North Nanaimo Driving Tour
We've designed our 37-kilometer Nanaimo driving tour to introduce some of the city's finest beaches, trails, parks, neighbourhoods, and other attractions. It begins at the Departure Bay Ferry Terminal, terminus of the BC Ferries route from Horseshoe Bay. As you leave the terminal, turn right and follow the signs for Highway 19 North. Go one km up Brechin Road to the first traffic lights and turn right onto Estevan Road. This soon becomes Departure Bay Road, which you follow 1.8 km down the hill to Departure Bay Beach.
Departure Bay is one of Nanaimo's most scenic spots with beachfront benches where you can sit and watch the Vancouver ferries coming and going. The hardy can swim in the ocean here in mid-summer, and there are washrooms and picnic tables in nearby Kin Park.
Turn right onto Hammond Bay Road at the lights just past 7 Eleven and continue north along the coast for 1.2 km to the Pacific Biological Station, 3190 Hammond Bay Road. Take a sharp right down Rickers Curve just before the sign. The Pacific Biological Station, established in 1908, remains Canada's main fisheries research facility on the west coast. Bright red research vessels often tie up here, and there's a good view of rocky Brandon Island from the parking lot (which is often full on weekdays). The Residence, a large wooden building with a sloping roof on the hillside above the modern complex, dates from 1928. It originally housed visiting scientists and staff but is now used for laboratories and offices.
After driving another 800 meters north on Hammond Bay Road, turn left on Linley Road (marked "No Exit"). It's easy to miss the turn, so drive slowly. A boardwalk up Cottle Creek begins at the end of the road but parking is limited, so turn around and drive back until you find a place to park. Many lovely hiking trails wind through the Linley Valley's old growth forest. Much of this area is unmanaged provincial crown land in urgent need of protection.
Another 1.3 km up Hammond Bay Road, turn right at Lagoon Road, then immediately right again onto Place Road, which runs 500 meters to Pipers Lagoon Park, another Nanaimo beauty spot. There's a long sandy beach where you can swim, with picnic tables, washrooms, and outdoor showers provided. It takes about an hour to hike around the isthmus with one rocky section to cross. The park is famous for its Garry Oak ecosystem. Shack Island off the northwest end of the isthmus is dotted with picturesque fishing shacks dating from the 1960s. In the 1970s a plan by developers to dredge the park's tidal lagoon for a marina and to build a 99-unit apartment complex was only thwarted by protests led by schoolchildren. Today Pipers Lagoon Park is kept in as natural a state as possible.
Turn right on Hammond Bay Road and drive one km northwest to Morningside Road, then right again to Neck Point Park. The beach here is often used by scuba instructors to teach diving techniques. This park has many scenic trails and viewing platforms, which you can access via the paved pedestrians-only road up the hill from the parking area. Watch for deer and bald eagles.
Just 900 meters west on Hammond Bay Road, you pass Piper's Pub on the right, a good lunch stop. Another three km west on Hammond Bay Road, turn left onto Rutherford Road at the first lights. This road climbs three km south through an upscale North Nanaimo neighbourhood. Keep straight across Highway 19A (Island Highway North) and continue southwest on Mostar Road. Cross the train tracks and continue one km through an industrial area toward Mount Benson.
Go straight across Highway 19 (Nanaimo Parkway) onto Jingle Pot Road. After 900 meters you leave the Nanaimo City limits and enter an agricultural zone with horses and sheep in the fields. On the right, G.P. Cottonwood Stables, 3735 Jingle Pot Road, offers riding lessons. Watch for deer as you drive along. Jingle Pot Road curves left and passes country homes on large wooded lots. Unfortunately, suburbia is sprawling into this rural area and the mixed woodlands and meadows are being devoured by subdivisions.
About five km beyond Highway 19, you re-enter City Limits at an electricity sub-station. Just under one km past the sub-station, take a sharp right onto Mill Road. This road merges left into Arbot Road and after 1.4 km you reach a stop sign at Westwood Road. Turn right and go south 400 meters over a small hill to Westwood Lake.
Westwood Lake Park has Nanaimo's most popular public beach and on a hot summer's day you could have trouble parking. A second parking area is 100 meters beyond the first. Washrooms with outdoor showers are between the parking areas, and there are several pontoons in the lake for swimmers. Picnic tables are also provided. Speedboats are prohibited on the lake but there's a ramp where you can launch watercraft without gas motors (the lake is stocked with trout). A broad six-km trail leads right around the 66-hectare lake, a hike of an hour or two. The steepest part is over a rock bluff to the left of the parking area. You get a fine view of Mount Benson, Nanaimo's signature mountain, from this park.
Follow Westwood Road one km north to Jingle Pot Road and turn right. You'll pass the Jingle Pot Pub on your right, cross Highway 19 again, and keep straight on Jingle Pot Road. Eight hundred meters east of Highway 19, take a sharp left on Jingle Pot, then immediately left again into a parking lot. You've reached the Buttertubs Marsh Conservation Area, an important nesting area for waterfowl and songbirds. Panels with photos and information on Nanaimo's history and environment are at the end of the parking lot, with a brick miner's cottage dating from 1910 just behind. The level 1.2-km trail around Buttertubs Marsh is one of the city's most enjoyable walks with numerous benches and viewing platforms. If you take the trail to the right and go around the lake counter-clockwise you'll be on the Trans Canada Trail.
From the Buttertubs Marsh parking lot, turn right then immediately left onto Third Street. You'll pass sports fields on the left before reaching the Nanaimo Ice Centre on the left one km from the marsh. Turn in and park. Erected in 2007, the Ice Centre has two NHL-sized ice sheets used by midget and minor hockey teams from August to March (from April to July it's used for lacrosse). On the other side of Third St. from the Ice Centre is the Nanaimo Aquatic Centre, a public indoor swimming pool with a fitness room, hot tub, sauna, steam room, and waterslides. It's open daily yearround, admission $6.25 for adults, $4.50 for students 13 to 18 and seniors 60 or over, and $3.25 for kids under 13. Beside it is Serauxmen Stadium, home of the Nanaimo Pirates baseball team (season from April to August). Vancouver Island University, formerly known as Malaspina University-College, is visible on the hillside behind the stadium.
Continue east on Third St. 300 meters to the traffic lights at Wakesiah Avenue. Turn left and drive 1.2 km north on Wakesiah to Bowen Road. Turn right and after 500 meters, turn left into Bowen Park. Next to the park's main parking area is a lawn bowling area, a recreational centre (with washrooms), an outdoor swimming pool (May to September only), and a covered picnic area. Drive down the road beside the pool and continue right on Millstream Parkway until you see a small parking area on the right (if it's full, a larger parking lot is just ahead). The rhodos in the Hailey Rhododendron Grove are at their best from April to mid-May. Boardwalks and a trail with descriptive panels follow the Millstone River upstream to a large waterfall.
You leave Bowen Park east of the Rhododendron Grove and turn right on Wall St. where you see the Nanaimo Curling Club. At the lights turn left onto Comox Road and drive 700 meters east to Terminal Avenue. Turn left on Terminal and get over into the righthand lane as you cross the large bridge. Swing right onto Stewart Ave. following signs toward the Vancouver Ferry. Stewart Avenue passes a number of marinas, yacht clubs, and boatyards along Newcastle Island Passage on the right and the small Garden Memorial to Chinese Pioneers on the left before bringing you back to the Departure Bay Ferry Terminal, 2.5 km from the bridge.