Parksville is known as the jewel of Vancouver Island. Qualicum Beach is a mere 10 minutes away and shares the accolade. These coastal towns used to be sleepy, but they've transformed into popular tourist destinations over the years and draw holidaymakers from beyond Greater Vancouver. The beaches are the main attraction, but the region's quaint feel and other spectacular natural attractions, from wildlife and caves to lakes and cascades, increase the appeal for solo travelers and families.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park has clean and well-maintained camping facilities, including wooden outhouses and warm showers. The playground is a hit with kids. You'll likely see wild bunnies, deer, and mink in between beachcombing for shells, building sandcastles, frolicking in the tidal pools, hiking, and barbecuing. It's the ideal coastal spot amidst a Douglas fir forest to make family memories and unwind. The beach is expansive at low tide, and the sunkissed sand turns the water warm and inviting when high tide returns. In spring, migrating Brant geese mean that pets aren't allowed.
If your idea of a perfect vacay features massages, hot tubs, mineral pools, and mani-pedis at a luxurious spa, consider the Grotto Spa At Tigh-Na-Mara. The dip and dine packages have mixed reviews but could be a relaxing treat or date night—the endless tapas experience involves pacing yourself as you make your way through multiple courses over 90 minutes, all while in a robe. But if you're not hungry, yummy salads and charcuterie boards provide a lighter, less pricey dining option.
Parksville's waterfront walkway between the community park and the Beach Club Resort has scenic views and is great for a run, a short cycle, or a stroll at sunrise or sunset. It's wheelchair accessible, and the wheels on skateboards and roller skates are welcome too. A popular annual summer sand sculpture competition draws thousands to the town and results in some amazing structures, so plan your stay in time to see them. Aqua shoes come in handy if you'd like to wade into the water.
Little Qualicum Cheeseworks makes for a nice outing, with over a dozen types of high-quality cheese to sample. Adults and children can marvel at the use of farm technology. The ethically-raised dairy cows here line up to get milked by a robot when it suits them, rather than having set milking times. After exploring the barn and petting a cute assortment of animals, you can grab a mocha from the coffee bar, picnic while taking in the fields and mountains, or get some local artisanal goodies like jams and balsamic vinaigrettes from the well-stocked shop. The fresh cheese curds are a must when available. Take an empty bottle to fill up delicious, whole, grass-fed milk from the dispenser. This is a working farm, so there are better-smelling destinations, but your nose will be just fine.
Craig Heritage Park, or Parksville Museum, is a kid-friendly outdoor museum run by volunteers. It preserves and exhibits local heritage buildings, artifacts, photos, and documents to give visitors some sense of what life was like in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, you can explore model railway replicas, old post offices, and schoolhouses. You can also view a blacksmith demo and chat to the blacksmith about the work. Food trucks and live music add to the ambiance when the farmers' market is on.
Animal lovers have much to coo over at North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre, a world-class rehab facility that's rescued thousands of creatures since it opened its doors. Say hi to the resident bear and white raven, go for a nature walk, check out the pond with its turtles, and examine an eagle's wingspan in the flight cage. You can easily spend two hours at this beloved attraction, learning what goes into treating and releasing animals back into their natural habitat.
If you're interested in birdwatching, you'll be delighted by the Central Vancouver Island Bird Trail, which was launched in 2020. It promises encounters with numerous species along BC's Pacific Flyway for novices and longtime birders alike. Spring is one of the best times to visit, and you can see chestnut-backed chickadees, Cooper's hawks, Bewick's wrens, and more. The drive from Victoria to Parksville Qualicum is postcard-worthy, with picturesque towns and gorgeous nature. Stop at the Cowichan and Nanaimo birding sites.
At colorful Butterfly World in Coombs, you can see butterflies fluttering by and watch them emerge from the chrysalis to learn about their life cycle. If you're lucky enough to have a butterfly land on you, it means more good luck is around the corner. Butterfly World is also home to a peaceful orchid garden, and other critters like tarantulas, turtles, stickbugs, lizards, frogs, and koi fish.
Come drizzle or shine, you can stretch your legs at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park. The park has lovely waterfalls with upper and lower viewpoints, spots to swim upstream, and camping amenities. The short hikes through the canyon are not strenuous, but watch your step for rocks and tree roots, and note that only some are stroller-friendly, and the washrooms don't cater for wheelchairs.
