Top Trail Runs in the Comox Valley
Sarah Seads, BA Kinesiology
TOP TRAIL RUNS IN THE COMOX VALLEY
Two words: Super...Natural. This is the best way to describe the trail running experience in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island. Bordered on one side by the Straight of Georgia and by the Beaufort mountain range on the other the Comox Valley boasts vistas of unparallelled beauty. At the base of these island mountains, runners and mountain bikers have developed elaborate trail networks that wind their way through a diverse selection of natural landscape. From wide forest paths to quad searing rocky descents the Comox Valley has something for trail runners of all abilities.
One article is much too short to include all of the trail opportunities in the Valley, so I have taken the liberty of including my top 3 trail networks for beginner, intermediate and advanced trail runners. Wherever your shoes take you don't forget to run smart: take a map, a friend, food and water and your cell phone!
GREEN Trails: Seal Bay Park
This regional park is a popular recreation epi-centre for locals and visitors to the Valley. On any given day walkers, runners, hikers, bikers, horseback riders and strollers can be found in the trails of this 714 hectare forested area. Seal Bay Nature Park provides a wilderness experience just 15-minutes north of Courtenay or Comox. The eastern border of the park sits on the waters edge and the terrain climbs from the beach of Seal Bay up to Langlois Road on the western border. Plenty of elevation gain and kilometers of trail to challenge even the most experienced runners. Besides a large variety of bird species the park is home to larger animals including deer, black bears and even the occasional cougar so be sure to take your bear bell or sing aloud to avoid meeting 4-legged friends!
The ‘Swamp Loop’ is ideal for walkers and non-technical runners and follows a perfectly flat 3km loop from the main parking area on Bates Rd. This is one of the most popular routes in the park and offers glimpses of pond life amongst the lily pads from a few different vantage points. Beavers originally dammed the Horseshoe Swamp and a concrete wall was installed in the early 1980’s to maintain water levels over the summer.
The ‘Horse-Bike’ loop, identified by yellow tree markers, takes longer distance runners and cross-country bikers around the perimeter of Seal Bay Park and through a wide range of vegetation from rare Aspen groves and cutgrass swamps to sections of towering Douglas Fir trees. This is the longest loop in the park and covers 15kms if followed completely, however 3 or 4 shorter loops can easily be created using connector trails.
Other great trails to check out include the ‘Mitchell Grade’ and ‘Twin Flower Lane’. Within the borders of this park there are a wide range of trails to choose from and the signage is excellent-but only useful if you are carrying a map and know how to read it!
BLUE Trails: Comox Lake Dam
All levels of trail runners will be caught with smiles plastered to their faces as they enjoy this scenic trail network which runs parallel to the Puntledge River. Accessible from a variety of roads, the main entrance can be found on the Comox Logging Road at the Comox Lake Dam Recreation Area. Starting at the dam, runners can choose from flat easy trails, technical biking/running trails and steep climbing trails that wind their way up to Forbidden Plateau (Wood Mountain). BC Hydro maintains most of the trails that run parallel to the Puntledge River and this extensive network connects all the way from the dam to the City of Courtenay following over 20 kms of single track, double track and maintenance road routes. Long distance trail runners and bikers will find endless opportunities for endurance training without having to step foot on the pavement or repeat their steps!
Intermediate runners looking for a technical trail running challenge should check out the following routes:
Bears Bait. Winding single track that dips and dives over roots, logs and calf pumping short climbs. Situated between the river trail and the foothills, this intermediate route will improve your trail speed, agility and power. Guaranteed to keep you on your toes this trail will combat boredom and add spark to the drone of day to day training. 5Km or 8km loops are easy to create by combining Bears Bait and River Trails or take this trail all the way to Nymph Falls Park and back for a classic 12k route that is popular with local runners.
Puntledge Plunge to Peckerhead Climb. Mother nature's stair climber, this route will distract you with spectacular views of the Coastal mountain range on the mainland and Comox Lake in the Valley below. The best views are earned with old fashioned sweat and hill climbers will pump their fists in the air for this one. Signage is limited to Hydro maintained trails along the river, so you will need to go with a local or have intermediate navigation skills and a good map in order to find this hilly route. Head out the Bears Bait trail and hand a left uphill at the 'Eagles head' (a cool carving in a log). Make your way via connector trails to the base of the Puntledge Plunge (downhill mountain biking route) and start climbing. 500Meters later you are at the view point and heading into the forest...1000metres later you will find the entrance to Peckerhead on your left where you will begin a steep descent. Check your speed as this downhill course is fast and furious and requires self control. A creek crossing on a biking bridge will take you through a short section of undulating forest terrain then it is back to you descent for the final km to make your loop complete. Repeat as necessary then head home on the River trail for an easy cooldown to flush out the legs.
Not for the faint of heart, Cumberland's biking & running trails are technical, narrow and downright steep. Of course, there are always less intimidating routes to choose from but where would the fun be in that? Experienced trail runners who crave the burn of a good climb will find a piece of heaven in the hills of the Village of Cumberland.
Home to the annual 'Perseverance Mountain Run' (the name says it all), this funky village on the outskirts of Courtenay is home to a pack of passionate bikers, runners and hikers who can literally access the trails right from their backdoor. Grab a trail map from Jeremy at Riding Fool Hostel, snug up your laces, leave word of your route and you are ready to go. Access can be found at 'the yellow gate' on the corner of Sutton and Comox Lake roads.
Mama Bear's to Buggered Pig. You gotta give style points to mountain bikers for their creativity when it comes to trail names. Warm up on 'Mama Bears Trail of Tears' and you will step back in time as you travel the same route that buckets of black gold followed. Mama Bears follows along an old rail bed that was used during the early days of coal mining in Cumberland. After a short technical warm up through rooty rainforest you will find yourself climbing onto one of the many logging spurs in the area. A short jaunt downhill will take you to the entrance of Buggered Pig- a gnarly technical biking trail with twists and turns and surprises around every corner. Come out on the main logging road where you can catch your breath and grab a rejuvenating drink in the pristine waters of the Perseverance Creek. From here you can go up or down...
Bronco's Perseverance. Ready to head home? Follow Perseverance Creek all the way back down to Mama Bear's and you can create a great 5km cross country route. Keep in mind this 5kms may take you 1.5 times longer than your usual time but the scenery will make the time fly by. Single track heaven!
Bucket of Blood or Bear Buns. You might just fill your own bucket after tackling this wicked 10-11km climbing route. Designed originally for downhill mountain bikers, trail runners can have just as much fun on this steep terrain. Cross the bridge at Perseverance creek on the main logging road and start climbing up 1 of 3 or 4 routes to the top of Bucket. The ascents range from switch back logging road to epic single track but they all have two things in common- they go up and the scenery is breathtaking (in more ways than one).
You will know you have reached the top when the forest opens up and the terrain levels out at the Cumberland Creek Dam-approximately 450meters above sea level . Ascents can take anywhere from 30-75 minutes depending on experience and route selection. What goes up must go down and 'the Bucket', as it is known to locals, is no different. Choose your route, refuel and regroup because it is all downhill from here!
Other new Cumberland trails to check out include Thirsty Beaver, Shortline, Blue Collar, Railroad and Short and Curly, all excellent cross country trails. Wherever you end up Cumberland trail running will exceed your expectations and challenge your fitness every time.
Sarah Seads is a passionate trail runner and the owner of Equilibrium Lifestyle Management (ELM)a group fitness and personal training company in the Comox Valley. Contact ELM for trail maps and information about trail running adventures on Vancouver Island. www.elmhealth.com