Hidden Gems of Vancouver Island

I’ve been on a mission to discover the hidden gems of Vancouver Island. Due to the fact I live in the area of Parksville, I limited my search (this time around) to a broad circumference around my location. I have put together the following list to showcase some of the truly unique finds in the area.

Some require a bit of a walk/hike to get there, while others you can pretty much just park and explore. A few of the trails and/or roads leading to the hidden gems are unmarked and require some good navigational skills, so please try to follow the directions given.

My hope is that you will utilize this list to get out there and see a part of Vancouver Island that is a little bit off the beaten path.

The E-Book

If you like what you read here, make sure to check out our Hidden Gems E-Book. It’s full of 14 MORE hidden gems including a spectacular bonus gem.

Click on the e-book cover below, for more information:

Hidden Gems of Vancouver Island

Hole in the Wall - one of the many hidden gems of Vancouver Island.

#1 Hole in the Wall – Port Alberni

Just off the highway before you enter the town of Port Alberni, there is a historic landmark one should see. Prior to the 1967 amalgamation of Port Alberni, this area served as a shortcut for the water supply to the town. The hole was blasted through a massive wall of volcanic shale and served as the town’s water reservoir. Today there isn’t much left to indicate that this landmark served any purpose, but it does leave us with a truly unique structure to marvel at.

If you continue along Roger Creek, you will also come to an area of full of man-made stone creations, otherwise known as Inuksuk. And for those of you who just can’t get enough of waterfalls, if you follow the trail back up the hill (the way you came), instead of turning right to go back to your vehicle, turn left and follow the trail until you hear more rushing water (about another 15 minute walk). There you will find a roped trail that leads you down to another shoreline where you will be able to view the stunning waterfall pictured below (Sherwood Falls).

UPDATE  (As of June 15, 2017): I have recently learned that the trail leading up to the Falls featured below is on private land. Signs will be going up soon. Please respect the signs!!

Hole in the Wall waterfall - one of the many hidden gems on Vancouver Island.

Getting There:

The entrance to the trail for the Hole in the Wall is unmarked, but it is across the highway from Coombs Country Candy. If there is room you can park in the small pullout on the main highway, and the trail head will be immediately to your right. Otherwise, you can park in the gravel parking lot beside Coombs Country Candy and walk across the highway to the start of the trail (please be careful when crossing the highway!!). Once you get down the first short incline (from the highway) there is a small sign that indicates “Hole in the Wall”. Continue to follow the signs to find your way.

Wheelchair / Stroller Accessible?: The Hole in the Wall trail is not stroller or wheel-chair friendly. It has a fairly steep terrain with many small creek beds you must maneuver around.

Dog Friendly?: We didn’t notice any signs about keeping your dog on a leash, so I will leave that discretion up to you.

Length of Trail: It takes approximately 15 minutes to get to the Hole in the Wall. The trail continues on for those who wish to go further (as mentioned above), and I encourage you to do so!

Top Bridge - one of the many hidden gems found on Vancouver Island

#2 – Top Bridge (Parksville)

Top Bridge is one of my favourite areas to explore (mostly due to the fact it is so easily accessible from my house).  This magnificent suspension bridge spans the beautiful Englishman River and connects many fantastic walking and biking trails. Sit and enjoy the view, swim in the many pools, fish for salmon in the river, or hike, walk or bike the many trails surrounding this beautiful structure.

Top Bridge Trails - one of the many hidden gems of Vancouver Island

Getting There:

Top Bridge Regional Trail has several access points. If you are just interested in viewing the suspension bridge, the quickest access point is at the end of Chattell Road. Head just past the truck scales on Highway 19A, and continue past the four-way stop which puts you onto Kaye Road. Turn right onto Chattell Road and continue to the end. You will see the suspension bridge from the large parking area.

If you are up for a bit more of a walk there are four other entry points. You can catch the trail at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, anywhere along Resort Way, at Industrial Way and Tuan Rd (one block inland from Hwy 19A), or from the end of Allsbrook Rd (off Bellevue Rd, off Hwy 4A).

Wheelchair / Stroller Accessible?: If you were to park at the first access point (at the end of Chattell Road) then yes, the Top Bridge Suspension Bridge is definitely wheelchair and stroller accessible. However, due to the stairs and steep incline, many of the trails surrounding the bridge are not.