Ocean Ecoventures is centrally located, which results in the highest number of orca sightings in British Columbia. You can choose from tours of varying lengths, including multi-day tours, with a 4-hour tour serving as the company's signature experience. Getting up close and personal with magnificent killer whales and humpbacks is an unforgettable, goosebump-inducing sight, and you'll also get to see other marine animals in the Strait of Georgia's rich ecosystem. An expert guide provides contextual info while communicating with colleagues about additional sightings nearby. Go to the loo beforehand, wear a secure hat, and carry binoculars for an optimal excursion.
Ever wanted to go spelunking? Vancouver Island is one of the best places to embark on a safe and memorable underground adventure. The island's network of protected caves contains crystal formations and fossils, and there are different tours to suit various age groups. The more challenging tours accept individuals 13 and older and require you to be reasonably fit for rappelling and waterfall climbs. The spaces can get pretty tight, and you have to crawl on your belly at specific points—this activity is not for the claustrophobic. You could keep things strictly above ground with a hike at Horne Lake Caves and a visit to the interpretive center.
Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park could just turn you into a tree hugger. The old-growth forest here comprises enormous moss-covered trees that have been around for centuries. Between the hush of the woods, the scent of the air, and the life-affirming green palette, you're guaranteed a sensory hour. The boardwalk is accessible to anyone with mobility issues, and you can swim or fish at Cameron Lake.
This warm water lake has inlets that look like spider legs. The bays and coves here attract kayakers, paddle boarders, windsurfers, freshwater scuba divers, and fishing enthusiasts. Chill out on the sandy beach, go caving, look for pine martins, and soak up the sunshine. Motorized boats are prohibited, so dreadful noise pollution makes way for sounds of glee.
Englishman River Falls deserves a place on your itinerary. Start at Lower Falls and work up to the main attraction. A steep but quick half-hour hike will get you to Upper Falls. Take snacks for when hunger strikes and a bathing suit for the freezing yet refreshing, crystal-clear pools filled with emerald water. Parking is not a problem, and the wide bridge with gorge views is wheelchair-accessible.
Mount Arrowsmith Brewing Company doesn't just attract craft beer lovers. It serves some mean pizza, tacos, and soft pretzels. Friendly staff and live music add to the cozy vibe. You can bring your dog along for the fun.
Buy groceries, home decor, and toys with the knowledge that, somewhere above your head, goats are clip-clopping along and grazing on the grassy roof. That's what you get at the Old Country Market in Coombs. Don't leave without trying the candied salmon and sampling a serving of fresh, uniquely flavored donuts. This is the kind of tourist trap you want to be trapped in.
Paradise Fun Park has two 18-hole mini golf courses, Turf & Surf and Treasure Island. When you're done putting, cool off and simultaneously take revenge by steering and shooting water from bumper boats. Your group will be laughing out loud in no time. Then there's Riptide Lagoon next to Rathtrevor Provincial Park, which also has two fishing village-themed courses and bumper cars. Both locations are solid choices for wholesome, lighthearted entertainment.
Remember the boardwalk? It runs along Parksville Beach. This beach literally has sand dollars in spades. When these sea urchins are black or purple, they're alive; when they're grey or fawn-colored, they're dead (RIP). You can observe the star-shaped pattern until you get your fill, but when you're done, leave the sand dollar on the beach. Kids will love the play area and water cannons. There are also beach volleyball courts, an outdoor gym, and a skate park for good measure.
We've already touched on the Beach Club Resort near the boardwalk, and Tigh-Na-Mara with its Grotto Spa. But where else could you stay if you're in town? Qualicum Beach Inn, Sunrise Ridge Waterfront Resort, and The Bayside Oceanfront Resort could be what you're looking for. If you have an RV, there are multiple RV locations in the area. You'll also find really cute Airbnbs.
Discover the serene beauty of Parksville Qualicum Beach from the water with a coastal kayaking adventure. Glide across the calm waters, where the rhythmic strokes of your paddle blend with the gentle lapping of the waves. This activity offers a unique perspective of the shoreline's natural splendor, allowing you to explore hidden coves and observe local wildlife in their natural habitat. Suitable for beginners and experienced kayakers alike, this experience promises tranquility and a deeper connection with nature. Whether you're seeking a peaceful solo journey or a fun-filled family outing, kayaking here adds an unforgettable dimension to your visit.