For most of us who live on Vancouver Island, whether you’ve lived here forever or relocated here, a motivating factor is often the slower pace of life, not to mention living where the scenery takes your breath away. Hiking our local trails always reminds me to cherish the natural beauty that surrounds us, and not very far from civilization I often feel like I’m exploring untouched territory.
I must admit that with the noticeable influx of people, I have an urge to selfishly covet some of the “secret gems” I’ve found; some of the lesser known trails, including one to a great
beach-side taco shed in Qualicum Bay. Word-of-mouth about this great little eatery has spread so far and wide, I couldn’t find a parking spot the last time I stopped by! But, this isn’t about food.
Although well-known to locals, Top Bridge is considered Parksville’s “secret gem”, and those who may not have experienced it yet are in for a treat because it has so much to offer. The many trails that network from this area meander along the Englishman River gorge, through old growth forest, by rock-faced cliffs and picturesque swimming holes. There is something for everyone here; a mountain bike circuit, running, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, horseback riding, dogwalking and hiking for all ages and fitness levels. No matter what your activity, simply being immersed in this area’s scenic panorama is a delight to the senses. Walking along the Englishman River, there is still such a rustic, untouched sense of natural beauty that one feels like an 18th century explorer in an undiscovered land.
A highlight of Top Bridge is the 81 meter, cable suspension bridge known as Top Bridge Crossing. It prominently sits at the junction of Top Bridge Community Park, Top Bridge Mountain Bike Park and Englishman River Regional Park. Today, this 3-tower bridge constructed by the Regional District of Nanaimo allows hikers and cyclists to cross the Englishman River, but at one time, it was the site of a 19th century vehicle road, the only crossing once connecting Nanaimo to Port Alberni. Some of the original road footings can still be seen below the bridge. And, if you’re an eagle-eye, you may also catch sight of ancient petroglyphs.
Top Bridge Regional Trail (a 10km return trek), links Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park on the ocean with the other parks on the Englishman River at Top Bridge. If you’re staying at any of the accommodations along Resort Drive in Parksville, the trail is at your doorstep and the route is clearly marked by blue and white trail markers.
For “locals” and particularly, dog walkers, a popular “jumping on” spot for the Top Bridge
Regional Trail is Industrial Way, just across the Island Highway from Rathtrevor Beach. The hike from here to Top Bridge is slightly shorter, about 7 kilometers for the return trip.
If you prefer sightseeing or gauging your own hiking distance along the famous salmon river, the Chattel Road entrance offers Top Bridge as a starting point. Alternatively, if you are arriving from the Coombs/Errington area, you can drive to the end of Allsbrook Road and arrive at the opposite side of the bridge from Chattel Road. Both Chattel Road and Allsbrook Road are lovely ways to share this area with visitors because you can park just steps away from the suspension bridge and Top Bridge’s most scenic highlights. From here, you can hike at your leisure along trails on either side of the river.
However you find your way to this “secret gem”, breathe deeply, fill your senses and perhaps go exploring for your favourite swimming hole and picnic spot! ~
As with most wooded trails, watch your step for rocks & tree roots.
Mountain bikers & less able-bodied hikers should note there are several sets of stairways to manage between Industrial Way & Top Bridge. See link for Top Bridge Mountain Bike Park below.
If you park at the Chattel Road or Allsbrook Road lot, note that park gates are closed every evening. Be sure to note the posted times for these closures. The park gate at Allsbrook Road is closed in winter, but you can park at the end of Allsbrook Road and it’s an easy 5 minute walk to Top Bridge.
RDN map of Top Bridge Regional Trail
Mountain Biking at Top Bridge
The Top Bridge Regional Trail was the first trail to be developed in 1998 in a system of “Trail from Park to Park”, a concept developed by the Regional District of Nanaimo. The Top Bridge Crossing was completed in 2007. ***