Who has heard of the Alberni Valley before? Anyone? I know I hadn’t. But with the biggest trees on Vancouver Island, some impressive waterfalls and stunning scenery, it has quickly become one of my favorite places on this island. So here are 5 things you shouldn’t miss if you are in the area or even if you are just passing through on your way to Tofino.
1. Cathedral Grove
This should be on your top 5 destinations on Vancouver Island, along with Tofino and Butchard Gardens. Cathedral Grove is part of MacMillan Provincial Park and it is home to the largest and oldest (up to 800 years old) trees on the island. Personally, I had never seen bigger trees ever; it took four of us to go all the way around one tree.
The park is located on Highway 4 and is divided in two parts, one on each side of the highway. Both sides are beautiful, but the biggest tree is on the left side if you are coming from Parksville (right side if you are coming from Port Alberni). It doesn’t take too long to hike the whole park, maybe about an hour and a half if you take your time and go on all the trails, maybe a little more if you like to stop and take pictures like I do.
This fall, part of Cameron Lake, which is right next to the park, flooded part of the trails so you might want to visit in the summer or early fall when the weather is less wet and prone to downpours.
Tip: you might want to bring some rain boots as the trails can get muddy.
Hole in the Wall
Hole in the Wall is right before the town of Port Alberni coming from Parksville and it is quite hidden. You have to know it is there to find it, but Google Maps knows everything! Don’t get discouraged if you can’t find it at first, just keep following the trail, I promise it is there and beautiful. Now, you must be asking, “what is Hole in the Wall exactly?” Well, it is just that, a hole in a wall of rocks where water found a way to fall through. There is also a river where people make inuksuks (little statues made of rocks put on top of each other) and a forest covered with bright green moss. The entire thing seems to have come out of a fairytale and it is the perfect place for a picnic.
Little Qualicum Falls
This one is a little bit out of the Alberni Valley, but close enough (it is located about 15 minutes before Cathedral Groves coming from Parksville) and worth mentioning. The park consists of a beautiful waterfall surrounded by well-maintained trails and bridges. The water is crystal clear and very deep even though you can still see the bottom. Just like Cathedral Grove, it doesn’t take very long to go all-around, maybe an hour, but the view is worth the stop.
This one is in the middle of Port Alberni and, I don’t know if we were just lucky or if it is always this pretty and entertaining, but I could have stayed for hours. At first sight, it is just a quai where people dock their boats, but you can see all kinds of wildlife on the river and in the woods on the other side. While we were there, a playful seal came to say hi and jumped in the water for us. We also saw some salmon and we weren’t lucky enough to see a bear, but they are sighted quite often in this area. The harbor also offers a nice view of the mountains surrounding the valley.
We missed salmon season by a few days when we went to Stamp Falls, but if you time it right, you could be there to see the salmon jump and go up the river. If, like us, you can’t be there on time, the view is still beautiful and there are hours of fun hikes to do. Be sure to make it to the top of the hill to see the bottom of the falls and the view on the forest. I would have loved to see it at sunset, but couldn’t, so you might see me there later this year on a clear day. It is the advantage of staying at one place for a while; you have the privilege to go back if you missed something or if the weather wasn’t on your side.
If you have the chance to visit British Columbia one day, I hope you will add the Alberni Valley to your trip as it took my breath away on multiple occasions. And if you live there, I hope you still enjoy it and take advantage of living in such a beautiful place (I need to find synonyms of beautiful, I must have used it about 10 times in this article. Oh well, it is what it is!)
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