Alberni Inlet Nahmint Lake Loop

A favourite backroads ride

This is a fantastic ride, into an uncommonly travelled area. It heads south from Port Alberni down the west shores of majestic Alberni inlet, where there's several fine seaside camping options. Then it loops NW to follow above the Nahmint River then the shores of long, narrow Nahmint Lake, and another excellent Rec Camp. Continuing, there's a real nasty climb then a steep hill to bomb down to connect with the south shores of huge Sproat Lake. Then west (incredible riding) to loop around the far end of the lake where there's an amazing cluster of camping options (mostly informal). Then, back east to Port Alberni, following the paved Pacific Rim Highway.

 

Or, if you have time, you can choose to head west right out to Tofino ....

This ride starts & finishes in Port Alberni. This shot was taken from Victoria Quay Park, along the west edge of town where the Pacific Rim Hwy west starts. That's Catalyst Mill in the background, an economic foundation of Port Alberni, still operating today. In the foreground, on the Somass River, is a Search & Rescue boat.

Somass River & Catalyst Mill in Port Alberni | Pacific Rim Highway west to Tofino

Years past, I had done this ride, but didn't yet have my GPS, so did not save the track. I finally went back in December 2018 and redid the route, saving my track.  I also followed a route that does not involve any potential gate issues - which could be an issue for some who may be in a vehicle that could get caught on the wrong side. 

So, the route here has been tidied up a little, though 98% is still the same. This 2nd trip also confirmed my old impression - this is a fantastic ride.  I travelled my first 2 days to Arden Creek and Nahmint Lake on a weekend, and met almost no traffic, though I could see a few areas with recent logging, and road maintenance along Nahmint Lake suggested future logging may be planned.  On day 3, I rode west on the south shore of Sproat Lake (brilliant!), and once again met virtually no traffic.  

bikepacking west shores of Alberni Inlet |  Cycle touring SW from Port Alberni

Grand views SE over Alberni Inlet from Canal Main on the west shores, as you ride south. As you can gather, there's some pretty steep terrain in this area.

Some highlights:

  • Majestic Alberni Inlet, with fine camping options at Arden Creek (Honourable Mention Fav Camp) and Macktush Creek (Bill Motyka), a larger private campground

  • Mean, nasty climb up to Gracie Lake (tiny Rec Camp there), then bombing down the equally steep other side

  • Wonderful riding along the shores of Nahmint then Sproat Lakes

  • An incredible cluster of camping options, formal and informal, along west Sproat Lake and the Taylor River

Photo looking east from my camp at Arden Creek Rec, along west shores of Alberni Inlet. I remember this well. I was sitting at the table eating breakfast when a big, sleek black bear ambled past along the shore, took a long look at me, then continued on his way, sated on spawning salmon, I suppose. Got my heart pounding.

Eve Arden Rec Camp | west shores of Alberni Inlet | bikepacking SW from Port Alberni

Days for Ride:  There's 2 perspectives one can approach this ride from. Overall, the ride distance for the loop is 130kms starting & finishing in Port Alberni. So, it can be done as an overnighter. For this option, I'd recommend camping at Nahmint Lake Rec Camp. The second 'perspective' is to take the opportunity to camp and chill out at some excellent spots along your ride. For this approach, you'll need 3 or (ideally) 4 days. The 4 day option (recommended) would enable you to overnight at Arden Creek Camp (or Macktush Creek), Nahmint Lake Camp, and Snow Creek Camp on SW Sproat Lake.

Shortly after the ride starts, you'll head south off the highway onto dirt roads. The final 40kms back to Port Alberni, once you rejoin the Pacific Rim Highway west of Sproat lake, is paved with a decent shoulder.

 

Difficulty:  Medium. There's some sharp climbing on Canal Main heading south. There's a mean hill (400M+) up from north Nahmint Lake to Gracie Lake, south of Sproat Lake. Things get remote, particularly in the vicinity of Nahmint and Gracie Lakes, and along the SW shores of Sproat Lake. You might meet logging trucks. If it is hot and dry in the summer, bring a cloth dust mask.

