Cycle Touring Vancouver Island
Here's some FAQs on cycle touring, bikepacking and camping on Vancouver Island & the Sunshine Coast. There's questions on basic matters for cycle tourists just getting started, along with info for those interested in getting out into the remote backroads.
Some answers are just my opinions, and rest assured there are many other views out there, so take things with a grain of salt.
At the bottom, I've added a stand-alone link to answer a big question - 'What about logging?' This is a big enough question for bikepacking and backroad cycle touring, with safety implications, that it needed it's own full page. There's a couple of core things I want to highlight here:
on most rides out into the backroads, logging is a non-issue
always be alert for trucks. You'll hear them first unless you're bombing down hills
start going into the backroads gradually, and take any chances to get local advice before going really remote
The site content is getting on in years, and I no longer update it (on to new projects). Most material is still relevant, but, particularly out in the backroads, things are always changing, so bear that in mind, and always ride safe.
Increasingly, logging companies are putting up gates, and seeking to restrict outsider access. Obviously, this can impact plans. Talking with locals about backroads access is always a good idea.
This is a long page, so there's a few ways to navigate. Just scroll down as you read. Or use the links in the list below. Or, use the 'floating menu' to the right (alas, not available for mobile view). Run your cursor down over the line of dots: as you pass over each, you'll see a short version of the FAQ. If something interests you, click on the dot and the page will centre there for you to read more. It 'floats' - follows your screen as you scroll down, so it will always be there to navigate further.
How's the weather?
Vancouver Island & the Sunshine Coast are in BC's temperate rain forest - colder & ornerier in winter. You should always be ready for rain (rain wear and bike flashers) when cycle touring or bikepacking. Thankfully, the exertion of cycling helps keep you warm, so rain should never be a show stopper.
But you'll also get great stretches of glorious sun & blue sky.
In low areas, winter snow is uncommon & usually doesn't stick around long. Above a few hundred metres elevation you should expect snow through winter, and at 800m, snow can come early and last into June. I ride & camp year round, with the fall my favourite season.
If it gets hot and dry in the summer for extended stretches, fire bans may be in place.
Photo here is alongside Hwy 101 SE of Powell River, Texada Island in the distance. (Go back to top menu list).
How to get started cycle touring?
I'm from the "just jump in" school, but here's some advice:
make sure you're comfortable on a bike on the side of a road with cars going by
find a friend who has cycle toured before, and start with short, easy rides (you can find lots of ideas here on the site)
have a support vehicle carry your gear, or book a B & B so you can travel light
learn how to fix a flat tire, or ride with someone who can help you
A challenge for many is gear - both for biking and camping.
First a bike - which most will already have (see more in following FAQ). Find a shop that rents bikes. Or buy used, with help from a savvy friend. Get a bike with rack mounts on the frame for carrying gear. It's not a good idea to ride any distance with a heavy backpack.
Most people already have some sort of light rain jacket. If you're riding in the cooler fall or spring, consider rain pants, gloves and a thin head covering that fits under your helmet. Key safety gear includes your helmet, bike flashers, a safety vest (or, most cycling jackets have built-in reflective strips), and rain/wind glasses.
If you are camping, it's the same drill. Borrow or rent some gear, and have a friend bring the tent. Buy cheap: there's lots of decent gear at low prices these days.
Get out and give it a go. I've found that if people take to cycle touring (most do), they find ways, over time, to slowly upgrade their gear - and their ambitions.
The top pic below is near Mill Bay ferry terminal, SE Vancouver Island. Below is a camping set-up at the walk-in area at Rathtrevor Provincial Park, a Fav cycle touring campground. (Go back to top menu list).
What kind of bike for cycle touring?
Check out the photo below, I'm with my friend Marissa at Fanny Bay along central Vancouver Island. I have my road bike - lightweight, thin high pressure tires, and an aggressive geometry to reduce wind resistance. Not for rough roads or carrying loads. So, unless you're on a good road, with a support vehicle for your gear, a road bike is not a good choice for cycle touring. Marissa is riding a bike with wider tires, and a frame with mounts for racks: her bike would be a good choice to try out cycle touring.
