10 Free Things You Didn't Know You Could Do In Nanaimo, BC

Activities are fun, but it's not always easy to find fun things to do that don’t cost you an arm and a leg! Whether you're on a tight budget or looking to save money without staying home all weekend, there are plenty of ways to explore Nanaimo without spending a dime! The following 10 things to do for free in Nanaimo, BC are just a sample of what this amazing harbour city has to offer!

1. Explore Bowen Park

Bowen Park is a 36-hectare park that is mainly undeveloped lush forest, which makes it the perfect setting for exploring interpretive trails. The Millstone River meanders through the wooded area adding to the mystique of this gorgeous park. Within this area is a scenic waterfall, fish ladder, duck pond, and an amazing rhododendron grove with over 350 different species. If nature is not enough of a draw for you, then the following amenities are sure to please:

  • Outdoor swimming pool (summer)
  • Sports fields
  • Curling club
  • Disc golf (discs can be borrowed at registration counter)
  • Tennis courts and sand volleyball courts
  • Two playgrounds
  • Outdoor amphitheater available for weddings
  • Two covered picnic shelters

2. Splash Around in a Water Park!

  • Departure Bay Centennial Park (1420 Bay Street) – This is a large neighbourhood park with tennis courts, multi-use court, grassy area for Frisbee or soccer, and two ball diamonds. This area is also home to a great water park!
  • Deverill Square Gyro 2 Park (200 Irwin Street) – With a water park, playground, basketball court, and play field, this park offers families a day of fun in the sun!
  • Harewood Centennial Park (740 Howard Avenue) – Located next to John Barsby Community School, this park has a playground, hard surface courts, a water park, and Sherry Sports Field.
  • Mansfield Park (800 St. Andrews Street) – This park has a playfield area, playground, and water park.

3. Take a Self-guided Walking Tour

Nanaimo is a beautiful city with so many little gems to explore. If you are new to the city, or even if you have lived here for many years, you may not be aware of the self-guided walking tours provided by Tourism Nanaimo. There are a few routes to choose from and the booklet can be picked up from any Tourism Nanaimo location. The following are just some of the things you will see along the way:

  • Old city hall
  • Court house
  • Coal mining sites
  • Art exploration
  • Harbour front

4. Swimming at Westwood Lake and Nanaimo River

  • Westwood Lake – At the end of Westwood Road you will find a stunning calm lake surrounded by tall, lush trees. This Lake is definitely one of Nanaimo’s best-loved areas. You can hike around the lake in just over an hour. You can then spend the rest of the day swimming in the water and lying on the beach. From June to August there is a lifeguard on duty to provide additional peace of mind for your family!
  • The Nanaimo River – There are many places to enjoy the best of what the river has to offer. Cedar Bridge is on the way to Cedar and makes a great place for you to enter the river from. There is also Nanaimo River Road, which is easy to find as there are usually masses of cars in one spot! The best entry point is at Nanaimo River Regional Park. You can park off of Frey Road and on Fry Road as well.

5. Hunt for prehistoric fossils at Ammonite Falls

Ammonite Falls gets its name for the abundance of prehistoric fossils which can be found along the creek bed. Bring out your inner explorer and spot as many as you can. Getting there requires a short hike, but the scenic views are well worth the effort.

Directions - Drive from Jingle Pot Road, turn onto Kilpatrick Road. Take the first right onto Jameson Rd and continue straight on Jameson Rd onto the gravel area. No Parking is allowed on Jameson Rd itself.

6. Hike Mount Benson

Climb and conquer Nanaimo's largest peak by hiking up to the summit of Mount Benson. Once you reach the top you'll be rewarded with panoramic views of Salish Sea, the North Shore mountains in the distance, and the west coast of Vancouver Island. Definitely Instagram worthy!

7. Witness the Nanaimo Bastion Cannon Firing

Who doesn't like to start their day off with a bang? Nanaimo celebrates its rich coal mining heritage by firing the ceremonial cannon at the Bastion every day at 11:45am-12:00pm. During the summer however, guests are treated to live Highland dancing and the occasional bagpipe performance. If you want to take this a bit further, for a fee, you can obtain a license and fire the cannon yourself! Details will be available at Tourism Nanaimo.

8. Get to the Beach!

Nanaimo still has some great beaches for you to explore. When the weather starts heating up it is the perfect time to lather up the sunscreen and head to the water! The following are some beaches in the Nanaimo area for you to check out:

  • Departure Bay Beach – Located just off Departure Bay road, this is a great beach for searching for shell and observing marine life!
  • Morningside Beach – Located at Neck Point Park. The sheltered bay makes this a great spot for swimming during the summer months. It is also a great place for beachcombing!
  • Blue Heron Beach – Located in Yellow Point. This is a rocky beach that is great for family picnics and interesting strolls along the shore hunting for those seashell treasures.

9. Watch The Sun Go Down at Pipers Lagoon Park

This rocky headland is an 8-hectare park that features some great walks to stunning lookout spots. You will be able to catch some of the best sunsets and sunrises in this area. More often than not you will see photographers setting up here to get that all important perfect shot of the day! For bird watchers you will get a chance to see some of the following species:

  • Seagulls
  • Sandpipers
  • Horned Grebes
  • Loons
  • Kingfishers
  • Oyster Catchers
  • Great Blue Herons

10. Hike Through Morrell Nature Sanctuary

Located at 787 Nanaimo Lakes Road, this year round park is open from sunrise to sunset! Find yourself in a protected area where you can hike and picnic in this serene nature sanctuary. You will hear nothing but the birds singing as you make your way along the designated trails.

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