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Scenic Rest Stops: Oyster Bay Shoreline Park, Vancouver Island

Whether this is your first pit stop on my Summer Van Life Road Trip series or you've been journeying alongside me, Welcome! I'm enjoying a road trip across the wondrous landscapes of British Columbia. My reliable sidekick? None other than my converted Sprinter van, named Wanda. Today's post is about the beautiful Oyster Bay Shoreline Park, found beside a rest stop on Highway 19, between Campbell River and Comox on the east coast of Vancouver Island.

This summer's road trip has been a blast. With a fond farewell to Metro Vancouver in mid-June, I spent the next 6 weeks exploring the Interior of British Columbia. Most of that time I was in the Kootenays. I've stayed in provincial, municipal and private campgrounds. I've learned a lot about the history and geography of this incredible province. Every pit stop and scenic vista has written its story in my travel memories.

For August, I changed directions and returned very briefly to the Vancouver area before catching a ferry across the Salish Sea to Vancouver Island. This post finds me working my way along the east coast of Vancouver Island, tracing a route that started in the northern town of Port Hardy and continued onto Malcolm Island in the Johnstone Strait. I am seeing the end of this year's adventure. But there is still more to explore. Today I want to share a slice of beauty and unexpected highlight: Oyster Bay Shoreline Park.

So, come meander with me as I share my experiences and perhaps inspire a touch of wanderlust within each of you. From the mountains and lakes of the Kootenays to the rugged shores of Vancouver Island, my van life road trip continues, one remarkable kilometre at a time. If you are enjoying the content, please consider subscribing.

Meandering Without a Destination

As I left Telegraph Cove I was looking for a scenic spot where I could linger for a few days – a spot to set up camp. I needed to tackle some minor repairs and improvements. I wanted to spend some time watching the water in the comfort of my camp. I wanted to see more wildlife. I was ready to nest for a while. A strong cell signal is always needed to accomplish tasks like blogging and photo editing – I was on the lookout for that elusive combination of beauty and practicality. There is a lot of wilderness in the northern region of Vancouver Island and my biggest issue finding a place to fit the bill would be finding cell a connection. I wasn't expecting a decent signal until I reached Campbell River, at least another couple of hours of driving. I was considering going as far as Comox where I knew a couple of campgrounds that checked all the boxes. I loaded up a bunch of podcasts and settled in to enjoy the drive.

As the dinner hour approached, I found myself without a clear destination in mind. I had driven past Campbell River, uninspired to stop. I continued south along the highway when I spotted the sign for Oyster Bay Shoreline Park, adorned with an elegant heron logo. In a swift decision, I pulled over and turned around and was soon pulling into the rest stop beside the Park.

The late hour and the fact that I hadn't yet found a campground meeting my specific criteria for the night didn't deter me. Perhaps it wasn't the most strategically sound decision, but as the adage says, fortune favours the bold. I chose to pause, to take that chance, and oh, how glad I am that I did. Sometimes, the best experiences come when we heed the calls that might seem a bit out of sync with our original plans.

Oyster Bay Shoreline Park

The park is just under 2 hectares (5 acres) in size. In the 1930s the park was a relief camp. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was a logging camp where logs were gathered into booms for transport. As a way to protect the booms against winter storms, the camp owner came up with an idea to create a breakwater. Eventually, 15 ships were sunk in a half-circle shape around pilings and allowed to rot. This caused sediment to accumulate and form the ground of the park, which attracted many species of shore birds and animals. When a proposal was made to build a marina in this location, the locals lobbied to protect it and have it recognized as a wildlife refuge and park in 1989.

The park has three major habitats: shoreline, beach, and woodland. The bay is an important feeding ground for waterfowl and shorebirds and is very popular with the local birders. The dune area blooms with sedge, blue-eyed Mary, gumweed and sunflowers. From the beach, there are fantastic views of Mitlenatch Island and the Coast Mountains beyond. The golden hour of light just before sunset is breathtaking.

