Off the beaten path: Making the trip to Virgin Falls

The Alberni Valley Hill Climbers is an active group that hosts about 40 trips a year

by Jeff Johnson |

The Old Clayoquot Bridge shows damage from logging protests in 1993.

The Old Clayoquot Bridge was damaged during logging protests in 1993. — Photo courtesy Len Cherry

This wasn't the first time Len Cherry travelled to Virgin Falls. The president of the Alberni Valley Hill Climbers had already visited the waterfall three times as part of the club and was more than familiar with the trip.

This time though, he was bringing along 16 other club members, using 12 machines to make the 150-kilometre journey.

"We did it all in one day," Cherry said. "I live in the area and there's a number of us that know about the falls. At this time of year with springtime and the runoff, the falls look pretty spectacular because of the amount of water running down. So we try to go out there in the spring and see what it looks like. On a nice day, it's beautiful."

With lumber companies working in the area, the waterfall has become much easier for groups to access. Cherry welcomed the ongoing efforts, as the logging has served as needed support for the Hill Climbers.

"There are a few of our members who are physically unable to walk into the falls. One of them had a stroke and a few others are fairly aged," Cherry said. "The only way you could actually get in there is to drive in with an ATV or a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Now they were actually able to get in there and see them."

Members of the Alberni Valley Hill Climbers are standing around and discussing details at the trailhead to Virgin Falls.

Members of the Alberni Valley Hill Climbers talk over details of their trip to Virgin Falls. — Photo courtesy Len Cherry

Highlights from the journey

The club president feels there were a number of aspects that stood out about this trip, including a run-in with the Canadian Air Cranes.

"They were doing some logging above the falls and had their helicopter sitting on a landing pad as they did some maintenance to it," Cherry said. "They let us sit around and wait until the helicopter was ready to go. It took off and we all got movies and pictures of this great big Sikorsky S-61 helicopter taking off, which was pretty spectacular."

Above all, Cherry's highest praise was for the main attraction of the trip, Virgin Falls itself.

"You can hear the falls long before you get to them and that sound is pretty cool," Cherry said. "When you walk in, you can actually walk right onto the gravel sandbar and to the base of the waterfall, which is pretty spectacular when you can walk that close to it. It's not Niagara Falls, but it's pretty cool for sure."

Len Cherry's wife, Venetia, stands in front of Virgin Falls near Tofino, the focus of the Alberni Valley Hill Climbers latest trek.

Len Cherry's wife, Venetia, stands before Virgin Falls near Tofino, the focus of the Alberni Valley Hill Climbers latest trek. — Photo courtesy Len Cherry

The importance of planning ahead

When it comes to making trips into areas of British Columbia's backcountry, Cherry said its important to consult with lumber companies actively working where you plan to travel.

"You need to get ahold of somebody to get some maps and some information on where you can go. People need to be aware of when they are logging and when the roads are available," Cherry said. "Some of the logging companies own a lot of property and they don't want anybody on their land on the weekdays. They would prefer only weekends just for safety purposes."

"You can even stop at the visitor centre when you come into town," Cherry said. "Talk to the people there; they are pretty knowledgeable about which roads, which trails and where to go, but it's best to have a map."

While the size of the group making the journey may change, Cherry said the adventure that comes from seeking out nature is worth the effort.

"It's not always the same people, but I've taken large groups every time I've gone because a lot of people haven't seen them," Cherry said. "The scenery here is spectacular; there's nothing like it. I've been all over the place and I still can't believe every time I go out there and what I see. It's pretty impressive."

Pictured is Tofino Inlet, one of the many sights on the trek to Virgin Falls.

Tofino Inlet is one of the many sights on the trek to Virgin Falls. — Photo courtesy Len Cherry

About the Alberni Valley Hill Climbers

The Alberni Valley Hill Climbers has been together for around eight years, with club activities picking up over the last five years. The club hosts around 40 rides a year, covering around 100 to 200 kilometres each trip.

The group has about 65 members and is affiliated with ATVBC. The group also has connections with other local riding groups, setting up a network around Vancouver Island.

"We have another group in Nanaimo and there's another club in the Comox-Courtney area," Cherry said. "All of us try to hook up from time to time and travel the whole ring road, where you can go from Nanaimo to Port Alberni to Courtney and all the way back again. We are trying to put together some very neat rides that go through quite a large distance."

For more information, go to the group's Facebook page,

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