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Hiking the Dark Side has been on my list of places to go for quite some time. The kids even waited in anticipation, if only for the lure of its name (they figured it must have something to do with Star Wars).

This past weekend we finally had a chance to get down to South Nanaimo to check off this epic hike.  And even though Stormtroopers and Ewoks weren’t lurking in the bushes, the hike was everything we expected and more.

The beautiful Nanaimo River. Vancouver Island View

The Dark Side

The hike starts off at a beautiful spot on the Nanaimo River near Cassidy.

On both sides of this section of the river, you will find steep rock cliffs, which are frequented by climbers. The areas are aptly named for their location. The ‘Light Side’, is situated on the north side of the river and receives more sun. While the ‘Dark Side’ is named for the lack of sun it receives and is located on the south side of the river.

The trail follows the south side of the river upstream, in a meandering sort of way.

You walk upon a high cliff with spectacular views of the flowing water below you. And then when the trail leads down into a canyon, the real fun begins!

The Dark Side is an epic trail in South Nanaimo that one must partake in while in the area.

The Trail

The trail is quite short (only about 1 km), but the area is so full of interesting things that you can literally explore for hours.

There are large boulders that need to be passed under and over, two short bridges to cross, narrow paths to meander, and ladders to climb.

The area you arrive at after you descend the first ladder (shown above) is jaw-dropping.  The kids thought it looked like something out of Jurassic Park. You wind up being in the middle of towering sandstone cliffs, that are surrounded by lush vegetation (obviously the vegetation would look a little different if it were another season).

As you walk through this narrow canyon, make sure to look up. The rock faces are simply incredible!

If you are a climber you might be interested to know that there are several areas where clips have already been placed. It’s also a great area for caving. We spotted several caves that would be amazing to explore, one of which already has a rope ready to descend.

The Dark Side is an epic trail in South Nanaimo one must partake in.

Length of Trail

It’s really hard to give an exact length of this trail, for there isn’t necessarily an endpoint (that we found anyway). But from what we saw the trail kind of peters out and becomes quite unmaintained at around the 1 km mark.

It was at this point that we decided to head down towards the river to find a spot to have our lunch. We climbed over a few large boulders and sat upon a perch with a spectacular view of the river beneath us.

For a reference point, there is a house (with a unique outdoor spiral staircase) perched upon the rocky cliff on the opposite side of the river. When you see that house, you have come to what we considered the end of the Dark Side trail.

A steep ladder leads you up this rock bluff at the Nanaimo River

Difficulty of Trail

This trail has no steep inclines (other than the ladders), but as I mentioned, there are lots of other obstacles to manoeuvre around (ladders, bridges, boulders, etc), which are unavoidable.

This hike is NOT suitable for dogs! If you insist on bringing your dog, you will be required to carry him/her up and down the steep ladders.

For obvious reasons, this trail is unfortunately not stroller or wheelchair friendly either.

This hike deserves to be taken at a slow pace, due to the incredible scenery.

Although I took hundreds of photos, I wasn’t overly impressed with how the majority of them turned out. I am thinking this was due to the light, or lack thereof in some sections. We were there mid-day, so perhaps a different time of day would allow for better photo ops.

Getting There

From Highway #1, take Spruston Road (near Cassidy). Turn right on Riverbend Road and follow it to the very end.  You will see a gravel parking area underneath the power lines.  After parking, walk west (upriver) along the trail that stays on top of the southern edge of the river bank. As mentioned above, the trail eventually leads down into a canyon.

If you’re still unconvinced that you need to visit the Dark Side, perhaps you need a bit more persuasion. I’ll leave you with a few more images, plus a fantastic video that Tobias, of Trail Raiders, was willing to share with us. The video was captured in January, so it’s neat to see the difference in scenery.

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About Trail Raiders

Tobias is a filmmaker from Chemainus who is passionate about creating outdoor adventure films and documentaries. He created Trail Raiders as a means to deliver his films to the online community. Tobias also works with local brands and tourism boards to help promote the incredible diversity found on Vancouver Island. You can find him on Facebook, Instagram and, of course, YouTube. Follow along and join the adventure!

If you’ve been to this incredible area called the Dark Side, let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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The Dark Side is an epic Nanaimo River hike. Vancouver Island View