Vancouver Island is blessed with an abundance of waterfalls. So many, in fact, I happen to hear about another one almost weekly. While I hope to eventually write about them all, this post will showcase the hidden waterfalls between Parksville and Courtenay.
This means the following article will not highlight the more commons ones, such as Englishman River Falls and Little Qualicum Falls. If you wish to read about those two, please visit our post entitled ‘Natural Wonders of Oceanside‘.
Even if the waterfalls aren’t as spectacular (large) as the ones that people tend to flock to the most, (like the two mentioned above) often when the falls are a bit off the beaten track it makes them ever more alluring. And the extra bit of effort is always most definitely worth it!
Difficulty: Easy 1 km trail
The name of this Falls is a bit misleading, for one expects to see three separate waterfalls, which is not the case. Regardless, there are definitely two beauties.
The first waterfall is located off to your left, on a beaten trail that leads down a hill. It has a series of small drops and natural rock ledges perfect for sitting on. I actually enjoyed this area more than the upper Falls, so don’t bypass this trail!
After spending some time at the lower falls, head back up the hill and continue on the trail to your left.
The upper falls has a double drop, so I am wondering if this is why the area is called ‘Triple Falls’!?
No matter the reason for the name, the short walk (and long drive) out to this spot in Errington is worth it!
There is a series of lefts and rights, so follow along closely.
- From the Alberni Hwy (Hwy 4A), turn onto Bellevue Road.
- Then take a right onto Ruffles
- After a 90° turn, Ruffles becomes Leffler
- From Leffler, turn left on Middlegate Road
- Turn right on Sierra Road, which ends in a gravel culdesac.
- There will be a narrow trail that leads out from this culdesac.
- Follow the narrow trail until it joins a wider track
- Keep to your far right when the wider track splits
- You will be entering a Private Property area and pass a small building on your right-hand side
- Continue walking down the hill for 10 – 15 minutes to the first set of falls (which, as mentioned above, is off a trail to your left)
One of the many waterfalls of Nile Creek
Location: Bowser area
Difficulty: This approximately 5 km trail is well marked and a lot of work has been put into trail maintenance, but it’s still a challenge. The trail is often very muddy, has some single log bridges and some short steep sections. It takes approximately 3 – 4 hours return. Hardy shoes, hiking poles, water and snacks are recommended.
The trail follows alongside Nile Creek the entire way, and you will walk through a beautiful forest with a great variety of trees. The trail is mostly single track with not much elevation until you reach the waterfalls.
At around the 45-minute mark, you will be greeted by waterfall after waterfall (and beautiful pools) to reward you until the end. In fact, there is a total of 10 – 12 waterfalls to view along the way! (I’ve heard there are 12, but we only found 10 of them).
In order to find all of the waterfalls, you need to follow every trail that leads off the main track. If you listen while you walk, you can hear the falls, but you won’t necessarily see them. So use your senses and follow your ears. And keep watch for the alternate trails that keep veering off to your left.
A beautiful pool on Nile Creek with a peek-a-boo view of a small waterfall behind the log
Finding the trailhead to the waterfalls of Nile Creek is a bit tricky, and requires you to park your vehicle on the Inland Island Hwy.
Head northbound towards Courtenay. After you pass the Horne Lake Exit, you will cross over two bridges (overpasses of sorts). The next one should be Nile Creek bridge. Park on the north end of the bridge (there’s a bit of a wide spot) and find the trail head on your right-hand side. Follow it back around and under the overpass. Continue on the trail until you reach the first waterfall (approximately 45 minutes).
If you are heading southbound, park on the north side of the bridge and follow a partially overgrown gated access road until it meets up with the main trail.
Trent River Falls
Location: Royston area
Difficulty: This is a very short trail (approximately 10 minutes to the falls), but well worth it if you are already in the area. The narrow trail follows a bit of a ridge, and isn’t very well maintained. However, someone was kind enough to mark the trail with orange flag tape, so if in doubt, follow the tape until you reach the waterfall. The descent down to the river is also very steep, but doable with caution and sturdy footwear. There are ropes if you need them.
