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Saturday, February 20, 2016

17 Waterfall Hikes along the Central East Coast of Vancouver Island

Everyone loves waterfalls. From a distance they sparkle, are magical and tranquil. Up close waterfalls are deafening, powerful and spectacular.  They captivate us, stimulate our senses and are a highlight of many hikes on Vancouver Island.  Here in the Pacific Northwest waterfalls are plentiful and winter is the best time for hiking to waterfalls.  My favorite waterfall encounters are the ones that I stumble upon by accident or are only there due to the endless winter rain. There are no maps or names for these waterfalls, they are the rewards of hiking and exploring.

Thankfully, there are plenty of waterfalls closer to home territory so I can get my fix of cascading water when time does not allow me to hunt for them on my own. Between Cowichan Valley north to Fanny Bay, a distance spanning 125km or so along the east coast of Vancouver Island, are 17 waterfalls that are worth exploring. Ranging from super easy to moderate/difficult. Short hike/long hike. Ropes/no ropes. There is something for everyone.


1. Millstone River Falls in Bowen Park
Boot level - Super Easy
Region - Nanaimo
Location - Access off of Bowen Road on Millstream Parkway

Probably the most accessible waterfall in Nanaimo.  Perfect for young families just getting into exploring the outdoors with their little ones. I loved taking my kids here when they were little. The trails gave me satisfaction of being in nature and the river, flora and outdoor setting provided great entertainment for my kids. One being the duck pond which is a fabulous way to encourage and experience wildlife encounters.  Recommend bringing some duck feed with you to enhance the experience. There are some trails to explore, interpretive signs, a fish ladder, and be sure to visit the rhododendron grove in the spring for a burst of color! Oh, and the waterfall is pretty cool too!

2. Waterfall at Colliery Dam
Boot level - Super Easy
Region - Nanaimo
Location - Parking lots off of Nanaimo Lakes Road and corner of Wakesiah Ave and 6th St. Can also park on side of Harewood Mines Road.

Oddly enough, I have never actually seen the waterfall with my own eyes but have visited Colliery Dam many, many times. My usual time spent here is trail running with the kids as they prepare for the school cross country running events every fall. The trails are a mix of paved, groomed gravel, boardwalk, bridges, and single track. There are two lakes with trails around each which always seem to grab our attention. Usually our rock skipping championships take place here.  Next time I am passing thru the area I will be sure to stop and check out the waterfall. Perfect way to sneak in a daily dose of nature with the family. (photo coming soon)

3. Ammonite Falls
Boot level - Moderate
Trail: 5km total
Region - Nanaimo
Location - Jameson Road with parking lot on Creekside Pl.

Ammonite Falls are the best bang for your buck in the Nanaimo area. They are truly spectacular all year round. The hike in is a gentle descent along a mix of old gravel roads and trails thru treed and logged forests. I graded this hike as moderate because of the ropes required to use to get down to the falls. You don't have to go down but the ropes are handy and allow for more exploring along the creek.  The falls are named Ammonite for a reason, pick up a rock and there is sure to be a fossil. The slope to get down can be muddy with all the waterfall mist so don't be afraid to get a little dirty.  Trail signage has improved over the years but on a few occasions I have met people on the trail who were unsure as to how to get back or tried going back a different way but were a bit confused. I find following the signs in works great and taking the more steep trail back makes a nice 5km loop. Head back past the trail taken on the way in.  Trail will begin to go uphill, keep left at the first trail intersection (will be heading away from Benson Creek) and the trail pops out at the end of the gravel road that you came in on.



4. Waterfall on Mt. Benson 
Boot level - Moderate
Trail: Will map route and update
Region - Nanaimo
Location - Parking area at Witchcraft Lake on Mt. Benson Road

Before getting the kids up to the summit of Mt. Benson, way back when they were about 5 and 3 years old, we would play on the web of trails Mt. Benson has acquired. A favorite loop we would do was to hike up trail #1 to the waterfall, continue up to the logging road and then back down the more popular trail #2.  Add in stopping at the viewpoint and checking out the old cabin remains making this an adventurous day for families or those wanting to give Mt. Benson a try before going all the way to the top! I have always liked this loop because it is challenging, offers a view overlooking Nanaimo and the Strait of Georgia, a beautiful forest to hike thru with a waterfall thrown in for fun.  I think of this loop as a break from the usual grind up and down Mt. Benson. Best to check out the waterfall during the winter months. It does tend to dry up later in the summer.  I will get up there soon and track my loop for a more accurate distance and route. I graded this as moderate but keep in mind it is a challenge not only due to the fact it is steep climbing right from the get go, but also because you have to be willing to navigate yourself around the trails with some confidence and know how.