Nahmint Lake SE of Port Alberni | bikepacking | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Looking north along long, narrow Nahmint Lake from the route up the NE shores. Some really nice riding around here. There was virtually no other traffic (though that can change).  I camped at the fine little Rec Camp at the NE corner.

There are some interesting side trip options.  

  • Rather than looping back from the west end of Sproat Lake to Port Alberni, just keep heading west on Pacific Rim Highway out to Long Beach, Tofino & the wild west coast

  • Head north from Sproat Lake to Great Central Lake and the huge hinterland that stretches all the way north to Courtenay

  • Head down the other (east) side of Alberni Inlet, and you can make your way to Bamfield, or loop east to Nitinat and Cowichan Lake 

  • A few people have told me it is possible to head further south from Nahmint River, to ride the NE shores of Henderson Lake in an extended loop. It seems (I have not confimed) one would take Lake Main south off Nahmint Main to cross the bridge over the Nahmint River (which I have visited: N49° 05.216' W124° 56.696'). From there, I am not yet clear (I'll head back some day), but one apparently can reconnect with Nahmint Main just north of Nahmint Lake. Would love to hear from someone if they do this ride. For the very adventurous only. 

Nahmint Main, following the NE shores of the Nahmint river, then Nahmint  Lake, inland from Alberni Inlet. My go-to bike back in those days (circa 2008) was my my trusty Jeff Bock tourer 

Nahmint Main beside Nahmint River | cycle touring SW of Port Alberni | bikepacking

Along the west shores of Sproat Lake (north & south), as well as the Taylor River further west, there's a fine cluster of formal and informal camping options.  There's a number of smaller 'pullout camps' along both the lake and the river, where you can have your own spot. A few on the south side are quite close to the road, but traffic is limited. On the NW side, the challenge is finding the track down to the lakeside from the highway (about 1.5kms east of the west end of the lake).

 

My favourite camping option around here is Snow Creek Rec Camp, recently upgraded. It's quite big (~25 sites), and can fill up in season. For more on this cluster, check out the Honourable Mention Fav Camps page.

SW Sproat Lake, South Taylor Main

This from near the west end of Sproat Lake, following South Taylor Main along the south shores. Sweet riding. This is fairly near Snow Creek Rec Camp, a good camping option.  

Here's the elevation / distance view. 

The ride elevation goes up to a max of just over 400m by Gracie Lake between Nahmint & Sproat lakes. You can't miss that nasty hill, and it doesn't matter from which direction you approach it (though coming up from the south seems a little nastier).  

 

You'll see that the start of the ride south along the west of Alberni Inlet has some good ups and downs. Then, from the seaside campgrounds, the route starts to climb as you follow the Nahmint River up to Nahmint Lake. 

Heading west along the south of Sproat Lake is a fine ride. Then back east on Hwy 4 along the north shores to Port Alberni, with a few rolling hills. 

Distance / elevation chart for Alberni Inlet Nahmint Lake Fav Ride

The climb north from Nahmint Lake to Gracie Lake. Not a good photo, and a nasty, rainy day, but you get the idea. The only saving grace is the great descent down the other side to south Sproat lake.

Climb from Nahmint Lake to Gracie Lake | backroads cycling west from Port Alberni

Here's the distance & direction guide.  Things get pretty detailed, so if you're not looking into doing the ride, you'll want to give this a pass. 

 

Head west from Port Alberni on paved Hwy 4 (aka Pacific Rim Hwy) for ~3km+ past bridge over Somass River. Continue on another ~1/2 km, then turn left onto McCoy Lake Road.  

