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4 Best Beaches in Parksville, BC

Written by Colin J. McMechan
Jul 8, 2021

The shores of Parksville are lined with gold, and people of all ages come here to find it. The gold they seek is counted in grains of sand; the currency is traded in sand dollars. The experience: priceless.

The beach at Parksville Bay
The beach at Parksville Bay | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Parksville, the crown jewel along the east coast of Vancouver Island, deserves high praise for its clean and beautiful beaches. Unsurpassed in size and access, these beaches are heaven on earth to tourists seeking relaxation on a bed of sand. At low tide, you can strike your claim to a wide swath of beach. The incoming tide will indicate when it's time to head for shade or luxuriate in the shallow waters of the tidal flush as it ripples over sand warmed by the sun.

A day on one of our best sun-drenched beaches in Parksville - and nearby Qualicum Beach and Cameron Lake - is a magnetic pull for locals and visitors alike. An additional golden prize at the end of the day is a majestic sunset. Imagine the glacial peaks of the Coastal Mountains more than 50 kilometers to the east casting a reflection of creamy light across the Salish Sea. It's a precious way to close a fun day in the sun on the beach. Pick your spot with our list of the best beaches in Parksville, BC.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Rathtrevor Beach

Rathtrevor Beach
Rathtrevor Beach | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Adjacent to the 347-hectare provincial park and campground of the same name, Rathtrevor Beach is a magical place enhanced by natural beauty preserved along its two-kilometer shoreline. Park your car at one of the free beachfront parking lots and start walking in the direction of the water.

Here, you and your family can safely experience an active intertidal zone. You can tell the tide is in when the water line reaches dry seaweed deposits left by the previous high tide. When the tide is out, the sandy beach stretches almost a kilometer from where you stand on the shore. On a hot summer day, you see rays of heat rising from the sand. Unlike a mirage in the desert, the sea of blue on the horizon is a sea!

Family fun at Rathtrevor Beach
Family fun at Rathtrevor Beach | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

When planning your day at the beach, take a look at the local tide chart to predict when you can expect changes in sea level. This will help you schedule when to arrive, set down your chairs and personal belongings in the intertidal area, and avoid surprises. For example, if you arrive when the tide is flooding the beach, you will need to keep shifting your belongings towards land to prevent them from floating away. If you launched your kayak during high tide, you might return a few hours later to discover that you have a long portage to carry your boat back to the car.

Many savvy visitors know exactly when to schedule their beach activities. Building a sandcastle at low tide presents the exciting challenge of constructing lines of defense against the flood of the incoming tide. Summer beachgoers time their visit for when the tide turns to derive the benefit of solar thermal energy. After baking for hours under the sun during low tide, the massive basin of sandy beach slowly submerges beneath the incoming tide and heats cold seawater as it comes ashore. Ahead of this intertidal wash, watch tiny sea crabs scurry down holes in the sand to escape being washed up on the beach.

Seaside rest and relaxation
Seaside rest and relaxation | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

The marine landscape of Rathtrevor is safe and pleasant for family adventures. With so much room to roam and relax, the beach is enjoyed by romancing couples and individuals seeking peaceful solitude. You will find uncluttered airspace to fly your kite, volley a ball, or fling a frisbee. Create memories and take pictures, leaving behind sand dollars, crabs, and wildflowers. Respectful actions will help nature flourish after you return home.

Grassy parkland picnic areas, fields, and a network of easy trails make Rathtrevor Beach a popular day-use area. Expect to see locals walking their leashed dogs and exercising themselves each morning. In the forest and along the beach are more than five kilometers of trails that are mainly stroller friendly. Free parking, picnic tables, benches, playgrounds, fresh drinking water taps, and flush and pit toilets are available. For groups, there are reservable picnic shelters.

Rules are enforced for visitors who bring pets to Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park. Pets are not welcome anywhere in the intertidal zone or on the beach. In all other areas - including trails and picnic areas, owners are expected to control the behavior of their pets on a leash and clean up after them. From February 15 to April 30, migratory Brant geese are protected all along the Parksville-Qualicum Beach coast. During this period, pets are not allowed in the water or on land within 100 meters of the shore.

