The Oceanside Route (Hwy 19A), is an especially scenic section of the Island Highway system that runs parallel to the Inland Island Highway (Hwy 19). The Oceanside Route follows the coastline from the Nanoose Bay area all the way to Campbell River. Enjoy the sights of Parksville and Qualicum Beach and the Lighthouse Country communities of Qualicum Bay, Bowser and Deep Bay. Continue through the charming communities of Fanny Bay, Buckley Bay, and Union Bay, and continue north through Merville, Black Creek, and Oyster River to Campbell River. Parks, beaches, golf courses, and dozens of attractions are located along the Oceanside Route, making it one of the island’s most popular driving tours.
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Heritage buildings from the Parksville area can be viewed at Craig Heritage Park, Museum & Archives. Among them are the French Creek Post Office (1886), the Duncan McMillan log house (1885), and the Knox Heritage Church (1912). The Museum contains exhibits related to the lives and activities of early settlers, residents, organizations and businesses in Parksville, Errington, Coombs, Hilliers, French Creek and Nanoose Bay. The park is located at the junction of Highway 19A and Franklin Gull Road, adjacent to the Visitor Centre.
The Parksville Community Park is located on Corfield Road in scenic Parksville Bay, offering a variety of activities, including the Lion’s Venture Land playground, a must for younger members of the family to visit. Tennis courts, ball parks, a lacrosse box, skateboard and BMX park, covered picnic area, large field for kite flying, arena and a Community Hall are also located in the park. The beach itself offers a beautiful view, as well as swimming and sandcastle building.
Paradise Fun Park provides a profusion of colour from over 5,000 flowers, cascading waterfalls, fountains, and finely crafted fantasy scenes. Two miniature golf courses feature a full rigged pirate galleon, treasure cave, 45-foot old woman’s shoe, watermill, lighthouse, Victorian Mansion, and village church.
St. Anne’s Anglican Church is one of the oldest churches on Vancouver Island, built in 1894 by 45 farmers who used oxen to haul the logs to the site. To find the church, turn left off the Island Highway onto Pym Road, right onto Humphrey Road, and right onto Church Road.
Arts and Crafts abound in the area, which is home to painters, weavers, sculptors, carvers, glass blowers, and other artisans who welcome visitors to their studios. The Station Gallery at the Parksville Train Station features the work of the Arrowsmith Potters Guild, and the People’s Gallery in downtown Parksville is home to exhibits presented by the Oceanside Community Arts Council. Pick up a brochure and map of the local galleries that are open to the public for tours and visits, available from the Visitor Centre.
The annual Brant Wildlife Festival celebrates the migration of up to 20,000 Black Brant geese from California and Mexico to their breeding grounds in Alaska. The beaches around Parksville and neighbouring Qualicum Beach have been the site of an annual migration of tens of thousands of brant geese since well before the settlement of the towns. With the establishment of the Brant Goose Feeding Area by the Mid Island Wildlife Watch Society, the arrival of the geese triggers annual festivities in mid April. By then, thousands of the black-hued, duck-size sea geese touch down on the beaches and marshlands surrounding Parksville and Qualicum to rest and feed on the algae, eel grasses, seaweeds, and especially herring roe. Most of the migrating birds are travelling to the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta of western Alaska, arriving at their Arctic breeding grounds in early May. Guided tours of the feeding areas take visitors to special viewing locations, or you can simply walk out on the beach with a pair of binoculars and stalk them (and the more than 200 other bird species passing through at the same time).
Beaches: If you like the beach, you’ll love Parksville. With its long sandy beaches and eastern exposure, Parksville is an ideal spot to spend a few days, or the whole summer, basking in the sun and swimming in warm waters. Parksville Community Park offers great lengths of public beach on the town shoreline. Pick a location that appeals to you, park in one of the many access points, and stroll out onto the hard-packed sand. When the tide goes out in Parksville, it leaves hundreds of metres of firm golden sand, internationally acclaimed as the best building material for sandcastles!
The Parksville Beach Festival in August is the venue for the Canadian Open Sand Sculpting Competition, which draws tens of thousands of annual visitors to view a jaw-dropping array of alternately whimsical, complicated and flat-out stunning creations. The sculptures are created in early August and remain standing until the end of August.
The shores of Rhododendron Lake are lined with a stunning profusion of pink rhododendrons every spring, in late May or early June. Growing wild, these beautiful Pacific Rhododendrons (Rhododendron macrophyllum) are believed by botanists to belong to a strain that survived the last Ice Age. Located on forest land, access to Rhododendron Lake and the 2-hectare (5-acre) grove is by private logging road. Check for signs posted at the entrance to Northwest Bay Logging Division, approximately 7.2 km south of Parksville.
Windsurfers and Kayakers are enticed by accessible shorelines and good weather. Local outfitters will provide you with everything you need, including lessons. The federal dock at French Creek, on Hwy 19 north of Parksville, is sheltered by a sturdy breakwater, a hint that conditions do get breezy here on occasion, most notably in winter months, when winds blow from the southeast. When conditions are favourable, this is a good place to launch your kayak.
