthest away from Parksville (30km west on Highway 4) incorporating the Cathedral Grove, a stand of giant Douglas-fir trees and a significant area of old-growth rainforest. The park area was, somehow ironically, donated by the logging company (thus the name), partially responsible for the fact that such preservation actions are even necessary. Still, the park presents a magnificent opportunity for all to experience an ancient rainforest. In addition to the giant Douglas Firs (encountered on the loop of the trail on the southern side of the road) there are also groves of ancient Western Red Cedar, the tree that not only is a main element of the local rainforest ecosystem but also an economical and cultural mainstay of the lives of the native inhabitants of the Pacific North West.

From cloth to house building, sculptures to boats, ropes to baskets, the cedar was known as a Tree of Life. The northern trail loop winds its way around the woodland area dominated by the cedars, many of them fallen after a relatively recent wind storm, but all utterly awe inspiring. I have never before been to such a magnificent forest.

The trees are tall and thick, but this is only part of the story: the branches are covered in hanging lace-work of moss and lichen, fungi pain the fallen logs in intricate patterns, the open and decomposing wood of the older logs takes all the shades from muted brick red to fire-like gold and rotten brown. The huge variety of greens, together with the plethora of surface textures produce an outstandingly rich sensory experience, despite the fact that in some ways it's almost monochromatic: everything is a shade of green or brown, and yet everything is clear and striking. The rain that is falling makes for a fitting background and in a swampy area a melange of rotting logs and freshly growing new shrubs and leaves create yet another symphony of greens. We can just make the Cameron Lake through the foliage, shrouded in mist, with the mountains faintly visible in the cloud.

It's no wonder Canadians adopted the word "awesome" so readily to express all things good and beautiful: after all Canada is a rich source of awe inspiring sights and experiences.

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