Dog walking at Rathtrevor Beach
Dog walking at Rathtrevor Beach | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

During the summer, park staff provide interpretation on the abundant natural and social history of the park. They can tell you about relics of the past and remnants of the pioneering Rath family homestead from the late 1800s. Rathtrevor Beach Nature House near the park gatehouse occupies the 20th-century dwelling that was home to the Rath family. They owned and operated Rathtrevor Campground, which - in addition to the beachfront picnic area - became part of the provincial park in 1967.

Today, Rathtrevor Beach receives the second highest number of campers of any provincial park in the province. Given its forested setting on Rathtrevor Beach, this campground with 174 vehicle-accessible sites and 25 walk-in sites lures overnight visitors all year-round. If you are a camper wanting to stay during the peak season from June 15 to Labour Day weekend in September, reserve months ahead of your arrival to avoid disappointment.

With the City of Parksville only three kilometers away, you might assume that this is a beach destination with an urban spirit. The only vibrations you'll hear, however, are sounds of surf and bald eagles perched above you in old-growth Douglas firs.

Official site: https://bcparks.ca/explore/parkpgs/rathtrevor/

2. Parksville Beach and Community Park

Welcome to the beach at Parksville Bay.
Welcome to the beach at Parksville Bay. | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Many cities have the foresight to set aside tracts of land as green space or parkland. In downtown Parksville, this preserved space is Parksville Community Park. The space is green for the grassy areas where people play and tall trees that provide shade in summer. It's also blue for the Salish Sea that drifts in and out on the wandering tide. Activities to be enjoyed at this beach park are as diverse as the colors of a rainbow.

For generations of residents and visitors dating back to the 1800s, Parksville Beach is famous for its shallow wading and swimming water, and prized for its golden sand. It boasts comfortable surface ocean water on Vancouver Island - hitting 20 degrees Celsius in the summer - that inspires hearty swimmers to designate this coastline as the Canadian Riviera.

Parksville Bay is also host each year to two major public events that draw visitors by the thousands: The Sand Sculpting Competition & Exhibition as part of BeachFest, and the annual Volleybash tournament.

Beach time on Parksville Bay
Beach time on Parksville Bay | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

If you've ever built a sandcastle, you know what's required: Packed sand, water, and creativity. Competitive sand sculpting uses the same elements, and contestants go head-to-head with breathtaking artistic designs. From start to finish over four days, sculptors complete their works within a regulated time of 30 hours. If they take home the top prize, they automatically qualify to compete as masters in the World Championships.

Throughout the summer months, the beach volleyball courts in Parksville Community Park are filled with teams of athletic players practising for the main annual event: Volleybash. With competitors from across British Columbia participating in the longest-running and largest event of its kind on Vancouver Island, Volleybash adds excitement to your tanning day at the beach.

Beach volleyball in Parksville
Beach volleyball in Parksville | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

This beach party atmosphere energizes your choice of things to do: Go airborne by flying a kite; play ball or frisbee; stay afloat in a kayak or on a stand up paddleboard; or dive in for a swim. Next door to the beachfront are extensive park facilities to get your heart pumping and cooling down: The Skate Park to practice jumps, ramps, and half-pipes; Splash Park for hours of lively wet action; and Ventureland Playground with its jungle gym, ZipKrooz, and trampolines.

Back at the beach, you can walk, jog, or roll down the paved path and boardwalk of the Waterfront Walkway. There are places to sit on a bench, enjoy a picnic, and grab a lunchtime snack or ice-cream cone from a vendor. Wherever you are, take a moment to close your eyes and listen to gentle wave action. Eyes open, gaze upon a flock of seagulls or mesmerizing sunset.

Parksville's Waterfront Walkway
Parksville's Waterfront Walkway | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Parksville Community Park is all about the beach and so much more. To support its recreational facilities, it provides amenities such as restrooms, outdoor showers, parking, and wheelchair access to ensure people of all ages and abilities are welcome. At quieter times of the year, visitors stop at Parksville Beach to appreciate fewer people and more wildlife: Migrating birds and abundant marine mammals. Be sure to remember your binoculars and a camera to capture photographic moments such as a soaring eagle or shorebirds foraging for sea crabs.

