North Central Vancouver Island offers a unique blend of alpine-to-ocean experiences. The terrain is mountainous, heavily treed, dotted with lakes, riddled with rivers and cascading waterfalls and is largely uninhabited. The main Highway 19 and in parts Highway 19A serve the communities, though hundreds of kilometers of logging roads crisscross the region.
The gateway to North Central Island is the Comox Valley, with the towns of Courtenay, Comox, and Cumberland. These towns offer endless recreation opportunities such as skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, golfing, fishing, and much more. Here you will find one of the highest snow bases in western Canada at Mount Washington Alpine Resort and a climate mild enough that the local golf courses stay open all year long so that you can ski and golf all in the same day!
The Island's last remaining icefield, the Comox Glacier, is located in this area as well as British Columbia's oldest park, Strathcona Provincial Park, where glorious alpine lakes and meadows reward hikers with awe-inspiring views. Strathcona Park, straddling the mountainous back of central Vancouver Island, is renowned for hiking and wildlife along with breathtaking pristine wilderness beauty.
Located in the heart of some of the most beautiful farming landscape on Vancouver Island, Courtenay is the urban centre of the Comox Valley and has one of the most charming downtowns on Vancouver Island. The many art galleries, theatres, shops, artisan studios, unique boutiques, and gardens also makes this the cultural hub of the Valley. Moreover, Courtenay is the first stop on Canada's Great Canadian Fossil Trail.
Comox, located 6 kms east of Courtenay, has blossomed into a delightful resort-like area with expanded moorage facilities, shops and restaurants along the waterfront. CFB Comox Air Force Museum at the entrance to Comex Air Force Base is well worth a visit as is Seal Bay Nature Park that offers trails through lush Douglas fir to a pleasant rocky beach.
Cumberland, a bustling coal-mining town from 1888 to 1966, once boasted a diversified ethnic population, including one of the largest Chinese populations north of San Francisco. Today, Cumberland draws visitors with its colourful history and wonderful family activities. A small museum on the main street displays much of the heritage.
Just off the coast, about 20 kms south of Courtenay, is Denman Island,accessible by ferry from Buckley Bay. From Denman a second ferry can be taken to Hornby Island. Denman and Hornby Islands boast the highest number of artists per capita in Canada, as well as some of the loveliest hikes, beaches, and quiet retreats. The trip to Denman takes 15 minutes across Baynes Sound. The ferry to Hornby Island departs every hour from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm from south Denman Island and the journey takes 15 minutes across Lambert Channel. Hornby Island has an excellent beach at Tribune Bay much of which is located in Tribune Bay Provincial Park.
North of the Comox Valley along Highways 19 and 19A is the self proclaimed "Salmon Capital of the World", Campbell River. Campbell River is beautifully set between Strathcona Provincial Park to the west and the Discovery Islands to the east. On summer evenings, massive cruise ships pass between Campbell River and Quadra Island. An awe-inspiring sight, these dazzling, fully-lighted ships seem to appear out of nowhere. Views from the town year-round overlook tree-covered Quadra Island and the ice capped mountains on the British Columbia mainland.
From downtown Campbell River, take a 10-minute BC Ferries trip to Quadra Island. Orca whales are seen regularly in Discovery Passage and sea lions are commonly spied in surrounding waters. Primarily known for sport fishing, Quadra Island offers even more with great wildlife viewing and a heritage going back to Captain Vancouver's visit in 1792.
Cortes Island, accessible by BC Ferries from the east side of Quadra Island, offers placid lakes, rugged gorges, and beaches rich in shellfish, and is one of the most impressive of the Discovery Islands. Cortes features a new museum, and provincial parks.
The Discovery Islands and British Columbia's west coast are a boater's paradise with wilderness lodges, resorts and marinas hidden like jewels in the bays and harbours of this magnificent boating and fishing area.
Nestled deep in the West Coast rainforest at the head of Tahsis Inlet, the community of Tahsis attracts the adventurous traveler. Friendly and relaxed, Tahsis is a gateway to the beautiful waterways and beaches of Nootka Sound. To get to Tahsis, follow the scenic, well-maintained gravel road north of Gold River or arrive by boat at local marinas. Activities include sport fishing, kayaking, remote surfing trips, windsurfing, hiking, caving, mountain biking, and some of the best diving in the world.
Communities to explore: Campbell River, Comox, Cortes Island, Courtenay, Cumberland, Denman Island, Gold River, Hornby Island, Mount Washington, Quadra Island, Strathcona Park, Tahsis.
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Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia