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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 very broad 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. As well, 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.

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

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.

While There

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 Sherwood Falls may be on private land. I’ve been told that signs may be going up too. If this is the case, please respect the signs!

Hole in the Wall waterfall - one of the many hidden gems on Vancouver Island.
Sherwood Falls – a waterfall found further along Rogers Creek

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 heading towards Qualicum Beach. As this gem is becoming more and more known, less and 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. Obviously 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 wheel-chair friendly. It has a fairly 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. The trail continues on for those who wish to go further (as mentioned above).

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

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. Or you can sit and enjoy the view, swim in the many pools, or fish for salmon in the river.

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 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.

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 ’30s and ’40s 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’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) - one of the many hidden gems of Vancouver 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.

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 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 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
A replica petroglyph found at Petroglyph Park

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, 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.

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

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 for you to use which overlooks the valley. 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.

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’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 mining artifacts - one of many hidden gems of Vancouver Island.

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 greet you when you park.

Morden Colliery neighbour

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.

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 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 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 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”) 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.

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