Famous for its scenic drives, Canada is best known for the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia, the Icefields Parkway in Alberta and the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler, BC. Visitors to mid-Vancouver Island are astounded by the diversity, beauty, ruggedness and serenity of the drive across Vancouver Island. In a short span of 2.5 hours, travellers witness 4 spectacular stops on Highway 4 from the tranquil east coast of Vancouver Island to the rugged west coast:
- OCEANSIDE (Parksville)
- CATHEDRAL GROVE
- SPROAT LAKE & ALBERNI VALLEY
- PACIFIC RIM (Tofino & Ucluelet)
Parksville Community Park, is home to a remarkable sandy Parksville Beach, a kid's wonderland of swings, slides and water cannons in addition to great picnicking and beachfront choices.
Stroll the waterfront boardwalk and take in one of the many festivals that set up shop here, most notably the month long Parksville Beach Festival featuring the Quality Foods Canadian Open Sand Sculpting Competition and Exhibition, that draws nearly 100,000 visitors annually during July and August.
Four kilometres of curving, postcard-perfect sand gives the town of Qualicum Beach its name. When the tide is high, sightseers, bikers, hikers and their dogs keep to dry ground by utilizing the paved promenade that fronts one of Vancouver Island and BC's most storied beaches.
The promenade is lined with picnic tables, shade trees, a wash/change room, and lots of parking. Go for a swim, rent a kayak, cool down with an ice cream cone, read a book, or just watch the kids have the time of their lives. Qualicum Beach is also known for the famous ocean mile swim.
2. CATHEDRAL GROVE PROVINCIAL PARK
Cathedral Grove, located in MacMillan Provincial Park, is one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas fir trees on Vancouver Island. Here visitors can stroll through a network of trails under the shadow of towering ancient Douglas-fir trees, majestic pillars untouched by the modern world – some more than 800 years old.
Trails on either side of the highway lead visitors through the mighty stands of this coastal forest. On the south side you will find the largest Douglas firs – one measuring more than 9 metres in circumference. On the northern side of the road you’ll find groves of ancient Western red cedar standing sentry over nearby Cameron Lake.
The park has been restoring some of its trails after a severe windstorm on New Year’s Day in 1997, which changed the look of the park forever. The storm toppled hundreds of huge trees and obliterated sections of the trail system. Some sections of the trail system were so badly hit that they have never been reopened. Restoration and cleanup began almost as soon as the winds stopped, and although visitors will now find many of these huge trees lying on the ground, their value has not diminished. These fallen trees open the canopy to provide light, space, shelter and nutrients for the next generations of plants. Natural regeneration is beginning to restore the Grove’s pristine beauty and the park’s diversity, making a visit to Cathedral Grove all the more intriguing.
3. SPROAT LAKE & ALBERNI VALLEY
Welcome to the Alberni Valley! you’ll find here: a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing and boating, as well as other outdoor adventures such as windsurfing, zip lining, mountain climbing, mountain biking and more.
There’s so much to do and explore… One of our most striking features is the Alberni Inlet, a long narrow arm of the ocean that travels inland from Barkley Sound, excellent for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Just north of Port Alberni is Stamp River, with incredible Chinook and steelhead fishing. In fact, in late summer, over half a million salmon spawn near the Stamp River Hatchery, making it a favourite for local black bears (and bear watching!). South of Port Alberni is China Creek Marina, with a private campground and boat launch. Sproat Lake is great for rainbow trout fishing, and features the famous Mars Water Bombers. Or, if you’re keen on kayaking or diving, try Barkley Sound, home to the Broken Group of Islands, a series of islands and reefs.
4. PACIFIC RIM
The West Coast of Vancouver Island, also known as the Pacific Rim, is home to a number of communities, all with their own unique identities and individual West Coast flavour:
- Bamfield: The picturesque village of Bamfield is located in a protected inlet on the south shore of Barkley Sound.
- Pacific Rim National Park Reserve: Backed by the Insular Mountain Range of Vancouver Island and facing the open Pacific Ocean, Pacific Rim presents the rich natural and cultural heritage of Canada's west coast.
- Ucluelet: A village that offers both a sheltered inner harbour and a magnificent vistas of the open Pacific Ocean from the Wild Pacific Trail.
- Tofino: If it's the outdoors you crave, come and explore our endless beaches and incomparable forest paths budding with new growth.