Mt Arrowsmith is the best known mountain to hike on Vancouver Island and in our opinion is the most spectacular. It is the highest and most visible mountain in the southern island at 5961ft (1817 meters). It is a medium to difficult 1-2 hour hike up depending on ability, route chosen, and time of year. Summer is the most popular time to come, though many locals like the challenge during winter weather.
With so many watersheds as well as countless Vancouver island mountains in all directions, the views on top of Mt Arrowsmith just might take your breath away. It is close to the head of the Alberni Inlet and you will have sights of a few lakes as well as the eastern section of Georgia Strait, many Islands and the mainland mountains in the backdrop.
There are a few trails up this mountain summarized below. The most popular are The Saddle and The Judges Route.
Mt Arrowsmith started getting attention in the late 1800’s and because of its prominence overlooking the landscape around, Canadian Pacific Railway built a tourist chalet at Cameron Lake. From there they organized an overnight hike to a cabin on Mt Cokely, Arrowsmith’s twin. For a period of time there was a ski resort on Cokely, but it has been known more as a hikers paradise the past couple decades.
This is the most popular of the routes and the hike up can be done in about an hour from the parking spot if a person is in good shape and as long as 2 hours for those who need extra time. There are a few ways to get to the top with a few different trails marked by pink and orange ribbons. Once getting to the top of the Saddle, you can keep hiking to the top of Arrowsmith with a steep path leading you up there. The views are outstanding and well worth the hike.
Distance: From parking lot to summit is about 2km, with ~400m of elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult, somewhat steep trail. In summer is much less of a challenge than winter when it’s snowy and/or icy.
Hiking Time: About 1-2 hours one-way from parking lot to saddle ridge
Footing can my loose coming down the Saddle and the creek bed to the bottom, so make sure you wear appropriate footwear and take your time.
This is the easiest route and starts by following an old logging road for the first 25 mins. The start of the trail is well marked and once ascending you will see great views of Cameron Valley.
Distance: From parking lot to summit is about 3km, with 1000m of elevation gain
Difficulty: Difficult, steep trail with some exposed sections and scrambles
HikingTime: About 2-3 hours one-way from parking lot to summit.
Mt Arrowsmith is home to many colorful wildflowers including Trillium, Easter lily, Coast Piperia, Larkspur, and hundreds of flowering plants. Blueberries also grow here and ripen near the end of the summer.
Take Highway 4 west of Quaiicum and continue through Cathedral Grove, up to the top of the hill and here is long straight stretch with pullouts for trucks. At the end of pullouts you will be able to turn left on Summit Main (a gravel road). Set your odometer to zero. Keep left on all main roads. There will be other roads to the left that are unused, but don’t pay attention to these. After about 20 mins in the road will start to ascend steeply.
At 12.8 km you pass a road to your right. This leads to the Lost Gully and the Un-Judges route. At 13.3 km there is a pullout opposite a road to the right. This is the Judges Route. At 17.8 km there will be a large horseshoe looking turn in the road with concrete crash barriers. Park here and take the overgrown road up to your right for the start of The Saddle and the Bumps-Nose route.