Dog Friendly?: Top Bridge is a regional park, so dogs must stay on leash at all times.

Length of Trail: As mentioned above, parking at the end of Chattell road puts you right at the bridge. If you were to walk in from any of the other access points you would be looking at a 5 km walk each way.

Shack Island - one of the many hidden gems of Vancouver Island.

#3 – Shack Island – North Nanaimo

A unique place to beach comb is Shack Island. This remote little island is accessible by boat from Nanaimo, or by foot from Pipers Lagoon when the tide is out.  Shack Island is owned by the municipality, but the cabins on the island are all privately owned.

The “shacks” were built in the 30’s and 40’s by local fishermen as holiday cabins, and have been passed down through families over the years. Although they look like they are uninhabited, they are still used today as summer cabins, and lovingly maintained by the families who own them. So if you do venture here, please be respectful of the properties.

Pipers Park - getting to Shack Island

Getting There:

Pipers Lagoon can be reached by two entry points. The one closest to Shack Island is at the end of Lagoon Drive (off Hammond Bay Road). For a longer walk through Pipers Lagoon, park in the parking lot at the end of Place road (your first right off of Lagoon Drive).  Remember, though, Shack Island is only accessible when the tide is out, so don’t forget to check the tide schedule before trying to venture there.

Wheelchair / Stroller Friendly?: Unfortunately no. The beach around Shack Island is very rocky, and due to the fact it is covered in water the majority of the time, it is also very mucky.

Dog-Friendly?: When at Pipers Lagoon, dogs must remain on a leash at all times. Shack Island has resident Canadian geese, so it is advised to keep dogs on a leash while scouring the island as well.

Length of Trail: The trail from the start of Pipers Lagoon (off Place Road) to the strip of land between it and Shack Island takes approximately 15 minutes to walk. If the tide is out, expect another 5 – 10 minute walk to Shack Island.

Extension Ridge (AKA: The Abyss) - one of the many hidden gems of Vancouver Island.

#4 – Extension Ridge (AKA: The Abyss) – South Nanaimo

Extension Ridge is known locally as ‘The Abyss’ because of a 16″ earthquake fissure found there. Although not much is known about this large crack in the earth, there is speculation that it could be a result of a collapsed mine tunnel that was triggered by an earthquake. To date there is no information about how deep the crack is.

Although there has been significant logging done near the first part of the trail, there are still many beautiful spots to see. If you continue on past The Abyss, you will walk through an abundance of Arbutus trees. Keep your eye out for other small fissures, as well as the many wooden bridges, platforms, and playgrounds of sorts used by the mountain bikers who frequent the area.

Extension Ridge trail - one of many hidden gems of Vancouver Island

Getting There: 

The trailhead can be found on Harewood Mines Road. There is a small parking area under the power lines, and a large sign to let you know you have arrived at Extension Ridge. Head up the trail (under the power lines) for approximately 100 meters, and climb the stairs. Keeping right, continue to follow the trail for approximately 15 minutes to reach the earthquake fissure. You will pass a clear-cut on your left-hand side. There are also a few rocks to scale along the trail (not difficult, unless wet and slippery).

Wheelchair / Stroller Accessible?: The Extension Ridge trail is fairly steep, and as mentioned there are a few rocks to scale before you reach The Abyss, so this particular trail is not stroller or wheelchair friendly.

Dog Friendly?: The Extension Ridge trail is part of the Trans Canada Trail, as well as a Regional District of Nanaimo trail, so it is recommended that dogs stay on a leash.

Length of Trail: It only takes approximately 15 minutes to get to The Abyss, but the trail continues on for those that wish to go further.

Petroglyph Park - one of many hidden gems of Vancouver Island

This one is a replica

#5 – Petroglyph Park – South Nanaimo

Petroglyph Provincial Park in south Nanaimo has the most concentrated collection of rock art on Vancouver Island created by previous generations.  A clearly marked trail will lead you through the park to view the petroglyphs. There are information boards that offer details about the history of the area, and help to decipher the petroglyphs. If you bring a large piece of paper with you, visitors can also make their own petroglyph rubbings as a souvenir using the replicas near the beginning of the trail. The real petroglyphs are scattered around the small park and are often hard to see. The highest concentration is near the end of the short paved trail, but again, you really have to search for them. Many are moss covered, as seen in the below picture.

Petroglyph Park carving - one of the many hidden gems found on Vancouver Island.

