Waterfall Gets Stamp of Approval

We had originally planned a family trip to the spectacular Little Qualicum Falls in Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park but by the time we arrived (approximately 45 minutes from Courtenay) both of the kids were asleep in the back of the car and we were faced with a dilemma: wake the kids or drive further afield. For those of you with young children, you know the answer is a pretty obvious, “Let sleeping kids lie.”

Upper Stamp Falls
The upper part of Stamp Falls is a series of ledges – no steep drops but lots of water at this time of year.

So where to go? When we were thinking about day trips, we had initially considered Stamp River Provincial Park near Port Alberni as a destination.  However, the writeup in Waterfalls of British Columbia: A Guide to BC’s 100 Best Falls, which described the falls as being “much altered in the worthy cause of fisheries enhancement,” gave us second thoughts. While we sat in the car with the sleeping children, I remembered that Sandy McRuer of Rainbird Excursions had  recently posted that the salmon were running at Stamp Falls. Despite the so-so writeup in Waterfalls we decided to give it a try. With luck, the kids would sleep for the 30 minutes or so to Port Alberni and we could have lunch at the falls.

One of the reasons I’ve never visited this provincial park before is that it is “so far” off the main road. Today we discovered that the 14 km detour from the beaten path between Port Alberni and Tofino is well worth it.

Lower Stamp Falls
The base of Stamp Falls is a narrow canyon – salmon have to navigate this choke point in order to get to the fish ladder. Note the old fish ladder on the bottom right of the photograph.

At the end of a pleasant rural drive is Stamp River Provincial Park. We had a quick picnic lunch and then began the short walk to the waterfalls and fish ladders. For families with small children this is an excellent destination, and the 500 metre walk is definitely doable for toddlers as young as two (with a little bit of carrying).

Stamp Falls
The upper chute of Stamp Falls with part of the fish ladder in the foreground. The fish ladder was a very complex and large cement structure.

The falls were amazing at this time of year, perhaps because of the high volume of water in the river. And while the fish ladders did look unnatural, they were very interesting for the kids to look at. We tried imagine how the ladders were constructed as they are quite complex and very large structures and the water flow very fast.

Salmon Leaping
Watching the fish leaping clear of the water was a highlight for our family – it was amazing to see them making their way through the turbulent water.

The highlight was watching the salmon ascending the falls through the narrow gap in the canyon, leaping clear of the turbulent water below. Alden actually spotted the first school of salmon resting in a side pool directly below the main falls while we were distracted by a yellow ball rotating around on the surface of the pool. Soon we were seeing fish everywhere.

These waterfalls are worth the side trip. Instead of just passing through Port Alberni on your way to the west coast, take some time to explore the natural attractions in the valley. The road to Stamp Falls passes by McLean Mill National Historic Site so it would be very easy to combine the two destinations into a half day trip. If you want to explore more of the waterfalls in the Valley, consider joining Sandy on his next waterfall tour.

In our books, Stamp Falls gets our stamp of approval!