Thursday, 12 November 2015

Picturesque fall hikes in Strathcona Provincial Park on Vancouver Island

Buttle Lake is surrounded by scenic mountains

by Keith and Heather Nicol
   On Wednesday November 11 with the sun shining we headed for a trip into the main part of Strathcona Provincial Park. We drove from Courtenay through Campbell River and then turned off on highway 28 toward Upper Campbell Lake and Buttle Lake.  Snow had fallen along the mountain tops which added to the striking scenery. The last time we had been through this area was about 40 years ago and we were looking forward to hiking some of the easier trails near Buttle Lake. We had searched out some likely hikes on the Strathcona Provincial Park web site ( but discovered that at this time of year some signs have been removed so you need to watch more carefully for trailheads in the offseason. We have also noted GPS locations to help interested hikers find the trail starting points.  Our first hike was to Lower Myra Falls which is a fine hike for a variety of ages. The trail is well marked  and descends downhill from the trailhead at 10 U 0314536E and 5494800N. There are a series of falls here and the main trail gives views of both the upper and lower falls. Overall the trail is about 1 km so allow 30 -40 minutes to complete it. 

Lower Myra Falls is well worth checking out
   The next trail we walked was the Karst Creek Trail and the trail head is at: 10 U 0317626E 5503853N. You can park your car in the parking lot on the opposite side of the road. This trail is definitely rougher than the preceding trail but it is still easy to follow. It is about 1.5 km long and features many aspects of karst (limestone eroded) terrain. For instance, the trail passes by a sinkhole where a stream disappears and in another place a stream appears out of nowhere. This trail also features a small waterfall. Note that you do have to cross a stream which may be a problem in higher water. Allow about  45 minutes for this walk.
Heather walking through the leaves on the Karst Creek Trail
   Our final trail of the day was the Lupin Falls Trail (10 U 0313036E 5519487N) which is about 600 meters long and features a tall, skinny waterfall. This trail is the easiest of the 3 trails and would suit a wide range of walkers from young children to older adults. Allow about 20-25 minutes to walk this loop. There are still some nice fall colours out there and we noted quite a few other short nature trails that we plan to do on our next visit to this area.
Lupin Falls is striking


Sunday, 25 October 2015

Sea kayaking at Fanny Bay with lots of sea lions and birds

by Keith and Heather Nicol 

 On Saturday, October 24 we decided to check out the birds and sea lions at Fanny Bay which is just south of Courtenay. Last fall we had a great time paddling in this area and so we thought we would spend an afternoon on the water since the forecast was calling for light winds with sunny periods.

The sea lions are fun to photograph
There were certainly a steady stream of people walking out on the wharf at Fanny Bay to photograph the sea lions which sit just offshore on a large float. There is a good place to launch kayaks next to the wharf and after circling the barking sea lions on the float we headed to Ship Point to see what birds were in that area. We saw lots of large groupings of surf scoters as well as harlequin ducks and cormorants. There were also a few horned grebes. This area is often quite protected since Denman Island is just offshore and we recommend it for the sea lions and variety of birdlife. 
Harlequin ducks are very photogenic

We saw lots of surf scoters

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Hiking Dog Mountain in Mt Seymour Provincial Park, Vancouver B.C.

by Keith and Heather Nicol
      On Thanksgiving Sunday while on a visit to Vancouver we decided to take advantage of a break in the wet weather to head up to Mt Seymour Provincial Park and check out the Dog Mountain hike. We were joined by our daughter Kristie and her cousins, Ryan and Gillian Nicol as well Maya the dog. On Saturday, October 10 it had rained heavily at times but Sunday dawned with broken cloud so we decided to do a morning hike. Dog Mountain is a short hike of about 2.3 km in length (1 way) and it has little elevation gain so is a popular hike for those wanting an  ½ day trip. There were certainly lots of people hiking this trail on this day and true to its name there were lots of dogs. But keep your dog on a leash since this is a Provincial Park.
The clouds swirled around the adjacent mountains
   To access the start of this trail drive to the top parking lot of Mt Seymour and walk toward the northwest end of the parking lot where the trailhead is located. The trail is well marked and although it starts off looking like it might be an easy walk in the park, it quickly becomes rocky and full of roots with lots of small dips and rises so it is much more of a work out than you might expect.  The trail winds through a lush forest and First Pond before it gets to an impressive lookout which provides views of Vancouver and the adjacent mountains. We enjoyed a snack at the lookout before returning via the same trail. Allow about 2 – 2 ½ hours for the entire hike depending on how long you linger at the lookout. We saw small kids as well as people in their 70’s completing this hike so it will appeal to a wide range of hikers. For more information see
Gillian, Ryan,  Maya the dog and Kristie at the lookout

