The following article showcasing some hidden gems of Vancouver Island is where this website all began. My family and I love exploring local treasures and secret spots, and I love writing about them and sharing the content with others.
This particular article shares those hidden gems found in and around the area of Parksville (in a vast circumference). It was first written in 2016 and has since exploded with social media shares. This means that some of the hidden gems mentioned in this post are no longer that hidden. With that being said, they are still truly unique areas to explore.
Some of the locations mentioned require a bit of a walk or hike to get there, while others, you can pretty much just park and view. A few of the trails and roads leading to the hidden gems are unmarked and require good navigational skills. So please try to follow the directions given.
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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. However, 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 full of man-made stone creations, otherwise known as Inuksuk or cairns.
The entrance to the trail for the hole in the Wall is unmarked, but it is across the highway from Coombs Country Candy. You can park in the small pullout on the main highway heading towards Qualicum Beach if there is room. As this gem is becoming more known, less parking is available here.
Otherwise, park in the gravel parking lot beside Coombs Country Candy and walk across the highway to the start of the trail. This requires you to walk (or run) across a very busy highway, so not ideal. If this is your plan, please be careful!!
Once you get down the first short incline of the dirt bank alongside the highway, you should see 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 wheelchair-friendly. It has a reasonably steep terrain with many small creek beds you must manoeuvre 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.
Top Bridge – Parksville
Top Bridge is one of my favourite areas to explore (primarily 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. Or you can sit and enjoy the view, swim in the many pools, or fish for salmon in the river.
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 park at the first access point (at the end of Chattell Road), then yes, the Top Bridge Suspension Bridge is 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 – 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. The municipality owns shack Island, but the cabins on the island are all privately owned.
The “shacks” were built in the ’30s and ’40s by local fishermen as holiday cabins and have been passed down through families over the years. Although they look uninhabited, they are still used today as summer cabins and are lovingly maintained by the families who own them. So if you do venture here, please be respectful of the properties.
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’s covered in water the majority of the time, it’s 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 separating the lagoon 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) – 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. Further along, you will also come to a fairy circle and labyrinth (click on the Abyss link above for more details).
The trailhead can be found on Harewood Mines Road. A small parking area under the power lines and a large sign 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 path for about 2 km 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 pretty 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 and 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 for those that wish to go further.
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 area’s history and help decipher the petroglyphs.
If you bring a large piece of paper with you, visitors can also make petroglyph rubbings as a souvenir using the replicas near the beginning of the trail.
The actual 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 have to search for them. Many are moss-covered, as seen in the below picture.
Petroglyph Provincial Park is found off Highway #1 in South Nanaimo, near Chase River. Access to the park is via a pull-off from Hwy 1. Watch for signs along the highway. 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.
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 was 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 and 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 lovely picnic bench for you to use, which overlooks the valley. Or, bring a blanket and stretch out under the shade of the trees.
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 a 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.
Wheelchair / Stroller Accessible?
The entire area is grassy (there are no designated paths), so I suggest something with good wheels. However, if the gate is closed (as it was the day I went to take the pictures), then a wheelchair and stroller may not fit through the walking entrance.
Dog-Friendly?: The Arboretum is owned by the Regional District of Nanaimo, and they advise always to keep dogs on a leash. There was not another soul around the day I went, and it’s 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 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. This large mining artifact is visible right from the parking lot.
There is also a short trail to the left of the large structure called the ‘mining trail’ that goes around the tipple. The trail to the right leads down to the Nanaimo River. (Which is another lovely walk, if you are so inclined).
If you are lucky, the friendly neighbours of Morden Colliery Provincial Park will come to greet you when you park.
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 are seen from the parking area, so yes, this area is 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 want to continue, the trail that leads down to the river is 1.2 km.
