Hike the heart of Vancouver Island #ExplorePortAlberni


Rebecca Bollwitt (AKA Miss 604)

“That’s a MacGillivray's warbler,” said our intrepid guide Sandy McRuer, pausing mid-sentence, looking up into the trees.

We had just hopped out of the pick-up truck after ascending a dusty logging road outside of Port Alberni. With our morning coffees wearing off and the sun about to pierce the sky for the first time that day, we continued to a spot called Gracie’s Lookout where Sandy assured us we’d see an awesome sunrise.

Sandy used to work for the forest service and after moving to the area 30 years ago, he’s got a wealth of knowledge about Port Alberni. He’s also into birding, stopping again to point out a western flycatcher.  

#ExplorePortAlberni, start by checking into Alberni Valley Tourism’s website.

Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

Take a unique hike with a First Nations guide to the 5,500-year-old Kiixin Ancient Village Site. Just 10 minutes up a path that looks like someone’s grown-over driveway, there was a clearing. In the distance was Sproat Lake, with its X-like arms marking the landscape like a treasure map. The sun was just high enough to start burning through the morning cloud; it was an epic sight and a spectacular way to start the day.

Sandy led us around the Port Alberni Valley and Nahmint Valley, wherever the forest services roads wound up, down and around thick rainforests. If you’re going to explore a region for the first time, having a local as your guide is a great idea to hear about the flora and fauna of the area.

Looking to get the most out of your trip to Port Alberni? Check out our one-day itinerary. 

Watch Hiking the Alberni Valley on YouTube.

Video by Chris Wheeler Media

“There’s a change in the forest when a Douglas fir dies,” Sandy tells us at our next stop. Old growth groves surround Nahmint Lake Recreation Area, about another 30 minutes down the road from Gracie’s Lookout.  “Douglas firs don’t grow in their own shade, so other trees like hemlock will sprout up and take over.”

Nahmint Lake
Photo: Nancy Shields

The recreation site features drive-in and walk-in campsites, a pristine, glassy lake, surrounded by sand and smooth, rounded driftwood, along with a creek and cataract waterfalls. We were surrounded by giant, towering old growth trees 100s of years old. 

We skipped some stones on the lake then followed the creek up to the mouth of the waterfall. A fern- and lichen-covered path rose from the creek bed and gave us a great vantage point of the falls about a third of the way to their peak point of cascade.

Port Alberni Hiking
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

How was Sandy going to top this on the next stop?

Fossli Provincial Park is back down the road with a suspension bridge, rolling creek, fern gully, mossy old growth maple trees, a waterfall and beachfront access to Sproat Lake – and the audible call of one or two red-breasted sapsuckers.

Port Alberni Hiking
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

Fossli’s delights were seemingly endless. I’ve seen a Pacific Northwest forest or two and the old growth maples with their thick, round trunks, upholstered in moss and licorice fern were a sight to behold. The forest path on the other side of the suspension bridge turned into an open cathedral of maples with trunks like flying buttresses It’s a spiritual experience for any outdoor nature lover.

Leaving the waterfall and creek behind, we wandered into an area that Sandy called the old potato patch – a leftover clearing from a pioneer in the area. Potatoes weren’t the only signs of the gardening efforts, there were also rhododendrons, St. John’s wort, periwinkle growing alongside native plants like the sticky, prickly devil’s club.

Hiking Port Alberni
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

A sign pointed us to the beachfront picnic area and Sproat Lake revealed itself. Cottages and cabins lined the shorelines across the way. It looked much bigger than the view I got earlier in the day from Gracie’s Lookout.

After a quick picnic, we hit the road for our final hiking hot spot of the day. Hole in the Wall is what you could call “Instagram famous.” Accessible from a trail alongside the main highway on the eastern side of town, there is a well-travelled gravel path that leads down to the site of the old Alberni Water Works pipeline. There, you’ll find water gushing through a literal hole in the wall, a circle cut through the shale.

Port Alberni Hiking
Photo: Rebecca Bollwitt

But don’t stop there! Less than 100 metres south on the path, the creek-side is covered in inukshuks built by visitors. An art installation, route marker, a moment of Zen – however you look at it, it was magical.

At the end of the day, whet your whistle at Port Alberni’s own award-winning craft brewery: Twin City Brewing. A sampler flight with one of their delicious house-made pizzas really hits the spot.

beer port alberni
Photo: Nancy Shields

The Beatnik (a delicious combo of walnut beet pesto, goat cheese and arugula) or a Pork & Pear (pancetta, pear, Swiss cheese and prosciutto chips) will refuel you for your next expedition in the beautiful forests of Port Alberni.

If You Go

Please note that some of these hikes are found on active logging roads. Please be aware that a 4x4 vehicle may be required to access these destinations.

Search #ExplorePortAlberni for more inspiration. Be sure to tag #ExplorePortAlberni while exploring the region as you could be featured on our social media channels!

Looking to get the most out of your trip to Port Alberni? Check out our one-day itinerary. 

Start planning your adventures in Port Alberni at Alberni Valley Tourism.

Start exploring your Port Alberni region options with Destination BC.

Find out more at the City of Port Alberni’s website.

Uncover more about the Port Alberni region's offers for adventure. Check out ZenSeekers' #ExplorePortAlberni Expedition page to see how you can have an adventure like this.

Rebecca Bollwitt is a Seekers' correspondent and award-winning blogger based in Vancouver. Follow her travels on Instagram and Twitter @Miss604.

Like Our Facebook Page