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 rated medium to difficult. The hike can take 1-2 hours 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 and views of countless Vancouver island mountains in all directions, the scenery on top of Mt Arrowsmith just might take your breath away. It is close to the head of the Alberni Inlet and you can spot 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. There was a ski resort on Cokely, but it has been known as a hikers paradise more recently.
This is the most popular route. The hike up can be done in 1-2 hours from the parking spot, depending on ability. There are several ways to the top, with various trails marked by pink and orange ribbons. Once you reach the top of the Saddle, you can keep hiking to the top of Arrowsmith along a steep path. The views are outstanding and well worth the effort.
Distance: From parking lot to summit is about 2km, with ~400m of elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult, trail is steep in sections. 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 be loose when descending, so make sure you wear appropriate footwear and take your time.
Start 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 past the long straight stretch with pullouts for trucks. At the end of the 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 a steep ascent.
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.