Fav backroads rides

Cycle Touring Vancouver Island

Below are some of my very favourite backroad bike tours on Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast. Many of these will be of interest to bikepackers.

You'll find backroads rides here of moderate distance, on roads regularly used by the public. For a few rides, the real attraction is camping along fine backwoods lakes. 


CAUTION - Most backroads rides are intended for cycle tourists with some experience, ready to get off the beaten path. There are a few rides here that get really remote, with rough, confusing terrain, and some tracks may no longer even be passable. High elevation rides get early snows & melt late. Good gear and planning are key. If you try a very remote ride, a GPS is almost essential, and consider an emergency locator beacon. If you would like more ride details or GPX tracks for your GPS, email me through the contacts page. If you'd like more info on GPS devices or file sharing, check out this page. Certifiable backroaders may want to check out the epic 'Tip to Tip' Vancouver Island ride.

Please Note:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.


Here's an approach if you want to tackle some backroads rides. Try one of the more accessible backroads rides: I'd recommend Campbell River NW Lakes. If you like your ride, then try something more remote. Read the FAQs and the page on 'What about logging', and chat with locals about backroads.


Below is a summary map, showing all backroads rides in this section. Under the map, the rides are listed alphabetically, with links to the detailed pages for each. Or, following the map links is a list box of thumbnail links to the same ride pages.  Finally, if you're into toggling through ride maps, at the bottom is a link to route map thumbnails. 

Near the bottom of the page, there's thumbnail links to a couple of backroads pages, a page of links to cycling maps, and alternate routes around communities, and a page about managing cycle touring

  • Getting off the NE highway - connections north from Woss Lake north to Coal Harbour. Part of the 'Tip to Tip' backroads ride, off the highway in the north

  • Courtenay south on the backroads - backroads route south to Horne Lake in the grand hinterland up between the popular east coast & the central Beaufort Range

  • Local Maps & Off-Highway Options - links to area pages which contain links to local community cycling maps & off-highway (mostly paved) alternate route options

  • FAQ - What About Logging? - info and thoughts on managing bikepacking out in the backroads where you'll invariably meet logging operations. Here's some essential info: always be alert for trucks. You will usually hear them first, except when it's very windy or you're moving fast down hills, when you need added caution if you do not have a clear line of sight ahead. Always keep close to your side of the road.

See also the companion page ('Fav rides for all') with popular routes (mostly paved) accessible to all cycle tourists (including some longer rides), and the 'Honourable rides ...' page I added for still more rides I liked.

Finally, on the Fav rides for all page, there's a real useful thumbnail link to the Local Maps & Off-Hwy Options page. It includes useful community cycling maps (and links) along with some suggested off-highway paved alternate routes for cycle tourists to consider. It's not a backroads page, but even backroaders like to ride into & around local communities. 

APRIL 2021 NEWS FLASH: It's been a long while since I added a new blog post, but I found news about the North Island 1000 Loop exciting enough that I thought hard core backroads site visitors should know. Check out my latest blog entry and click through to the post to read more.


Check out the great rides in this section

Below is a guide to the rides from the map above. Click on the pics to jump to the pages. At the bottom is a page with all ride map thumbnails (summary & individual), in case you'd like to toggle about. 

Area: Port Alberni

Head SW from Port Alberni down majestic Alberni Inlet, then loop NW to Nahmint Lake and the south shores of Sproat Lake, which you'll follow west to connect with the Pacific Rim Highway. This ride works as an aggressive overnighter, or stretch it out a little to enjoy the incredible camping in an uncommonly travelled corner of the central Island.

Area: North Island

A fine North Island ride, a chance to venture west off the Highway. It's  formally promoted by the tourism officials, so you'll find tourist features, amenities and (jn season) a few other travellers. You'll head west along paved Highway 30 to Port Alice, on the SE shores of the majestic Neroustos Inlet, then loop back to the highway along a more southerly (rougher) backroads route. Not a long ride, but lots of side trips with lots of lakes and Rec camping options. 

Campbell River NW Lakes

Area: Campbell River

This is the mother lode - more backroads, scenic lakes & Rec camping options than anywhere. Accessed from Cambell River via dirt backroads, so I have put this with the backroads rides. But this ride can be done by almost all cycle tourists. Access roads are maintained and well used by the public. No tough hills & distances are modest. 

There's endless options, for 2 days or 2 weeks. Great choice to try out some easy backroads riding.