If you prefer not to descend down to the river bed, you can still get a great view of the waterfall. About 1/4 of the way down the roped section (the easiest part), hang a right on the trodden path. You will discover a great vantage point that is perfect for taking pictures of the waterfall.
This steep section of the trail is extremely slippery when wet, so please use extra caution.
This image shows a bit of the roped trail
- You will be looking for the Trent River Bridge, which is located on the Inland Island Highway, on your way to or from Courtenay.
- This trail also requires you to park your vehicle on the highway.
If you are heading northbound, park on the north side of the highway right after the bridge. Approximately 40 meters up you will see a wider rough road (trail) that leads into a forested area.
If you are heading southbound, there will be a large gravel pull-out area off the highway on the north side of the Trent River bridge. You will follow the path that leads under the overpass. From there, follow the orange flag tape.
Location: Courtenay area
Difficulty: This is a steep, but short trail that leads down to a dramatic gorge with a raging waterfall.
The Medicine Bowls consist of three main pools which are part of the Browns River. Although the area is sometimes frequented by those looking for secluded places to swim, swimming in these pools is not advised. At the start of the trailhead, there is a river stone memorial plaque commemorating two tragic deaths that occurred in the area. The plaque also reads: “These Waters Can Rise Quickly And Unexpectedly; Beware Of Dangerous Undercurrents.”
And not only can the water conditions be lethal here, but the rocks and paths that intersect the area around the Medicine Bowls are unmarked, slippery, and very steep. So please be careful when visiting!
Getting to the start of the trailhead can be quite tricky.
It’s located off of Forbidden Plateau Road on a dirt track called Medicine Bowl Road.
Just before Forbidden Plateau Road makes a sharp left up the hill, you will notice a dirt road straight ahead. This is the one you need to take (it should be labelled Medicine Bowl Road). Once you are on Medicine Bowl Road, it’s still a good 1.5 km’s to the trailhead, and the road is less than ideal for most vehicles. There are extremely large potholes, and the “road” (if you can even call it that) becomes very narrow.
If you don’t think your vehicle (or you!) can handle this type of terrain, there are two parking spot options for you.
- You can park your vehicle on the wide spot located on Forbidden Plateau Road (just before the entrance to Medicine Bowl Road), and walk the 1.5 km’s to the trailhead.
- You can come part way with your vehicle, as the first portion of the dirt road isn’t as bad as the last. About half-way down the road, there is a large cleared area that would be a good place to park if you don’t wish to travel any further. It’s really not that far from this spot to the trailhead.
If you prevail and drive all the way through, you will come to a very large area, much like a culdesac (but with no houses). Park near the memorial plaque (mentioned above) and you will see the trail that leads down to the Medicine Bowls.
Location: Courtenay area
Difficulty: This trail is a leisurely 600-meter stroll to the Falls.
This waterfall is by no means hidden, but it’s on the way to the Medicine Bowls, and totally worth the stop!
The waterfall is part of the Puntledge River and is a popular spot year round. From Fall through to Spring the waters rage through this area, much to the delight of white water enthusiasts. The Summer months bring calmer glacial waters and a great place to swim.
Something of importance to note is the Puntledge River is a hydroelectric spillway. This means that the levels are manually regulated. So if you hear a siren going off, the water level is rising, and you must evacuate immediately!
The park surrounding the Falls has designated trails for pedestrians, mountain bikers, and horses. And you might be happy to know that it’s a leash-optional area for your dog!
As mentioned, Nymph Falls is also located on Forbidden Plateau Road. Take the Piercy Road connector (exit 127) north of Courtenay, from the Inland Island Highway. Turn onto Forbidden Plateau Road, and follow the Nymph Falls Park signs to the parking area. The Park entrance is located just before the hatchery.
So there you go! I hope you enjoy these hidden waterfalls between Parksville and Courtenay. There is actually one more (and quite possibly two) that I just recently heard about, but I haven’t had a chance to explore them yet. If, and when I do, I will add them to this list.
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