Most Popular Nature Reserves on Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island’s magnificent, unspoiled scenery attracts thousands of visitors every year. Whether you are interested in taking on the challenge of vigorous hiking trails, exploring windswept beaches, visiting old-growth forests or relaxing on the shores of a tranquil lake, you can find what you are looking for at one of Vancouver Island’s many popular nature reserves. 2011 sees British Columbia Parks celebrate one hundred years of working hard to preserve Canada’s stunning natural resources.
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve
On Vancouver’s southwestern coast, between beautiful Tofino in the north and Port Renfrew in the south, lies the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. Established in 1970, this park, 500 square kilometers in area and 125 kilometers in length, is particularly famous for the diversity of geographical experiences it offers to the visitor.
Pacific Rim’s Long Beach stretches along the Pacific coast for sixteen kilometers. For surfing enthusiasts, Long Beach promises some exciting, and occasionally hairy, rides. For beach combers, the sandy shore offers plenty of scope for exploration and mere absorption of awe-inspiring beauty. You can spot seals, sea lions and orca whales on a regular basis and, from December, look out for one of the 1,900 grey whales that migrate from Mexico each year and spend the summer feeding in Canadian waters before moving south. Alternatively, you can meander along any one of the many trails that wind in and out of the old growth forests not far from the coastal edge. These forests are powerhouses of biodiversity. You can feel the history stored inside two thousand year old conifers, relax beneath the shade of weeping willow trees and enjoy the bright colors of salmonberries, thimbleberries and Saskatoon berries.
Kayakers and campers love to visit the Broken Group Islands, located in Barkley Sound. Over one hundred islands offer scenic and secret spots for adventurers and romantics. Meanwhile, the seventy-five kilometer long West Coast Trail offers an exciting challenge to keen hikers. Before embarking upon this spectacular seven to eight day trek, you should ask the West Coast Trail Information Center for a permit. It is a good idea to book in advance between June and September, when the trail becomes very busy.
Strathcona Provincial Park
Strathcona is particularly significant because, exactly one hundred years ago, in 1911, it became the first Provincial Park to be established in British Columbia. Situated right in the center of Vancouver, Strathcona is the island’s biggest Provincial Park, its boundaries surrounding 250,000 hectares of wilderness.
Dominated by wild mountain peaks, Strathcona is largely untouched by development and, so, offers endless possibilities for adventure. Hikers can access an extensive range of trails and camping grounds. Those interested in fishing will discover an abundance of rainbow trout, cutthroat and Dolly Varden. In the winter, cross-country skiing and downhill skiing are popular activities.
Two of Strathcona’s most visited spots are Buttle Lake, a mecca for kayakers and windsurfers, and Forbidden Plateau, a picturesque area characterized by scattered lakes and small hills. Both of these locations have basic facilities.
An Outdoor Education Center very close to Strathcona offers guided tours and provides enthusiasts with opportunities to gain skills in a whole host of outdoor activities, from rock climbing to canoeing to wilderness survival.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, with its gentle, easily accessible walks, golden beachfront and tracts of ancient forest, is an enchanting destination, particularly in the summertime. Testament to this are the thousands of visitors that flock to Rathtrevor each year, to camp, swim in the warm water, stroll along the idyllic coastal edge and play games on the beach.
Located on Vancouver Island’s East Coast, in Parksville, Rathtrevor boasts a dry, warm climate and a more sheltered aspect than that offered by many areas of the stirring, but wild, West Coast. This means that Rathtrevor is a great place for families because it provides a safe environment for people of all ages. Moreover, the camping ground is a mere five minute walk from the beach, so you can jump out of your sleeping bag and wake yourself up with a refreshing morning swim without any hassle. When the tide goes out at Rathtrevor Beach, it reveals a one kilometer stretch of sand, which equals extended space for building sand castles and stretching out to enjoy the sun.
In the spring, during herring breeding season, Rathtrevor is a popular destination for bird watchers. Hundreds of seabirds flock there to feed. In March and April, the Brant Geese create a stunning sight during their yearly visit, as they migrate from sunny Western Mexico, where they spend the cold winter months, to their northern nests in Alaska, Siberia and Canada. They stop in British Columbia to eat eelgrass. Parksville actually honors their visit with its Brant Festival, held in April.
Cape Scott Provincial Park
At the very northwest tip of Vancouver Island is the spectacularly rugged Cape Scott Provincial Park. With its frequently wild weather and remote, rocky headlands, Cape Scott is the adventurer’s dream. Beginning at Shushartie Beach in the east and ending at San Josef Bay in the southwest, the Park fronts onto 115 kilometers of coast, 30 kilometers of which is comprised of isolated sandy beaches. Cape Scott is a place where you can truly ‘get away from it all’ and explore with a true sense of unpredictability and excitement.
Some visitors take on the adventure of visiting Cape Scott to witness its striking ancient forests. The Park is famous for its Sitka Spruce and Western Red Cedar, the diameters of which can reach over three meters. If you travel twenty minutes north of Eric Lake camping ground, you will come across a Sitka Spruce with a circumference measuring more than seven meters. This incredible tree is a popular destination for hikers.
When travelling in Cape Scott, you do have to be aware that the powerful spirit of adventure to be felt there is accompanied by the risk of running into wolves and bears. It is a good idea to secure and lock your vehicle, as bears have been known to break into cars and steal food. You would also be advised to stick to designated camping areas and to sleep some distance from the shore. When the tide is out, hungry bears often head down to the coast looking for exposed or stranded seafood. You probably don’t really want to offer yourself as an option on the menu.
Vancouver Island’s vast array of nature reserves offers a rich and overwhelming range of experiences, from relaxing on sunny beaches to strenuous mountain hikes. There is no doubt that, for nature lovers, Vancouver Island is one of the world’s premier destinations. The tough part is not deciding whether or not to go, but working out how you are going to spend your time once you get there!