Getting There:

Petroglyph Provincial Park is found off Highway #1 in South Nanaimo. Access to the park is via a pull-off from Hwy 1. Watch for signs. There is a large parking area at the trailhead.

Wheelchair / Stroller Accessible?: Yes! There is a well-maintained trail in the park, some of which is paved, and it is a very short walk.

Dog Friendly?: There are no signs saying you can’t bring your dog, but please stay on the marked trails to protect the petroglyphs. And as always, please pick up after your dog. You might want to note, however, that there are no garbage cans available at this park.

Length of Trail: The entire trail is less than a 5 minute walk. You spend more time looking and searching than you do walking.

Arboretum in South Nanaimo. One of many hidden gems of Vancouver Island.

#6 – The Arboretum – South Nanaimo (near the Duke Point ferry terminal)

The H.R. MacMillan Grant Ainscough Arboretum is an unofficial park owned by the Regional District of Nanaimo.  This 2.6-hectare site used to attract university tour groups from across the province, who wanted to study the behaviour and growth of exotic trees. What’s left is 150 species of trees that are now maintained and monitored by the Regional District, as well as volunteers. Each unique species of tree has an interpretive sign giving details of its origin. This relatively unknown gem is a beautiful spot for a picnic. There is a very nice picnic bench overlooking the valley for you to use, or bring a blanket and stretch out under the shade of the trees.

Arboretum sign

Getting There:

From Highway 1 in South Nanaimo, take the Duke Point highway. Follow the signs to Jack Point & Biggs Park, by turning right off the Duke Point Highway at Maughan Road.  Turn right onto Phoenix Way, and immediately turn right again. You will see a yellow gate and the sign (shown above).  If the gate is open when you arrive there is a small parking lot to your right. If not, park somewhere near the gate (I was the only vehicle around when I went, so it is not a busy spot).

Wheelchair / Stroller Accessible?: The entire area is grassy (there are no designated paths), so I would suggest something with good wheels. If the gate is closed, however (as it was the day I went to take the pictures), then a wheelchair and/or stroller may not fit through the walking entrance.

Dog-Friendly?: The Arboretum is owned by the Regional District of Nanaimo, and they advise to always keep dogs on a leash. There was not another soul around the day I went, and it is not a very well-known spot, so I will leave that up to your discretion. Please note, though, that there are no garbage cans nor poop bags available. Regardless, if you are bringing a dog, please clean up after it so the rest of us can enjoy the beautiful surroundings!

Length of Trail: The picnic bench can be found to the right of the park, while the majority of the trees are to the left. There are no designated walking trails. It is just a beautiful grassy area full of unique trees.

Morden Colliery mining artifacts - one of many hidden gems of Vancouver Island.

#7 – Mining artifacts at Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park (South Nanaimo / Cedar area)

At only 4 hectares this small Provincial Park offers a unique glimpse into the world of mining. In 1912 there was a working coal mine at this very spot. What remains today, behind the safety of a fence, is the only coal tipple left on Vancouver Island.  The large mining artifacts are visible right from the parking lot. There is a short trail to the left of the large structures called the ‘mining trail’ that goes around the artifacts.  The trail to the right leads down to the Nanaimo River.

Morden Colliery neighbour

If you are lucky, the friendly neighbours of Morden Colliery Provincial Park will come out for a visit!

Getting There:

Just south of the Duke Point ferry turn off – access to the parking lot is at the end of Morden Road (off Hwy 1).

Wheelchair / Stroller Accessible?: The mining artifacts can be seen from the parking area, so yes, this area is definitely stroller and/or wheelchair accessible. The trail that leads down to the Nanaimo River is as well.

Dog-Friendly?: This is a Provincial Park, so dogs must be on a leash at all times.

Length of Trail: As mentioned above, the structures are visible from the parking lot, but if you wanted to continue, the trail that leads down to the river is 1.2 km.

Haslam Creek Suspension Bridge - one of the many hidden gems on Vancouver Island.

#8 – Haslam Creek Suspension Bridge – South Nanaimo (near the Nanaimo Airport)

The Haslam Creek Suspension Bridge is part of the Trans Canada Trail, but lucky for us you don’t need to walk the entire trail to experience this really cool feature! The trail leading to the bridge is a nice easy, beautiful walk. In fact, the only tricky part about finding the bridge is the drive getting there.