The good news is that almost any other type of bike can serve to get you started cycle touring. Here's some things to bear in mind if you're looking to upgrade. Talk to your bike shop about these questions.
frame mounts for gear racks are a good idea (unless you go the bikepacking route)
think about whether you'll mostly tour on better roads or backroads: this can influence the type of touring or bikepacking bike you will consider
there are choices like drop bars vs flat bars, mechanical vs hydraulic disc brakes, suspension vs non-suspension (for the backroads), etc.
key components like chains, brake pads and chain cassettes need periodic replacement. Generally there's a range of cost options. Get a bike that will allow you to upgrade components over time, if you wish
a common question for bike and gear is 'what's the weight?'. As a rule, lighter is more costly. I'd suggest trying things out with basic options, and then upgrade to lighter options later if you're into it. I know road cyclists who like to go fast, and will pay quite a bit to shave off a little weight. This is not so important when cycle touring, as you may already be carrying extra food and water, and maybe a beer for the evening.
quality, durable tires are a worthwhile investment. (Go back to top menu list).
Can we take bikes on BC Ferries?
Yes, and you should try the ferries as they open up great possibilities. If you're coming over from Vancouver, it's THE pathway. And then there's the fabulous Gulf Islands, a string of treasures when cycle touring the region. Here's a BC Ferries page on cyclists.
BC Ferries has a bad rep with some, but I enjoy them. It makes for good downtime, a break to get out of the elements, maybe a chance to meet other cycle tourists, with food and treats to be had. You might even see some dolphins or whales.
Like foot passengers, cyclists almost always avoid long line-ups & waits by simply going to the head of the line for the next ferry. In smaller terminals, you'll board first with foot passengers. In larger terminals like Nanaimo, you'll still usually board first, but at the lower level with vehicles.
You'll leave your bike leaning near the front of the lower parking deck. I take my valuables up to the lounge, but leave my panniers. This can feel like a calculated risk, but I've never lost anything. That said - follow your own instincts.
The cost for a bicycle is a few dollars per trip - a good deal as vehicles are expensive. If you take ferries regularly, I'd suggest buying a BC Ferries Experience Card. You preload these, and can save a few dollars each trip.
Photo - Sturdies Bay Ferry Terminal on Galiano island, South Gulf Isles. I took this pic from the tasty little Indonesian food stall just up off the ramp. (Go back to top menu list).
How fit do I need to be?
Basic fit can get you started. Make sure you've broken in your cycling muscles before trying any longer tour. Paved routes are generally easier than more remote and less maintained backroads. The good news for starters is that the coastal routes along east Vancouver Island are not very hilly.
That said, there are rugged mountains in the interior, and climbing with gear is always a good workout. The Sunshine Coast has continuous small, but sharp hills, making it tougher than the coastal Island route.
If you choose a more extreme, remote ride, you often carry more food & and must be prepared for steep climbs, rough tracks, maybe some pushing & hauling.
But I manage, and I'm getting older.
Photo - riding north from Nanaimo, one mostly rides the wide shoulder of the busy Island Highway. But you see here the junction south of Parksville where you can branch right to ride the slower moving, more scenic old coastal highway (see FAQ for more; go back to top menu list).
How far is a day's ride?
It varies based on whether you have a destination in mind for the day, or sometimes if the weather or the hills get nasty. More often than not, riding distances are less when you're touring the smaller islands (a good thing, as you need to add in some ferry time).
A common daily target for experienced paved road cycle tourists is ~100km. On longer trips, many cycle tourists find 70-80km or so a day more sustainable. If you're just starting out, even 20kms a day can make for a worthwhile trip.
You'll see rides here with some 100kms days, but on many tours, I recommend some shorter days so you can check places out and enjoy the camping. Occasionally I'll take on a 150km day, though I do this less and less: I know some (mostly) younger cyclists who really like to pound the miles, averaging over 150kms a day.
Mileage is less when one is cycle touring or bikepacking in the backroads. Routes are tougher, you carry more food, and must plan for the unexpected. Most of the time, the objective is not 'how far?', but to enjoy the outdoors, the camping, and the great riding.
Below - on the left is a relaxing cycle touring stretch of the old Island Highway south of Courtenay. On the right, a tough hill down from the mountains of the Sunshine Coast. (Go back to top menu list).
