How to explore the upper island on foot
Reading break is right around the corner, and with it, time to explore. For some of us, reading break does not mean flying long-distance to see family. For many, it means staying in the same place where we work and study. However, this doesn’t mean the break has to be boring; northern Vancouver Island is brimming with places waiting to be explored by pent-up, sleep-deprived students looking for a refresh from the great outdoors.
If you love to hike and want to explore some awesome places as a getaway from south island life, check out some of these spots. Remember while adventuring to be safe, tell people where you are going and when you plan to be back, and be aware of avalanche warnings. You can see avalanche warnings for Vancouver Island here. If you can’t get out for an adventure this month, know that spring, summer, and fall are beautiful times to see these spots, so add them to your bucket lists.
Paradise Meadows (easy to moderate, accessible)
Head over to Mount Washington for a walk that holds something for everyone. This hike is a personal favorite of mine because it holds a special surprise: whiskey jacks! These whiskey jacks are incredibly friendly and if you hold a treat (some granola or a cracker) they will fly right up and land on your hand!
Paradise Meadows has a few trail length options, starting with the 2 km Centennial Loop. There is also the 3.5 km Paradise Meadows Loop, the 6.8 km Helen Mackenzie/Battleship Lake Loop, the 7 km loop to Kwai Lake, and the 8.5 km hike to Canyon Lookout. Much of the Paradise Meadows loop has a boardwalk, and the sections that do not have a boardwalk are well maintained trails. This hike also continues on to Mt. Albert Edward if you’re looking for a longer hike (a reminder to check for avalanche warnings as the weather can be dicey the higher up you go in elevation). This will be a wintery hike if you can get out during reading break, but it is still a great way to go for a little road trip and to see some scenery. And if you’re in the area you can hit the ski hills too!
Little Huson Caves (easy)
This short but sweet hike provides a chance to see some cool caves. During winter, the river is very active and this walk offers opportunities for a lovely glimpse of some unique rock formations. This is a 0.5 km hike and takes about 15 minutes, but it is well worth the stop for the wild river and man-sized caves.
Cox Bay Lookout (easy to moderate)
This is a personal favorite of mine for many reasons, one of which is its proximity to Tofino. A quick walk to the top of a small hill provides a breathtaking view of Cox Bay and, if the tide is right, the wet-suited surfers catching waves. Park near Cox Bay beach and walk to the south end of the beach where you will find an unmarked trail that will take you to the lookout. Most people in the area know about the trail, so if you get lost on the beach you should be able to ask around and find the entrance. Grab a map off AllTrails if you want. Be prepared to get muddy on this one, the weather has made the trail slippery, so wear clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. This is a great place to catch the sunset and take some eye-catching profile photos. At the top of the trail are picturesque old-growth trees with a unique shape from the wind coming off the ocean. For a bonus, once the sun has set, head down to Tofino Brewing Company to cap off the evening.
Cox Bay lookout, image by Dakota Coburn
Horne Lake Hustle (moderate to hard)
This trail is full of ropes and sections of climbing. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to be a climber to do this hike. From the top of Mount Mark is a magnificent view of Horne Lake and a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The hike is about 9.3 km and takes about 4.5 hours to complete (round trip). Take a good snack for the top, you will need it. During the summer, go for a swim when you get back down to the lake.
5040 (moderate to hard)
This is arguably one of the best hikes on the island. It takes about 4.5 hours and is about 7 km long. 5040 is special because it is pure backcountry. The road to get in is a logging road that often needs a 4×4 vehicle to access the trail. The views from the summit, especially at sunset, will have you wanting to head up there every weekend. In the summer, take a dip in the lake on the way up for a cool-off. In the winter, grab some snow shoes, poles, and good hiking gear to see the snow-capped and layered mountains. Be sure to check for avalanche warnings before heading up here in the winter.
Kings Peak (hard)
Kings Peak has one of the most rewarding views of any on this list, and for good reason. It is the hardest trail on the list at 18.5 km. If you want to try this one in the winter, check for avalanche warnings and make sure you have all the proper gear. If you tackle this one in the summer, make sure you have plenty of water, as the last water source in the summer is at the meadows before you start the summit. This one is in Strathcona park and has outstanding views of the mountains in that area.
Whether you try these on your reading break, or put a pin in them for this spring and summer, be sure to add them to your list, as they are all great ways to get outside and see the unique beauty of the central and north island.