Some people love camping. It’s a scientific fact that getting out into nature is good for your health. I, however, do not love camping. The cold, the dirt, and the stumbling midnight sojourns to the bathroom (and I’m being generous here) don’t thrill me.
What I do love is travelling. But I have three kids. Therefore I have a small budget.
So, yay, camping!
Camping is a means to an end. I would love to stay a week in a sweet little cabin, preferably with heat and a private bathroom, near a beach somewhere. Until that happens, however, I’ll camp near a beach, and one of our favourite places to visit is Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, just north of Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island.
Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is a gorgeous, 347-hectare section of land right along the ocean. Mature Douglas firs forest the area and the beautiful oceanfront includes a sand beach. Paths wind around the campground and through the trees, periodically branching to the shore. There is an incredible 2 km sandy beach that extends for almost a kilometre at low tide. When the tide creeps in over the warm sand, the water is the perfect temperature for that salty, sandy, summer beach fun.
If someone in your troop fancies a little digging, there is no end to the possibilities. Mostly, my kids love to build forts, making the walls as high and thick as they can. When the tide comes in, they jump inside, and there is much excitement and rebuilding and splashing as the water relentlessly rises and eventually washes it all away. (And the knowledge of the sure outcome never diminishes the fun!)
At low tide, you’ll find a diversity of sea life to explore. Barnacled rocks line tide pools that scuttle with tiny crabs. Strands of seaweed are used to decorate sandcastles. We found a flat fish stuck in a tide pool, hundreds of sand dollars, and a deceased jellyfish. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet found a starfish, but others have on this beach.
The most exciting finds for our family are the geoduck clams (pronounced gooey-duck). These burrowing clams are the largest of their type and are native to the west coast of North America. The clams we found had shells of about 6 inches. The siphon, or neck, extends from the shell, however, making them seem larger.
Buried in the sand, you’ll only find geoducks at very low tide (consult a tide chart for the lowest tides during your stay), and you might not know you’re standing over one until it squirts you with water as it swiftly digs itself deeper. To catch one, you must be careful, but quick with a shovel. The most fun we’ve had on the beach is searching for the tiny circle where a geoduck might be hiding, and stomping on the sand next to it so it squirts at us.
For all this, I camp. The camping at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park is quite lovely. There are many sites nestled in the trees and all are a short walk to the beach. (And a 5-minute drive to Tim Hortons. You know, in case you’re wondering.) These sites must be booked early, however, for Rathtrevor is a well-loved place.
There are also a number of tent-only sites. Called “walk-in” sites (in that you don’t park by your tent, but a short distance away), they are often available, even on short notice. Located on a large grassy area, ringed by mature woods, the walk-in sites offer 5 communal fire pits and a shelter with fresh water. It’s really quite charming, and for tents, the grass offers a softer sleeping alternative to the hard-packed earth and roots of other spots. The park supplies wheelbarrows for campers to cart their gear from their vehicle to their site, and these sites also boast the shortest walk to the sandy beach. Plus, that feeling of camping camaraderie is even more pronounced at the walk-in sites, especially for the kids who are always making new friends.
It’s a brilliant (and affordable!) holiday. You could spend hours on the beach, paddling, digging, and exploring. When your kids start to complain about the chafing sand, you’re close to Parksville and its amenities, and there are many things to do in the area. Even my preteen, my I-hate-camping-why-do-we-always-have-go-camping preteen, can be convinced of a camping holiday at Rathtrevor.
And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe this sunrise over the ocean will.