5. Little Qualicum Falls (Provincial Park)
Boot Level: Easy/Moderate
Trail: 6km of trails within the park
Region: Parksville/Qualicum
Location: 19 km north of Parksville on Hwy 4.

Another waterfall I have not yet checked out, mostly due to the fact we are en route to somewhere else when we pass the Provincial Park. That is not to say that the waterfalls are not worth your time. They most certainly are.  Now, because I have not been there, I am not sure if the trails are easy or moderate, but do know the trails to and around the falls are not long in distance. My task, should I choose to accept, is check out the falls myself and report back. (Happy to share a photo if you have.)

6. Englishmen River Falls (Provincial Park)
Boot Level: Easy/Moderate
Trail: 3km of maintained trail in park
Region: Parksville/Qualicum/Errington
Location: Errington Road off of Hwy 4. Directional Signage provided.

When its flowing the waterfall is impressive and powerful! Provincial Parks are great for  having well maintained trails and allowing access to view these beautiful waterfalls but if your looking for a full day hike or to escape people, this is not it. It is a beautiful canyon amidst an old growth forest, offering plenty of nature wow factor.  Great for families or as a side trip if in the area.


7. Triple Falls
Boot Level: Easy
Trail: less than 1km
Region: Parksville/Qualicum/Errington
Location: Park at end of Sierra Road in Errington

For those looking to escape the manicured trails and tourists at Little Qualicum or Englishmen River, there is an out of the way spot nearby with three small waterfalls.  They are not as spectacular as their neighboring waterfalls but the effort to navigate to the trail head and then finding your way is the challenge. A few trails are evident but take the trail to the right and continue past the pumphouse,  then about 10 mins or so to the falls.


8. Rosewall Creek Falls
Boot Level: Easy/Moderate
Trail: Aprox. 8 km total
Region: Fanny Bay
Location: From Hwy 19, Cook Creek Road to Hwy 19A, north to Berray Road. Directional signage posted.

Rosewall Creek is a provincial park but the falls are not within the parks boundary. Trail to the falls follows along the south side of the creek and then over the creek via a bridge. Once on north side of creek, you will go under hwy 19A and then under Hwy19.  After that it is a beautiful single track trail through a dense forest and moss covered trees following the creek upstream. At the falls there are opportunities to explore further and check out the larger falls. For a more detailed account of the hike, check out my blog post Waterfalls and Sea Lions.
NOTE: Some readers have informed me that when water levels are high, the creek overflows and portion of the trail can be cut off, usually between late Nov to Early Feb (pending rainfall) Eventually the water resides and trail is accessible.


9. Nile Creek Falls
Boot Level - Moderate
Trail: 14km round trip or 5 km round trip (approximate distances)
Region: North of Qualicum
Location: From Hyw 19A, head west to the end of Charelton Road (14km trail) or park off hwy 19, north side, at the Nile Creek bridge (5km trail)

If you are looking for waterfalls, this is waterfall wonderland. The trail follows alongside Nile Creek the entire way. Trail is mostly single track and not much for elevation until you reach the waterfalls. Beautiful forest with a variety of trees, several cool bridges made from fallen trees, and waterfall after waterfall to reward you at the end. This trail is suitable all year round and makes for a great day hike. When I hiked here last, I was with a large group and was distracted from taking pictures so the photos I do have are not worthy of posting.  The likelihood of me returning here in the near future is slim so, if you have a photo of one of the falls you would like to share, let me know. Happy to showcase it here.

10. Bonnell Creek Falls
Boot Level - Moderate/Difficult
Trail: 3km
Region: Nanoose
Location: End of Sundew Place (off Sommerset Road and Sea Blush Drive)

Bonnell Creek Falls are another set of waterfalls I have not yet explored but hear it is an adventure to get to them. Those up for the adventure will be rewarded with a series of three waterfalls, the third one requires dropping down a 20' vertical bank, with ropes to help of course. In fact, a couple rope sections are required to see all three waterfalls.  My good friend over at Island Nature has been to the falls and has a great write up along with spectacular photos. Check out his post Bravery Needed at Bonnell Creek

11. Crystal Falls
Boot level: Easy/Moderate
Trail: 6km loop
Region: Ladysmith
Location: Parking access on Dogwood Drive, Mackie Road or Methuen/6th Ave entrance

Crystal Falls is just one of the features of the Holland Creek Trail in Ladysmith. I mostly love trail running here, always stopping to stretch at the falls, which are best viewed from the south side trail.  A mix of groomed trail and single track with various elevation thrown in. It is a great place to start hiking or get out with the family. Expand the hike by heading up to Heart Lake and/or hiking the Stocking Creek Lake trail.  So many options but most important, there is a waterfall to entice you there. (I have photos somewhere, will update when I find them.)

