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Parksville, British Columbia

Parksville is a definitive British Columbia summer town, just a half-hour drive north of Nanaimo's ferry terminals.

The beaches here on the south-central coast of eastern Vancouver Island are the stuff of a California dream vacation. However, there is a difference: Parksville's postcard crescents of golden, hard-packed sand beaches are smoother, broader and caressed by gentle Pacific rollers, not pounding surf.

Parksville - Sea to Mountain Activities

While summer by the sea is a major lure here, Parksville is a four-season outdoor destination. Golf, hiking, and mountain biking enthusiasts are well served in a rare, splendidly protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This area is notable for its pristine watersheds, deep lakes, extensive parkland, forested tracts (notably the old-growth treasure at Cathedral Grove), and challenging trails leading to Mount Arrowsmith's see-forever viewpoints.

Parksville - Culture and History

Sharing the parking lot with the Visitor Centre is the Craig Heritage Park & Museum. Parksville's back history is colourfully displayed in a museum (open from mid-May to late September). The surrounding grounds are dotted with heritage buildings (including an early pioneer's log home relocated here from nearby Errington). The site is run by the District 69 Historical Society. BC history buffs will want a copy of the anecdotal Parksville and Then Some, written by the society's former president Marjorie Leffler.

Parksville - Oceanside

Parksville occupies half of a larger but still relatively compact area officially known as Oceanside (which includes the town's near-neighbour Qualicum Beach). In the Parksville side of the region are several largely rural communities with their own quirks, character, and charm.

Coombs and Errington are due west of Parksville off Highway 4A (aka the Old Alberni Highway, which links up with Highway 4 enroute to Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino). Coombs is a town famous for its eclectic shopping, rodeo events, and a series of family-friendly activity zones (Butterfly World, the World Parrot Refuge). Errington is a back-to-the-land refuge for farmers, B&B operators and urban exiles. Its attractions include the petting zoo and trail rides at Tiger Lily Farm, as well as the North Island Wildlife Recovery Centre's menagerie of the furred and feathered.

Nanoose Bay

Nanoose Bay is perhaps best known these days as home base for musicians Diana Krall and Elvis Costello. They shop at the local grocery store like everyone else in this tight-knit community, which is due south of Parksville on a rocky peninsula of mostly undeveloped land that sits prettily between Nanoose Harbour and the Strait of Georgia. Boating, hiking trails around a mini "lakes district," and kayaking trips from scenic Schooner Cove are key to the Nanoose experience.

Parksville -Things to Do

Splash around with friends and family in the ankle-deep ocean.

Explore trails leading to alpine meadows. Discover the peace of country backroads. Watch a dimpled golf ball sail over emerald green links. Shop 'til you drop at a renowned roadside market famous for the goats on its roof. In brief: The year-round to-do list in Parksville is long and colourful.

Parksville - Water Activities

Nowhere in Canada is the expression "life's a beach" more appropriate than Parksville. The sandy, kilometer(mile)-wide (at low tide) waterfront is a fresh-air delight 12 months a year, but the June to September holiday period is primetime for swimming and high-rise sandcastle developments, especially during the Parksville Sand Sculpting Competition & Exhibition, an annual event that draws thousands of spectators and master-calibre sand sculptors. Also in the area are a handful of kayak rental/adventure companies and several fishing/sailing charter operators.

Lasquiti and Texada islands are within relatively easy reach of the French Creek Marina, as is the lovely Jedediah Island Marine Provincial Park. South Winchelsea Island, managed as an ecological reserve by The Land Conservency, is a good daytrip option from Nanoose Bay's Schooner Cove.

Parksville - Land Activities

Mountain biking – both recreational and professional – is a major focus of the Top Bridge recreational area, a short peddle from Resort Drive. Generous expanses of parkland and 60km/37mi of hiking trails can be found within the sea-to-sky embrace of the Mount Arrowsmith UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Go it alone or sign up for a guided trip with the experts at area tour operators Coastal Revelations and Pacific Rainforest Adventure Tours.

Relax with a lingering soak at Tigh-Na-Mara's magical, rock-walled mineral pool, one highlight of the resort's full-service Grotto Spa. Explore the many shopping options in Parksville and Coombs. Check out the birds at Hamilton Marsh, a prime piece of wetland between French Creek and Qualicum Beach. Tackle any of six year-round golf courses in the Parksville/Qualicum Beach area. Parksville itself is arguably the mini-golf capital of Western Canada.

Parksville - Festivals & Events

Parksville's Brant Wildlife Festival heralds the spring annually in this migratory part of the world. A hyper-busy summer calendar is highlighted by Canada Day fireworks and the Canadian Open Sand Sculpting Competition. And Christmas brings craft fairs, lighting displays and the unique Bethlehem Walk celebration.

Parksville - Food and Wine

Local produce is sold on Saturday mornings from early May to late September at the Errington Farmer's Market (in the community park next to Errington War Memorial Hall). Little Qualicum Cheeseworks, sells award-winning cheeses and its own line of fruit wines in a farmgate store (403 Lowry's Road, Parksville). French Creek Seafood and Hilliers' Sausage are also prime draws for foodies.

Parksville - Family Attractions

A few minutes south-east of Coombs on Highway #4A is Butterfly World & Gardens, a wonderland of  tropical birds, indoor waterfalls, steamy orchids, and hundreds of butterflies. Some 700 plus brightly coloured birds of paradise squawk happily at the nearby World Parrot Refuge.

In Errington, Tiger Lily Farm offers trail rides through the forest and is a special place for kids with a petting zoo. Not far away is the North Island Wildlife Association, which is renowned for its success in rehabilitating injured bald eagles, ravens, owls and bears.

Parksville - Arts & Culture

Local artist and artisans showcase their work at the Oceanside Community Arts Council. The complex of galleries, teaching studios, and a gift shop are on the upper floor of an old wooden schoolhouse downtown (corner of MacMillan and Hirst streets).  The Arrowsmith Potters Guild sells art and functional pottery in the Station Gallery near the red railway water tower on the Alberni Highway. 

Pick up Parksville/Qualicum's annual blue guide to artists and studios at the Visitor Centre. The Englishman River Gallery (on Mariner Way in the San Pareil neighborhood adjacent to Rathtrevor Beach) is open daily year-round. Original watercolours combined with a lovely garden setting at the ocean's edge make the gallery a unique stop on any Vancouver Island arts tour.

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