Meeting other cycle tourists & campers?
I'm always surprised how few cycle tourists there are out on the roads of Vancouver Island & the Sunshine Coast most of the year. When you do connect, it's mostly in summer: on a summer weekend, you can usually assume you'll see a number of other cycle tourists out on the more popular routes.
It's even rarer to meet the tiny tribe of bikepackers out on the backroads.
On the ferries, particularly from & to Vancouver, is often the most common opportunity to meet other cycle tourists. The most popular cycling campsite is Ruckle on Saltspring Isle. Other popular sites include Rathtrevor & Porpoise Bay. You'll find local cycle tourists, but also a good number from further afield, including a hard-core group of long haul cycle tourists heading way north or way south. The most popular rides seem to be between Victoria and Courtenay along east Vancouver Island, as well as the loop north to south (or vice versa) on the Sunshine Coast. Some Gulf Islands are also popular destinations.
Camping is another matter, and your challenge in summer, particularly on weekends (specially holiday weekends!), may be that campgrounds are fully booked. Reservations are a real good idea in season. Campers are generally a friendly lot, so you'll have a chance to meet other travellers, many of whom return every year, with RVs, kids and more.
In the off season, you’ll still meet some other campers, fishers and outdoors enthusiasts - usually when you check out some of the Rec (forestry) camps closer to towns like Campbell River. Many formal campgrounds close in the off season.
The top pic below shows the cyclist camping area at Porpoise Bay, near Sechelt, where they'll almost always make room for one more cycle tourist. The lower pic is from my tour of Iran, in the desert village of Garmeh, where I met a hardy group of Iranian cycle tourists. Check out the world galleries for more on some international rides. (Go back to top menu list).
What is Bikepacking?
You'll see the term 'bikepacking' a lot here, so let's get on a page. (I've copied parts of this answer over from the 'More About ...' page.)
Bikepacking has been around a good while, but has picked up real steam in recent years. If you're already into bikepacking, you'll love many of the remote backroads rides here.
What is bikepacking? Think of a hybrid of bike touring & mountain biking & minimalist camping. Trips are mostly multi-day, on bikes designed for rough terrain. You carry gear in bags attached to the frame vs bulky racks & panniers. Some bikes, like my new ECR (left, below), can take oversized tires, commonly ridden at low pressure to serve like shocks. But you'll find bikepackers using all sorts of rugged bikes out in the wilds. For years I took my tough as nails Thorn Nomad out onto the roughest places I could find. That said, I sure do love my new Surly ECR 29er bikepacker.
As bikepacking often heads remote and far from services, you need a tough bike and maybe some different gear. In addition to, perhaps, a lighter and more compact tent (or tarp), you might bring some emergency tools, extra food, a GPS for remote routes, etc. I recommend you carry an emergency location beacon (SOS) to use in case of emergency.
If you want more info on bikepacking bike options, check out this page (from Bikepacking.com), or this one from Worldbiking, a blog I sometimes follow. Or, have a look at bikes from Salsa and Surly, both of which have full bikepacking lines.
Check out the Fav backroads rides for lots of rougher backroads routes that appeal to bikepackers. It you're certifiable, check out the 'Tip to Tip' backroads ride, south to north up Vancouver Island entirely on dirt backroads - 750+kms of remote, hard core riding.
If you're planning to tackle a remote backroad ride, email me for a *.GPX track file which you can load on Garmin GPS devices and ensure no one gets lost. For info on GPS devices and file sharing, click here. (Go back to top menu list).
What's a backroad?
Good question, as there's different views on this.
For this site, it means a road, almost always unpaved, outside main residential or commercial areas. Usually, backroads get out into the backwoods. They have mostly been put into place by the forestry industry. Sometimes, backroads can get real rough and nasty (or even overgrown), particularly when they are no longer maintained. Sometimes, confusingly, the track name on your map may be different from signs along the road.
Photo - that's Mt Moriarty ahead here, SE of Port Alberni. We're already well over 1,000m up here. (Go back to top menu list).
Can we ride the Trans Canada Trail?
The best Vancouver Island sections of the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) are around Duncan and Cowichan Lake, known locally as the Cowichan Valley Trail (CVT), extending south to Shawnigan Lake.
