Golden sand fringes the coastline between Parksville (population 11,000) and Qualicum Beach. Parksville Beach claims “the warmest water in the whole of Canada.” When the tide goes out along this stretch of the coast, it leaves a strip of sand up to 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) wide exposed to the sun. When the water returns, voila—sand-heated water.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, a 347-hectare (860-acre) chunk of coastline just south of Parksville, protects a long sandy beach, a wooded upland area, nature trails, and bird-watching action that’s particularly good in early spring, when seabirds swoop in for an annual herring feast. Plenty of campsites are available, but in summer line up early in the morning to stake your claim (walk-in sites $15, RVs and trailers $24).
Right off Parksville’s waterfront downtown strip is Surfside RV Resort (200 Corfield St., 250/248-9713, www.surfside.bc.ca , $38–48), packed with families throughout summer. It has all the usual facilities in a prime oceanfront locale (although no surf as the name may suggest).
This beach community (population 7,500) is generally quieter than Parksville, but it shares the same golden sands of Georgia Strait. You can stay on Highway 19 and take the Memorial Avenue exit to reach the heart of the town, but a more scenic option is to continue along the old coastal highway through Parksville. This route is lined with motels, resorts, and RV parks. The attractive downtown area, locally known as “The Village,” is away from the beach area up Memorial Avenue.
If you appreciate high-quality arts and crafts, detour off the main drag at this point and head for the Old Schoolhouse Arts Centre (122 Fern Rd. W, 250/752-6133, Mon. noon–4:30 p.m., Tues.–Sat. 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m., free). The gallery occupies a beautifully restored 1912 building, while working artist studios below allow you a chance to see woodcarving, printmaking, pottery, weaving, painting, and fabric art in progress.
Old Dutch Inn (2690 West Island Hwy., 250/752-6914 or 800/661-0199, www.olddutchinn.com , $90–110 s or d) is across the road from the ocean and within walking distance of Qualicum Beach Golf Club. Amenities include an indoor pool, sauna and whirlpool, and a restaurant with lots of outdoor seating. The rooms could be nicer, but the location can’t be beat.
Give the central campgrounds a miss and continue 16 kilometers (10 miles) northwest from Qualicum Beach to Qualicum Bay Resort (5970 West Island Hwy., 250/757-2003 or 800/663-6899, www.resortbc.com , tents $18, hookups $28–32, basic cabins with shared bathrooms $40–55 s or d, motel rooms $85–145 s or d). Separated from the water by a road, this family-oriented resort’s facilities include a swimming lake with waterslide, playground, pony rides, game room, ice-cream stand, and restaurant.
If you can drag yourself away from the beach, consider a half-day detour inland to one of Vancouver Island ’s most intriguing natural attractions, the Horne Lake Caves. To get there, continue along the old coastal highway for 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) beyond Qualicum Beach and turn off at the Horne Lake Store, following the road for 16 kilometers (10 miles) west to Horne Lake. Two caves are open for exploration without a guide. There’s no charge for entering these caves, but you’ll need a helmet and light source, which can be rented for $5. Several different guided tours of the more interesting caves are offered.
The 90-minute tour of Riverbend Cave includes a short walk as well as underground exploration and explanation (adult $28, child $22). All caves are open daily 10 a.m.–4 p.m. mid-June–September. A private contractor (250/757-8687, www.hornelake.com ) runs the tours using qualified guides. The company also operates the campground ($20–24 per night), has canoes for rent, and organizes a variety of educational programs such as rock climbing and guided nature walks.