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  Category   Courtenay, Vancouver Island, BC
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Courtenay

Courtenay River flowing through Courtenay
Located in the heart of some of the most beautiful farming landscape on Vancouver Island, Courtenay is the urban centre of the Comox Valley.

When Comox's Sister City was laid out in 1891, it was named after the Courtenay River. The Courtenay River had been named in 1860 after Captain George William Courtenay of HMS Constance, which was on the Pacific Station in 1846-9.

The Tsolum River and the Puntledge River merge to become the Courtenay River. The Courtenay River with its marina and airpark, and the Puntledge River with its parks and fish hatchery, both run through the city before the Courtenay empties into Comox Harbour, creating a rich tidal estuary teeming with wildlife. The Courtenay River Estuary is considered to be the single most important wintering site in the world for the protected Trumpeter Swan.

Today, Courtenay is one of Canada's fastest growing urban communities. With excellent shopping, accommodation and restaurants, Courtenay is also home to a new Public Contemporary Art Gallery and the Sid Williams Civic Theatre, the north-central Island's major performance centre.

Population: 20,000

Location: Courtenay is located north of Cumberland. Highways 19 and 19A link the Comox Valley with southern Vancouver Island. Approaching from the north, Highway 19 links the Comox Valley and Campbell River with the northern half of Vancouver Island. The Comox Valley is a two-and-a-half hour drive north from Victoria, or a 75-minutes drive from the ferry terminals of Departure Bay and Duke Point near Nanaimo.

BC Ferries operates a route between Comox and Powell River on the British Columbia mainland. The Comox Valley Regional Airport is served by three major airlines, with 12 daily flights between Vancouver and Comox and direct flights from Calgary. Small aircraft and floatplanes land at the Courtenay Airpark near downtown Courtenay. Daily coach lines connect all parts of Vancouver Island with the Mainland, and local bus service is also available in Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland.

View maps of the area:
Map of Courtenay/Comox
Map of Central Vancouver Island


  • Kwakiutl Bear Pole at the Courtenay Visitor Centre
    Courtenay was recently designated as the first step on the Great Canadian Fossil Trail, after dinosaur fossils were unearthed in the nearby Trent and Puntledge River area. Take a day trip to the 80-million-year-old sea bed at the Puntledge River dig site, where you can try your hand at digging for fossils.
  • View the 80-million-year-old fossil of an elasmosaur, the largest marine reptile fossil ever discovered in B.C. The Courtenay Museum is a wealth of geological, natural, and human history, located in Canada's largest freespan log building.
  • Visit the Puntledge Fish Hatchery, open year round in Courtenay. Highlights include an underwater viewing area to observe the fish in the pond. Several salmon species use the Puntledge River. Chinook Salmon are present from mid September through November, Coho from mid September to mid December, Chum from mid October through November and Pink Salmon from mid August through October. Young fish are present in tanks and troughs from March through June. The Puntledge River Hatchery also operates another site upstream of the hatchery.
  • For a panoramic view, stroll along the Riverside Walkway beside the Courtenay Estuary.
  • Simms Millennium Park along the Courtenay River offers free music concerts throughout the summer.
  • Come and explore Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens amid the tranquil beauty of 24 forested acres. Enjoy leisurely strolls through the extensive network of meandering cedar bark paths. Experience the splendour of over 3,500 rhodos, plants, and waterfeatures thriving in a beautiful, natural setting.
  • Ferry sailings from the Little River Ferry Terminal in neighbouring Comox link central Vancouver Island with Powell River on the northern Sunshine Coast (90-minute crossing).
  • The beaches around neighbouring Comox are sometimes bypassed by visitors, which is a shame, as miles of sandy shore lead off both north and south of the quiet little seaside town. Take the time to drive east of Hwy 19 as it passes through Courtenay, and follow the signs to the BC Ferries terminal in Comox. Long, sandy beaches can be found at Goose Spit Regional Park, which noses out into Comox Harbour at the west end of Hawkins Road. Kin Beach Park on Kilmorley Road south of the ferry terminal is a good spot to pass time if you're waiting for a sailing.
  • Comox Lake, west of Cumberland on Comox Lake Road, has good freshwater fishing for trout and char year-round. Boaters must beware of the strong winds that rise in the afternoon on the large, dammed lake. You'll find a boat launch at the west end of Comox Lake Road.
  • Kayak in the calm, sheltered waters of the Courtenay Estuary.
  • 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 of Cape Lazo, King Coho, and Bates Beach, just north of Comox. 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. If the weather does change, you can see it coming and quickly make for shore. Shore angling for salmon is popular in Comox Bay from August to November.
  • Courtenay is the perfect off-hill base for skiing in the Mt. Washington Ski Resort, located 19 miles (31 km) west of Hwy 19. Mount Washington (elevation 5,216 feet/1590 m) has long been known for having good snow conditions from early in winter to well past Easter, despite the fact that the top of the mountain isn't as high as the peaks of Blackcomb or Whistler Mountains. The snow here is often deeper than anywhere else in British Columbia, and occasionally anywhere else in the world! In 1995, Mount Washington had more snow than any other ski resort in the world. This accounts, in part, for Mount Washington being the second-busiest winter recreation destination in British Columbia, behind Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort. Mount Washington also provides excellent hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding in summer, or you can simply make the 40-minute trip to Mount Washington to ride the chair lift and enjoy the wonderful views of the surrounding area.
  • Enjoy year-round recreation on Forbidden Plateau in Strathcona Provincial Park, once a hideaway for native refugees who mysteriously disappeared in its mountainous terrain. Winter provides extensive cross-country tracks for intermediate and experienced skiers. Summer brings great hiking and camping, and superb flyfishing for trout in the small alpine lakes during the spring and fall.
  • The Comox Valley is blessed with a plethora of multiuse and mountainbiking trails. Many of the trails revolve around the Puntledge River and Comox Lake. A network of nine moderate-to-difficult trails near Courtenay, known collectively as the Comox Lake-Puntledge River Trails, starts at the dam on Comox Lake. Most of the trails here are hard-core singletrack, so if you find yourself chewing dirt, you can't say we didn't warn you.