12. Stocking Creek Falls
Boot Level: Easy
Trail: 2-3km
Region: Ladysmith
Location: Parking access at end of Finch Place or Thicke Road

I love these falls. They are so close to civilization yet once you start getting close, hear the water running, and feel the waterfall spray, civilization seems to disappear. One of the best features of the waterfall here is you can get behind it! It is truly an amazing sound to stand behind and underneath the waterfall and feel the power. Ever stuck your head under a waterfall? Trails in the park are well maintained but you can find some single track trails to explore. Pack a lunch and enjoy an afternoon hanging out by the creek. (picnic tables near Thick Road entrance) This has always been a favorite and special place to go with my kids, letting them explore wild spaces in a safe environment.



13. Christie Falls
Boot level: Moderate
Trail: 8km total (to falls and back)
Region: Ladysmith
Location: From Hwy 19, take Grouhel Road exit, right on Christie Road, and then left on Arroyo Road. Just past yellow gate, on the right, is an old logging road to fish hatchery (gated) Park here and follow road to fish hatchery.

Christie Falls are amazing. They sort of come out of nowhere and take your breath away, especially in the winter when the water flow is powerful. The hike to the falls involves walking 2.5km on a logging road, then a 500m or so hike up to the falls. We usually bring our bikes and ride to the fish hatchery and stash the bikes in the bush.  From here, the trail leads up Bush Creek and is easy to follow.    Biking the road leaves more time to explore the falls. Trail is a single track with plenty of roots, elevation, and some ropes to help get you up above the large falls. Some other options while here is to hike/bike Cammus Ridge and/or check out Thistle Mine (14km total for this route) A section of the Trans Canada Trail connects Bush Creek to Haslam Creek and can be a great all day bike trip for the whole family. Cross the creek and let the adventures begin. So many options.




14. Skutz Falls
Boot Level: Moderate (with hike)
Trail: 7k Skutz Falls to Mile 66 Trestle Loop
Region: Cowichan Valley
Location: West on Hwy 18, left at Skutz Falls Road and right on Mayo Road. Parking at river.

Skutz Falls would be better described as steep rapids. An interesting feature is the man made fish ladders that help get the fish up the Cowichan River. May be fun to check that out at the right time. Viewing the falls takes no time so why not add in an afternoon hike along the banks of the Cowichan River. Hikes are best when combined with waterfalls. 

15. Maple Mountain Falls
Boot Level: Moderate
Trail: 6km total (short version) or 11km loop (Blue/Yellow Trail Loop)
Region: Cowichan Valley
Location: Near Crofton, park at end of Chilco Road

This may not be an actual waterfall but everytime I run past, I stop and admire it. When I first starting exploring Maple Mountain, it was summer and never saw a speck of water dripping. So, when I set off one day mid winter and came upon the bridge, I was pleasantly surprised at the new view that was before me. There are likely many, many trails on Vancouver Island very similar to this but I like this trail and I like the waterfall so I am putting it on the list. Don't go looking for it mid to late summer though. Go while the water is flowing! Maple Mountain has a few hiking trail options and all are spectacular. When I go with the kids we start at Chilco Road and head down Blue to the Yellow Trail, pass the waterfall and end at about the 3km mark which is a nice flat spot along the Sansum Narrows. We never have time to do the full Yellow/Blue Loop due to exploring, eating, and just being lazy so back out the way we came it is. Hiking or trail running the entire loop is well worth the effort, one I have enjoyed doing many times, always stopping to admire the flowing water.


16. Knarston Falls
Boot Level: Moderate
Trail: Variety of distances
Region: Lantzville
Location: See map for parking trail access, one being at the end of Normarel Drive.

Just so happens that I learned about these waterfalls as I was writing this blog so this is a brand new one for me too! If you want to hike the trails and see the falls located in the Copely Ridge Forest, I suggest taking a quick moment and read some info the Save Lanztville Forest has put together.  Then, grab your family and friends and go check out the trails and waterfall yourself. Knarston Falls are not the ones labelled on map.  They are accessible via a new trail (P&R Railroad) off of Wildebeest.


17. Banon Creek Falls (Chemainus River)
Boot Level: Easy
Trail: 5 mins to river on well used path. 
Region: Chemainus
Location: From Hwy 19 turn west on Sticker Mt Road. Then North onto Grace Road. Follow for 4km to parking area with locked gate.