Golf: Golfers can tee off on any of the 6 exceptional and scenic golf courses in the Parksville area. Located in the Parksville area are the Morningstar Golf Club and the Fairwinds Golf and Country Club in nearby Nanoose Bay. Kids and adults love the two fun-filled 18-hole mini-golf courses located near the beach. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
Boat Launch sites in the area are located at Beachcomber Marina and Schooner Cove Resort in Nanoose Bay, and a public boat launch is provided at French Creek Marina, on the Island Highway between Parksville and Qualicum Beach.
Marinas: There are marinas with moorage available in French Creek, Deep Bay, and Schooner Cove. All three welcome visiting boaters, with full services nearby, including restaurants.
Mountain Biking: Mountain bike enthusiasts enjoy the challenging trails at the Hammerfest Race Course, which mixes fast logging roads with narrow, technical singletrack 6.7 miles (11.2 km). Parksville is the site of one of the major mountain bike competitions on Vancouver Island, the annual Hammerfest mountain bike race, held at Englishman River Falls Provincial Park each May. In addition to the difficult race course, the Arrowsmith Mountain Bike Club has created the Top Bridge Mountain Bike Park on the Englishman River, where more moderate adventuring awaits. To find the park, turn west off Highway 14 at the weigh scales at Kaye Road, then turn onto Chattell Road and follow it to its end, where the fun begins.
Parksville Skateboard Park offers a challenge for skateboarders, BMX riders, and in-line skaters. Ranked among the best on Vancouver Island, the skate park is located on the waterfront behind the arena, just to the south of the public beach.
Horseback Riding: The Parksville area offers many opportunities to explore the backcountry of Vancouver Island on horseback. Outfitters in the area offer instruction as well as short trail rides and overnight excursions. From alpine meadows to wooded trails, or riding on the sandy beaches, horseback riding will give you a unique perspective of this beautiful region.
Fishing: Check out the waters off French Creek, 3 miles (5 km) north of Parksville on Hwy 19A, rumoured to be a great spot to hook the big one. Kids enthusiastically cast their lines off the dock, hoping for their own vacation story to tell. The annual fall salmon run at the mouth of French Creek, as it enters the Strait of Georgia, attracts anglers to the French Creek Marina and the public boat launch adjacent to the federal dock and Lasqueti Island ferry.
Hiking: Both the Englishman River Falls and Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Parks have rambling trails that lead beside the clear waters of the pristine Englishman River and Little Qualicum rivers. An easy walk to the waterfalls is a big part of a visit to either park. For more serious hiking, the Mount Arrowsmith Trail ascends the lower slopes of Mount Arrowsmith to the site of the old ski resort, and winds up to the 1,829-metre (6,000-foot) summit of Mt. Arrowsmith. The hike is strenuous, and do not set off without a trail map. Arrowsmith Trail is the oldest intact trail on Vancouver Island. Other Mt Arrowsmith trails include the Rousseau Trail, and the Lower Ski Area Trail. The trailhead for the Arrowsmith Trail is at the Cameron Lake picnic site.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park in Parksville offers a fabulous swimming beach, and over 150 bird species. So vast is its sandy, shallow shingle, particularly at low tide, that you can spend hours beachcombing and birdwatching here beneath the wide-open sky. The waters of the Strait of Georgia warm up quickly when the tide rises over these sun-baked expanses. Seals often approach the beach, following the salmon that follow the needlefish that follow the zooplankton. Join the chain!
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park has acres of campsites to match its 1.3 miles (2.1 km) of beaches. If you’re lucky enough to be travelling in the off-season, you’ll have plenty of choice from among the numerous vehicle/tent sites. Otherwise, phone ahead for reservations, particularly on weekends. Campers enjoy hot showers and gas barbeques in covered beachside picnic shelters. So good does the living get here that some families spend their entire vacations at Rathtrevor Beach, where the maximum stay permitted is 14 consecutive days.
Englishman River Falls Provincial Park, situated along the Englishman River, features a spectacular canyon between two beautiful waterfalls cascading along the descending riverbed. This 97-hectare park offers several walking trails along the Englishman River that meander through lush old-growth forests of cedar, arbutus, fir, maple and hemlock. Gaze up among the tall timbers where fingers of sunlight slant down to the ferns below. You’ll find 105 vehicle/tent sites and there’s great picnicking, summer swimming, and a 2-mile walking trail that passes through a stand of maple trees to an impressive waterfall and gorge. Located south of nearby Errington.
Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park straddles the scenic Little Qualicum River, where impressive waterfalls cascade and plummet down a rocky gorge in a beautiful forest setting. This magnificent 440-hectare park is a popular family recreation area, and is perhaps the most magnificent park on Vancouver Island. Little Qualicum Falls incorporates the entire southern shore of Cameron Lake, adjacent to MacMillan Provincial Park and the awesome Cathedral Grove Rainforest. Rambling riverside trails and a number of cool, clear swimming holes make Little Qualicum Falls a favoured destination.
