Located at the north end of the Comox Valley, at the mouth of the Oyster River, Saratoga Beach is considered by many as the ultimate stretch of shimmering sand on the sheltered east coast of Vancouver Island. The tide along this stretch of the shoreline goes out for over a quarter of a mile, creating a hard-packed oceanfront playground perfect for children. The gently sloping beach continues for well over a mile into the calm waters of the Strait of Georgia, creating warm, shallow and safe swimming conditions, free from powerboat traffic, deep water or strong currents. Saratoga Beach is flanked by popular Miracle Beach Provincial Park and Oyster River Regional Park.
The Comox Valley has a dynamic and exciting history, ranging from 80-million year old marine reptiles and earth-shaping glaciers to bustling turn of the century coal mines and pioneer farming and logging. Local museums explore all elements of local social and natural history and present information, new insights, and hands-on learning experiences for visitors of all ages.
Millions of years ago, much of Vancouver Island was a saltwater lagoon inhabited by large and often ferocious-looking marine creatures. But as the climate changed, so did the geography. More than 10,000 years ago, the Comox Valley was buried under a sheet of ice a kilometer thick. When the climate warmed again most of the ice sheet melted, leaving Vancouver Island as we know it today. The Comox Glacier which looms over the Valley is lingering evidence of this dramatic time in our natural history.
Archaeological finds indicate that First Nations peoples have visited and lived in the Comox Valley for as long as 9,000 years. Before the appearance of the Europeans, the Valley was home to the Pentlatch and Comox bands of the Salishan First Nations. They thrived on the ocean's gifts of salmon, clams, oysters, cod, and halibut as well as the land's abundant deer and elk and many edible and medicinal plants.
The first European settlers arrived in the Comox Valley in 1862 and soon discovered why the First Nations called the area Komoux ("Land of Plenty"). Over time, the settlers cleared land for farms and began logging the extensive forests. In 1914, the railway line from Victoria was extended to the Valley; a year later the area around the train station was incorporated as the City of Courtenay.
Throughout the late 19th century, many Royal Navy war ships anchored in the Comox Bay, prompting the construction of the Comox Wharf. In 1893, the community officially became known as Comox.
In the late 1800s and the early 1900s, coal was the mainstay of central Vancouver Island's economy. Built on rich coal seams, the inland settlement of Cumberland became a flourishing community that was segregated into separate town sites for the diverse nationalities working in the mines, including a significant Chinese community. After World War I, the demand for coal lessened and Cumberland slowly evolved into a sleepy shadow of her former self.
The Comox Valley Heritage Tour presents opportunities for residents and visitors to explore the rich social and natural history of the Comox Valley. This self-guided driving tour marks significant heritage sites with interpretive signage, photos and stories. Brochures and information are available at the Comox Valley Visitor Centre.
Saratoga Beach is located at the north end of the Comox Valley on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, 26 km (16 mi) north of Courtenay and 26 km (16 mi) south of Campbell River.
North and Central Vancouver Island's premier motor speedway. Rent a go-cart and race against your friends around a 3/8 mile oval track, or watch others compete in the weekly competitions. Saratoga Speedway is located halfway between Courtenay and Campbell River, on the scenic Island Highway. It has been a staple of the area for over 30 years and is ranked as one of the finest tracks in the province. The pit area inside the racing surface allows spectators to view their favourites preparing their cars for the next event.
The Oyster River Hatchery has many rearing ponds and an extensive system of rearing and spawning channels. Look for spawning Pink Salmon from August to October, Chinook in September and October, Chum in October and November and Coho from October to December. Steelhead Trout and Cutthroat Trout are also seen. The hatchery has limited opening hours.
Popular Miracle Beach Provincial Park is located in the Comox Valley between Campbell River and Courtenay. It has a broad, safe, sandy beach on the ocean, a playground for the kids, a large picnic area overlooking the water and a series of lovely trails winding through lush forest. At low tide, the beach features rich tide pools, perfect for observing a variety of marine life.
Woodhus Slough is located about 2 km (1.2 mi) north of the Oyster River along a shoreline that contains slough, marsh, farm field, beach and gravel habitats. A number of rare plants are found here. Almost 200 bird species have been recorded in the Woodhus Slough area. During the summer months, the slough is home to the secretive Virginia Rail and Sora. Red-winged Blackbird are easily seen in the cattails. The areas open and shrub areas along the trail to the slough are frequented by Song Sparrow, House Finch, American Goldfinch, Brewer's Blackbird, Swainson's Thrush and Cedar Waxwing. At the slough look for Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron, Beaver, Muskrat and Pacific Treefrog. In the winter months, Trumpeter Swans may be seen.
Located just north of Saratoga Beach, Oyster Bay Shoreline Regional Park is popular for its bike and walking trails with gravel beaches, and for its great view across to Quadra Island. The trail leads to the southern park of Cambell River with a few picnic tables and benches along the way.
Seal Bay Regional Nature Park on Bates Road south of Black Creek is a sunny stretch of coastline frequented by California and Steller sea lions, seals, and migratory birds. Spring is a time of increased activity, when the sea lions arrive as they follow the annual herring and eulachon migration. Trails begin from the north end of the road and lead to a staircase that descends to the beach.
