This article was produced as part of a collaboration between Vacay.ca and the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region.
You may not realize it but as you’re making your way around Vancouver Island there’s a good chance you’re in precious territory. The Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region (MABR) covers 118,582 hectares on the east-central coast between Qualicum Bay and Nanoose Bay, and from the highest peak on Mt. Arrowsmith (1,817 metres, or 5,961 feet) to 300 metres (984 feet) into the Salish Sea. The MABR is roughly six times the size of Salt Spring Island, the largest of the Southern Gulf Islands, and is one of 18 biosphere reserves in Canada as well as one of only two in British Columbia (Clayoquot Sound near Tofino is the other).
A UNESCO designation, biosphere reserves attain their status because they are model regions for sustainable development. They aim to find “a balance between the needs of humans and nature,” according to the MABR’s mandate. The Amazing Places project is just one of the many ways in which this is achieved.
The project connects 10 of the region’s most beloved natural places through interpretive signage and fun outdoor activities. Whether you’re a resident, frequent visitor, or first-time traveller to the region, the Amazing Places are a fun and interactive way to enjoy the outdoors.
Cathedral Grove is a must-stop destination for visitors. Marking the entrance to MacMillan Provincial Park, Cathedral Grove is filled with towering cedar, spruce, and Douglas fir trees, some five times as old as Canada. A hike among these giants takes as little as 10 minutes and is restorative and calming, soothing you with each fragrant breath of fauna and earth.
Cathedral Grove is on the western edge of the MABR. On the way, travellers will want to stop into the biosphere region’s other natural highlights, including three more premier provincial parks: Little Qualicum Falls, Cameron Lake, and Englishman River Falls. All have easy hiking trails, picnic areas, and lots of opportunity to photograph and enjoy their stunning natural water features. You might even discover why more than 1,200 people have recently logged into a mobile app featuring the Amazing Places.
The project has partnered with Geocaching.com to offer the Amazing Places Geotour. These interactive activities connect users of digital technology with the environments they explore. The Amazing Places Geotour includes not-so-buried treasure in eight locations as well as an informative field guide to help find them. To participate, treasure hunters download the Geocaching app for free and follow the instructions in the guidebook to locations in the Amazing Places, solve for geoclues, and find the geocaches. Upon completion, participants can redeem for a prize.
In 2020, the Amazing Places geocaching challenges expand to include month-long mini-adventures that take place from January through March. During each month, midweek visitors who participate in these Geocaching.com Adventure Labs will have the chance to enter into a draw for prizes if they complete the tour, which includes using the app to answer questions and earn a “proof of find.”
To celebrate the holiday season, the Amazing Places Geotour is offering a Mistletoe Trail, scheduled to run from now until December 27. It features five mistletoe balls dangling in picturesque locations to add festive enchantment to the great outdoors.
MABR explorers also have an urban centre to enjoy. The seaside communities of Parksville and Qualicum Beach are notable components of the biosphere region. Two of British Columbia’s most family-friendly destinations, Parksville and Qualicum Beach, are recognized for their languid shorelines along the Strait of Georgia, peaceful beach culture, and easygoing residents. They also include three more Amazing Places — Rathtrevor Beach, Heritage Forest, and Parksville Community Park. A fourth, Notch Hill Park, lies at the southern boundary of the Biosphere Region in Nanoose Bay, just a short drive south. Travellers to these areas will be treated to incredible scenery of the ocean and coastal mountains, as well as some intriguing sea life. Noisy steller sea lions can be heard barking on rocks off-shore and kayakers have the chance to observe tiny bioluminescent creatures swimming in the water during evening paddles.
From underwater spectacles to majestic forests and a few manmade surprises, the 10 Amazing Places have plenty of riches to entice you to explore and learn about the natural wonders of Vancouver Island.
More About the “Amazing Places” Project
Get Started: Visit the Amazing Places website to learn more about the project and its initiatives. Although the field guide is not essential for your quest, having one will be helpful. It can be downloaded on the website for free, or you can purchase a hard copy for $10 at either the Parksville Chamber of Commerce or the Tigh-Nah-Mara Resort Gift Shop. Anyone who completes the tour can redeem for a customized Amazing Places geocoin.
Mistletoe Trail: Check out the mistletoe balls in these Amazing Places: Notch Hill, Heritage Forest, Qualicum Beach, Parksville Community Park, and Milner Gardens & Woodland. Tag your social-media photos with #amazingplacesmabr, #mypqb, and #explorebc for a chance to have your mistletoe images shared. The trail runs until December 27, 2019.
More About the Mount Arrowsmith Biosphere Region
Parksville Qualicum Beach Tourism can help assist with your travel plans. Visit their website for tips on where to stay, places to dine, and other activities to enjoy during your stay.