Areas: Courtenay & Campbell River

There's an unexpected riding hinterland NW of Courtenay, complete with climbs, remote lakes and basic camping. This tough, excellent backroads ride could be a 2 day ride, but I've also added in a few side-trip (out & back) local lakes, just to bring them to attention. The ride finishes with a monster climb up behind Mt Washington ski area, then a final 20kms bombing down paved Strathcona Parkway.

Areas: Cowichan Lake & SW Coast

There's a huge block of incredible hinterland stretching south of Cowichan Lake down to Vancouver Island's wonderful SW Coast. This 4 day ride starts & finishes in Duncan along the amazing Cowichan Valley Trail. It crosses historic Kinsol Trestle, rides rough and remote backroads, camps along deserted lake shores, meets crazy surfers along the SW coast - then loops back via Cowichan Lake.

Areas: Cowichan Lake & Port Alberni

A classic backroads route, connecting 2 major riding hubs, Cowichan Lake & Port Alberni. There's a cluster of Rec camps along west Cowichan Lake, and you can take a short side trip to surprising Nitinat Lake. It's a good intro to multi-day backroads riding, on well maintained dirt roads, regularly used by members of the public. Some tough little hills along Bamfield highway as you approach Port Alberni.  

Area: Campbell River (west)

Wilderness ride on the far west coast of Vancouver Island - from Gold River to Tahsis, with a side trip down the majestic Tluplana Inlet. Some steep climbing make this 170km ride medium difficulty. Much of the scenic ride is alongside a succession of fierce, tumbling rivers (up and down!). Some fine camping options and an end of the road feel make this ride memorable.

Horne Lake Port Alberni Wheel

Horne Lake, west from Central Vancouver Island's fabulous east coast, has a little hub of campgrounds (and some famous caves) at its west end, which make for a fine overnight destination. And surprisingly, west Horne Lake is a hub for backroads connections, spinning off in a number of directions, mostly to Port Alberni. This ride page shows a bundle of connections, with route information. A fine chance for some backroads riding in a remote area - and some rough shortcuts down to Port Alberni to the SW. 

Areas: Port Alberni & Cowichan Lake

This amazing ride starts and finishes in Port Alberni. It's a tough, wild ride, with climbing, disappearing roads, excellent remote camps, and unexpected connections.  It climbs over 1,000 in the shadows of Mt Moriarty, finds a back route down to the Nanaimo River, then another sharp climb up and over into the Upper Nitinat River Valley, before heading back NW to Alberni Inlet via fine riding along Museum Main.

Areas: North Island & Campbell River

This is a long, rugged backroads ride north from Campbell River, that does some deep side trips towards the west and east coasts, then back to the North Island Highway. You could do this as one long ride, or tackle segments on shorter rides. You'll ride by Sayward, Muchalat Lake down near Gold River, north to the Island Highway near Woss, and out to Naka Creek along the fabulous east coast.

Area: Sunshine Coast South

This overnight backroads ride starts at Halfmoon Bay along the Sunshine Coast. Day 1's highlight is the steep, rough ride 1,000m up to camp at Lyon Lake in Spipyus Provincial Park. The ride finishes near Garden Bay, where a rough, decommissioned old track switchbacks down to the coastal highway. Note the ride is only possible May through October, due to high elevation snows. 

Areas: Campbell River & North Island

Roberts Lake is ~30+kms north of Campbell River alng the North Island Highway.  To the NE, there's a cluster of backroads, lakes and Rec camping sites, several of them along the east coast overlooking Discovery Passage. Pye Lake alone has 5 Rec sites. There's some fine backroads bikepacking or cycle touring, remote camping, and seaside access.  

North to Sarah Point

This short but rough & remote backroads ride heads north from Lund into the blank areas of the map, up to Sarah Point at the NW tip of Malaspina Peninsula, overlooking Desolation Strait. Sarah Point is also the trailhead of the Sunshine Coast Trail, one of the world's great wilderness hikes. The route then loops back south via a remote track over to the NE shores of the peninsula along Okeover Arm.

Area: BC mainland, north of Powell River

North from  Powell River, up into the mainland east of Okeover Arm, is Theodosia Inlet, part of the wider Desolation Sound area, fed by the Theodosia River. This is remote, rarely visited country, with tough riding, grand views and some sweet camping. This ride heads north to the Inlet, then follows the river NE before branching SW down to Olsen's Landing along the north shores of Powell Lake.

Areas: Port Alberni & Courtenay

I think of this great backroads ride as the 'Oshinow Loop', heading NW from Port Alberni to the SE corner of remote Oshinow Lake in Strathcona Provincial Park, then looping back to the east along a very rough track, before heading north to Comox Lake and Courtenay. There are multiple route options and side trips for this backroads connection - one of my absolute favourite bikepacking or cycle touring rides.