Time slipped away from me as the light changed from the bright clarity of the afternoon to the soft golden hues signalling sunset. I realized that I needed to move on to find a place for the night and feed my loudly complaining belly. Reluctantly I returned to Wanda to carry on my journey.

Upon returning to the rest area parking lot, I realized that van dwellers and RVs were pulling in and were obviously planning on spending the night. I looked around and saw that there were signs posted saying "No camping. 8 hours only" and realized that I could probably stay overnight right where I was. A chat with a passing parks employee confirmed I would not be disturbed where I was and that the 8-hour limit was flexible, within reason.

Rest Stop Rules in British Columbia

Highway rest stops in British Columbia are located along highways that can be simple pullovers with a pit toilet or elaborate picnic areas in scenic locations. These are free to use. However, it's important to be aware of the rules and guidelines that govern the use of these rest areas. While specific rules might vary from one rest stop to another, there are some common rules and practices that apply.

Rest areas are not campgrounds. They are intended for short-term stays, to allow drivers to take a break, use toilet facilities, and stretch their legs. Extended camping or overnight stays are generally discouraged. However, drivers are encouraged to sleep at rest stops rather than drive while sleepy. Some rest stops, like Oyster Bay, allow 8-hour stays. Rest areas often have clear signage indicating specific rules, limitations, and amenities available. Always follow these posted signs for a hassle-free experience.

To learn more and to see a map of all the rest stops in British Columbia, click here.

Tip to Assess a Safe Rest Stop

When opting to stay at rest stops during your road trip, safety and comfort should always take precedence. Consider the location of the rest stop and your ability to access help. Take some time to observe the flow of traffic in and out of the rest area. Notice the people who stop and their general movements before deciding to stay. Some rest stops attract a more dodgy crowd of partying locals, other rest stops, like Oyster Bay, attract bird-nerds. (I'm not sure which is worse). Look for a well-lit area.

Just like in any other public area, vehicle security is paramount. Lock your doors, secure your belongings, and ensure all windows are properly covered and closed, and the alarm is activated when settled in for the night. Park your vehicle strategically so that you can exit easily. Be prepared to move if the vibe changes.

It's important to be aware of which rest stops are used by the big commercial rigs. Avoid parking in areas where truckers typically maneuver, ensuring your vehicle remains out of their way. These professional drivers have required rest breaks. Finding a place for those rigs is not always easy. If big rigs are in a rest stop it is usually because there isn't a more suitable location available. Stay out of their way. Better yet, find another rest stop.

Final Thoughts

In the morning, I found myself perched on the edge of Oyster Bay, a steaming cup of coffee cradled in my hands, as the sun rose. The gentle lapping of the waves against the shore provided a soothing soundtrack to accompany the first light of day. I watched the birds feeding, saw some fish jumping, and spotted an otter scurrying across the beach. It was a serene scene that felt like a secret shared between me and the world.

Reflecting on the previous night's stay, the road noise that I had been concerned about seemed to fade into the background and hadn't disturbed me, I felt safe, I enjoyed the refuge, and, with no fee, stretched the budget a little further. The choice to spend the night at Oyster Bay Shoreline Park's rest area, even though it was a spontaneous decision, proved to be a rewarding one. Sometimes unplanned detours lead to the most remarkable discoveries.

Oyster Bay Shoreline Park and its rest area encapsulate the essence of what makes a road trip truly magical. The convenience of a place to pause, combined with the unexpected beauty of a nature refuge, created an experience that lingers in my heart and mind. It's a reminder that the journey itself is an adventure and any stop can reveal a treat that feeds your traveller's soul and maybe help you stretch your budget just a little further.

In your road trip travels, don't disregard rest stops – these are not just pauses during longer drives, but may also be a chance to connect with the land or its history... and perhaps, find a great place to park for free. The next time you're passing by a heron-adorned sign or a tranquil coastal view, let curiosity guide you, just as it guided me to this treasure on Vancouver Island.


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