You might be compelled to search for the origins of the Nanaimo bar in this Vancouver Island city, but where Nanaimo really shines is in its access to some of the greatest trails for the urban enthusiast all the way to the backcountry fan.

Grab a pair of hiking boots, and maybe treat yourself to a Nanaimo bar on your way back down! Let's explore Nanaimo:

Extension Ridge (“The Abyss”)

Length: 9 km

Elevation gain: 239 m

For one of Nanaimo’s most photographed features, head to “the Abyss.” The noteworthy feature is a deep fissure in the Earth, about 50 centimetres wide, but no one really knows how deep it goes. The trail is part of The Great Trail and is therefore accessible to hikers, bikers and horseback riders in some sections. Trail runners are particularly fond of this route for its challenging terrain.

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Cable Bay Nature Trail

Length: 4 km

Elevation gain: Minimal

Let your dog off-leash in this designated dog park and roam the coastal nature just outside of Nanaimo in the community of Cedar. This spot is also popular with birdwatchers who regularly sight woodpeckers, mergansers, robins, brown creepers and more, so make sure to pack your binoculars.

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Mount Benson

Length: 8 km

Elevation gain: 750 m

Mount Benson is no joke, around here the locals have affectionately nicknamed it the “Grouse Grind” after Vancouver’s well-known steep climb. Once past the steep sections and the false summit, you will be treated to panoramic views overlooking all of Nanaimo, the Strait of Georgia and the Coast Mountain range. 

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Ammonite Falls

Length: 5.5 km

Elevation gain: 229 m

Don’t go chasing waterfalls... I mean, do! Especially if it’s the hike to Ammonite Falls. This shorter hike is do-able any time of year, but is particularly beautiful if you can time it with some snow on the ground. This area is also home to the largest suspected Ammonite fossil on Vancouver Island.

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Colliery Dam Park Trail 

Length: 2.3 km

Elevation gain: Minimal

You don’t need to leave the city to find forested walks beside a lake. Colliery Dam Park Trail actually offers two lakes, and they are popular freshwater swimming holes in the summertime. This is one of the more accessible trails in the city, so if accessibility is a need for you, park at the Sixth Street parking lot for best access. 

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Westwood Lake Trail

Length: 5.8 km

Elevation gain: 121 m

Westwood Lake Trail is a well-groomed and well-marked loop that is popular with trail runners and hikers as it is a perfect length to get a good sweat. For more ambitious hikers with navigational skills looking for longer hikes, the trail can be connected with other trails in Westwood Park and the Morel Conservation Area.

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Piper’s Lagoon Park

Length: 1.8 km

Elevation gain: Minimal

This walk is perfect for those with young kids. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy your snacks on the beach while your little ones explore the pebble beaches around the lagoon. At low-tide, walk across the ocean bluffs to Shack Island, and spend time looking for ocean creatures in the tide pools.

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Mount Decosmos

Length: 7.9 km

Elevation gain: 1,163 m

Challenge yourself to a difficult hike in the backcountry and test your legs with 750 metres of elevation gain in less than a two-kilometre stretch of this hike up Mount Decosmos. Hikers should be proficient in navigation as this trail is not as frequently hiked as Mount Benson is, and therefore not as clearly marked, but at 1,350 metres in height, this hike will reward you with a workout and a view!

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Newcastle Island’s Coastal Trail

Length: 8 km

Elevation gain: Minimal

A short ferry ride leaving from Nanaimo’s downtown Maffeo-Sutton Park shuttles you over to Newcastle Island, an excellent spot for a beach picnic, day-trip or overnight camping. The island’s shoreline trail is popular with runners and bikers, and especially great for hot summer days when you just need a quick ocean dip mid-hike.

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Nanaimo Bar Trail

Length: Depends (on how many Nanaimo bars you can eat)

Elevation gain: Minimal

Call me a comedian, but it would be a missed opportunity not to include the best trail of them all... the Nanaimo Bar Trail! Leave your hiking boots at home, and opt for your stretchy pants instead, because this self-guided adventure throughout the Nanaimo area will have you trying out all sorts of creative Nanaimo bar themed concoctions, from classic, to specialty, to even deep fried. Reward yourself, guilt-free, after a long day hiking.

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