Image: Family at Little Qualicum Falls Park. Credit: GoToVan
The charming seaside town of Parksville, located on the east coast of Vancouver Island, is known for its wide, sandy beaches; idyllic campgrounds; and beautiful parks and forests. If your upcoming RV adventure includes this lovely area, make sure you check out some of the natural wonders it’s most famous for! We’ve compiled a list of some of our favourites below, all within a 20-minute drive of downtown Parksville.
Probably Parksville’s most well-known natural treasure, this provincial park encompasses 347 hectares of coastal forests, perfect sandy beaches, open meadows, campgrounds and playgrounds.
5.5 km of easy walking trails wind their way through mature forests of Douglas fir, Western red cedar, hemlock, balsam, spruce, arbutus and maple. The loop trail begins near the main parking lot and ends in the fields of a heritage farm. There are also many smaller trails meandering through the campgrounds and leading to the beach.
Rathtrevor is especially famous for its warm, shallow beaches that give way to huge stretches of grey sand when the tide goes out. There’s no better place to spend a day building an elaborate sand structure, then trying to protect it with moats and walls until the sea inevitably takes it back. In spring, thousands of sea birds gather at the beach for the annual herring spawn. The tidal zone here teems with life and offers excellent wildlife watching for kids of all ages.
Many Vancouver Island residents have fond memories of childhood summers spent camping, hiking, swimming and digging in the sand at Rathtrevor. The campground is one of the best in BC, with its private, forested sites; proximity to the beach; amphitheatre with nightly nature shows; nature house & giftshop; Jerry’s Rangers kids program; group campsite; fire rings; picnic shelter; playgrounds; RV hookups; Sani-station; flush toilets and free hot showers.
Top Bridge Park
If you’re OK roughing it a bit, spend a few hours exploring the natural beauty of Top Bridge Park, located about 10 minutes outside Parksville. There are no flush toilets, change rooms or playgrounds here, but there are 5 km of forested trails and a pedestrian-only suspension bridge over the Englishman River. Enjoy a swim in the river, or for the adventurous, go cliff-jumping or take a ride on the park’s network of mountain biking trails. Those with sharp eyes may notice the park’s hidden secret: at least two sets of First Nations petroglyphs carved into the rocks near the river.
Located right in the heart of Parksville, Community Park has something for everyone. Enjoy 39-acres of spectacular beachfront, manicured fields and beautiful gardens. Activity options here are endless – take your pick from the horseshoe pits, kite field, lacrosse/street hockey box, tennis courts, beach volleyball courts or skate park.
The Lions Ventureland Playground & Splash Park makes visiting this park a special treat for kids on any up-Island trip. This well-maintained playground – one of the Island’s best – is continually being updated with new equipment. Let your kids burn off some energy on the coloured slides and climbable sea creatures, swings, jungle gyms, trampolines and zipline.
The beach here is famous for its warm, wide stretches of sand, perfect for swimming and sandcastles. If you’re lucky enough to visit between mid-July and mid-August, you can catch the Parksville Beach Festival with its world-famous Sand Sculpting Competition & Exhibition, free Summer Concert Series, daily buskers and artisan market.
With its sheltered picnic area and summertime food trucks, Community Park is also a great place to stop for lunch. when you’ve finished your meal, take a stroll along the wheelchair and stroller-accessible waterfront boardwalk. This park has accessible flush toilets and even an outdoor shower to wash the sand off your feet.
This small 2.7-hectare park in Parksville is a nice place to spend an afternoon picnicking with friends and family and tends to be quieter than Community Park. It has some basic amenities like flush toilets and water fountains, a small playground, grass fields, a basketball hoop and a short trail system. Trails are unpaved but level and easily accessible and are dotted with informational signs about the park. There is also a partially-enclosed gazebo that can be rented out for special events.
Little Qualicum Falls Park
If you visit Little Qualicum Falls Park (17 minutes from Parksville), you’ll agree that it’s one of the most beautiful and magical locations on Vancouver Island. Majestic mountain peaks border fragrant old-growth forests. The falls themselves are awe-inspiring as they cascade down to the gorge below. 6 km of shaded walking trails follow the river through the forest and offer gorgeous views of the upper and lower falls.
In addition to the river, Little Qualicum Falls Park also incorporates the entire southern shore of Cameron Lake. A favourite of locals, the lake is perfect for swimming, scubaing, waterskiing and trout fishing. In addition, the wind funnel created by the surrounding mountains makes it a natural location for windsurfing and sailboarding.
The park is home to two campgrounds, an upper and a lower, with 83 vehicle-accessible campsites between them (no hookups available). The upper campground has flush toilets while the lower campground has pit toilets only, and there is a playground next to the upper campground. Drinking water is available and the campsites do have firepits. Following the trails from the campgrounds will take you up the river to view the falls.
Notch Hill Park
Looking for a hike with views? Notch Hill Park, maintained by the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, is about 20 minutes out of Parksville. This charismatic day-use park offers beautiful trails and scenic vistas. The trails are not long (about 1.5 km to the summit) or difficult but are somewhat steep in places, so make sure to wear good walking shoes. As you wind your way up the trails, you’ll leave behind the dark coniferous forests and wander through rocky areas treed with red-barked Arbutus Trees and endangered Garry Oak meadows. At the top of the trail, you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view out over Nanoose Bay.
Englishman River Falls Park
Just a 15-minute drive from Parksville, this Island gem will enchant you with its clear, flowing waters, river-rock beaches, deep canyon and two stunning waterfalls. There’s a spooky tale behind the name: legend says that the river was named by local First Nations people after the drowning of an Englishman there.
Wander along 3 km of well-maintained riverside trails through lush forests of Douglas fir, cedar, hemlock, arbutus and maple. Stop to listen to the roar, and view the rainbow spray, of the lower and upper falls. The trail crosses the river several times, offering vistas of the water plunging into the canyon below. Cool off from your hike with a swim in the crystal-clear swimming hole below the lower falls.
The Englishman River Falls campgrounds are more rustic than the site at Rathtrevor and there are no hookups available. Most toilets are pit toilets and there are no showers – but there are still lots of amenities here such as drinking water, a picnic shelter, and a playground and bicycle course for kids.