    The parking lot is on the west side of the dam at the mouth of Comox Lake. Trails begin just west of the dam. Ride west on this gravel road and take the first road (B21) north. About 15 minutes uphill is a trail that leads off to the right. This is called Puntledge Plunge, and you'll figure out why in the first few seconds of a near-vertical descent. More moderate trails are available for all levels of riders.

    Seal Bay Nature Park north of Comox doesn't have a lot of downhill, but then, it doesn't have a lot of uphill, either. This is a nature park, but if you're trying to find some easy cranking and some peace of mind, you could do a whole lot worse than the multiuse trails here. All trails are well marked and begin from the park's main trailhead on Bates Road.

    Mountain bikers who like their ascents easy, and their descents long and sweet, can't get it any easier or sweeter than catching the Blue chairlift up Mount Washington and riding down. The mountain biking season here generally begins by July 1 and extends through August. Mount Washington is 5,216 feet (1590 m) above sea level. At the end of the day you can take a long time making your descent back into the Comox Valley.

  • No visit to the central island is complete without a visit to Strathcona Provincial Park, a rugged mountain wilderness of over 250,000 hectares that dominates central Vancouver Island. Mountain Peaks dominate the park, some eternally mantled with snow, while lakes and alpine tarns dot a landscape laced with rivers, creeks and streams. Created in 1911, Strathcona is the oldest provincial park in BC and the largest on Vancouver Island. Fabulous hiking trails include the Della Falls trail to the highest waterfall in Canada, and dozens of trails to the many pretty alpine lakes that dot the Forbidden Plateau area, providing good fly fishing for rainbow trout during summer.
  • Goose Spit Regional Park in adjacent Comox is one of the best windsurfing locations on the central coast. A long neck of sand curves out into Comox Harbour, where a strong wind rises most afternoons, as winds funnel off the Strait of Georgia and up the flanks of Forbidden Plateau. To find the park, head south of Comox on Comox Road, then turn left on Pritchard Road and right on Balmoral to Lazo Road, beyond which Balmoral becomes Hawkins Road and leads out to the spit.
  • Seal Bay Regional Nature Park on Bates Road north of Courtenay is a BC Wildlife Watch viewing site where California and Steller sea lions, seals, and migratory birds hang out at this sunny stretch of coastline. Spring is a time of increased activity, when the sea lions arrive as they follow the annual herring and eulachon migration. (Eulachon are a small, sardine-sized fish.) Trails begin from the north end of the road and lead through a forested ravine to a staircase that descends to the broad stretch of sandy beach that stands revealed at low tide. Also called Xwee Xwhya Lug, a place with an atmosphere or serenity, by the Comox Native Band.
  • Attend February's weeklong Trumpeter Swan Festival and discover why 2000 Trumpeter Swans spend their winter in the Comox Valley! The trumpeter swans come in low over the treetops, two or three at a time. With an 8-foot (2.5-m) wingspan, the world's largest waterfowl exemplifies aerodynamic magnificence. Mimicking the landing gear of a plane, pairs of wide, webbed feet drop down at the last instant to break their fall with a finesse that would make the best bush pilot burn with envy. Seconds after landing, the new arrivals come to a quick halt, fold their wings, arch their necks like bass clefs, and drift regally off to join other swans already on site for the night. An aristocratic bugling call and response rises among them that makes the homely honk of Canada geese and the quotidian quack of mallards sound decidedly plebian.

    This scene is repeated twice daily on lakes and ponds throughout the Comox Valley. Over the past decade, as population numbers of trumpeter swans have continued to rebound remarkably from a dismal low of several hundred in the 1960s to well over 10,000 today, many Comox Valley farmers put out winter feed for the swans. More than a thousand of them remain to winter here and form the largest colony on the west coast of North America. Smaller flocks settle in the Lower Mainland, while others fly as far south as Oregon. As you drive around the valley, signs alert visitors to participating farms in the Trumpeter Swan Management Area.

    Trumpeter swan viewing sites abound in the valley, including along the well-marked scenic route on Comox Road between Courtenay and Comox, a route that is equally well suited to driving and cycling. Shoreline sites include Point Holmes and Cape Lazo as well as Kin Beach, Singing Sands, and Seal Bay Parks.



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