Nanaimo’s Ammonite Falls

When I first visited Ammonite Falls ten years ago things were different. At the time, the waterfall was “off the beaten track.” There was no established parking area, which meant that hikers left their cars on the shoulder of the road. Locals put up signs to prevent people from blocking access to their driveways. It was tricky to find the access point. And you had to use a rope to climb down a steep slope to the base of the falls.

Fast forward ten years. There is now a dedicated parking area on Creekside Place, an outhouse, and a trail kiosk built by the Regional District of Nanaimo. The trail itself has also been improved. The improvement project began in 2020 and was formally completed in 2022. The waterfall is located in Benson Creek Falls Regional Park.

Ammonite Falls
Ammonite Falls during low water flow in the autumn of 2022.

Following the Trail To Ammonite Falls

The first part of the Ammonite Falls trail follows an access road through the Vancouver Island University forest plot. Expect riders on horses or mountain bikes on this part of the trail. Watch for a signage post that marks where the trail leaves the road on the right and makes its way through the research forest. The trail is fairly obvious and the junction points are well signed.

Edge of a cut block in the VIU Forest.
Edge of a cut block in the Vancouver Island University Forest.

The biggest change on the trail is the descent to the base of the falls. This last stretch of the trail was a rope assisted descent down a steep and often muddy slope. As part of the trail enhancement project a set of stairs now makes access to Benson Creek much easier.

Ammonite Falls from the new viewing platform.
Looking down at Ammonite Falls from the new viewing platform.

Photographing Ammonite Falls

Because of the low rainfall in September and October this year, Ammonite Falls is not at its peak flow yet. However, the waterfall is still spectacular even with a low flow of water. The lack of spray also makes photography a little easier.

Ammonite Falls from the base.
View from the base of Ammonite Falls.

The most challenging aspect of photographing the waterfall is finding a good angle without a lot of sky. The dynamic range between the deep bowl carved by Benson Creek and the bright sky is problematic. Using a ND filter like an Urth 10-stop ND filter is helpful because it extends the exposure time which blurs the moving water. Composing to eliminate the sky is a good option as well.

Detail of the waterfall.
Detail of the base of the waterfall.

At this time of year, water levels are low enough that you can easily cross the creek to photograph the waterfall from a number of different angles. Make sure to spend some time enjoying the location. With some patience and luck you may see an American Dipper working through the rocks and debris at the outflow of the main pool!

Worth the Effort

Hiking to Ammonite Falls is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon. The waterfall is well worth the effort and the new set of stairs makes accessing the base of the water fall much easier. Plan about 45 to 60 minutes to walk to the waterfall from the parking area. Total distance is around 5.5 km out and back.

Benson Creek's Ammonite Falls
Ammonite Falls in Benson Creek Regional Park.

If you’re looking for a little challenge on the return trip and don’t want to retrace your steps, it is possible to follow a less developed trail up along Benson Creek. It eventually connects back with the gravel access road that you follow on the first part of the trail but further along. The junction point where it leaves the main trail isn’t signed and is somewhat concealed by a tree that has fallen parallel to the trail. As a result, it doesn’t look like a side trail. Look for the fallen tree and trail where the main trail enters a cut-block on the edge closest to Benson Creek. Once you leave the main trail and enter the forest, the trail becomes much more obvious. This route is steeper than the main trail, but switchbacks help with the elevation gain. When the trail emerges onto a partially overgrown access road, follow it downhill to the left. It eventually becomes the the main access road that you walked on the way in.

Getting There

Getting to the parking area is pretty straightforward. From Jinglepot Road in Nanaimo look for either Meadow Road (at the East Wellington Fire Station) or Kilpatrick Road. Both of these will take you to Jameson Road. Drive to the end of Jameson Road (to the right) until it ends at Creekside Place. Park at the new parking area (don’t drive up the gravel road to the gate, there’s no parking there).