Haslam Creek Suspension Bridge – South Nanaimo (near the Nanaimo Airport)
The Haslam Creek Suspension Bridge is part of the Trans Canada Trail. Thankfully, you don’t need to walk the entire trail to experience this cool feature! The trail leading to the bridge is a nice easy, beautiful walk. The only tricky part about finding the bridge is the drive getting there.
As mentioned, this part can be tricky, so follow along closely.
The first step is to head towards 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 pull your vehicle off to the side of the gravel road.
IMPORTANT INFO: The gate you must cross through (the one that says “Do Not Enter”) does close! Any vehicle that is in the area after the time stated will be locked inside!! So please obey the sign.
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.
How many of these hidden gems of Vancouver Island have you explored?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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Great info . I am in Ontario and will be in Nanaimo for the month of March to enjoy an early spring. I love to walk so will check out the trails . Also enjoy live theatre , concerts if available .
Wonderful! Well, my blog will give you a ton of ideas of places to go while you are here. As for theatre, Nanaimo has the Port theatre, which often has something going on…but I highly recommend checking out the Chemainus theatre and their website. They always put on the most spectacular plays.
Lynnea. Leechtown. Is a placer And Hard rock gold and Silver mining town. It isn’t fully abandoned . I used to live there. There is another, Gold and Silver mining town, Called Boulder City. Near Boulder Mountain. Mining, is still going on there. If if you have any questions, is be glad to answer them!!!
Port Alberni and Sproat lake have some really great things. The petroglyphs on the lake are breathtaking. There are also so many great trails and beaches off of Tofino. Long beach is breathtaking. We live on Sproat and suggest bringing, or renting a boat. the lake is completely amazing.
We have plans to explore Sproat Lake by boat this summer. Can’t wait!
Awesome suggestions- thanks for sharing!
Thank you, Christina! I’m so glad you found this article useful.
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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!
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!
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THANK YOU! I also shared your gem. What were your grandparents name? Or, did I miss that part.
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.
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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.
Hi Beth, that is perfectly fine. I am glad you enjoyed it!
GREAT site , thanks for All the info !!
Thank you so much Tricia!
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.
Awesome! Thanks so much, Brittany. I will be adding this one to my list of things to see and do.
I used to live on millstone street in nanaimo and there was a animal sanctuary right behind me
Neat! It definitely isn’t there anymore, but thank you for the information.
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Definitely keep your dog leashed in the vicinity of The Abyss. Wide enough and deep enough to claim your furry kid forever. ????
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!
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.
Ha! Well, that is one way to look at it. But I guess better safe than sorry.
Where’s the Sooke Potholes?
For this particular post I stayed in the Central Vancouver Island area, in particular the areas around Port Alberni, Parksville, and Nanaimo. The Sooke Potholes are indeed amazing, and they have a brief mention in this post: http://www.vancouverislandview.com/6-simple-steps-to-enjoying-a-romantic-getaway-on-vancouver-island/ But I am sure they will get mentioned again in more detail in a future post. So stay tuned!
Super idea. I can’t wait to explore! Thanks!
PS You might enjoy our family website. Lots of writing by local women. Eartheasy.com
Thank you Lindsay! I am so glad it gave you the inspiration to explore! I will definitely check out your family website.
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
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!
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.
Thank you so much for the information Isabel!
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.
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 🙂
Thank you so much! I appreciate the shares too!
You are the best Tu for sharing
It’s our pleasure! We are glad that you enjoy the read. Hopefully it inspires you to get out and explore.
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.
Right! I knew that and forgot to mention that detail. Thank you, I will update the article with the information.
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…
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.
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!
Ooh, I am intrigued! Thank you for the tip!
The Wacky Woods is basically just a Garbage dump now. In the Fall/Winter it floods out too.
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.
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!
Thanks so much Stephen. I realize Sawchuck’s art is not for everyone, but I still find it a fascinating place to explore.
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?
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.
Just curious….Where on Jinglepot did your Grandparents live? I’d love to check out an earthquake hole.