Haslam Creek Suspension Bridge - one of the many hidden gems of Vancouver Island.

Getting There:

As mentioned, this part can be tricky, so follow along closely. The first step is to head to the Nanaimo airport. Turn onto Timberlands Road. Keep following Timberlands Road past Rondalyn Resort, which will put you on a gravel logging road. You will come to a gate that says “Do Not Enter”. Don’t second guess yourself, and keep going past that sign! You will enter into what looks like a gravel pit with a bunch of equipment and vehicles. Take the second right (the first right will be set back a bit just after the fenced-in area). Follow along the fence line until you see a small trail marker for the Trans Canada Trail. (If you aren’t following a fence line then you are on the wrong gravel road).  There is no designated parking area, so just pull your vehicle off to the side of the gravel road.

IMPORTANT INFO: The gate that you must cross through (the one that says “Do Not Enter”) closes at 6:00 PM. Any vehicle that is in the area after 6:00 PM will be locked inside!!

Wheelchair / Stroller Accessible?: The trail is very well maintained and flat, however there are a few large rocks and tree roots along the way. So my suggestion is to use something with big wheels.

Dog Friendly?: Yes, but again there are no garbage cans available for cleaning up after your dog.

Length: The trail that leads to the suspension bridge is approximately 1.2 km. Once you cross the bridge you can continue walking for many hours towards Spruston Road.

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How many of these hidden gems have you explored?

Has this list encouraged you to get out and find the hidden gems of Vancouver Island?

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

 

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About the Author

on Jun 01, 2016

Comments (50)

  • Christina

    Awesome suggestions- thanks for sharing!

    • Kim Parcher

      Thank you, Christina! I’m so glad you found this article useful.

  • Niki Wright

    Hi Kim, Thanks for posting this little gem of information. My husband and I (in Ontario) are coming to Van Is and will be in Nanaimo for a couple days visiting family – we will definitely look into your suggestions. Part of the journey may include Tofino. Do you have any suggestions of places to stay (mid-range) for a 50’s something outdoorsy chilled out couple? My aunt suggested the Juan De Fuca Marine trail area too. Any suggestions are welcome. Thanks for the printable version of the hidden gems. It’s very helpful!

    • Kim

      You’re welcome! This post will definitely keep you busy while you are here. I also have articles about the things not to miss while in Nanaimo, while on the West Coast, as well as on the drive from Nanaimo to the West Coast. (I can send them out to you if you wish, or you can search for them in the search bar on the website). And yes, I do have accommodation recommendations for Tofino (and Ucluelet). Here is the link for the Tofino article: Top Tofino Accommodations Please let me know if you have any further questions, and I will be happy to help!

  • Jeanette Baumel

    THANK YOU! I also shared your gem. What were your grandparents name? Or, did I miss that part.

    • Kim

      Thank you for the share, Jeanette! I’m not sure if the grandparent comment was meant for me, but I didn’t grow up on Vancouver Island, so they don’t have any connections here.

  • Beth Hayes

    Hello. I really enjoyed this post and found it very informative. Because I think my readers will enjoy it too, I’ve included a link to your post and a photo in my most recent blog post. I hope this is okay with you. If not, please let me know and I’ll take it down. Thanks.

    • Kim

      Hi Beth, that is perfectly fine. I am glad you enjoyed it!

  • Tricia Curry

    GREAT site , thanks for All the info !!

    • Kim

      Thank you so much Tricia!

  • Brittany Grozell

    A cool hike to check out is Nile Creek in Bowser. It leads you up to a waterfall and whoever has been up-keeping the trail has turned fallen logs into ladders and made stump stepping stones. It’s a neat one to do. You can start the trail from the new island hwy or down on the old island hwy, depending on how long you want to hike for.

    • Kim

      Awesome! Thanks so much, Brittany. I will be adding this one to my list of things to see and do.

  • Richard Stephens

    I used to live on millstone street in nanaimo and there was a animal sanctuary right behind me

    • Kim

      Neat! It definitely isn’t there anymore, but thank you for the information.

  • Bart Bee

    Definitely keep your dog leashed in the vicinity of The Abyss. Wide enough and deep enough to claim your furry kid forever. 😒

    • Kim

      Yes, very true. Our big lab didn’t want to go anywhere near the crack, but for those dogs that are a bit more curious and/or little, keeping them on leash is definitely a great idea!