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Easy hiking trails on Quadra Island

by Keith and Heather Nicol
 On the last day of September we headed to Quadra Island with Judy May, a friend who was visiting from Corner Brook, Newfoundland. The day was sunny with light northwest winds and we were looking forward to checking out some of the easy hiking trails. We first headed to Rebecca Spit where we had done a first rate sea kayak trip earlier in the summer (see Our plan was to hike to the end of the spit and we drove to the large parking lot at the end of the road and set off toward the end of the spit. Parking lot coordinates are: 50 6’ 5.66” N and 125 11’ 16.15” W. This trail is about 1 km long and so the entire hike will take you about 30 minutes of walking. But the scenery is magical and we spent about an hour overall taking photos and watching the fog roll in and out along the shore.

Judy and Heather walking at Rebecca Spit
      After lunch on a sunny log overlooking Heriot Bay we decided to head to the Kay Dubois trail which is located a few kilometers further south from Rebecca Spit. This trail has 2 starting points but opted to begin at the end of Smiths Road. You could also start at the end of Sutil Road. This trail is 2-3 km long (1 way) but we explored just part of it. The trail is mostly in the trees but has many beach access points. On this day the fog floated in and out so we didn’t get much view but we vowed to return to complete the trail when the visibility was better. One bonus of the fog was that cob webs intercepted the cloud droplets so that they were glistening when the sun shone on them.   
Heather at the base a huge tree on the Kay Dubois Trail
Our last trail was Haskin Farm trail which starts from the intersection of Smith and Heriot Bay Roads. It is about 1.5 km (1 way) and it winds through the forest before descending steeply to the beach. It passes by an old farmstead complete with an old apple tree which we took advantage. Like the other trails this one is well marked and by the time we reached the water the fog had cleared giving good views of splendid landscape of ocean and mountains to the east. All of these trails are marked on the tourist map of Quadra and it lists another dozen or so that we are interested in checking out. The trails we took were some of the shorter trails on Quadra Island and they would interest a wide range of walkers and hikers. Check them out on your next trip to Quadra Island. 
The view to the east from the beach at the Haskin Farm trail is impressive

Monday, 14 September 2015

Swimming with salmon in the Puntledge River, Courtenay, B.C.

by Keith and Heather Nicol
On Saturday, September 12 we headed to Puntledge Park in Courtenay to see if any salmon were in the river. The day was sunny and warm for early September with temperatures hitting close to the mid 20 C.  Even so we donned our wet suits but there were several people snorkeling with just their bathing suits. We headed for the pool just off the gravel beach and in no time at all we were blown away by the quantity of fish in the slower water just below the rapids. There must have been hundreds of pink salmon in this area alone! The current is strong in places and the rocks are slippery so you need to pay attention but by swimming to the other side of the river where the current is slower you can stay in one place abit more easily. We had an underwater camera that we were testing for the first time and these photos and video were taken with it.

Some of the 100`s of salmon in the river
   We had so much fun on Saturday that we returned on Sunday, September 13 as well but there were far fewer people snorkeling , likely due to the chillier temperatures. This is an amazing experience and we plan to go back. Click  for a short video on what we saw.
Salmon swimming upstream

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Sea kayaking from Grassy Point to Phillips Point on Hornby Island

 by Keith and Heather Nicol
    For our first 3 days of paddling on Hornby Island we decided to concentrate on the southern part of the island where there are numerous islands and shoreline cliffs to explore. For our last day we decided to check out Grassy Point on the north side of Hornby and paddle west. Also the wind had now changed direction and was blowing more strongly from the southeast so we thought this shore would give us some shelter. The put in at Grassy Point Community Park (10 U 0379334E 5490039N) was easy since the steep gravel beach is located just a few steps from the car park.  This park has a few benches and some nice areas to scramble along the low rocky shoreline. 
Getting ready to launch at Grassy Point
   The coastline is not as dramatic along this part of Hornby Island since the backshore is lower in elevation but you do see Denman and Tree Island  and in the distance you can see north to Comox and beyond. We had to give Collishaw Point a wide berth since the tide was relatively low and there were extensive shallows. We noticed the wind picking up and coming more from the east so we decided to start to head back before the waves got too large. We turned around just before Phillips Point and were surprised by how quickly the waves had built up. Before long we were in waves up to 1 meter in size that fortunately were right in our face so we could paddle directly into them.  Fortunately our launch point was nicely protected from east winds and so we could land in flat calm conditions. Overall this trip was about 8.5 km and it took about 2 hours and 15 minutes of paddling to complete.

For other blogs on sea kayaking on Hornby Island see:

Heather paddling along the north shore of Hornby with Denman Island in the distance