Hikes to Lose Yourself On
By Anika Michaux
Do you know that feeling of getting lost in nature? Losing yourself among the pine trees that coat British Columbia? I was born in Nanaimo, and grew up with mountains and forests only a short distance away. This temperate rainforest will always be a place I call home, not only because of its spectacular natural attractions, but because of the trails that lead you to them.
I can’t say I immediately loved hiking. It took me a while to appreciate the therapeutic benefits of being outdoors. Perhaps the biggest obstacle is knowing you want to go somewhere, but having no idea how to get there, or what to expect from the trail. So, to help those of you who might also want to develop a hiking habit, here are some of my favourite trails on Vancouver Island.
Trail: Forbidden Plateau (Paradise Meadows)
Area: Courtenay/Mount Washington
Length: 7k total
Time: About three hours (depending on pace)
Hike level: Easy-to-moderate
My family and I hiked this trail in the summer, while we were staying at Mount Washington. It was during the coast’s forest fire season and the smoke made it feel apocalyptic.
We accessed the trail, located in Strathcona Park, by walking to Raven Lodge. The trail is predominantly boardwalk. We merged two loops together, starting on the Paradise Meadows loop, then following trail markers to Lake Helen Mackenzie and Battleship Lake. It’s a great hike for all times of year. In winter, it’s especially popular with cross-country skiers and snowshoers.
But we were there in summer, so we swam in Lake Mackenzie to beat the warm day. I noticed plenty of other swimmers on our way back. The smoke made the mountains over the lake hazy, but the hike was still scenic and peaceful. I’d like to hike this trail again on a clearer day.
Trail: Juan de Fuca (Mystic Beach)
Area: Sooke/Port Renfrew
Length: 4k total
Time: An hour or less (depending on pace)
Hike level: Easy-to-moderate, with one challenging section
If you’re starting from the central or south Island area, this section of the Juan de Fuca Trail is great day hike. The trailhead is located at the China Beach day-use area, starting at the wooden map board.
To get to the beach, be sure to take the Juan de Fuca route. The map board has a tide chart that’s worth checking out if you’re wondering what the water-to-beach ratio is going to be. I’ve been at both high and low tide and it’s lovely both ways. Plan to spend some time on the beach, as the view is scenic and a good place to swim in the summer. However, choose your footwear carefully. Don’t ask me why, but the first time I hiked this trail, I wore Birkenstocks. Learn from my mistake.
The suspension bridge at about the halfway mark is a fun feature for kids (and adults). Depending on time of year and rainfall, some sections of the trail can become muddy and slippery. These sections are closer to the end of the trail descending down towards the beach. They’re passable, though, if you tread with patience.
Trail: Roberts Roost via Morrell
Length: 6k total
Time: Two hours (depending on pace)
Hike level: Easy-to-moderate
My hiking buddy (my mum) and I accessed this trail in Nanaimo through Morrell’s Nature Sanctuary, which is located a little ways past Colliery Dam Park. One of a number in the area, it can be challenging to find. After heading past the information booth, look for a sign indicating “Fire Lane” to the right and “Hydro Line” to the left. Take the trail to the left, which leads to a green gate, and beyond that a gravel road under power lines. Cross the road and look for a trail leading back into the forest. The trail head is marked with two orange vertical bars.
After that, you have a choice of routes up to Roberts Roost. We followed the trail marked Old Stumpy. The trail is shouldered by roots and small streams, and we hiked it in winter, which meant zigzagging around some flooded areas. Once we came to the logging road, we took a sharp turn right, and proceeded up to what my mum calls the fun part. This section puts the H in hike, as the terrain becomes a gradual uphill grind, including a small rock climbing section where we maneuvered up muddy boulders.
All this, though, makes it sound more intimidating than it is. There’s only one place where the incline really gets steep, and there are ropes to assist.
I’d recommend bringing gloves for the rope section. They help with grip and to keep mud and water away from the hands. Also bring a warm rain jacket or windbreaker, and shoes that will keep you dry and that you’re willing to get muddy. Hiking boots or running shoes are always good options. I’d also recommend water, snacks such as Clif Bars, and a basic first aid kit.
Once we hit the “Give The World A Hug” sign, the scenery made it all worth it. The trees cleared and we were able to give the aerial view of Nanaimo’s waterfront a big embrace. The hike is close to a military firing range, so distant rifle fire was part of the ambiance. But mostly, it was wonderfully peaceful. We met a couple and their curious dog at the top of Roberts Roost, and we all sighed and took a moment to absorb our surroundings in silence.
When hiking, it’s important to practice leaving no trace, aside from our footprints. Be proactive — throw a plastic bag into your backpack and bring your garbage home to be properly disposed of. This applies not just to hiking but all outdoor adventuring. Let’s leave these beautiful places the way we find them, so others can enjoy them too.
These are the three BC trails that I will return to time and time again — Forbidden Plateau for the best combination of a summer hike and swim, Juan De Fuca for a beach that stretches on into nothingness, and Roberts Roost for making me feel small and wonderfully insignificant. Go lose yourself on them.
Click below to join me on my hike down to Mystic Beach, and then up to Roberts Roost.