In spite of the large number of trails around Parksville and Qualicum Beach, there are only a few that offer the perfect combination of a circular route, good conditions underfoot, consistently attractive surroundings and reasonable distance. Accepting a degree of compromise opens up all kinds of possibilities, and also raises awareness of environments and happenings that one might miss by limiting oneself to the ideal.
I recently set off to explore an area in which, although popular with a variety of trail users, includes trails that were new to me. Not knowing quite what I’d encounter, I decided that my mountain bike would provide the best mode of transport, as it allows the flexibility to follow trails, then quickly re-trace should either a dead end or unsuitable terrain be encountered.
The area in question links the Lighthouse Country Trails in the South and Nile Creek Trails in the North. Many options exist to access the area and build it into a hike, bike ride or trail run from either of these networks. The Lighthouse Country Trailhead, next to The Lions Club, just off Highway 19A near Bowser, provides good parking and is easily found, so makes for an ideal rendezvous if inviting friends. Walkers may find parking at the South end Linx Road, off Charlton Drive, preferable as it will cut around 5km out of the 10km total described here.
The outward leg on the Lighthouse Country Trail begins with a few hundred metres of gravel from the parking lot to a railway crossing. Immediately after this, look for, but do not take, the minor trail on your left. This is where you will re-join on your return. Turn right along the well made, wheelchair friendly community trail as it meanders above the wetland. After around 2.5 km you’ll reach the information boards at the end of this first section.
Take a left turn through the yellow gate and look for a small wooden bridge over a gully on your right. Cross the bridge and follow the trail for a few hundred metres until you see another trailhead on your left, just before the Nile Creek river valley. An attractive, flowy section of singletrack winds through the trees, out into the slash of a clearcut and across to the hydro cut above the creek. A number of trails drop down into the valley but, in light of the regular, torrential rain that we had been experiencing, I decided to save these for drier months.
Keeping to the right of the hydro line and following the singletrack in preference to the gravel access road will lead you into the beautiful trees along the that form an erosion resisting boundary, holding together the steep slopes above Nile Creek. This lovely trail weaves through (and over and under) moss covered trees that impart the sense of age and climate that gives the area its character. With little warning, the trail pops back out on the hydro line where a left turn quickly directs you back towards the clearcut. Look for a right turn on an access road just before you intersect your outward route, and follow it along to a T-junction at a more substantial gravel road. Turn Left here if you parked at Charlton Drive. If you started at Lioness Blvd, turn right and follow the road through second growth and clearcuts for around 2km, looking for a distinct singletrack trailhead on your left as you re-enter a tunnel of trees following an open area. There is an old RDN trail sign there, but it’s in poor shape and easily missed.
This will return you to the railway crossing described earlier. One word of warning, though; after a few minutes, you’ll come across an intersection with a small bridge on your right. It looks like the trail you should take, but the smaller trail to your left is the one you need, and just a couple of hundred metres from your exit at the rail crossing. The trail over the bridge heads towards Cochrane Road and does not connect with a return loop.
What to take- Carry a whistle, flashlight and small 1st Aid kit. Remember to bring any prescription medications with directions for use. Check weather and choose appropriate footwear and clothing. Even on short trips bring a snack and water. Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return
Getting there- Follow Hwy. 19A North from Dashwood. Turn Left onto Lions Way. Parking at Lioness Blvd.
Alternate, shorter route- Turn off 19A onto Charlton Drive. Turn Left onto Linx Road and park at the trailhead.