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Nitinat Lake Rec Campsite

A Favourite Camping Spot

I've been to this campsite, managed by the Dididaht First Nation, a few times as a side trip on my way between Cowichan Lake & Port Alberni, but also several times on my way down into mystic Carmanah Walbran. This is a real favourite because it surprised me so much the 1st time I visited in summer. I thought I was getting out to some remote, wilderness location, but found longer term campers, including international visitors, there for the wind surfing, kite boarding, beach vibe & sense of alternate community. All this in a campsite surrounded by huge trees, nestled against the lakeside, far from anywhere.

MARCH 2022 UPDATE.  I rode up-island and spent a night at Nitinat Campground on my way to Port Alberni (the campground was not open yet for the season, but ...).  A major expansion has been underway since last I visited! I guess the news has gotten out, and the pandemic camping boom brought lots of folks.  It looks like the number of campsites has maybe doubled. There's nice new outhouses, even a little yurt-like office at the entrance. One expects this might impact the vibe. I'll be interested to hear what people have to say.

Looking south down Nitinat Lake from the shore by the campground.  This was in the offseason, so nobody was around

Nitinat Lake Rec Campground | bikepacking Cowichan Lake to Port Alberni | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Nitinat Lake is roughly halfway between west Cowichan Lake & the dirt highway to Bamfield, which also heads north to Port Alberni. The village and campground are at the north end of the lake, about 8kms (gradual descent) off Nitinat Main.  

The photos in the collage below from Nitinat Lake were taken by my sister, Heather (thanks Heather!). Top left shows the docks at the south end of Nitinat Lake, where hikers on the famous West Coast Trail can get a boat (managed by the Dididaht First Nation) to shuttle them across 'the Narrows' where the tidal lake flows into the ocean. It's not uncommon for them to have to bring injured or worn down hikers back up the lake to the road. Bottom left - wind surfers on the lake. Bottom right - a seal hanging out along the shore, oceanside, just outside the Narrows. Finally, top right, a kite surfer heads back into the campground. Campers can rent kite surfing or wind surfing gear, and get lessons if they want, from along the lake shores beside the campground. 

Nitinat Lake Rec Campground | kite skiing & wind surfing | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Nitinat Lake Rec is a pretty big campsite now, over 50 sites.The best sites are those by the lakeside, a little more expensive (though this is still a great deal here, with prices ~$15 per night). The sites further to the back are not all so nice, but do the job. Lots of firewood along the shores. The little Dididaht First Nations village is only 5 minutes away, with a basic store (ice cream!). There was a huge windstorm ~10 years past, and one still sees trees down in places. See map below, the main route comes in via Nitinat Main to the north (~64 kms from Lake Cowichan Village on the east end of Cowichan Lake, or ~75 kms from Port Alberni to the NE). These are both routes used regularly by the public: you may meet occasional logging, but they are keeping an eye out for public traffic. In hot dry summer, things can get dusty, so a cloth dust mask or bandana can be a good idea. There's an alternate backroads route via Caycuse, McClure & Walbran Mains that I also rode in some years past - but this gets remote, winding and rough. 

Rossander Main along Nitinat Lake | bikepacking Nitinat Lake | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Looking north up Nitinat Lake from Rossander Main, heading south along the east shores to Carmanah Walbran (with a few steep stretches on the way)

Nitinat Lake is a long, narrow lake, extending nearly 40 kms south to the ocean. It's part of a popular canoeing triangle, and also (at the coast) sort of a halfway point along the famous West Coast Trail from Bamfield to Port Renfrew. Interestingly, Nitinat Lake is also a tidal lake, open to the ocean, salt water mingling with fresh at the south end as the tides change. At the north end where the Nitinat River flows into the lake, there's a fish hatchery, managed by the Dididaht First Nation.

Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park is a provincial park and trailhead for treks up the old growth valleys around the Carmanah & Walbran Creeks. There's a basic little campground that can fill up in season, so be prepared to wild camp nearby. But there's also one of the great treasures on Vancouver Island - trails through some of the last remaining stands of giant old growth forests.

Routes to Nitinat Lake Campsite
Location & route map | Nitinat Lake Rec Campground | cycle touring Vancouver Island | Carmanah Walbran

Entrance to Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park - one of the hidden gems of Vancouver Island, and one of the few remaining stands of true old growth forest. Like a cathedral

Carmanah Walbran Provincial Park | last giant old growth forests | cycle touring Vancouver Island
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