Mount Arrowsmith is the highest mountain south of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. We hiked the mountain via Judges Route, which is a 6-kilometre moderately trafficked out-and-back trail.
The views from the summit were breathtaking. This trail is primarily used for hiking, running and snowshoeing. It is recommended for experienced adventurers, especially in fall and winter.
Mount Arrowsmith Hike
Hike Key Facts
- Distance: 6 km out-and-back
- Estimated Time: 3.5-5 hours
- Elevation Gain: 1006 m
- Mount Arrowsmith: 1819 m
- Difficulty: Hard
- Location: Mount Arrowsmith Regional Park
- Best Time to Hike: May to September
- Parking: Mount Arrowsmith Trailhead
About Mount Arrowsmith
Mount Arrowsmith is one of the best-known mountains on Vancouver Island. Sitting at just over 1800m, it is also the highest peak in the southern region. This comes as no surprise because it presents an eye-catching spectacle from most south-central portions of the island.
The mountain is situated along Highway No.4 between Parksville and Port Alberni, south of Cameron Lake. Mount Arrowsmith Regional Park is located approximately 20 kilometres from Highway No. 4 along a gravel logging road.
Unsurprisingly the mountain makes its own weather. In winter, in particular, it has a reputation for “Scottish” conditions. Although not as high as some of the Island mountains to the north, it continues to be a training ground for Island climbers.
When to Hike Mount Arrowsmith
Mount Arrowsmith can be hiked during spring, summer, fall and winter. The best time is from May until September. The mountain is usually covered with snow in the wintertime, and the hike should be undertaken only if you are experienced.
We recommend bringing snowshoes and ice climbing gear in the winter. In the fall, parts of the trail get very icy. Good hiking shoes are a must, and crampons could be used as well. We hiked up the mountain in November.
Routes to Mount Arrowsmith
Many routes lead to the top of Arrowsmith mountain. We took the Judges Route, which is the easiest and the only route to the summit where a rope does not need to be used.
This route is considered a class 2 scramble as the trail moves up through the old-growth forest to the summit on grippy basalt rock. The hike takes around 3.5 – 5 hours, but it might take longer during the wintertime or under icy conditions.
Hiking Up the Mountain
For the first half of the hike, we went through a pretty forest. Once we reached the treeline, things got more interesting. The second half of the trail was more technical and exposed, giving great views of the valley.
The last section of the trail had a few rock scrambles. Parts of the trail have a lot of loose gravel and rocks. It can be very slippery, especially on the way down. We used hiking poles, which helped a lot. Some people that we met had to turn around due to the ice and the trail’s steepness.
From around the halfway point onwards, we had to cross some icy areas, which was not always easy. We did not have crampons, and so we had to do without them.
There was a steep rocky part in one section of the trail that was almost completely covered in ice. We managed to make a way through some thick bushes on the trailside. I was glad my nice jacket did not get torn from the branches.
After this hike, we decided to purchase some crampons. They will be convenient during our trips throughout BC and the Rockies.
Getting to the very top was a bit challenging, but it was worth it. The 360 panorama views from the summit were breathtaking! We could see the Strait of Georgia in one direction and the Port Alberni region’s mountain peaks in the other.
There are some flat spot areas on top for overnight camping. We might do that one day, during warmer months. The sunrises from here must be mesmerizing.
We admired the views in all directions. Unfortunately, there was a cold wind blowing on top of the summit, making it difficult for us to take photos. I tried to put on some extra clothes, but it did not help a lot.
My hands were freezing, and our teeth were chattering. We took some photos as fast as possible and went to a lower position to eat because we were starving.
Descending Mount Arrowsmith
We planned to arrive earlier to the hike’s start but ended up taking off around 1:30 pm. We started our descent after 4 pm, which was quite late because the sun sets at around 5 pm in November.
Luckily we made it to the tree line before it got dark outside. Scrambling through the rocks in the dark would have been no fun, even though we had headlamps.
Walking through the forest was much easier. But as we descended steeply downhill between some trees and were crossing some branches, we began to feel we might have got lost. It was more difficult to see the trail at night.
We checked our GPS watch, and indeed we were off the trail. There was no option to cross over to the right path, so we had to make our way back uphill through the forest. It was really no fun to be getting lost in the mountains when it was dark outside.
It felt good getting back on the right trail again. As we hiked through the forest, Galya played some upbeat music from his Spotify list on his phone. This made the descend more fun, and we felt more relaxed walking through the darkness. It was thrilling to arrive back at our car finally.
The Gate on the Logging Road
When we got back to our car, the only thing I could think of was the gate at the end of the logging road. When we arrived, I noticed a sign on one of the trees saying the gate closes at 6 pm. Some gates on Vancouver Island do say that, but no one comes to close them. So I was hoping this would be the case.
But unfortunately, when we arrived at the gate, it was closed and locked. There was a sign on the gate with a phone number to call. We dialled the number and were told it is a $120 charge to get someone to come and unlock the gate.
That was so unfortunate. We had a tent in a car and were thinking of spending a night in the area. Within a few minutes, two more cars arrived, and we decided to split up the amount. Paying $40 was much better than $120.
If we knew beforehand there was a gate, and it closes at 6 pm, we would have started our hike earlier. We should also mention that the logging road is private during the week and is open to the public only on the weekends.
Getting to Vancouver Island
Vancouver Island can be reached by air from Vancouver to Victoria, Nanaimo, Comox or Campbell River. Or by BC Ferries from Vancouver to Victoria or Nanaimo and The Coho ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria. Public transport on the Island is relatively poor, and renting a car is a much better option.
Driving Directions to Trailhead
From Island Highway 19 near Qualicum or Parksville, take Highway 4 west towards Port Alberni. Drive along the south shore of Cameron Lake, through Cathedral Grove Provincial Park and over the low pass, Alberni Summit. You will see two turning lanes on your left near the highway summit sign that will take you onto a dirt logging road; take the second one.
You will be on Summit Main road. Drive down the road until you come to a junction with Cameron Main road, turn left here. Continue on the Cameron road for several kilometres, you will cross two bridges and come to another intersection.
Go left here and drive uphill on Pass Main road. The route ascends quite steeply and is narrower and a bit rougher than the valley mainline. Count the logging road spurs leading back against the mountain on the right.
The third spur gives access to the Lost Gully and Un-Judges routes. Keep driving until you pass the fourth spur. A short distance from here, you will see a pullout on the left side of the road, where you can park your car.
The trailhead is hard to find if you have not been there before; therefore, we recommend using the All Trail offroad app. Once you find the trailhead, the route is very well-marked and easy to follow.
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Read More Travel Guides
We hope you enjoyed our guide on hiking Mount Arrowsmith. Let us know in the comments below. Here are a few of our favourite articles to inspire your travels around Vancouver Island.
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