Every time I go to the Nahmint Valley I am impressed with its scenic beauty.
Although it isn’t a large valley, like the Alberni Valley, it has everything a back country visitor to Vancouver Island could want.
It’s fairly accessible with an SUV or a pickup truck. There is a large lake to fish, boat and even kite board on. There are trails to snow-capped mountains, incredible waterfalls, campsites, beaches, steelhead rivers and more. And it’s less than an hour’s drive from beautiful downtown Port Alberni.
Last weekend my wife and I took our niece there. She’s from Ontario and eastern Canada, but has been studying journalism at UBC since last fall. As this was her first visit to Vancouver Island, I wanted to impress her. And she was.
In fact, pretty much everyone is impressed with the valley right from the beginning. The name comes from the Nam’int?ath First Nation which once used to have a large village at the mouth of the river until they were driven away by the Ucluelet First Nation.
Early settlers were impressed with the mineral deposits near the mouth of the river and in 1898, 120 tons of gold, silver, and copper were shipped from a mine there. But it didn’t last long because of labour strife.
Biologists are impressed with the Nahmint because all five of the Pacific salmon species as well as steelhead exist in this river. The Chinook in particular are a unique strain of the species. This strain survived the last Ice Age and then spread northward to populate all the famous rivers right up to Alaska.
Loggers were impressed with the valley as some of the stands in the Nahmint dwarfed those in Cathedral Grove. In fact one sample plot is reputed to have contained the highest volume of wood ever found on Vancouver Island.
It was those stands that pitted environmentalists against loggers during the War of the Woods in the 1990s.
But the scenic beauty of the valley was well-recognized as well. I have a friend who used to hike into the valley when they were boys before any logging had occurred there. He tells stories of how he and his buddy camped, built rafts and sailed down the lake. They still talk about how great it was.
Sadly, many of the best stands are now gone. But there is one fabulous stand located at the north end of the lake around a free campsite, on a beach near a waterfall. There is a little trail that takes you a couple of hundred metres from the beach to the road along the lake, providing great views of the waterfall. There are both walk-in and road-side campsites on the site.
The road in to the campsite starts at the southeast end of Stirling Arm of Sproat Lake. Follow it about 12 km to a major fork in the road. Turn left and drive this road right over the pass and down into the Nahmint Valley.
Keep your eye out for a large bald eagle nest shortly after the fork. On the way over the pass you’ll go by Gracie Lake before heading down. On the way down you’ll catch glimpses of snow-capped mountains including Nahmint Mountain (1,438m). At the bottom the road splits. Left, or downstream, takes you toward the campsite I mentioned and eventually all the way out to the Alberni Inlet. Right, or upstream takes you toward the Upper Nahmint River and a bridge where you can have a swim in the river. Careful! It is the coldest water you have ever been in!
Also upstream are French Falls, named by Island Timberlands employee Wayne French, after himself, and the Brooke George trail up Mount Klitsa. Both are spectacular. French Falls is visible from across the valley, but I know of no trail to it. The Brook George Trail was named after the late Brooke George, once owner of Lady Rose Marine Services.
The trailhead is a tiny turnout up a 4WD road.
If you had turned downstream the road takes you past the entrance to Nahmint Campsite. Look for the first turnoff to the right. Further along you come to wonderful views of the lake before it ends and then continues to tidewater. If you choose to continue this route will take you to the Alberni Inlet and then all the way back up to Port Alberni, mostly along the Alberni Inlet. It’s a wonderful road trip for a day.
And if you just want to turn around and go back the way you came, there is another gem for you to find. It’s a wonderful lookout over Two Rivers Arm of Sproat Lake. When you get to the top of the pass at Gracie Lake, there is a turnout overlooking the lake. Park there and look for a grown-over road on the other side. Hike up it, staying to the left at the fork and you will be there in 10 minutes. Believe me, it’s worth the hike.
The Nahmint Valley, has features catering to most outdoorsy visitors, from casual to hard core.
If you have a day this summer, spend it in the Nahmint Valley.