Check out the CVT Fav ride. The trail is well groomed, wide enough for oncoming cyclists to pass, with no tough hills. This is a delight for all cyclist tourists, but is specially good for beginners, as there are zero vehicles on the trail. In 2017, new trail segments opened (steeper & tougher) through the Malahat First Nation and Sooke Hills Wilderness (see blog post), taking cyclists south to Goldstream Park north of Victoria. I've also heard of new trail segments north from Duncan to Nanaimo, and plan to have a go at them.
Photo is of the Kinsol Trestle, one of the world's most magnificent wooden trestle bridges. (Go back to top menu list).
Are there more good cycle touring trails?
For cycle touring, it's really the Trans Canada Trail network on south Vancouver Island. There's some good riding trails in places like Smuggler Cove Provincial Park (top left pic) and Skookumchuck Narrows Park (bottom right pic). But both these trails are only 4 kms.
There's many fine cycling trail networks in and around the larger centers like Victoria (aka the Capital Regional District, which has an extensive cycling trail network), Nanaimo and Courtenay. These are usually well maintained, and a joy to start and finish longer cycle tours. Check out community websites for maps.
Alas, most other trail riding in the region gets pretty rough and tumble (though I'm sure I've missed some worthy options), even for bikepackers.
NE from Powell River (see Fav backroads ride) there's a wonderful hinterland of lakes and forestry campgrounds. There's also the internationally known Powell Forest Canoe Circuit. The exciting thing for bikepackers is that there are lots of portage trails (see lower left pic) into remote little campgrounds. Some trails you can ride; some you have to ride & push.
There's also the Sunshine Coast Trail and the Suncoaster Trail (see Sunshine Coast area page). I've ridden (and pushed) stretches of these, but they are really hiking trails. I've also ridden rough powerline tracks, little more than trails, in a number of areas. Then there's the Vancouver Island Spine Trail, still being built, which is going enable hiking from tip to tip on Vancouver Island. You'll run into the trail in places if you tour the backroads. Around most towns, you'll find find networks of mountain biking trails.
Finally, out in the backroads, it is common to encounter logging roads that are no longer maintained, and these often become little more than trails within just a few years. Check out the track in the upper right, switchbacking down from the high Beaufort Range to the south end of Comox Lake. For those who like it rough and remote, there are endless great backroads riding opportunities in the region. (Go back to top menu list).
What about campground facilities?
Most provincial & private campgrounds have tables, fire pits, water & toilets - some with electricity & showers (read more here). Boat launch access is common, as are fine hiking trail networks. In town sites, you may even find wi-fi. Some provincial sites have "group sites" with covered cooking shelters (often booked up in season) - off season, these are great to get out of the elements.
Increasingly, campgrounds are designed to attract and accommodate RVs. As a rule, commercial campgrounds often have full services and facilities, and may have rental services and a small store.
If you're out backroad cycle touring, you'll find that Rec (forestry) campsites are generally vehicle accessible, often have delineated site clearings, tables & outhouses (maybe boat launches, and a host in season).
Photo - one of my favourite examples of backwoods architecture, at North Windsor Lake Rec Camp, Powell Forest Canoe Circuit, NE of Powell River. (Go back to top menu list).
Can we camp anywhere?
Camping is a huuuge attraction for cycle touring & bikepacking on Vancouver Island & the Sunshine Coast - both along the popular routes and off into the backroads. There are countless options. For lots more on this, check out the pages on camping and Fav camping spots.
The short answer to the above question is that once you get into the backwoods away from any communities or residences / farms, yes - you can camp most anywhere. Another restriction may be areas that logging companies have designated as off limits. I regularly wild camp when remote, and will look for a decent clearing for a tent, ideally fairly close to a stream or lake for water, and a little open to the breeze to keep the bugs down. If I am on a really remote trail, I will ensure my tent does not block off the trail, as these are sometimes used by local animals at night.
Make sure you pack out any garbage.
Photo - an informal camping spot south off the Koksilah River, not far from Kinsol Trestle. (Go back to top menu list).
What about First Nations land?
You’ll ride through First Nations land, both in & around communities, as well as remote (more common), when cycle touring all over west BC. You may see signs. Check out maps in advance, or ask around.
