Silently, yet with purpose, Black Creek spills into the Strait of Georgia at the north end of Miracle Beach.
Driving time from Campbell River or Courtenay: 30 minutes.
Features: White sand beach, woodland, estuary, wetland.
Facilities: Visitor Centre/Nature House, pit toilets, picnic/day-use area, campground, amphitheater.
Round trip: From 1-2 hours plus beach time.
Elevation gain: Minimal.
Trail surface: Gravel, bark mulch.
Warm and shallow, the ocean stretches out over a sparkling white sand beach, tropical, sultry - a panorama of loveliness. The views of upper Georgia Strait are unparalleled and mountains on British Columbia's mainland coast are visible on a clear day. At low tide, pools provide a safe place for little ones to explore a myriad of marine life. Whether you're seeking a place to sunbathe, build a sandcastle, swim, or explore, no finer beach exists on upper Vancouver Island.
Miracle Beach, the largest in the area, lies within a full-service, 137-hectare provincial park that offers beautiful campsites and a summer interpretive program. In season, the Nature House/Visitor Centre provides displays about intertidal beach life and information about local flora and fauna. Near the Nature House, a choice of trails lead to beach areas or
thread through a second-growth forest. An interpretive trail forms a half-hour loop behind the Nature House, another trail leads alongside Black Creek's dark amber waters to the estuary.
Miracle Beach Provincial Park, created in 1950, is situated about halfway between Campbell River and Courtenay. The existence of 300-year-old trees within this park is a story in itself. In the summer of 1938, the second largest forest fire in North American history raged north of Campbell River and moved south, stopping just short of this forest - a miracle, some say. Several Native legends also refer to the name "miracle," so Miracle Beach it is and will be forever.
At the park's north end, Black Creek empties onto the beach at the estuary, a perfect location to search for seaweeds, seashells, and aquatic life. In summer, tidal flats are a mass of succulent, salty sea asparagus (glasswort), a gourmet, nouvelle-cuisine item harvested commercially as a crunchy salad addition. American searocket, with plump green beads, is
another salty salad item that tastes a bit like radish. At low tide, a common find is brick-red Turkish towel, bearing an uncanny resemblance to a wet red terry-cloth towel. This colourful seaweed is a source of the stabilizer carrageenan.
The woodland surrounding Miracle Beach is a second-growth, predominantly Douglas-fir, coastal forest that was selectively-logged in the late 1920s. Large stumps show the giant size of the firs at the time of harvesting. "Dougies," as Douglas-firs are affectionately known, live for up to 1,000 years, reaching diameters of over 6 m. Outstanding specimens of Douglas-fir and Sitka spruce within the park today have survived two recorded forest fires and can measure over 2 m in diameter.
Western hemlock - the most common tree of British Columbia's rainforest - grows in abundance here. Hemlock seedlings can survive the shade that kills other competing species. The second most common rainforest tree is another shade-tolerant species: the western redcedar. Hemlocks and cedars often reach their maximum stature here on
Vancouver Island - the mildest and wettest place in Canada.
Trees within the park, alive or decaying, are equally brimming with life, and a veritable wild plant garden can grow on the tree itself: mosses, lichens, and ferns. Hair lichen hangs like tinsel on branches the whole year through, and leaf lichens litter the forest duff, ripped from towering treetops by winter storms. Thriving alongside the beach and trail are crunchy, pale patches of coastal reindeer lichen, sharing this often overlooked environment with soft mosses.
On dead standing timber you may see woodpeckers and other cavity-nesters as they excavate holes and drill into the bark for insects and sap. At least five woodpecker species call the Miracle Beach woodlands home.
In 1964, naturalists made detailed observations of the forest canopy at Miracle Beach, and the iron steps on a large tree behind the Nature House are still in place. Bird species that may be viewed (from the ground, with binoculars) include the golden-crowned kinglet, yellow-rumped warbler, western tanager, and Townsend's warbler.
Edging the path in summer and fall are a tangle of luscious wild berries: red elderberries, huckleberries, salmonberries, thimbleberries, Oregon grape, and salal. Native groups once made mixed berry cakes that resembled fruit leather. Berries within B.C. Parks are protected, and each of us can ensure that our berries will be there for future generations. Resist the
temptation to sample, and find a place outside a park where berries are available for harvesting. This wild abundance is a valuable food source for birds and small animals.
Beach exploration is a fabulous activity, but always remember to return rocks and seashells to their original position, and never remove any shells or marine organisms from the beach or park.
Habitat advisory: Black Creek is a salmon-bearing stream; it must be protected.
Pets: Allowed on a leash.
Wildflowers: Black lily, western trillium, pink fawn lily, false Solomon's seal, broad-leaved starflower.
Trees and shrubs: 300-year-old Douglas-fir, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, western redcedar, bigleaf maple.
Trail authority: B.C. Parks.
Parking: Large paved parking lot next to the Nature House. For those who want to access the beach first, the far parking lot forking to the right off Miracle Beach Drive is perhaps the most convenient.
How to get there: Follow Highway 19A to Miracle Beach Drive. Turn and drive 2.3 km to the park.