Quathiaski Cove, Quadra Island | Photo Carol Stathers
North Central Vancouver Island offers a unique blend of alpine-to-ocean experiences. The terrain is mountainous, heavily treed, dotted with lakes and meandering rivers, punctuated with cascading waterfalls and is largely uninhabited. The main Highway 19 and Highway 19A serve the communities.
The gateway to North Central Vancouver 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 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 North Central Vancouver Island, is renowned for hiking and wildlife along with breathtaking pristine wilderness beauty.
Located in the heart of the pastoral farming landscape on Vancouver Island is the Comox Valley with Courtenay as its main urban centre. Courtenay 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 next door to Courtenay, is a delightful seaside town with a boardwalk along the water, marinas, trails and beaches. Go biking, kayaking or stand-up paddleboarding. 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.
West of Comox is the community of Cumberland. Once a coal-mining town with one of the largest Chinese populations in North America, Cumberland today draws visitors to its heritage buildings that encompass eateries, unique shops and galleries.
Just off the coast, about 20 km (12 mi) south of Courtenay, is Denman Island, accessible by ferry from Buckley Bay, south of Comox. From Denman a second ferry can be taken to Hornby Island. Denman and Hornby Islands are home to several arts and literary festivals, as well as some of the loveliest hikes, beaches, and quiet retreats. The trip to Denman takes 15 minutes across Baynes Sound and 15 minutes across Lambert Channel to Hornby Island. 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 Campbell River where serious anglers from around the world come to catch Pacific salmon. 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 fully-lighted ships seem to appear out of nowhere. Take a walk along the seaside promenade, venture onto Discovery Pier and do a little fishing – popular with kids and adults alike – and rent a fishing rod if you don’t have one. Visit some of the attractions in town, venture into the surrounding area and walk across the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge, visit a hatchery, go whale watching, hike a mountain, watch wildlife. There’s no end of things to do and places to explore in Campbell River.
From downtown Campbell River, take a 10-minute ferry ride 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 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.
Towards the west of North Central Vancouver Island and nestled deep in the West Coast rainforest at the head of Tahsis Inlet, is the community of Tahsis. Tahsis attracts the adventurous traveler who wants to experience the rugged outdoors. Friendly and relaxed, Tahsis is a gateway to the beautiful waterways and beaches of Nootka Sound. Take the Tree to Sea Drive between Tahis and Nootka Sound making sure to stop along the way to experience the stunning views including Conuma Point Lookout and Three Sisters Waterfalls. Activities include sport fishing, kayaking, remote surfing trips, windsurfing, hiking, caving, mountain biking, and some of the best diving in the world.