MacMillan Provincial Park is famous for Cathedral Grove, one of the most accessible stands of giant Douglas-fir trees in BC. Some of these trees are 800 years old, and walking the trails through this virgin coastal forest can be quite an inspirational experience. Loop trails on either side of the highway lead awe-struck visitors through the mighty forest stands. The south loop showcases the largest Douglas-fir trees, with the biggest one measuring over 9 metres in circumference. The trail on the northern side of the road winds through groves of ancient Western Red Cedar to the shores of Cameron Lake. The 136-hectare park is located on Highway 4 on the shores of Cameron Lake, 20 miles (31 km) west of Parksville.
Caving: There are several hundred significant caves to explore on Vancouver Island, including those at Horne Lake Caves Provincial Park, 12 miles (20 km) west of Hwy 19 near Qualicum Bay. The park protects seven caves in the Horne Lake Cave system. A small fee is charged for tours in July and August, conducted by knowledgeable guides from the Canadian Cave Conservancy, a nonprofit organization devoted to proper management, protection, and interpretation of Canada’s cave resources. If you’re here in summer, plan to join the challenging Karst Trail and Riverbend Trail tours, which last about two hours. You can take a self-guided tour of Main Cave and Lower Main Cave throughout the year. Although the distance covered isn’t great – about 200 metres – you’ll have to bend, duck, and squeeze your way through a series of narrow passages.
No matter when you arrive, prepare yourself for a tour by dressing warmly, wearing sturdy boots, and carrying a bright flashlight. (Helmets and lights are provided on guided tours. For those with a lust to squeeze deeper into the cave system, the three-to-four-hour Riverbed Bottoming trip leads down through a series of vertical pits, the deepest of which is nearly 60 feet (19 metres). A gravel road leads to the parking area and trailhead at the far end of Horne Lake. A footbridge spans the Qualicum River, from where a rough limestone trail leads to the Main Cave.
The Kulth Music Fest is held in nearby Coombs in mid July. The Kulth is a festival created for people of all ages, with both local and international artists performing folk music, electronic music, and Reggae music. The festival is located at the Coombs Rodeo Grounds on the Alberni Highway.
From the town of Parksville, Highway 4 (Pacific Rim Highway) begins to wind across the spine of the Vancouver Island mountains to Port Alberni and the open ocean at Ucluelet and Tofino, all three of which are sheltered harbours. This is the route to the Pacific Rim.
To the north of Parksville, Qualicum Beach gently spreads in front of one of the most pleasant small towns on the east side of Vancouver Island. Pause here at any of the numerous beachside pullouts and smell the salt air intermingled with the perfume from the many private and public floral displays.
South of Parksville, the waterfront community of Nanoose Bay is a hot spot for golfers, clam diggers and water sports enthusiasts. The peninsula’s large, protected harbour is a destination for visiting boats from around the world, and home to an assortment of marinas, one as large as 400 berths. The Nanoose Bay area is a vacationer’s paradise, offering a wealth of recreational activities. Further south is the bustling commercial centre of Nanaimo, home to the BC ferry terminals at Departure Bay and Duke Point. Once past Nanaimo, a succession of charming villages leads you into the Cowichan Valley.
Offshore to the north of Parksville lies Lasqueti Island, the first of several northern Gulf Islands that you catch glimpses of as the Island Highway heads north towards Courtenay and Campbell River. Farther off in the distance is the dark profile of Texada Island. Largely undeveloped, Lasqueti Island lies southwest of Texada Island, a short distance across the Strait of Georgia from Parksville and Qualicum Beach. The island is a quaint and eccentric little community of self-reliant homesteaders who enjoy the island’s mild climate and relative isolation. Catch the ferry from French Creek, midway between Qualicum Beach and Parksville.
Circle Tours: See the best of BC when you embark upon one of the many circle tours that take in Vancouver Island, the Discovery Coast, and the Sunshine Coast. The coastal tours involve exciting road and ferry trips on BC Ferries, and scenic highways flank the coast, taking you through charming beachside communities, rolling farmlands and majestic mountain ranges. Check out the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island Circle Tour, and other Circle Tours in British Columbia.
Getting There: Island Highway 19 is an express route from Victoria to Port Hardy. If you like a more leisurely pace, follow the signs to the original coastal Highway 19A, the ‘Oceanside Route’. Coach lines offer regularly scheduled trips north, south and west through the Oceanside area, connecting to other parts of Vancouver Island.
Most visitors arrive on Vancouver Island by ferry. From Vancouver, depart from either the Tsawwassen Terminal south of Vancouver to Duke Point or from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Departure Bay in Nanaimo. Once on the island, head north on Highway 19, which takes you directly to Oceanside. There is a shuttle service to Parksville/Qualicum Beach for foot passengers on the Horseshoe Bay run. Buses also leave Vancouver Bus and Train Terminal for the island ferries on a regular basis, with connections to Oceanside communities through Nanaimo.
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