3. Qualicum Beach Beachfront Park

Qualicum Beach
Qualicum Beach | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

Qualicum Beach is 11 kilometers northwest of Parksville. Proceed at a leisurely pace along the Oceanside Route of the old Island Highway (#19A) or via the Inland Island Highway (#19). Qualicum Beach and its waterfront walkway run parallel to the old Island Highway. For this reason, it's one of the most convenient and popular beaches to take a break from driving, go for a jog or stroll, enjoy a picnic, and beachcomb.

The paved promenade at Beachfront Park is perfect for walking year-round and is accessible by wheelchair. Benches are spaced along the path, and picnic tables are available to easily transfer lunch items from your car. Access points from the sidewalk to the beach will motivate you to leave busy thoughts behind and explore the intertidal zone of seashells, water pockets, and hard-packed sand at low tide.

Tide pools at Qualicum Beach
Tide pools at Qualicum Beach | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

At Qualicum Beach, everyone has a front-row seat to catch sight of bald eagles diving for fish, or see a pod of orca whales, a family of otters, curious harbor seals, and commuting sea lions coming to the surface. Farther out in the Salish Sea, you can watch passing cruise ships, trawling fishing vessels, and tug boats pulling barges. The visual backdrop to this seaside reverie is the Coastal Mountain Range, which reaches for the sky above the Sunshine Coast on B.C.'s Lower Mainland.

For those who prefer to be in or on the sea, there's no quicker access than Beachfront Park. For swimming enthusiasts, the site of the renowned Ocean Mile Swim awaits you. No need to wait for this annual sporting event in August to exercise your front crawl. Make like an otter and head for the water.

Qualicum Beach SUP rental shack
Qualicum Beach SUP rental shack | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

If you've come prepared to paddle, launch your board or boat in a few minutes. Like all the oceanfront beaches on our list, time your water adventure according to the tides, or expect to carry your gear across an expanse of beach at low tide. If you don't have equipment, rent a board from Dragonfly Standup Paddle Board Rentals right on the beach, or book a kayaking tour with Adventuress Sea Kayaking to get closer to wildlife and paddle into the sunset.

Public conveniences at Beachfront Park include a visitor center, restrooms, and food concession. Check with the visitor center for more information on upcoming community events on the beach or nearby. The annual Beach Day takes place during July.

At the most westerly point of Qualicum Beach, follow signs to the parking lot of Seaside Nature Park. In addition to the grassy shoreline meadow with picnic tables and benches, there's an inviting pavilion with extensive signage to help you interpret local social and natural history. Wait patiently, and you are sure to see and hear bald eagles as they descend from roosting snags to catch a snack while you enjoy yours.

In addition to learning about the intertidal zone that supports wildlife, the Seaside Nature Park pavilion and beach is one of the best places to observe and photograph shorebirds and bird migrations.

4. Cameron Lake Picnic Ground

Cameron Lake
Cameron Lake | Photo Copyright: Colin J. McMechan

On the Alberni Highway 25 kilometers west of Parksville, Cameron Lake showcases crystal-clear freshwater, towering trees, and mountain views. At the west end of the lake is Cathedral Grove-MacMillan Provincial Park and its stand of old-growth cedar and Douglas fir. At the east end is Cameron Lake picnic ground with tables and pit toilets. This pebble beach draws people to swim, fish, boat, and relax.

From the parking lot near the water's edge, unload your beach chairs and favorite treats for an afternoon in the summer sun. Supervised children can safely splash in the shallows, while experienced swimmers will want to plunge to refreshing depths.

Launch a kayak, canoe, or stand up paddleboard. Trawl for trout from a boat, or fly-fish from shore. When calm, the surface of the lake is a glassy reflection of the sky and mountain slopes. It's easy to capture photogenic moments on a clear day or misty morning. A couple of kilometers west, drive along the lakeside to Beaufort picnic site. This highway pull-off features a small parking lot, a couple of picnic tables, a pit toilet, and more of the same clear water and picturesque scenery of Cameron Lake.

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