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CPR trail offers spectacular mountain views

A party of four hikes the CPR trail from Cameron Lake to the top of Mt. Cokely on an overnight adventure.
Randy Robinson sits on a ledge at Mt. Cokely early Saturday morning

Mount Arrowsmith has been much in the news lately — more specifically, the fate of the Mt. Arrowsmith Biosphere group. They are trying to stay alive and have been asking for help in managing this United Nations-designated biosphere on the east coast of Vancouver Island.

A chance for an overnight hike up the old CPR trail from Cameron Lake to Mt. Cokely — which offers great views of Mt. Arrowsmith itself — seemed like the perfect chance to see the mountain for which the biosphere is named.

Mt. Arrowsmith, the largest mountain peak in the south portion of the Island, affects the environment all around it. There are times when the clouds and fog are socked in over Port Alberni and the weather stays clear of Qualicum Beach and Parksville — it’s all affected by the mountain. From atop Mt. Cokely, one can see both sides of the Island, and how imposing Mt. Arrowsmith is to all of the communities in its neighbourhood.

The hike itself was set up a few weeks ago. Some friends and I had climbed Mt. Benson in Nanaimo a few months ago in the snow, looked north-east, and set our sights on Mt. Arrowsmith. It was to be an overnight adventure, come rain or shine. But this time, during the summer.

We selected the old CPR trail route from Cameron Lake. Now part of the Regional District of Nanaimo’s  Mt. Arrowsmith Massif Regional Park, the trail was originally used by the railway to take travellers to the peak, to see the Island from a decidedly unique perspective. We made sure to start out on a Friday and later in the day so we didn’t run afoul of road construction work being undertaken by Island Timberlands. Hikers should be aware that alongside a portion of the old CPR trail route, blasting and tree falling is a real hazard during the week.

The CPR trail itself is a four-hour trek from Cameron Lake to the old ski hill area (now long abandoned) on Mt. Cokely.

Along the way, there are multiple switchbacks, taking hikers up approximately 1,000 meters. The route is much longer, however, and hikers need to be well prepared with enough water and supplies. There were, however, a few people on day trips and runs up the route, to a lookout about half-way up the trail. There are plenty of places to stop and rest — from small waterfalls beneath a well-kept, wooden bridge, to a trail intersection point where Whiskey Jacks emerge from the trees and are not afraid of landing upon resting hikers in search of a treat.

Laden with backpacks, it took the four of us close to six hours to complete the route and summit the mountain top. Nearing darkness, we decided it best to make camp there.

At 1,631 metres above sea level, Mt. Cokely is only around 200 meters smaller than Mt. Arrowsmith, yet offers some spectacular views on its own.

We had planned to get to the top of Mt. Arrowsmith itself the next day, but work plans for some of the hikers on this trip meant we didn’t have the proper amount of time to hit that goal.

We were, however, satisfied in reaching the top of Mt. Cokely. From there in the early morning hours, we watched the sun rise over the Straight of Georgia and shine brightly onto the face of Mt. Arrowsmith —making for excellent views and pictures.

With the morning light upon the area, we saw how such a mountain and the land around it, can have such a profound impact upon the region. We may have not come to any grand conclusions about the future of the biosphere, but we did see why the region was designated as such. The massif overlooks so much of the mid-Island and from its peaks, the connections between communities can plainly be seen.

After a quick breakfast and packing up our camp site, we four headed down the mountain, vowing to return, take an alternate route, and reach the top of Mt. Arrowsmith itself.

The return hike was a lot quicker (with lighter packs and all), taking around three hours to descend to our waiting vehicles.

The CPR trail is popular route, and well-marked. To learn more, visit the Regional District of Nanaimo’s website  at, search under ‘Services’ and find the ‘Parks’ link for more information about the route.