Pack a picnic lunch and head on down to the river for the day.  Banon Creek Falls are perfect for those sunny spring days with family or friends. There are some trails to check out or just walk along the creeks edge exploring on your own. The waterfall makes a great backdrop.


With any outdoor adventure, be prepared and be safe around rivers, creeks, steep banks and waterfalls. Heavy rain can cause loose soil and erosion, wet rocks plus cooler temps equals slippery surface, and use common sense when attempting to use ropes or navigating steep sections.

Boot Levels:
Super Easy - Short distance, easy access, well groomed paths, and elevation change minimal.
Easy - Short distance, easy access, groomed paths and some elevation change.
Easy/Moderate - Variety of trails (groomed and single track) with moderate elevation change.
Moderate - At least 5km, mostly single track trail, mixed elevation changes, steep banks with possible ropes to aid in access to falls.
Moderate/Difficult - More effort required to access trail, technical single track trails, greater distance with moderate elevation change.
Difficult - Less accessible, technical trail and moderate to high elevation change.

Photography:

Hiking to waterfalls almost always involve taking photos. We use the Canon EOS Rebel. Check it out on Amazon.

24 comments:

  1. At Rosewall Creek the creek has changed course, it now cut across the trail, just on the other side of the new highway.In the winter you can't cross the creek. Hopefully a solution can be found.

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    1. Thank you for the update. I do know hikers are still getting to the falls as recent as mid February so an alternate trail must be beaten down. The power of nature is so unpredictable. Thanks again for the info. Cheers!

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    2. This is so great! We have been looking for new places to hike and explore. I hope to visit all these places!

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  2. I was at the Rosewall falls yesterday....yes, the river rises and cuts it off often in November/December...but be patient...it comes back :)

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  3. Check out Beach Estates Park in Nanaimo for a cool rainy season falls after a 3-5 minute walk....

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    1. Yes, another great waterfall nestled in the hustle and bustle of city life. We are so lucky!

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    2. I have a photo of these falls if you would like it.

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    3. Thanks MissBCricket, if I do an updated post and add more waterfalls to the list, I will add Beach Estates and will happily use your photo! Thanks!

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  4. Thanks for this, will be making a conscious effort to visit each one as I have time

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    1. Your welcome and I sure do hope you can get to them all. They all offer something a little bit different and unique.

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  5. Love this information. I am looking for new spots to see waterfalls all the time and winter on the Island is best.

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    1. Happy waterfall exploring! Island winters are the best, I agree.

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  6. Bonnell Creek Falls can be brutal to get to.
    My wife just started to climb down the steep embankment to the ropes, when she slipped, slid and hit a tree, breaking her ankle.
    Definately wouldn't advise going there when it's wet out.

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    1. Oh dear, that is not cool. Wishing her a speedy recovery.

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  7. The Triple Falls trail was great, a convenient add-on to a visit to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Center. Note that there's a misleading "Private Driveway" sign on the trail which can be ignored as there is no driveway here. It does tell you that you're on the correct path to the waterfalls though.

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  8. Great information. I am visiting Vancouver Island and it would be super helpful to have an island map and the falls sites listed on the map so that I could easily and quickly know which falls were in my area. Thanks again. Yona

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  9. Re Little Qualicum Falls, the total loop starting at the Lower Bridge, crossing the river and following the trail to the Upper Bridge and back to the car park, takes about one and a half hours, allowing for a few stops at viewpoints. Not just the falls but the entire canyon is well worth seeing. Recommended for a winter walk, because the trail remains safe and in good condition all year, there is lots of water to make the falls more spectacular, and there will be few other visitors on the trail.

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  10. Excited to do the waterfall tour!! On my spring/summer to do list :)

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  11. Any idea where this is? https://www.flickr.com/photos/gavgristle/24264210701/

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    1. Somewhere along the Malahat according to this post.. https://www.fototripper.com/portfolio-item/tunnel-falls-vancouver-island/

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  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  13. Love your post! I would suggest removing or altering #7 Triple Falls, however. To access the trail this way you have to cross private property and the owners are very concerned with people using the trail. There have been a few issues and they have since increased the signage informing users they are trespassing. There is an alternative!! At the end of Catherine Place off Englishman River Rd. there is a trail that takes you right to the top of the falls :)

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  14. Bonnell creek falls trail has been destroyed by logging. The area around the falls is untouched however. Would not recommend for a hike. The falls are worthwhile to see though.

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