    • Carew Martin

      If your dog is stupid enough to fall into the abyss you should probably just chalk it up to Darwin cleaning up the gene pool.

      • Kim

        Ha! Well, that is one way to look at it. But I guess better safe than sorry.

  • Ryan Jonnson

    Where’s the Sooke Potholes?

  • Lindsay Seaman

    Super idea. I can’t wait to explore! Thanks!
    PS You might enjoy our family website. Lots of writing by local women. Eartheasy.com

    • Kim

      Thank you Lindsay! I am so glad it gave you the inspiration to explore! I will definitely check out your family website.

  • Chris Grant

    Re: Morden Colliery Historic Provincial Park – In the late 1800s my family moved from Nova Scotia to Nanamio to pursue coal mining. In the 1950s, my dad took me to a hillside location (not too far from Nanaimo itself) to show me where the old family dwelling was located. I don’t recall seeing the Morden Colliery at that time so I’m wondering what other mining sites might he have taken me to that might still be accessible these days for further discovery and investigation. Any ideas? Thank you very much. Chris Grant

    • Kim

      I am really not too sure. I haven’t come across any other mining sites, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Hopefully someone else reading this might have a better idea and let us know!

      • Isabel Bunning

        In the 1950’s the South Wellington mine was still operating. It was located across the highway from Morden Road. There were two slag heaps that are now covered with lush vegetation…unless you were a local you could easily miss them.

      • Kim

        Thank you so much for the information Isabel!

    • Lynnea

      Leech town (not sure of spelling) or Mt Sicker perhaps? There is a series of books published in the 80’s called British Columbia Ghost Town Series. There is one that is about Vancouver Island. Author is T.W. Paterson.

      • Kim

        Thank you for the information Lynnea. I realize you are replying to Chris, but I too will seek out that book!

  • Wonderful blog – thanks for writing it! We will be sharing this on our social media channels this weekend. Keep up the great work πŸ™‚

    • Kim

      Thank you so much! I appreciate the shares too!

      • May

        You are the best Tu for sharing

      • Kim

        It’s our pleasure! We are glad that you enjoy the read. Hopefully it inspires you to get out and explore.

  • Central Island

    Haslam road suspension bridge just a FYI the gate at the start of the road closes at 6PM, they will lock anyone in there now.

    • Kim

      Right! I knew that and forgot to mention that detail. Thank you, I will update the article with the information.

  • Eden

    You need to come farther north, there are many cool things to see and do in the Comox Valley and Campbell River. Nymph Falls, the Medicine Bowls, Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park, Elk Falls Suspension Bridge, Cumberland…

    • Kim

      I totally agree! It is my Summer mission to go further north. There are a ton of things I want to see and do up there.

      • Kristin Houvenaeghel

        If you do you will have to see Kye Bay Beach. But don’t write about it, lol, or too many people will find out about my favourite place in the whole world!

      • Kim

        Ooh, I am intrigued! Thank you for the tip!

  • North Island

    The Wacky Woods is basically just a Garbage dump now. In the Fall/Winter it floods out too.

    • Kim

      Oh, I am sorry you feel that way. We were just up there this week and I still thought it was pretty neat. Sure the ‘gallery’ is getting a little tired, but the messages the artist was/is trying to convey is still intact. Yes, I can imagine, though, that it would get pretty mucky in the winter.

      • Stephen Harvey

        Good answer, Kim. George Sawchuck’s intent was that his art would fade into the surroundings eventually. I still love the place and go quite often. As the old saying goes: “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”
        Nice blog, by the way.
        ps. as my partner points out, we do live in a rainforest, after all!

      • Kim

        Thanks so much Stephen. I realize Sawchuck’s art is not for everyone, but I still find it a fascinating place to explore.

  • Deidra

    Growing up my grandparents lived on Jungle pot Road in Nanaimo. We used to walk from their back yard to what we called “the earthquake hole” you could actually walk down underneath the ground and there were trees and creeks and logs. Could this be the same area as Extension Ridge?

    • Kim

      Hmmm, I am not too sure. Extension Ridge is off of Harewood Mines Road, so I guess it depends on where on Jingle Pot!? It seems unlikely, but you never know! That is a great memory, though. Thank you for sharing.

      • Helen

        Just curious….Where on Jinglepot did your Grandparents live? I’d love to check out an earthquake hole.

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