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Nimpkish Lake is a scenic wonder and a prime destination for windsurfers and fishermen. Located at the northeast corner of Vancouver Island, Nimpkish Lake forms a wide and extremely deep spot along 14 miles of the Nimpkish River. In fact, Nimpkish Lake is the deepest lake on Vancouver Island, reaching a depth of nearly 1000 feet below sea level. Located within the traditional lands of the 'Namgis First Nations tribe, legend says the name Nimpkish means "halibut on the bottom". A 'Namgis myth describes creation of the Nimpkish when a man was transformed into a river to provide salmon and trout for his people to eat. The mythical halibut was so large it could 'create a rip-tide'. The 'Namgis call the river Gwa'ni.
Nimpkish Lake lies within the steep walls of Nimpkish Valley. Surrounded by scenic peaks and primarily second-growth forest, Highway 19 runs along the eastern shore on its path between Port McNeill and the little town of Woss. The only settlement on Nimpkish Lake itself is the village of Nimpkish, with a gas station, an RV campground and a store. Much of the land area is under the control of Western Forest Products, a logging and lumber firm. Logging roads are the only access to most of the shore. The lake is a favorite among canoe paddlers and small boat owners for fishing and nature viewing. Although heavily logged in the past, current efforts are geared toward reforestation and repairing damage to the natural environment caused by logging equipment in past years. The area holds a large number of black-tailed deer, black bear and a wide variety of smaller native wildlife and birds.
A boat launch near the Nimpkish store provides the easiest access for boaters and water recreation fans. The long narrow valley funnels afternoon winds down the length of the lake, so windsurfing is a favorite here. The Nimpkish Speed Slalom Windsurfing Weekend takes place in late August, drawing a large number of windsurfing fans. Fishermen come here much of the year. Besides the famed steelhead salmon, coho salmon, chinook salmon, sockeye salmon, Dolly Varden trout, rainbow trout, kokanee and cutthroat trout lurk along the many inlets of small creeks and can be caught year round. Several fishing outfitters in the area arrange fishing expeditions to the current hotspots both within the lake and along the Upper and Lower Nimpkish River. Other outfitters arrange rafting trips along the Upper Nimpkish River.
Although there are no organized recreational facilities around the nearly 30 miles of shoreline, Nimpkish Lake offers a wide variety of recreation to physically fit outdoor fans. All public lands camping is primitive, with a large number of trails leading from the logging roads to the lakeshore and the surrounding mountains. Two large provincial parks protect portions of the lake and lower river. Nimpkish Lake Provincial Park protects a large stand of old-growth coastal western hemlock forest along Tlakwa Creek. The rest of the 9,760-acre park along the southwest shore of Nimpkish lake is second-growth forest and includes much of the eastern slopes of the Karmutzen mountain range, the Tlakwa Creek watershed and a variety of excellent wildlife habitat. Tlakwa Creek area provides vital salmon spawning area and an important winter habitat area for black-tailed deer. Interesting karst formations in the area give access to several caves in the surrounding landscape.
Numerous primitive camping sites cam be found within Nimpkish Lake Provincial Park, along with mountaineering, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and nature photography. Other campsites can be reached most easily by water. Although there appears not to be any limitations for boat motors, the best views of the water-carved limestone outcroppings and small islands on the lake can be seen at a slower speed. No actual vehicle access to the park exists; visitors must arrive by boat from the boat landing at the Western Forest Product Recreation area near the Nimpkish gas station. The other alternative is to hike in from the road endings of the many logging roads that approach the park's boundaries. Some hunting is permitted in season within the park. Both hunting and fishing require appropriate licenses and strict observance of any special rules. No picnic facilities exist within Nimpkish Provincial Park, but picnic tables and water access are available at the Western Forest Product Recreation Area and nearby Kinman Camp.
Downstream to the north of Nimpkish Lake, a 'river corridor' park encompasses both banks of the river for nearly three miles. The nearly 495-acre Lower Nimpkish Provincial Park protects important natural habitat, including bald eagle nesting areas and habitat for the endangered marbled murrelet, a tree-nesting seabird. The river bank is popular for fishing with human anglers and black bears. Fishermen are warned to be alert for bears who may wish to take their best fly-fishing spot! Lower Nimpkish Provincial Park is undeveloped and contains no facilities, but wilderness camping is permitted. Although the river is sometimes utilized for canoeing, low water levels much of the year can expose the many rocks along the riverbed, making for dangerous paddling. Once past Highway 19, Nimpkish River empties into Alert Bay.
No lodgings are found along Nimpkish Lake's shoreline. There are no private homes nearby. The best sources for finding lodgings are near the coast at Port McNeill and on the road at Port Hardy. Those who prefer hot showers and restaurant menus will find plenty to chose from in the area near the coastline. Hotels, lodges, resort properties, bed & breakfasts and budget motels provide beds to fit any visitor's budget. Commercial firms along the coast arrange for ocean-going activities such as whale-watching, sea fishing and boat tours to nearby islands containing ecological preserves. Travelers can reach the Nimpkish Lake area by taking the ferry from the Vancouver area and driving up Highway 19, a trip of nearly seven hours, or flying into Port Hardy, sometimes preferable in winter. The climate remains mild at lower elevations and is mostly snow-free.
Come visit Nimpkish Lake and learn the legend of the 'halibut on the bottom'. Experience one of the famed salmon runs and enjoy the natural landscape that British Columbia is protecting and restoring. Visit some of the traditional First Nation locations and learn about the 'Grease Trail' and the history of the Potlatch. And by all means, come and enjoy the scenery at Nimpkish Lake.
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