Cycling the BC Coastal Circle Route

The British Columbia Coastal Circle Route takes in the best of Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. We had a little three-day getaway and chose to shorten the route by traveling from Horseshoe Bay by ferry to Nanaimo and begin the circle back to Horseshoe Bay via Powell River and the Sunshine Coast. Beginning the circle on the island and heading north for the start of the ride means that the ocean is always on your right-hand side, allowing for maximum ocean viewing and easy access to beaches and ice cream shops!  (32 flavours of Island Farms Ice Cream)

Ocean views inspire riders along the route.

When asked for advice, we always suggest that cyclists get off the ferry and immediately pull over to allow for traffic to pass. However, we never follow our own advice as we are always champing at the bit to get moving. This day, July 21, 2014, was no exception; so, we battled the truck and camper traffic and began the climb from the ferry dock up to the E & N Trail, a terrific 8-kilometer shared pathway and a surefire way to avoid heavy traffic as you leave Nanaimo.

We cruised along the "Old Island Highway" oceanside route, through the communities of Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Bowser, and Fanny Bay, enjoying the ocean and mountain views.

Near Fanny Bay we were treated to a fantastic and well-earned downhill section. The day had been really hot, with temperatures hitting the 30 degree C. mark (86 F.) -- quite unusual for the coast. We welcomed the sight of the downhill and began to cruise!  

As luck would have it, I hit a staple and flatted out. I tried to yell for Rob to stop, but he was off like the wind. He was carrying the toolkit, so I reluctantly got off my bike, grumbled away to myself about missing the downhill and why oh why could this not happen on an UP hill. I began to walk. Then it occurred to me that Rob would probably, eventually, hopefully, become worried that I was not with him. (Or maybe he would just enjoy the peace and quiet?) True to form, he noticed I was missing, turned around, and cycled back up the hill to meet me. Marriage intact, and touched by the effort it took for him to cycle back up the hill in the heat, we (and by we, I mean Rob) repaired my tire.

Exhausted, hot, and grumpy, we decided to rejuvenate with a quick splash and dip in the river at Rosewell Creek Provincial Park.

How do you spell relief?

We ended our day at a fabulous B & B in Comox. The Comox Valley, encompassing Cumberland, Courtenay, and Comox, is one of our favourite places to visit. The people are terrific and the valley offers everything an outdoor enthusiast could ask for -- from sea kayaking to fishing to hiking to golf and cycling, there is something for everyone.

Courtenay Riverway provides a great escape from city traffic.

After spending a day visiting and exploring the Comox area, we were up bright and early to cycle to the ferry for the crossing to Powell River.  

Entrance to Comox

Early morning is our favourite times to ride. Traffic is non-existent, the air is cool, and there is a feeling of peacefulness and solitude. This day was no exception, and as we arrived at the ferry the sun was rising ... 

... and the moon was setting over the Comox Glacier -- a picture-perfect start to the day.

There were several cyclists on the road, and I chuckled to myself as I noticed that the enthusiasm and friendliness of the greetings as we passed each other appeared directly related to the hills. On downward glides, oncoming cyclists would shout hearty hellos and wave with unbridled enthusiasm. On the uphills, greetings consisted of slight nods and brief hand gestures. I wondered if my uphill greeting looked even remotely friendly, as I pictured my face scrunched up in agony and despair!

During the Sunshine Coast leg of the trip we were treated to scenic ferry crossings on the Earl's Cove ferry and the Langdale ferry. These crossings are a bit of a mixed blessing for cyclists, as they must watch their timing carefully. Miss a crossing and you can be faced with a long and leg-stiffening wait until the next sailing. We were fortunate and managed to make our crossings as scheduled.

The talk on the Earl's Cove crossing was all about Skookumchuck Narrows. Connecting Sechelt and Jervis inlets, they are famous for their tidal rapids.  Some 200 billion gallons of water will flow through the narrows on a ten-foot tide. Just imagine that! With the recent super moon, rumour had it the tidal swings would be at their best. The "Skooks" attracts whitewater enthusiasts looking to play in the surf ... not for beginner paddler to be sure! We were really tempted to divert to Skookumchuck, but knew we would not have a hope of making our ferry connections if we took this side trip. Next time for sure!

Breathtaking views from the ferry

The north section of the Sunshine Coast route is my favourite. Traffic is generally light, with the occasional surge after a ferry docks. The route is up and down, presenting a challenge and keeping things interesting. Once again we were treated to spectacular mountain and ocean views.

We enjoyed a lunch break at a turtle crossing by Ruby Lake, and were pleased to see direct evidence of a successful conservation initiative (an actual turtle, that is).

Environmental stewardship at work -- Ruby Lake.

At Half Moon Bay, we chose to leave the highway, take a break from traffic, and cycle along Redroofs Road through Sargeant Bay Provincial Park. We rejoined the highway near Sechelt and pointed south to the ferry. It had been quite a tiring day battling heat and hills, and by the time we arrived at Davis Bay we were beat. We stopped for a quick toe dip in the ocean.

The ride ended just outside Gibsons, a quaint seaside town known as the gateway to the Sunshine Coast and made famous by The Beachcombers TV show. Like salt on a wound, as we left Gibsons we were faced with one long, last hard climb before the final thrilling descent to the ferry terminal. I suppose it is simply an exclamation point on a ride well done!

Relaxing on the home stretch!  

Nothing gets a visit to Vancouver Island off to a better start than a traditional breakfast and fresh brewed coffee on the ferry! One of my favourite parts of the breakfast experience is the cafeteria line-up. Now I know that most grumble and groan at first glimpse of the line, but over the years, I have learned that the line is the place for conversation. From long-haul truck drivers to tourists from abroad, the cast of characters in the cafeteria line is something to enjoy.

On this trip we were thrilled to be in line with a group of eight kayakers who were starting the journey to Torquart Bay for a week of paddling in the Broken Islands. We were green with envy, as the Broken Islands is one of our most favourite paddling destinations! There was one very experienced paddler organizing and leading the group, but most were new to sea kayaking. I chatted away with one lady, who had actually never been in a kayak. I must confess, I was a little shocked that her destination of choice for her "maiden voyage" was the Broken Islands. However, she seemed fit and had great confidence in her trip leader.

As we chatted, however, it quickly became evident that she was quite nervous about her upcoming adventure. She took me aside and asked if we could speak in confidence. I wasn't really sure what to expect and hoped that I could answer her questions and relieve some of her worries ... and then there it was, the most pressing and daunting question of all: "What happens if you have to PEE?"

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Tips for this adventure: Cyclists can power through the route in a couple of challenging, knee-pumping days ... or spend days, even weeks exploring seaside towns, beaches, and campsites. Really, your available time and, of course, budget will shape your trip. Lots of great camping, B & Bs, and hotel options along the route.

Favorite local bike shop: Rocky Cycle in Surrey, B.C.

2 responses so far ↓

Don - Aug 19, 2014 at 7:59 PM

Looks like a really fun trip! I can understand not wanting to rush through that area if you can spare the time. Thanks for sharing!

Tom - Oct 3, 2014 at 2:54 PM

I did that same route (although in reverse order) in 2010 as the first stage of a trip down the Pacific Coast to San Diego. Some of my favorite memories of that trip were from BC. Thanks for adding your route to Bike Overnights!

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