Driving the Tree to Sea Drive from Gold River to Tahsis
Guest Blog By: Justin & Olivia of @genericvanlife
Justin & Olivia spent the winter touring around the Campbell River region finding all the best rec sites. We invited them to take their exploration a step further and sent them out to #meetourneighbours. They headed west to the Villages of Gold River and Tahsis. Read on to find out their thoughts about the communities and their tips on what are must do experiences while you’re in the region!
British Columbia is full of scenic drives that allow you to connect with many of the natural marvels that make this province so unique and beautiful. Even the daily commutes some people make to work are more picturesque than others may ever get to experience. While Vancouver Island has no shortage of stunning scenery to fill your windows with, the Tree to Sea Drive from Gold River to Tahsis paints a particularly rugged and awe-inspiring journey that is truly underrated.
Armed with a paper map and gear for every season, we abandoned the paved streets of Gold River for 64 kilometres of winding gravel road that would bring us to Tahsis, a remote community on Vancouver Island’s west coast. It wasn’t long after we set out on our drive that we were quickly gobsmacked by the powerful Cala Falls flowing freely from Big Baldy Mountain. Be warned, you will be doing a lot of rubbernecking on this drive as you pass by endless waterfalls and plenty of magical flowing rivers. After a quick photo pit stop and some serious elevation gain, we headed into the Upana Caves where we tried our hand at some spelunking (don’t worry, we didn’t know what that meant either) or in other words, caving. Being the beginning of spring, the trails and entrances to the caves still had a decent coating of snow and ice on them so we carefully poked our heads around the dark and mysterious network of underground tunnels while being blown away by the distinct patterns of marble and limestone in the rocks. We particularly liked the Resurgence Cave but we’re not so sure that it liked us back; we had to abandon our plan to set up the tripod for a photo when a clip snapped off of it and the leg got quickly carried away by the river to never be seen again – oops.
After concluding our spelunking for the day, we continued along the mountain road while taking in the sights from some awesome lookout points along the way. We were even lucky enough to watch a herd of elk cross a shallow riverbed below us while eagles and other birds flew high in the sky above our heads. It doesn’t take much to see the beauty in how undeveloped this side of the island is and appreciate the tranquillity that sets this drive apart from other more touristy road trips. The peacefulness continued as we drove past Moutcha and Head Bay, where the water was a perfectly still reflection of the towering trees and surrounding mountains that do a good job at reminding you of how small you really are among all the things that came before you.
Just when we thought we had reached our waterfall-viewing quota for the day, we came upon the absolutely massive Three Sisters Waterfall and had to rework what we considered to be a tall cascade. A definite bonus of driving through this area is that there is no shortage of free roadside showers if you’re willing to brave the refreshingly freezing cold water. We decided we’d skip the shower this time and continued on, passing by the sad sight of the huge fallen “President’s Tree” that once marked the home stretch into Tahsis before it fell over in a windstorm.
Although the tree may not have been standing tall to welcome us into town, the views of the Inlet did not fall short of making us feel right at home. The village of Tahsis is tiny and only home to about 300 people that have access to glorious hiking trails and premier fishing. A quick boot around town was lined with blooming cherry blossom trees, stunning mountain views and warm welcomes from friendly locals eager to share this special place with us. Being early in the tourist season, the village was pretty quiet but livens up in the summer with adventure seekers and travelling anglers who can explore the area by foot, ATV or boat. There’s even a recreation centre with a swimming pool, sauna and get ready for it…a bowling alley!
We grabbed a bite at the Ocean View Restaurant, which is connected to The Tahsis Supermarket – Tahsis’ only store (told ya it was remote). Some fresh fish & chips and a tasty BLT made for a great lunch before continuing on to explore the Leiner River area, a popular spot for swimming and camping just 5 minutes from town. Being only single digit temperatures, we didn’t test out the rope swing but we can attest that it definitely looked like an awesome spot to cool off in the summer after a hike on the Leiner River Trail.
Instead of staying the night at Leiner River, we headed back on the gravel road that we took from Gold River and continued until we reached the fork for the Cougar Creek Recreation Area. A half hour or so on a logging road brought us to some of the most spectacular views of the Inlet that we could have ever imagined. We’re talking New Zealand-level vistas that had us questioning if we were still in Canada. As we ventured down to the recreation area, we kept catching glimpses of the mountains and sparkling waters that make this place so extraordinary. The campground is nestled among old growth and dense forest that opens up to an absolutely stunning landscape of postcard-worthy nature perfectly blanketed by the sun. Being the shoulder season, we lucked out and had the whole place to ourselves but have heard that it can fill up quite quickly in the warmer months as fishing boats line the docks.
After a peaceful night’s sleep, we woke up the next morning and headed back toward Gold River. Getting to see the same places from the opposite direction always makes for a nice way to round out a road trip and allows you to slow down and check out any spots you may have missed along the way. If you’re feeling like you really need to max out your step goal, you can even participate in The Great Walk, an annual walk from Gold River to Tahsis where you’re guaranteed to not miss any sights – and hey, if you’re crazy enough to do that, you might even hop in for one of those refreshing waterfall showers while you’re at it.