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One of the most popular spots on a hot summer day on Vancouver Island is Great Central Lake. Long and narrow, nestled beneath low mountains, Great Central Lake stretches over 25 miles west to east. The shoreline is steep and nearly inaccessible in most areas, with the entrance of choice located at the commercial RV/campground/marina near the east end of the lake. It is here that visitors arrive to swim, launch boats and begin fishing trips.
The surrounding hills funnel wind along Great Central Lake like a wind tunnel at times, creating rapidly-changing surface conditions in all but the sheltered coves. A heavily-wooded shoreline and lack of easy road access keep Great Central Lake wild and natural. Only ten miles from Port Alberni, Grand Central Lake is another world entirely-a world of fish, fauna and fun.
Very little development has occurred on Great Central Lake. When water levels were raised by a dam across the Stamp River in the 1950s for hydropower generation, the existing shoreline was inundated. Nearly all homes on the lakeshore are floating cottages with water access only. Floating lodgings have been built here since the 1800s due to the steep banks, including the original floating logging camp.
On calm days, lakelubbers at Great Central Lake enjoy water skiing, wakeboarding, parasailing, diving, windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking. Swimming is enjoyed in the shallow, warm coves. The campground is an economical base camp for a variety of other activities in the immediate vicinity. Mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing and nature observation along the local logging roads all take place from this recreation hub. Wildlife is plentiful, including black bear, so caution is advised. Serious trekkers enjoy the three-day hike to Canada's highest waterfall: 1443-foot Della Falls.
Della Falls is within Strathconia Provincial Park at the west end of the lake. There is no road access to the falls, so trekkers regularly arrange for the 'water taxi' to ferry them from the marina area to the provincial docks at the west end. Others make the long trip by canoe, requiring lakeside rustic camping along the way. The trail to Della Falls is a moderately difficult hike of 11 miles, and it is recommended that hikers plan for a three-day trip. No campfires are permitted in the 617,763-acre park except in designated campground fire rings, so rough camping is required with no amenities provided. Those who make the trip at the appropriate time of the summer are rewarded with the spectacular sight of the falls cascading in multiple streams down nearly 1500 feet of rock. Very late summer may find little water going over the falls, and the area is not passable in winter due to snow.
Great Central Lake is a favorite among fishermen. The lake is stocked with steelhead trout; rainbow trout, Dolly Varden char, cutthroat trout and sockeye salmon are also caught. The lake has not frozen over in recent memory, so ice fishing isn't an option. All fishermen must possess a British Columbia fishing license, and special restrictions apply. The Robinson Creek Fish Hatchery is located at the east end of the lake and supplies a large amount of the fingerlings stocked in the lake and surrounding area. Nearby Port Alberni calls itself the 'Salmon Capital of the World', although other nearby cities dispute the label. However, since Port Alberni was deemed Canada's 2010 "Ultimate Fishing Town" by the World Fishing Network, the claim seems apt. Fishing is also great in nearby Sproat Lake and on the Somass and Stamp Rivers.
Activities radiate from Port Alberni up the Stamp River toward Great Central Lake. Nearby, Stamp River Provincial Park offers an excellent trail along the river and excellent views of salmon passing up the fish ladder on their way to spawn. The Log Train Trail, a favored walking and mountain biking trail, follows an abandoned logging train track up the Alberni Valley. Depending on snow cover, the local trails are also available for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding and snowmobiling.
Somass Estuary Project offers the opportunity to see up to 160 different species of birds and waterfowl in an area of restored salt marsh. Port Alberni is noted for saltwater fishing, and many arrive here to take chartered fishing trips on Barkley Sound. Other cruises, such as whale watching excursions, draw nature lovers. Along the river, bed & breakfasts and small guest camps offer lodgings for those who prefer more creature comforts than offered at a campground.
Port Alberni is a working logging and fishing town but has been working to extend its reputation as a tourism destination with notable success. Showcasing its past to best advantage, several destinations offer interesting interpretative sites for visitors to enjoy and to learn. At the harbor, the Maritime Discovery Centre offers exhibits of maritime history. The old lighthouse displays cultural, historic, industrial and environmental interpretive exhibits, while the adjacent Hutcheson Gallery displays shipwreck history and photographic displays of the aftermath of the devastating tsunami that hit the city in 1964.
Not far from the city the McLean Steam Sawmill has been restored to give demonstrations of logging operations during the era of steam power. On site, the 'Tin Pants Theatre Company' depicts scenes from the history of logging and log milling in the area. A restored steam train allows visitors to enjoy a trip on a historic logging locomotive, pulling touring cars through the scenic wooded surroundings. The Alberni Valley Museum is one of the best small community museums in Canada and displays an excellent selection of artifacts from early settlement.
Visiting Great Central Lake is as easy as taking the ferry to Port Alberni then heading upstream. Port Alberni has a number of lodging choices and numerous restaurants and cafes to suit any appetite. The fishing is always productive, and summer on the water is fun-filled and exciting. Come hike the logging trails and enjoy the magnificent second-growth forest surrounding the deep and narrow lake. RV sites are now being sold here, so the lucky buyer can make Great Central Lake their summer home. Other real estate is available in the area and likely to become scarce once people realize everything Vancouver Island has to offer. Come now and see what all of the excitement is about.
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