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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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 Old School House Art Centre, in the heart of Qualicum Beach, exhibits creations by local artisans, as well as holding frequent workshops, classes, and concerts. 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.
For live theatre fans, the Village Theatre in Qualicum Beach offers shows in both summer and winter. Many of these productions are put on by the resident ECHO Players, who specialize in musicals and lighter fare.
The Power House Museum has a growing collection of “powerful” artifacts. You can test your own power on the Power Cycle and turn on the lights! Other displays highlight family histories, the E&N Railway, logging and carpentry, woodworking and blacksmithing tools, early hydro power, rooms depicting early Qualicum pioneer home life, and storyboards recording early settlement history. Learn about early Georgia Strait shipwrecks, and examine antique golf paraphernalia. Open late May to mid September, adjacent to the Qualicum Beach train station at 587 Beach Road.
Take a journey into our prehistoric past at the Vancouver Island Paleontology Museum, which displays one of the most complete collections of Vancouver Island fossils, featuring fossils from all over British Columbia and the world. The star of the museum is Rambling Rosie, a 70,000-year-old adult female walrus fossil discovered just 10 km north of Qualicum Beach in 1979. Open late May to mid September in the Power House Museum complex.
Milner Gardens and Woodland offers the magic of 28 hectares (70 acres) of unspoiled natural beauty perched on the edge of an oceanside bluff overlooking the Strait of Georgia. Stroll the winding pathways and magical surroundings of an ancient coastal Douglas fir forest. Find peace and tranquility as you meander 4 hectares (10 acres) of woodland gardens lined with rhododendron, cyclamen and trilliums and other indigenous plants. Enjoy a traditional English tea service while you contemplate the history of the unique heritage house where Queen Elizabeth once stayed.
The Heritage Forest of Qualicum Beach protects 50 acres of Coastal Douglas Fir forest, including a significant stand of trees over 300 year old, complete with forest trails and a salmon-bearing stream. Thousands of visitors annually walk the bark mulch trails of the forest, which is relatively undisturbed by human activity, and marvel at the pristine wilderness. Formerly known as the Brown property, the forest is located only minutes from the centre of Qualicum Beach.
Hamilton Marsh provides natural habitat for marsh birds and is particularly active in spring and fall with migrations of ducks and geese. Woodland trails from the small parking lot lead you to and around the marsh, with a viewing platform for closer observation of marsh inhabitants. The privately-owned Hamilton Marsh (360 hectares) is surrounded by second-growth forest, and is the most productive waterfowl breeding marsh in the central Vancouver Island area. The marsh is located approximately 10 minutes drive due south of Qualicum Beach, on South Hilliers Road, just off the Alberni Highway 4.
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 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).
Golf: There are no fewer than 6 world-class golf courses in the Qualicum Beach area, and the pleasant, sunny climate means play continues year round. Select from the Arrowsmith Golf & Country Club, Eaglecrest Golf Club, Pheasant Glen Golf Resort, and the Qualicum Beach Memorial Golf Course. Vancouver Island Golf Vacations.
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: Teeming with halibut, cod and salmon, the Strait of Georgia is a haven for salt water anglers, while trout fishing is popular at several nearby lakes and rivers. Fishing charters are available in the area. Check out the waters off French Creek, just south of Qualicum Beach 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.
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.
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.
A site particularly suited to launching a canoe, kayak, or light-weight boat is the Little Qualicum River Estuary in Qualicum Beach beside Hwy 19A, where you’ll find easygoing paddling in the Marshall Stevenson Wildlife Preserve and Qualicum National Wildlife Area.
The Little Qualicum Spawning Channel on the Little Qualicum River is accessed via Melrose Road. Turn north off Highway 4, 3.5 miles (6 km) west of Coombs, and follow the signs to the hatchery. Over 4 million chinook salmon are raised annually, with the best visiting times being February to June and October to November.
Qualicum Fish Hatchery is located on the Qualicum River, on the road to the Horne Lake Caves. Take a tour of the fish hatchery and learn about the amazing life cycle of the salmon in British Columbia. Have an eye-to-eye encounter in the underwater viewing area. The Big Qualicum River is a typical coastal stream. From its source at Horne Lake, the river flows approximately 7 miles (11 km) to the Strait of Georgia. All species of Pacific salmon return to Big Qualicum, as do steelhead and cutthroat trout. Chum represent the highest production, followed by good populations of coho and chinook. Each year, approximately 100,000 steelhead and 25,000 cutthroat trout are also produced at the hatchery. If you visit the hatchery during the fall you can see spawners as they ascend the fish ladder leading to the holding ponds. The best time to see adult salmon is from October to December, while February through April is a good time for steelhead.
Spider Lake Provincial Park, known for its warm water, canoeing and kayaking, is a small lake located 5 miles (8 km) west of Hwy 19A near Horne Lake. There is a lovely stretch of beach beside the warm, clear waters of the lake, on which no motorized boats are allowed. If you’re looking for a respite from travel, spend an hour or two picnicking here at any time year round; take a dip in summer, and toss in a hook if you like smallmouth bass. Spider Lake is stocked regularly, so for best results, come in early spring before it warms up, or wait until fall to try your angling luck once temperatures begin to drop. The lake is indented by a number of bays, particularly at its north end, which makes for quiet exploring in a canoe or rowboat.
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, 17 miles (27 km) west of Qualicum Beach.
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.
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.
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.
North of Qualicum Beach along Highway 19A in Lighthouse Country is the friendly seaside community of Qualicum Bay. Farther north is the small oceanside community of Deep Bay, a town seemingly devoted to angling. Mapleguard Point is the elbow of an arm and spit that protect Deep Bay’s natural harbour. Rich salmon grounds lie in the bay near the Norris Rock, Chrome Island, and Eagle Rock.
Neighbouring Qualicum Beach to the south is the seaside resort town of Parksville, favoured as one of the most popular summer family vacations destinations of Vancouver Island and British Columbia.
Between Qualicum Beach and Parksville on Highway 19A is the bustling marine community of French Creek, whose working harbour is home to a large commercial fishing fleet and many charter operations for fishing, sightseeing, and diving. French Creek Marina offers sheltered moorage and yachting amenities for sailboats and pleasure craft.
Offshore and to the north of Qualicum Beach 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.
From neighbouring Parksville, Pacific Rim Highway 4 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 (West Coast).
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.
Qualicum Beach Airport is located south of Qualicum Beach. Connect through Vancouver International Airport’s south terminal for daily scheduled, 35-minute flights to Qualicum Beach Airport.
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FarOut Wilderness is an outdoor adventure travel company specializing in overland vehicle rentals and tailor-made itineraries in British Columbia. We use our local knowledge and experience to transform your ideas into an authentic and unique adventure.
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Practicar Nanaimo offers low rates on daily, weekly and monthly rentals for cars, passenger vans, and trucks; ferry and airport pick-up and delivery, cars also available in Parksville/Qualicum and Gabriola Island; no charge for additional drivers; minimum driver’s age 21; special packages, including self-drive vineyard tours, Tofino/Pacific Rim, Gulf Islands available.
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