Area: Sunshine Coast North

This backroads ride starts and finishes at Powell River. It heads NE into a remarkable area of wilderness, backroads, lakes and Rec campsites. In addition to lots of regular Rec campsites (big, small & informal), there's a bunch of remote, basic sites set up for the popular Powell Forest Canoe Circuit, reached by portage trails through the forests.  Countless options for a few days or longer.

Region: North Island - Port Alice

Side Bay, west of Port Alice in a huge hinterland, is one of Vancouver Island's grand wilderness camping destinations. With a hardcore backroads ride to get there, including notable Teeta Hill up from the mighty Neroustos Inlet. This is an informal seaside camping destination, where you take care of yourself. But what an incredible place

Area: Gulf Islands - Texada

Texada Island is the largest of the Gulf Islands, and one of the most sparsely populated or travelled. And it's gorgeous. Great place for cycle touring, including a rough, remote ride down the rugged spine of the Island to Anderson Bay at the south. There's a companion paved road ride only in the north of Texada island. But make no mistake - this is a tough, rewarding backroads ride.

Texada's Hidden NE Bays

South from Van Anda along Texada's undeveloped NE coast is a stretch of fabulous seaside bays. This ride explores 4 camping options reachable by old forestrry backroads (in one case, a hydro station service road). There's fine backroads riding, some rough stretches, mean climbing, and beautiful seaside camping options - looking out over Malaspina Strait to the mainland mountains of the Sunshine Coast

Area: All Vancouver Island Areas

A banner ride - usually appeals to the slightly insane.

In case you're wondering if it's possible to bikepack or cycle tour from the south tip to the north tip of Vancouver Island (or vice versa) entirely on backroads - it is. This ride bundles together stretches from various other Fav backroads rides to create one continuous backroads route, if you're ambitious enough to tackle this epic tip to tip ride.

Area: North Island

This is a rough, remote ride into various corners of the far north of Vancouver Island, west from Port Hardy. It is a long ride, with a number of there and back side trips. See the remote villages of Coal Harbour, Holberg & Winter Harbour. More important, check out some remote seaside bays and camp alone along the wild seaside. Rewarding fav bikepacking or backroads cycle touring wilderness ride.

Area: Courtenay

This backroads bikepacking ride starts in Courtenay (my backyard), heads through the village of Cumberland (a mountain biking hub) and then SW up into the Beaufort Range of central Vancouver Island. Day1 is a thousand metre climb up to camp along the shores of remote Tsable Lake. Next day is a steep descent down an old switchback track, to the SE shores of Comox Lake, then back to Courtenay by the tough, hilly NW shores of Comox Lake. Side trips out to nearby lakes for more great camping.

Each "Ride Page"includes a map (or maps) detailing the route. This page ropes all 'Fav backroads rides' summary maps together as thumbs on one page, to make it easier for you to toggle about, if you like.  

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Here's some 'Local Content Pages', with detailed off-highway backroads routes that can be useful for planning rides.

(perhaps part of your epic 'Tip to Tip ride). There's also a key page on managing out on the backroads where you may meet logging operations.

This page details several riding options to continue north, while getting off the North Island Highway, up on the NE Island. The main section is 140kms from north Woss Lake to Coal Harbour, west off the main highway. There's another route from Zeballos junction north to Rupert Inlet. These off-highway stretches help to knit together a continuous backroads route for the Tip to Tip backroads ride.

Courtenay south on the Backroads

This page details the route for the backroads ride south from Courtenay all the way to Port Alberni, via Horne Lake. This winding track cuts through the huge, rarely visited hinterlands inland from the Island's popular east coast. There's rough stretches, good climbing and grand vistas. This is a great alternative to the often busy coastal highway, or the more common backroads route south via Comox Lake.

I've pulled together some useful community cycling maps. I've added maps of my own creation with some off-highway route options (usually paved), accessible for all cycle tourists heading into & out of towns, presented within linked local area pages. This is not a backroads section, but even backroaders occasionally like to poke around local communities.

The pic here is from the Cowichan Valley Trail, Vancouver Island's best cycle touring stretch of the Trans Canada Trail

A big, complex question.  This page discusses what to expect & how to co-exist with logging.  It looks deeper into trends as logging evolves from being the core economic engine, to being one among many economic & cultural forces on Vancouver Island & the Sunshine Coast.

Keep in mind: most backroads are built & maintained by the logging industry; always be alert for logging trucks; logging is cyclical, bursts of activity followed by long intervals of nothing; and, for most backroads rides, logging is a non-issue.

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