It’s been my experience that there is rarely issue with passing through, or camping, in the backwoods, as long as one is respectful of people & the environment. Many First Nations communities manage local campgrounds. They may have different local regulations for things like fishing & hunting.
Photo - incredible beach at Pacheedaht First Nations Campground just north of Port Renfrew. (Go back to top menu list).
What about wild animals?
This is, not surprisingly, a favourite question. It's a fact that there are always, always unexplainable noises out in the woods when you are camping at night.
Wildlife encounters are an occasional exciting perk of cycle touring or (more commonly) bikepacking on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. It’s common to see deer and eagles. Elk and beavers are regulars in some areas. Sea otters, sea lion and seals are common along the ocean shores.
Black bear encounters happen once in a while, even along paved routes and around bigger campgrounds; more often, you'll see bears or recent bear shit along a backroad. Cougar & wolf sitings are very rare. Animal attacks are exceptionally rare, but do happen. In areas where a cougar has been seen, do not leave small children unattended. Here's a link to a BC Parks page on how to handle encounters with different wild animals - make sure to read about bears and cougars.
As bears are the most commonly seen animal that could be dangerous, here's a few guidelines. By and large on Vancouver Island, we are talking about black bears, though occasionally there are credible reports of a grizzly having swum across from the mainland. Along the Sunshine Coast, you will also mostly meet black bears, although it is possible (not likely) you might encounter a grizzly. If riding with close-in foliage and limited visibility, make noise so you don't surprise bears. I talk loudly to myself on smaller tracks. Most often, once bears are aware of you, they'll just run off. Do not run away yourself, as this can trigger a chase response: speak loudly and make yourself seem large (e.g. wave a stick). Never get between a mother and her cubs. Always practice bear safe behavior (manage your cooking and garbage!) when camping. Carry bear spray (I also bring bear bangers, a canned air horn, and an ursack for my food at night). Be aware that near some villages or campsites, bears may have become habituated to people or garbage.
Over the years, I've camped out in remote spots more nights than I could ever count. I've had a few unnerving encounters, but never been directly threatened.
A more common tribe of beasts to prepare for are the rodents - squirrels, chipmunks and mice. It's common to meet mice who live in campgrounds and have had generations to learn their stealthy craft, practised mostly at night. They say a mouse can squeeze its skull through a 1/4" opening. Once, in Grand Cache, Alberta, I had a rodent (squirrel?) go right through the wall of my tent while I was away. Yikes..
Photo - at the left, a river otter along the Salmon River, SW of Sayward. They are so quick and wary they are very hard to catch for a photo. On the right, a bear I met on the far north of the Island. I almost missed this curious fellow. (Go back to top menu list).
What about bugs?
Since we're camping out in the woods, we can't ignore bugs.
The worst season is spring (from mid/late April) and early summer. By the fall they are mostly toned down. The common irritants are mosquitos, the tiny nasty 'no-see-ums' and the extended black fly family. Late afternoon and early evening are the worst times, although mornings can also be ornery.
How to manage? Bugs like areas with standing water. Windy campsites are great to keep down bugs (riding a bike also gives you a useful breeze). So too are smoky fires, though that may also drive humans away, and fires are often neither appropriate or allowed. The main thing for me is that I take clothing that can cover arms and legs in the evenings, and I often carry a mosquito net head cover, which is light and bunches up to the size of a baseball. I take bug spray (non-aerosol) with me just in case, but only resort to it a few times a year as it's unpleasant stuff. For treating itches, I dab them with rubbing alcohol. Assuming you have a tent, make sure any mesh is fine enough to keep out the little black flies.
If I'm heading up to higher elevation, I will sometimes even ride with a mosquito net head cover, as some areas are popular with deer flies that love dive bombing cyclists.
Photo - taking a lunch break at a nice windy spot at the summit of the climb (over 800m) between the Upper Nanaimo River and the Upper Nitinat River. (Go back to top menu list).
What gear do we need?
There's lots of YouTube videos on packing for cycle touring, but here's my quick take.
For most rides in commonly travelled areas, you're almost always close to other traffic, services and places with people - so if anything goes wrong, help is near to hand. So, unless you go remote, take some of the suggestions below with a grain of salt. If you do go really remote, it's better to be over prepared until you get enough comfort to decide what works best for you.
