Three Days in Gold River… Really?
Story & Photos: Neil Havers
When you think of a Vancouver Island Getaway destination, most likely Gold River does not come to mind. Originally built as a service community for a pulp mill, her primary industries are now logging and fish farming since the mill closed down in 1998. It has also become a hub for marine and seaplane access to remote communities, west coast lodges, fishing camps, marine parks and some of the best salmon and halibut fishing on the west coast. Take a closer look and you will see there is ample opportunity for wilderness adventure in this village in the mountains.
Getting to Gold River is a memorable experience on its own. Heading west from Campbell River on Highway 28 the route winds along alpine lakes and rivers in the valleys of majestic Beaufort Mountain Range’s snow-capped peaks. Following the shoreline of Upper Campbell Lake the route goes through Strathcona Provincial Park. Crossing the narrows between Upper Campbell and Buttle Lake the route continues along the Elk River. This area alone has close to a dozen hikes to explore, from easy walks in the forest to challenging expeditions.
Once you arrive you have the choice of a hotel, motel, B and B’s or camping along the Gold River. There are 5 restaurants to choose from. Two of them are open for breakfast and lunch while the other 3 are open for lunch and dinner. The Gold River Deli and Gas station have fried chicken and pizza for take-out as well.
DAY ONE – Cruise aboard the MV Uchuck III - Once settled in to Gold River get ready for a west coast adventure cruise aboard the MV Uchuck III. The 'Uchuck' was originally built as a Minesweeper in 1942, since then she has been refitted to accommodate 100 passengers and up to 70 tons of freight. Stops are made along her route at fish farms, logging camps and remote settlements throughout Nootka Sound to deliver supplies and passengers. Note: You can also rent a kayak at the wharf and paddle away from the MV Uchuck dock to explore the Gold River and surrounding area in the inlet. Overnight adventures are available as well. Ask in the Uchuck office.
The popular Friendly Cove Day Cruise (Wednesdays and Saturdays) takes guests through Nootka Sound to historic Friendly Cove (Yuquot) on Nootka Island, birthplace of British Columbia where European traders first made contact with First Nations people in 1778. Guests have the chance to explore the island, rainforest trails, historic Spanish Church, remote beaches and the functioning lighthouse station as well as an opportunity to learn about First Nations history and culture. Departing at 10 am the MV Uchuck III gets you back to Gold River in time for dinner.
DAY TWO – A.M. Explore the Upana Caves - Just 25 minutes on the road to Tahsis from Gold River. Upana Caves is a BC Provincial Park day-use site and access is free to the public. This family friendly natural attraction is suitable for all ages. One can enjoy 6 of the 15 cave grottos without having to attempt entering them (flashlights are useful for these but not necessary. The Park consists of a wilderness trail system through an old growth forest with cedar, hemlock and fir trees around 200 years old. This trail winds along the Upana Caves series of cave entrances. It is named for the river that flows underground through the system. There are five caves to explore, a viewpoint overlooking a waterfall, and a viewing platform providing a great view of the Resurgence Cave entrance (where the river flows out of the cave and back to the surface. Remember to bring two sources of light if you are going to explore all of the 15 caves. Watch your footing and mind your head on some of the low cave ceilings. These caves are damp and cool so wear appropriate clothing.
P.M. Scout-Antler Hiking Trail - The Scout Lake and Antler Lake area is part of the traditional territory of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation. The old growth forest around Antler Lake contains culturally modified cedar trees. They bare a scar from the base of the tree up as far as the bark was stripped. Bark would have been peeled off and prepared for clothing and weaving mats. The trails range from 45 minutes to an hour and a half for walking time. Maps are available in Gold River at the Chamber of Commerce, Gold River Tourism Info Center and around the town at various merchant’s shop including the Uchuck office at the government dock 13 km west of town.
DAY THREE – Golf or Fish, the choice is yours - The Gold River Golf Course is a forested gem with a mountainous backdrop that follows the contours of the river, ridges and valleys of the wilderness landscape. With its variety of tee boxes this 9-hole course certainly plays like an 18 hole course. The course is challenging, well-maintained and well worth playing if you enjoy a unique and memorable golf experience. The 19th Hole Bar and Grill serves lunch and dinner as well.
Gold River offers both excellent fresh water and salt water fishing. The Gold River is home to the largest run of steelhead on Vancouver Island, attracting fishers from around the world. Using knowledgeable, local professional steelhead guides greatly increases your chance of catching one of these elusive fish while helping protect this valuable resource. Large runs of salmon migrate up the Gold River in the fall as well which makes for some exciting sport fishing with minimal gear. Coho and Chinook charters are available for those who want to experience salmon fishing on the open Pacific West Coast. If you don’t mind going 12 miles off shore halibut are lurking in the deeps. Choose from numerous lodges in the area, both in Gold River and throughout Nootka Sound.
As you can see Gold River should be on your radar for a unique Vancouver Island Getaway Experience!