Nanaimo River Guide | Trestle, Red Gate, & Yellow Gate

Nanaimo River Guide

Best locations and how to access them

Nanaimo River is a local hotspot in the summer months to swim and relax.  Tourism during the summer in Nanaimo can get quite insane with all the festivals, events, and campers passing through. It's nice to get away from the traffic and congestion to a relaxing spot that few know how to access. 

I was not born in Nanaimo but came from a similar BC community that was very popular with tourists. Getting away from visitors to our secret spots was how we got through the busy summers. We had many locations, but the best place to hide and have fun was twin lakes, or the bottomless lake found up west rock road. We would camp, dive off the cliffs and stay cool away from all the tourists that came to town. 

I moved to Nanaimo in 2009 and found that summers had the same issue in Nanaimo that we had in Invermere. Too many tourists and not enough space. It didn't take me long to find the Nanaimo River as the perfect place to cool off and have fun. 

There are multiple places to visit along the Nanaimo River, from the estuary to the lakes, but today we're going to talk about three. The red gate, the yellow gate and the Trestle. Esch or these have varying accessibility and danger, so please take care when visiting these places. 

The Trestle

People jumping off cliffs into the Nanaimo River under a Trestle Bridge

The Trestle is the easiest to access and found right off the Trans Canada highway in Cassidy at the rest stop. This is a great spot to stop and take a break as there is a great restaurant called country kitchen. An ice cream parlour with a shaded picnic area. And public restrooms that are perfect for changing into your swimming suit. 

Near the end of the rest stop, near the public restrooms, you'll find a green gate you must pass through. This will lead you down a paved road with pump houses at the end that make a bit of racket. Go around these industrial buildings to see the stunning waters and towering cliffs before you. 

The sandy shorts and calm waters are perfect for kids to play with their parents along the shores in the refreshing waters. Up further, you'll find a rocky outcrop with an ape swing that hangs from the bridge above. The waters are calm and deep, which is perfect for paddle boarding. 

Now that doesn't mean that this place isn't dangerous. People climb up the cliff along the well-beaten trails and leap into the waters below. Some have even been known to jump off the trestle bridge as they're insane. 

The biggest issue with this place is the noise from the highway above. I kind of wreak the relaxation I look for when visiting the river. 

 Yellow Gate

Calm waters and people swimming next to the Nanaimo River

The Yellow Gate is probably the most dangerous of the three. But the rocks and water on this portion of the river are remarkable. The accessibility is not outstanding, and it will probably take 10-12 mins to get to the swimming area.

There are two ways of getting here, but I suggest taking Spurston Road off the Trans Canada Highway in Cassidy. When you get on this road, be careful of the first turn as it's a single-lane underpass, and you need to honk before you go through. Continue to River Bend road and follow it till you arrive at the power lines. 

Put on some good shoes that follow the path down to the swimming area. You'll find an imposing latter that's more than rickety on the way. Use the ropes to assist in your dissent and take your time. At the bottom, you'll cross a massive old-growth tree and arrive at the water. 

Below the carved boulders between the cliffside, you'll find a calm stream of water with multiple areas to catch a tan. It's not uncommon to find people camping here and partying till the wee hours of the morning. 

Crossing the rocks here can be perilous and power lines overheard are not my favourite. This is a fantastic place to visit, but I'd not suggest bringing kids here. 

Red Gate

Aerial View on the Nanaimo River with people swimming in green waters

The Red Gate is a perfect location on the river. This is a fantastic spot popular with locals that has excellent places to catch a tan, swim, float down the river, or do a little clip jumping if you are feeling adventurous. 

Two main roads will lead you to the red gate. Rapids Road and Nanaimo Lakes Road. Most people will access this from the one highway in Canada. From the trans-Canada, head towards Cassidy and look for the Wild Play billboards on the side of the highway. Take the overpasses that lead you up the hill. Start up Nanaimo lakes road and stop into Wild Play if you have some extra time. 

Wild Play

Wild Play has axe throwing, treetop obstacle courses, and zip lining, and you can even bungee jump over the emerald waters of the Nanaimo River. You can visit without paying and seeing all the adrenalin-pumping activities you can partake in if you have the balls. 

As you dive up Nanaimo Lakes road, be aware that there will be multiple large trucks on this road. It would be best if you were careful of logging trucks, gravel trucks, cement trucks etc.. You pass by a large gravel pit and under some power lines but will be in nature very soon. The road is paved the entire way, so don't worry about needing an off-road vehicle. 

It's about a 12KM drive from the trans-Canada highway up Nanaimo Lakes road. The scenery is beautiful as you drive along the road under trees that create a tunnel of branches overhead. After about 10 minutes, you'll see quite a few cars o the side o the road parked next to the Red Gate. This is the entrance to the trail leading two an area commonly referred to as Pink Rock. I'll explain the significants of that name soon. 

Once you've parked, grab your water snack and beach towel and get ready for a 10-minute walk which is relatively flat until the very end. Head under the Red Gate, walk past the gravel pit to your left, and head into the woods on the well-beaten path. 

Eventually, you'll come to a sizeable spray-painted rock with a T in the road. Take a left and flow the path under the leafy trees. After about 200 meters, you come to another turn that you bring to your right. Follow this trail until you reach the one Steep hill on the walk. And it's a doozie. 

Pink Rock

Take your time as you walk down, and pay attention to the rock on your left as you descend. Painted on it reads Freedom and Magic and love happen here. This is where I'll explain the significance of the Pink Rock name. If you arrive at the river and continue to follow the water downstream, you'll arrive at a bathing suit-optional swimming spot. Hence the name Pink rock. 

For us bashful fun seekers, as you exit the trees, don't go any further down the river, and you'll be in paradise. Rocks carved by centuries of sand, gravel and water have created a unique landscape that is amazing to explore. There are many places to sit and watch the green water snack through the rock cut. 

Layout your towel and survey the area because there's a lot to see. Ease yourself into the water at the clam pool where children and parents like to play. A large rock protruding from this pool on the south side of the river is excellent for children to jump off that's much lower than the north side. 

Along the Northside of the river, you'll find a more dangerous cliff where young daredevils like to show their acrobatic abilities. Make sure you know what you're doing as there are no lifeguards, and it's a long walk back to the car. So be careful and don't be stupid stupid to quote the PDS. 

The water is clean and refreshing with a gentle current depending on the time of year you visit. I highly recommend late July and August as the best months during the dog days of summer. This reminds me that this place is very popular with dog owners, and many aren't leashed. 

Many people bring goggles and flippers to see all the fish and crustaceans that call the river home. Also, this is an excellent spot to bring an inner tube and float. Tie off to the shore and soak up the sun. 

Here's the thing, I know this is dangerous. I know it's out of the way. But this was. A big part of my childhood. Getting away from the city and hanging out with people that want to relax 

If you're feeling adventurous, follow the stunning rock banks up the river and the precious path along the cliffside. The water gas is quite turbulent along this route, and the rocks can be slippery, so be extra careful. Use here you'll find a sandy beach popular with campers that are supposed to be there. 

Everyone is friendly and looking to have fun. And that is the whole point. Come and relax, connect with nature and your inner redneck. That being said, don't mix swimming and alcohol. We all have loved ones waiting for us at home, and we don't want to keep them waiting.

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