 

(There is a slightly more direct route if you turn left immediately after the Tseshaht First Nation Admin Building on the SW corner of the bridge, then follow Shoemaker Road through a business park area. However, there is a gate that is sometimes closed where this route connects to Cous Creek then Canal Mains. So this route is not recommended.)

 

Follow McCoy Lake Road SW 2.5kms then turn left/south onto Woodward Road for under a km to the junction with Trill Pit Road. You should see signs now to Alberni Motocross, which you can follow. Take Trill Pit for near 1.5km to junction with Stirling Arm Main, where you'll see the Motocross site, and turn left/east. After over 2kms you'll reach the junction right/south onto Cous Creek Main which gets you onto Canal Main. At this junction, you'll see a sign to Macktush Campground to the south, confirming you're on the right track. You'll also see, to the east, the gate that can be a bother if you try the more direct route (see inset paragraph above). You won't need to worry about the gate if you follow this track.

See detailed map below for getting started south on this ride. 

After 7.5kms heading south on Cous Creek you'll reach a junction where you'll angle right onto Canal Main. There's another sign pointing to Macktush Campground. After 11kms, you'll get to the access track on the left heading down to the seaside and Arden Creek Rec Camp (a recommended Honourable Mention Fav Camp). The track is just before a creek, and unsigned (there's a sign further down).

Another 4.5km to Macktush Campground (closed in off-season, but you can't miss it). After nearly 7 further kms, the road angles right/west to begin to follow NW up above the north of the Nahmint River. After nearly 5kms you'll see the junction south on South Main . If you follow this over 1km (don't take it), you'll reach a bridge over the Nahmint River. This is, I believe (unconfirmed), the route that connects to the south end of Henderson Lake.

8.5 km NW to the south end of Nahmint Lake, then a further ~10kms to the steep access track down to Nahmint Lake Rec Camp along the shores of the lake. ​ It's a final 2kms to a junction where you will take the right onto Gracie Main (sometimes called Gracie Hook-up?) to the North. It's 3+km, mostly tough, steep climbing, up to Gracie Lake. At the north end of the lake you'll see an access track in to the basic Rec Camp at Gracie Lake.  

 

Then some gravy time with a sweet 5km descent to south Sproat Lake (2 Rivers Arm) and a junction you'll take to the left/NW onto South Taylor Main. (Right would be onto Stirling Arm Main back towards Port Alberni).

 

Guide continues after map below. 

Alberni Inlet Nahmint Lake Fav ride route map

Then more super riding, for 14kms west to Snow Creek Rec Camp (an Honourable Mention Fav), then 6+kms to the first of 4 roadside pullout camps along the South Taylor River. Then, a final 3+kms to the junction with paved Hwy 4. Here you'll turn right/east to head back to Port Alberni. Almost immediately, you'll cross a bridge to the north of the Taylor River, and see a turnoff into a rest area with tables and toilets. From the junction it's ~4.5kms east to a nearly hidden turnoff down to a nice pullout camp along the north of the Taylor River (just before a bridge over a little creek). Then nearly 4kms to another unsigned turnoff down to the NW shores of Sproat Lake, where there's a fine old rec camp and some smaller lakeside pullout camps.

Then the homestretch: 11+kms to the turnoff north into Taylor Arm Park Group Campground, then 9+kms to Sproat Lake Provincial Park (there's 2 sections, one lakeside, south of the highway, and an adjacent site to the north). From Sproat Lake it's ~12kms back to Port Alberni. 

NW Sproat Lake Rec campsites | bikepacking | cycle touring west of Port Alberni

Access road along NW Sproat Lake. There's a fine old Rec Camp, and a number of smaller lakeside pullout camps down in this area. The access road down from Hwy4 is unsigned, hard to see, about 1.5kms east of the marshy west end off Sproat lake

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This website does not encourage anyone to undertake activities in the backwoods without considering fully issues of safety, access and readiness. There are no guarantees with any information provided in this website.  Please read  the FAQs, research further as appropriate, and use your judgement at all times