Hiking Arrowsmith Lookout

Crystal has been telling me about the Arrowsmith Lookout hike ever since we started talking about hiking. Last week we were on the island visiting family, so we decided to check it out. Friday, September 2/11 was the day we chose.


Trail Condition: 4/5 With the exception of a short section at the very top, the trail is very well maintained and easy to walk.

Effort: 3/5 Most of the steep portions of the trail are traversed through switchbacks.

Scenery: 3/5 The view from the top of the lookout is very impressive but there are only a few other view points along the way.

Crowds: 5/5 Though there was evidence of frequent use, we didn’t see a single other person on the trail.


Crystal’s experience with the trail was from back in high school, and I’d never been there, so we did a bit of research before heading out. I based our plans on the information I found on the Regional District of Nanaimo site, here.

Getting There

We normally try to stick to hikes that can be reached via public transit, but transit is not a practical option on most of Vancouver Island. Fortunately, Crystal has lots of family in the area and her aunt and uncle were eager to join us – Ride Secured!

We parked the truck in the day-use area of the Cameron Lake parking lot, which is about 23 km west of Parksville along Highway 4. Access to the trail is across the highway from the parking lot exit.

Getting Started

The first section of the hike follows a old logging road that has been somewhat worn down by motorcycles and spring runoff. The instructions on the RDN site said we needed to take a right off the road to find the trail.

Don't be fooled!

As you can see in the picture, there is a misleading right turn available well before the real trail. We considered the extra five minutes we spent on the alternate trail to be a good warmup – your mileage may vary.

A few more minutes down the trail, we found the right turn we were looking for, and soon after, we found what most people would consider the real trailhead and an accompanying map of the area.

The trailhead

First Impressions

Being fairly fresh off of a trip up The Chief, Arrowsmith Lookout felt relatively easy. There are some moderately steep sections but, for the most part, the lower trail consists of a lot of switchbacks, which allow for a slightly more relaxed pace.

About 2/3 of the way up, the trail splits, offering the option to continue up to the lookout, or to take the longer CPR trail. I’m definitely interested in the full trail, but we didn’t allow enough time on this particular trip, so we stuck with our original plan and took the left fork.

The trail splits

The trail got a bit more challenging in the upper sections, and the final accent is a fairly steep scramble up some loose dirt and gravel that I wouldn’t be eager to try in the rain.

The bulk of the trail is quite sheltered, which was okay with us because it was fairly hot the day we were there. On the down side, there weren’t many view points until we got near the top.


Small waterfall above the McBey Creek bridge

There is a nice waterfall on McBey Creek, about a third of the way through the hike. It may not be Shannon Falls, but it’s a welcome change of scenery.

When you get to the lookout, there are a few different places to take a quick break, but I recommend pushing all the way to the top, as there is only one spot where you can actually get a glimpse of Cameron Lake.

Peek at Cameron Lake from the top of Arrowsmith Lookout


As I mentioned earlier, most of the trail is sheltered by big trees, but there are a couple of clearings along the upper portions where you get a view of the cliff face across the valley (Arrowsmith2 video), and the view from the lookout is more than worth the wait (Arrowsmith1 video).

Going Down

The switchbacks made descending from Arrowsmith a fair bit easier than The Chief and similar hikes. I was definitely happy to have good boots and a walking stick, but it could have been done without either.

I lost the notes I took during the hike, but I believe our total return trip took just under four hours.

Items of Interest

A big bonus to this hike is the fact that it terminates at Cameron Lake. We were on a tight schedule, but if we do a hike in this area again, we’ll definitely make time for a dip in the lake at the end.

We came across a notice that at least part of the trail may be getting logged again in the near future. Details were a little sketchy, but I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has more information.


3 Responses to Hiking Arrowsmith Lookout

  1. Bill V. September 14, 2011 at 1:00 pm #

    It was a great hike and I enjoyed reliving the experience through this article. I would however suggest that the “effort” rating above is relative to age. I would recommend a simple formula of age/10 = effort. Thus for Jared it is ~30/10 yeilding a effort score of 3/5. In my case it would be 55/10 resulting in a score of 5.5/5

    See a few photos at http://gallery.me.com/veenhof#100040

  2. Crystal September 22, 2011 at 5:12 pm #

    Love the suggestion of ratings scale with a factor of age worked in ; )

    Also worth noting – they have been blasting in the area and sections of the trail are marked as closed during the week. We weren’t aware of this, but got lucky. If you need to check it out, according to the sign at the trailhead, the number to call is the Nanaimo Regional District: 1-888-828-2069. It would be sad to get all the way there before finding out the trail is closed!

  3. Jared September 22, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    I liked it too 🙂

    It actually makes me question the way I want to rate “Effort” on future posts. I had originally thought of it in terms of “more effort = harder = lower rating”. Looking at it now, that doesn’t make intuitive sense. I think I might go with “Challenge” as the category from now on.

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