The key gear challenge for cycle touring is the trade-off between going light and making sure you have what you want and need. Although I know some real minimalists, I tend to lean on the side of caution, carrying a little more in case things go bad.
The basics are your shelter (usually a tent), sleeping bag, sleeping pad (aka compact, foldable mattress) change of clothes, rainwear, cooking gear and food, basic tool and first aid kits, your electronics (can't get away these days!), flashlight, toiletries and bear spray. A couple of water proof stuff sacks helps. Always pack (near weightless) earplugs as you might have loud camping neighbours. I often carry a small camping chair, which packs to about the size & weight of a water bottle.
These days, along more popular routes, some minimalist cycle tourists will travel with just their tool kit, a phone and a credit card. But I always like some comforts & treats.
For winter touring, warmwear (of course), a good sleeping bag (expensive, alas), and a sleeping pad with insulation to protect you from the cold ground, are good ideas. You'll need better waterproofing, including for your gloves and footwear.
I take a few extra tools when I go remote. Some sort of water purification. Maybe an extra day's food. A GPS device with spare batteries (I use Garmin devices; see more in FAQ on maps). I carry an emergency locator beacon - when activated, it notifies local search & rescue I am in touble. In summer, I take a cloth dust mask if it has been dry and hot. In hunting season, in some areas, I'll take my brightest reflective vest. A secret ingredient is to ensure you've done basic bike maintenance before you leave.
The top pic below was south of Cowichan Lake in late May. Unexpectedly, my route climbed over 600m and into snow (the best laid plans ...). The lower pic was taken from the walk-in sites at a Fav campground at Montague Bay Provincial Park on Galiano Island. (Go back to top menu list).
Which maps are best?
There's lots of maps for the main cycle touring routes. The rest of this answer is for those headed out onto remote backroads on Vancouver Island & the Sunshine Coast.
The backroads are literally a maze, originally designed to facilitate logging rather than to get from point A to point B. Most folks don't realize there's an incredible network of crisscrossing backroads out in the wilds of SW BC. Sometimes, confusingly, the track name on your map may seem to be different from signs along the road.
I mostly use Backroads Mapbooks - both digital & waterproof maps. I strongly recommend getting a GPS device. Digital is essential to save tracks so you can confirm you're on the right track, and (critically), that you'll be able to retrace steps if necessary. And share routes with others.
For years now, I have mostly used a Garmin GPSMAP GPS device (current model 64ST). This is a durable backwoods tool, and saves waypoint and track coordinates in GPX file format. For more info on Garmin GPS devices, file formats, desktop applications and file sharing, click here.
You can never fully trust backroads maps - though they are still essential. Things can be missing, behind the times, or just wrong. Unmaintained roads become overgrown in a few short years. This appears to be getting worse, perhaps as logging companies no longer fully share updated road data. But GPS tracks are reliable. Always carry reserve batteries.
There are lots of mapping apps for cell phones, some of which have decent backroads maps you can download and use with the GPS satellite network, even in areas where your coverage may not work. I sometimes use google earth offline on my cell phone, usually to see if the satellites (not real time) can shed light on whether a road or track exists.
Photo near Peak Lake shows my trusty Garmin 62S, since updated to a new 64ST. (Go back to top menu list).
Do I have *.GPX files to share?
GPX is the name of the file format used to save to save routes/tracks that can be used in many GPS devices, such as Garmin. They work by saving latitude/longitude coordinates over set time intervals (e.g. every 10 seconds) - so they save your track independent of any underlying map. They can be loaded into Google Earth (and perhaps converted to load into Google My Maps). All my Fav ride routes have GPX tracks/files. These are particularly important for the remote backroads rides. That said, if you have GPX file on your own GPS device, you will know if you are on the right track, and will be able to retrace your steps should a route now be unpassable.
For more detailed info (maybe too detailed) on Garmin GPS devices, file formats, sharing files and such, check out this page here on GPS devices and GPX file sharing.
If you are planning a remote ride, and would like the GPX file, email me via the Contact page and let me know. I'll email you the GPX file.
Photo - are you really sure you're still on the right track? Your GPS track can confirm. South of Cowichan Lake near Little Bear Creek Reservoir. (Go back to top menu list).