Mitlenatch Island Nature Provincial Park is home to the largest seabird colony in the Strait of Georgia. All sedentary marine life, including abalones, scallops and sea cucumbers, are fully protected within the park's boundaries, which extend 300 m (1,000 ft) out from the shore. This nature reserve is an important nesting colony for thousands of Glaucous-winged Gulls, as well as pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, black oystercatchers, rhinoceros auklets and many other species of birds. Marine life around the island includes river otters and harbour seals throughout the year, and Steller's and California sea lions from late fall to May. Accessible by boat only, Mitlenatch Island Nature Provincial Park offers excellent opportunities to observe and photograph wildflowers and birds. The island is a very sensitive ecosystem that is extremely prone to damage by visitors who venture off the designated trails. Pets are not permitted on the island. Visit in May when the island's meadows of spring wildflowers are in bloom, or in July when the harvest brodia and coastal cactus bloom.
Some of the best saltwater fishing on the island, particularly for salmon, can be found in the waters of the Strait of Georgia north of the Puntledge River Estuary between Courtenay and Comox, and off Cape Lazo, King Coho, and Bates Beach, south of Black Creek. Because of its sheltered location and an absence of dangerous currents, the shoreline around Comox is well suited for rod fishing in a small boat. Shore angling for salmon is popular in Comox Bay from August to November. The closer you get to Campbell River, the better the salmon fishing becomes. Tidal flows in Discovery Passage churn up clouds of nutrients that sustain a complex food chain, which includes, near the top, tasty salmon.
There are several golf courses in the area to suit every level of golfer. Pacific Playgrounds is a 9-hole, par 4 executive course located at Saratoga Beach. The course should not be underestimated and will require you to manage your shot selection and approaches to the green. While not long, accuracy is key if you wish to score well. Other nearby golf courses include Storey Creek Golf Course and Sequoia Springs Golf Club in Campbell River, and Crown Isle Golf and Country Club in Courtenay.
Local mountain biking enthusiasts have carved out excellent trail systems throughout the region. Check with local bike shops for inside info, maps, and rentals.
The Comox Valley and Baynes Sound are designated as "Globally Significant" Important Bird Areas by the BC Federation of Naturalists and Bird Studies Canada. The second highest concentration of over-wintering waterfowl in British Columbia is found here due to the availability of protected waters and nearby farmlands which provide habitat and an abundant food supply. The Comox Valley is the winter home to approximately 2000 Trumpeter Swans, a magnificent bird that can be spotted in many fields during the day from October until March. As evening falls flocks of swans can frequently be seen in the Courtenay River estuary, easily viewed from the Courtenay Municipal Air Park Walkway located near the Visitor Info Centre. Numerous bird species that can be spotted here include 10 species of gulls and terns, 16 types of diving ducks, nine dabbling ducks and 13 species of raptors. A comprehensive Bird Checklist for the area can be purchased from the Visitor Info Centre along with a book of Nature Viewing sites produced by the Comox Valley Naturalist Society.
Jacques Cousteau rated the waters near the Comox Valley as the "second best cold water diving destination in the world", and it's easy to see why! The area is one of only a few locations where divers can view the elusive 12-foot long six-gill sharks. Add to this a high level of visibility, very slight fluctuations in seasonal water temperatures, massive boulders, steam ship wrecks (Capilano 1915, Gulfstream 1947) and a wealth of sea life including huge Steller and California Sealions, giant Pacific octopi, cloud sponges, wolf eels, ling cod, rockfish and colourful reefs and you are guaranteed a rewarding dive. Visit one of the local dive shops to rent equipment, takes lessons or guided trips or to get tips on the best diving spots in the area.
The Comox Valley is surrounded by wilderness and there are unlimited hiking opportunities. Great trails, awe-inspiring scenery and plenty of wildlife await. Stroll in the shadows of an ancient, old growth rainforest. Hike through a pristine sub-alpine meadow amidst an explosion of wildflowers and a cacophony of birdsong. Take the chairlift to the top of Mount Washington for a magnificent view of the entire Comox Valley framed by the deep blue of the Georgia Strait and the mainland's Coast Mountain Range. With more than 40 local parks, and countless kilometres of hiking trails through some of the most spectacular island and alpine wilderness anywhere on the planet, the Comox Valley beckons to be explored on foot.
Mount Washington, a 25 km (16 mi) drive west of the Comox Valley, is Vancouver Island's year-round alpine destination. Winter activities include downhill and cross country skiing as well as snowboarding and snow tubing. The resort is famous for its 55 km (34 mi) of cross country trails, and downhill skiers and snowboarders have their choice of numerous chairlifts. Other winter recreation activities include a snowboarding camp, snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and guided back-country skiing. Adventure operators offer heli-skiing trips into more remote areas.
Ocean and river kayaking and canoeing are popular pastimes in the Comox Valley. You can bring your own gear or rent it from one of the local outfitters. Most kayak and canoe rental outlets also offer lessons and eco-paddling tours which explore the Comox Valley's natural and cultural history. Paddlers can view seals and sea lions, ocean birds, lush forests, log booms and tugs and the majestic coast mountain range. The calm waters of Baynes Sound are perfect for beginners or those looking for a relaxed paddle, while faster moving rivers offer a more challenging excursion for experienced paddlers. The waters surrounding Denman and Hornby Island are wonderful paddling destinations and pristine fresh water lakes throughout the region welcome the gentle glide of engine-free explorers. Guided rafting trips are available within a short drive of the Comox Valley. Operators offer professionally guided river rafting tours ranging from the thrills of whitewater rafting to serene scenic river floats and snorkelling with thousands of returning salmon. These trips are suitable for adventurers of all ages.
Campbell River Visitor Centre
1235 Shoppers Row
Campbell River, BC V9W 2C7
Toll Free: 1-877-286-5705
Background Photo Credit: Destination British Columbia