Search Vancouver Island

Horne Lake Caves Picnic

Recently I met my friend and fellow vagabond in Nanaimo where she suggested that spelunking and a picnic would be a fine thing to do. Spelunking? Now picnics I love but I do harbour an unnatural fear of enclosed spaces so the caving proposition was not exactly my idea of a good time. You’ll be fine she said and off we went.  

We cruised along Hwy 4A past some of our favorite destinations. First was Englishman River Falls. We love hiking at the falls, the cliffs, the forest and the well groomed trails. They make for a great experience. Next we pass my favorite barnyard at the Tiger Lily Farm. This is a great place for kids and adults alike to stay in touch with the scents and sounds of a bygone life.

Another couple km's or so down the road is Coombs. There are numerous stores in the area and in my opinion it is best to just park the car and walk to the stores, cafes, markets and restaurants. This unique shopping experience is best enjoyed when you have the time to meander.

“Goats on the Roof” has a certain appeal to visitors and it’s one of the unique finds in this little community. Atop the beautiful natural grass roof of the Coombs Country Market, lives a family of goats. In the spring when the kids are full of discovery, they are active and incredibly amusing!  

The Country Market has an international marketplace. In house you’ll find a bakery, deli, café with indoor and outdoor seating, an international grocery store and a terrific bazaar filled with fun finds and great gift ideas. This is prime picnic fixing territory and in minutes we found everything we needed.

From the market we headed west to Hwy 4 and made our way to Hwy 19 where we traveled north to Exit #75, the cut off to my horror, the Horne Lake Caves.

This is a 12km mostly gravel road and therefore, it isn’t the road to bring your prized ride. As this was late in a summer that brought little rain, all the vegetation along the roadway was coated in a thick, grey dust.

I had never been here and was impressed with the glimpses of Horne Lake and the private cottages perched between the road and lake as you wind through the area. We got out beside a huge roadside boulder that had tumbled from the mountaintop in the distant past and walked to the beach and its crystal clear lake water.  I spent quite some time in this beautiful and peaceful place attempting to forget the future horror and confinement of the caves but she demanded we travel on.

I was surprised that the parking lot was empty save for a couple visiting from Montreal. We crossed the bridge to find that it was closed. I hid my joy as my friend expressed her regret. But we still have a picnic so we headed back down the road to the Horne Lake Outdoor center and found a nice lakefront patch of happiness on which to dine.

The Outdoor Center is where adventure, nature and education come together to deliver a fantastic experience. Caving tours, canoe and water sports rentals, multi adventure passes are available here. The North Park campground stays open year round providing a great jumping off spot for winter adventure.

Please remember that you have the privilege to be in one of the last wilderness locations in existence on the planet. When at the Regional Park’s yurt please check to see if there are wildlife warnings posted. Low and behold, there had been a recent bear sighting exactly where we had stopped beside the roadside boulder. Always  travel in pairs and keep an eye on small children.  

There is no wonder why Attractions Canada voted Horne Lake Caves the ‘Best Natural Outdoor Site in BC.’ Maybe someday I’ll strap on the forehead light and give it a try. No - not goin' to - not ever!  - elmhillian above ground 

  1. Start: Nanaimo BC
    The Harbour City is the starting point for many Island adventures.
  2. Coombs BC
    Old Country Market – Home of the Goats on the Roof
  3. End: Horne Lake Caves
    Ranked #1 Attraction and recipient of BC’s Remarkable Experience award