My Itchy Travel Feet | The Baby Boomer's Guide To Travel

Hitting the trail in Nanaimo

2013/07/17by Donna Hull

Would you like to hit the trail in Nanaimo, British Columbia? No, I don’t mean a hiking trail that climbs through a Vancouver Island rainforest or a path that skirts the scenic coast. I’m talking about a city trail in the historic center of downtown Nanaimo where the purpose of our walk is to sample a decadent cookie bar—in as many different ways as we can. Come on, leave the calorie counting at home. We’re going exploring on the Nanaimo Bar Trail.

Sampling an original Nanaimo Bar on the Nanaimo Bar Trail

Nanaimo Bars from the original recipe. Who wants one?

What’s a Nanaimo Bar you ask? Don’t worry, Alan and had never heard of them either. Nanaimo Bars are rich bars with a cookie crust, creamy middle and chocolate topping that the city of Nanimo has claimed for its own. Alan and I explored the trail with Chelsea Barr, Marketing Director for Tourism Nanaimo. And it was a good thing that the tasting destinations on the Nanaimo Bar Trail were spread throughout the somewhat hilly, historic area of downtown Nanaimo. We needed every step to walk off all of the calories. And, yes, Alan and I requested to share. After all, we didn’t want to undo all of our progress in the One Healthy Change a Month challenge.

International food items at McLean's Specialty Foods in Nanaimo, B.C.

You’ll find plenty of international food items at McLean’s Specialty Foods

Our Nanaimo Bar Trail experience began at McLean’s Specialty Foods. Walking through the screen door, we discovered that the antique wooden floors combined with an eclectic inventory of international food items, including a huge selection of cheeses, gave McLean’s an old-world ambiance. It felt like the logical place to sample the original Nanaimo Bar recipe that uses Bird’s custard (a powdered custard popular in the U.K.) for the creamy middle. 

Across the street at Bocca, we picked up the peanut butter Nanaimo Bar version but begged off on tasting it, choosing to take the tasty treat back for a late-night snack at our Inn the Estuary suite.

Deep fried Nanaimo Bar from Pirate Chips

Deep fried Nanaimo Bar. Yum!

At Pirate Chips—imagine pirate decor gone overboard—we couldn’t decide which was more unique, the funky decor or the Deep Fried Nanaimo Bar. Our sample was hot and gooey with a cool ice cream middle and not at all greasy. Alan and I had a bit of a spoon battle over this one.

Cous Cous salad at Extraordinary Organics in Nanaimo

Will this salad make up for all the Nanaimo Bars?

We needed the healthy lunch choices at Extraordinary Organics to temper the sugar high. But even here, we were tempted by the Nanaimo Bar’s influence—this time as an after dinner coffee drink.

Gluten free Nanaimo Bars from Mon Petite Choux

Gluten free Nanaimo Bars

Rounding out the tour, Mon Petite Choux offered a gluten free version with a light, fluffy filling. They were the prefect accompaniment to afternoon lattes.

This was just a sampling of the decadent choices on the Nanaimo Bar Trail. Other versions—over 20 in all— include cheesecake, martinis, even inedible versions like the handmade Nanaimo Bar soap from Herb Wise. Obviously you don’t want to follow in our footsteps by experiencing the trail all in one day. I recommend spreading out the sugary delight in between other active pursuits like exploring YellowPoint Road or the adventures at WildPlay Elements Park.

And just in case you’d like to make these at home, Tourism Nanaimo shared the “official” recipe with us as determined in a 1986 bake-off.

The Ultimate Nanaimo Bar Recipe

by Joyce Hardcastle

Bottom layer

½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg beaten
1 ¾ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ cup finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut

Melt first three ingredients in top of a double boiler.
Add egg and stir to cook and thicken.
Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut and nuts.
Press firmly into an ungreased 8″x8″ pan.

Middle layer

½ cup unsalted butter
2 tbsp. and 2 tsp. cream
2 tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar

Cream butter, cream, custard powder and icing sugar together well.

Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.

Top layer

4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat.
Cool. When cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.

Read the rest of our Road Trip to Vancouver Island articles to create your own itinerary to this lovely part of the world.

Have you walked the Nanaimo Bar Trail? Which was your favorite version? Alan and I sure had fun trying them all. Now excuse me while I step into the kitchen to whip up a batch.

Disclosure: Tourism Nanaimo provided this travel experience but the opinions are our own.

A boomer travel and lifestyle authority who is exploring the world one activity at a time. Besides writing and publishing My Itchy Travel Feet, she also writes about boomer travel for My Well-Being Powered by Humana, Make It Missoula and is the author of New Mexico Backroads Weekend Adventure.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather on her travels
July 17, 2013 at 11:47 pm

I also have a sweet tooth – those bars sound delicious and what a perfect way to enjoy without guilt when you combine with some hiking
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July 19, 2013 at 1:02 am

I’m not a big fan of sweets but those Nanaimo Bars looks yummy!
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Donna Hull
July 19, 2013 at 12:37 pm

Thanks for commenting, Marysia. We usually don’t eat sweets but couldn’t resist the ones we found on the Nanaimo Bar Trial.
Donna Hull recently posted..Hitting the trail in NanaimoMy Profile


noel July 19, 2013 at 7:00 pm

well that looks totally decadent, can I sample the entire tray please, love my desserts :)
noel recently posted..Aloha Friday SmilesMy Profile


Brette Sember
July 24, 2013 at 4:54 am

I’ve never tasted one of these, but I did write about them in my cookie book. They sounds delicious!
Brette Sember recently posted..Hawaiian BasketMy Profile


merr July 26, 2013 at 10:11 am

Sounds wonderful, looks amazing. I love that you posted the recipe.


Bonnie Bishop August 12, 2013 at 5:51 am

OMG!!! My daughter and I took a trip to Canada a few years ago and split one of these bars, Big mistake! We knew next time to get one each. They are addictive they are so wonderful!


Donna Hull
August 12, 2013 at 12:03 pm

I’m glad to have a witness to how delicious Nanaimo bars are. What else did you do in Nanaimo? Thanks for stopping by to comment, Bonnie.
Donna Hull recently posted..One Healthy Change: Get up and moveMy Profile


Bonnie Bishop August 12, 2013 at 12:26 pm

We actually had the first one in Lake Louise and then I can’t remember what town we were in for the last one. We had done a Canadian tour. We did not even know until we got home and tried to find a recipe that there was a town called Nanaimo. I will have to admit that if I get the opportunity to go back I will search out the town and try the versions there. I can still remember the look on my daughters face (she was in her 30’s!!) at the same time we were both tasting those bars. If we were not on a tour with a schedule I swear we would have gotten back in line and got some to go!


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