Old highway vs new highway?
Between Parksville & Campbell River on east central Vancouver Island, you can take the "new Island Highway" (Hwy19, 4 lane, big shoulders, inland, more trucks, no services) vs the "old/coastal Highway" (Hwy 19A, slower, 2 lane, basic shoulders, towns & camping options). Getting north to Parksville from Nanaimo (or from Victoria, for that matter), most people take the big highway. North of Campbell River, the 2 lane North Island Highway is the only game in town.
Even though it only follows the coast ~1/4 of the time, I mostly prefer the old route - more interesting and scenic, less traffic (including less trucks) & more cyclist friendly. If you plan to wild camp, vs try a local campground (there's a number along the coast), you're generally better off on the new inland highway, as few people live along the inland route. If you can zone out the traffic, the big highway has broad excellent shoulders. If I'm in a hurry to get from Courtenay to Parksville, I take the new highway.
The big highway, gets less busy once you get north of Parksville & Qualicum. In my experience, often the busiest stretch of the old island highway is from Courtenay north to Campbell River, particularly at start and finish of the working day.
The photo below shows the seaside walkway at Qualicum Beach, along the old Island Highway. (Go back to top menu list).
What's a Main? FSR?
Here's a few useful terms and acronyms to know if you plan to head off bikepacking or cycle touring on the backroads of Vancouver Island & the Sunshine Coast. You'll see them on signs and maps. These almost all relate to the forestry industry.
A 'Main' (or Mainline, or 'Mn' for short) is a major logging road. Sometimes known as a 'Forest Service Road' or FSR.
'BR" is short for Branch (e.g. BR2), a secondary road. You might see a further breakdown into even smaller roads, such as BR2E. TR means truck route.
Another common acronym you'll see on signs is RCP, for radio call point.
Here's a link to a Ministry Of Forests list of acronyms. Be warned, it's 40+ pages long.
Photo here from along north Campbell Lake, shows that things grow most anywhere in Vancouver Island's temperate rain forests. (Go back to top menu list).
What about hunting?
Hunting season, mostly in the fall, is part of rural culture on Vancouver Island & the Sunshine Coast. Hunters are usually more common in certain backwoods areas not too far from towns, like Campbell River or Port Alberni. Hunting regulations can be different on First Nations lands.
You may hear repetitive shots or see shells about. This may be parents taking kids or other new hunters out for target practice. I wear a reflective vest in season. It’s actually uncommon to meet hunters, & I've never met belligerent ones - though once or twice I have met partying campers with guns around.
One bone I have to pick is that near towns (e.g. Campbell River) it is not uncommon to see pullouts off backroads into open areas with hillsides used for target practice. That makes sense, but sometimes such spots are strewn with garbage, which is just sad.
Riding through Strathcona Park early morning last fall I saw lots of deer along the roadside: once I left the park, though, they disappeared, as if they knew where it’s safe.
Here's a link to the BC Wildlife Act, Hunting Regulations (up to November 2016).
Photo at Quinsam Lake: a little unnerving to see the back of an outhouse used for target practice. (Go back to top menu list).
Could we get lost or stuck?
One encounters risks on any multi-day outdoor activity: equipment failures, unexpected sickness or injury. But these are multiplied if you go remote for bikepacking or cycle touring on the backroads. You need time flexibility. Some routes don’t work (never fully trust backroads maps), you meet washouts, gates, get snowed in.
You’re off the cell phone grid. I carry an emergency locator beacon. When activated, it connects to local search & rescue.
Whether you carry a GPS device or not to record your track, ALWAYS ensure you could retrace your steps to find your way out if your route is blocked or just doesn't connect.
Photo shows a slide on Walbran Main near Nitinat. I was able to carry my bike & gear around this slide, but that may not always be possible. (Go back to top menu list).
FAQ - What about logging?
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Caution - Safety First:
Countless outdoor enthusiasts safely enjoy BC's backroads year round. That said, you may be far from assistance, so safety is essential. You may encounter logging, or constraints to road access. Always be alert for working trucks & pull over to let them pass. If riding to remote areas, ensure you have the right knowledge & gear, & share your plans before you head out. Read the FAQs below for more info.