The bears ignored us, but the raccoons did not. As senior-discount season drew to a close, we took our tent, hiking boots, and bikes to two nearby provincial parks: Stamp River and Montague Harbour Marine. After a week of discount camping, we splurged on a guided day-tour to Discovery Island, to celebrate our oldest granddaughter’s fifteenth birthday. Seal haul-outs we expected; the whale-sighting was a birthday surprise.
Like puddles? Got a bicycle that looks too new? Here’s a quick fix: the Log Train Trail. This multi-use trail runs along an abandoned logging railroad line that begins near Port Alberni and ends 25 kilometres later at Woolsey Road. Lumps and bumps are the main attraction, but at kilometre 7.5 there’s a worthy detour: McLean Sawmill, a national historic site. (Maps)
The Log Train is a lightly-used, anything-goes sort of trail. Dog-walkers, horse-riders, cyclists, and quad-drivers (in spite of the “non-motorized vehicles only” sign) share the trail. Be nice to the locals, even the quad-drivers, because you will need to ask them for directions.
Signage is sparse, and you could end up in Coombs if you take a wrong turn. A hybrid bicycle will survive this trail, but a mountain bike would be better. Either way, take a wrench for tightening bolts.
Long Trail Up the River
You can’t outrun a bear – we know that. Still, our hiking pace always quickens when we see a bear, even if the bear shows no interest in us. Bear encounters are common on the Long Trail, especially when the salmon are on their way to spawning beds, but in June a bear or two may be spotted grazing intently in the woods or open fields. Eagles, hawks, deer, mergansers, dippers, and one other human were sighted on our walk, in addition to the grazing black bear.
Beginning at the provincial park campground, the Long Trail runs 7.5 kilometres (one-way) up the east bank of the Stamp River. Ancient firs and cedars can be found along the length of the trail, and there is a fine stand of old growth near the north end. Three hours (each way) is the average hiking time, but the many inviting beaches can easily extend this to an all-day hike.
Depending on your map source, this trail has several names: Long Trail Up the River, Stamp River Long Trail, Angler’s Trail, and Sayachlas t’a saa’nim. Whatever its name, this trail is a gem.
“Throw a piece of firewood at them,” advised the Park Operator. Raccoons have invaded the Montague Harbour campground, and these masked bandits are bold. Twice we caught them dragging one of our backpacks towards the bushes, even though we were sitting just a few feet away. Throwing firewood discouraged them for a few minutes, but the raccoons soon returned to do-si-do around our tent all night long.
Aside from the raccoons, Montague Harbour Marine is a delightful park on Galiano, the long, skinny island halfway between the mainland and Vancouver Island. A sheltered harbour, white shell beaches, meadows, a saltwater marsh, mature forests, and abundant bird life are just a few of Montague’s attractions. And weren’t we lucky? Our favourite campsite, walk-in site 34, was available.
Does Bodega Ridge still deserve the five-star rating assigned by most guide books? He says: Not quite. Trees are growing up, so that the views are no longer constant, and thick patches of broom have taken over the native plants in several areas. She says: Still five stars for return-on-investment. It’s an easy thirty-minute walk to the ridge; the eagles and ospreys are a bonus.
Compared to Bodega Ridge, hiking Mount Galiano requires a bit more huff-and-puff, but the panoramic views at the top are worth the effort. Bluffs Park is the best place to watch ferries transiting Active Pass. Pebble Beach Reserve has variety: forest, a lake with dragonflies, shoreline, and a Great Beaver Swamp. Don’t forget Bellhouse Park, with its tiny but scenic sandstone path. Galiano Island has always been a great hiking destination, and it’s getting even better, thanks to local initiatives to open trails across private property.
Discovering Discovery Island
“I love seals,” sighed granddaughter Lizzie, so for her fifteenth birthday we signed up for the Discovery Island Kayak Tour, with seal-sightings guaranteed. A family of harbour seals was hanging out by the fish cleaning station at Oak Bay Marina, where our tour began, so the birthday wish to see a seal was easily granted.
As we crossed to Discovery Island, the Discovery Shuttle stopped at locations along the way so that we could watch and learn about seals, seabirds, and the history of the area. Dozens of seals were laid out on the rocks and islets. Seals have an incredible ability to dive underwater for extended periods of time. On land, though, seals look fat and awkward as they undulate inchworm style along the rocks.
Guides Jordie and Seth from Ocean River Adventures made this an informative, safe, and relaxed-pace trip. On arriving at Discovery Island, Jordie and Seth unloaded the kayaks and helped us onto the water, without even getting our feet wet. The current was favourable, so we were able to circumnavigate Chatham and Discovery Islands before stopping on a driftwood-strewn beach for lunch.
One whale-watching boat sped by, then another, and then we saw a series of black dorsal fins slicing through the water with barely a ripple! After lunch, we had taken a walk inland, following the trail to the historic lighthouse. We were impressed by the views of the San Juan Islands; the whales were a birthday bonus.
To the youngsters
Don’t recognize the title of this blog post, just because it’s June, June, June? It’s a line from “June is Bustin Out All Over”, from the 1956 musical Carousel. When is senior discount season in BC Parks? From the day after Labour Day to June 14 of the following year. During this off-peak season, frontcountry camping fees are discounted fifty per cent for British Columbia seniors.