Campbell River NW Lakes
A favourite backroads ride
This is kind of the mother lode here - more backroads, scenic lakes and Rec camping options than any comparably sized area. With all this choice, you can approach this ride several ways:
try out backroads riding to see if you like it, on main access roads regularly used by the public to reach fine nearby Rec campgrounds. This is a perfect first backroads ride
head further into the hinterland along smaller backroads to reach more out of the way lakes and camping options.
This is not a high difficulty riding trip, although you can start longer rides through this cluster (see Lower North Crisscross, or Strathcona Park, for example). Distances are not long: rather, it's a fabulous area, with endless options, sweet riding and a great chance to experience this incredible cluster of fabulous lakes & campsites.
Incredible choice in terms of lakes, easily accessible from Campbell River
Excellent well developed campsites like Loveland Bay Provincial Park, Brewster Lake Rec (see photo below) or Campbell Lake Rec, as well as small, basic Rec sites like Gosling or Grey Lake, etc. (and some informal sites too).
This area is popular for the multi-day Sayward Forest Canoe circuit, so you may see portage trails, canoeists, and meet some interesting campsite neighbours.
This is lake country, so your campsite neighbours will be into boating and fishing and swimming. Give it a try!
Days for Ride: You decide. As this ride is largely a chance to get out and camp, I'd suggest at least 2 nights, at 2 different lakes. Perhaps Gosling Lake Rec on day 1, and Morton Lake Provincial Park on Day 2. Morton Park involves an 8km side trip north of Menzies Main (sweet little ride on a more basic road), coming back the same stretch the next morning. The overall ride in the map below is only ~88 kms distance. You can just as easily just do an overnighter, or spend a week, choosing a different camp each night.
I expect there may be those coming up to Campbell River from Courtenay, ~50kms to the south. It would still be a manageable day to ride up to Campbell River along the coastal highway in the morning, and then ride out to Loveland Bay or Gosling Lake that afternoon.
Difficulty: Moderate. This gets into the backwoods, but on maintained routes regularly used by the public, unless you seek out some smaller tracks and lakes. You may meet an occasional logging truck. If it's dry, hot summer weather, it could get dusty. There's some modest elevation gain, but this is not a hard ride.
Some interesting side trip options.
From Fry Lake at the SW corner of this ride, you can go south through a ~6km forested connector (cool ride) to Strathcona Dam Rec Camp (great fav site) and then connect up with Highway 28 to Strathcona Park & Gold River, or head back to Campbell River on Elk Main.
From south Brewster Lake, one can head north to Sayward on Memekay Main. Check out the Lower North Criss-Cross fav backroads ride. Also from south Brewster Lake, you can head further west to several Rec camps along Patterson Lake, or even small, remote Jessie Lake.
From northern lakes in this hinterland, such as Blackwater or Twin Lakes, you can continue north to cross the North Island Highway. You'll be near Roberts Lake and another fine favourite backroads riding hinterland to the NE.
Beach at Brewster Lake Rec Camp, a larger, more developed, popular site, particularly for families and those interested in boating & swimming. In season, they have a host and generally fill up. A great option to relax, along the SE shores of Brewster Lake.
Choosing a route and campsites here is tough as there are so many possibilities. I chose the basics, heading out west along the north shores of Campbell Lake, then back east along Menzies Main, reaching the North Island Highway about 15 kms north of Campbell River. Menzies Main could have logging activity, but is a wide, well-maintained dirt track, used regularly by the public. In the maps below, you can see many other lakes & backroads & campgrounds - check some out if you have the time.
You'll see a few areas, particularly along John Hart, Campbell & Upper Campbell Lakes, where the shorelines look like fields of tree stumps. Campbell River gets its electricity and water from a big, multi-dam project that created or enlarged these lakes, and can result in significant water level changes. The stumps resulted as all the trees in areas to be flooded were cut back to try and minimize danger to future boat travel. Many of the backwoods roads and Rec sites were built in those earlier years. You may meet folks who have been coming to these lakes from all over the world, for years and years.
Looking north up Gosling Lake from the Rec Camp. See canoeists, middle right - who I'd just had coffee with. There's a 2.5km vehicle track into S Gosling Lake Rec from the SE. However, I suggest you come in from the south. There's a road off Campbell Lake Main you follow several hundred metres, then branch NE onto a ~1/2 km canoe portage track - a fun way to get into this nice little (basic) Rec site.
Here's the elevation / distance view:
The elevation scale along the left goes up to 350m, but the ride elevation tops out ~275m, so there's some gradual climbing here, and a few nice descents, but no killer hills. The 2 markers are for the 2 suggested camping options (though you have lots more excellent choices). Morton Lake Park entails an 8km ride in from Menzies Main (a little rougher track than the rest of the ride), and then back the next morning.
Here's the distance & direction guide. Unless you're planning a ride, you'll likely want to skip this section, or risk getting put to sleep.
This ride starts and finishes in Campbell River. The initial stretch heading west north of John Hart Lake is a little complex as the usual route is closed while work is done on one of the dams. Several kms west of the start of Hwy 28 (which goes west to Gold River), about a half km before you reach Elk Falls Provincial Park Campground (on the left), you'll see a bridge to the right over the Campbell River - take this and continue on the dirt road up the hill for about 3/4km, then turn left. Continue 3+kms, past a greenhouse farm on your left, then turn left (SW) onto Snowden Rd for 1.5 kms, then turn right on Loveland Bay Road. You should see mileage signs for Loveland Bay Park.
Follow for 10+ more kms, past the turnoff to Big Bay. You'll reach the junction into Loveland Bay Park (acute left) or a simple left onto Lower Campbell Lake Main, which you'll take. See notes with the above pic if you want to stop at Gosling Lake Rec for the night. Or, ~17kms further west, at NW end of Fry Lake, you'll reach a junction with Gray Lake Main (to the north) and Greenstone Road (Strathcona Dam) to the south. Turn right and 6kms along, past Gray Lake, you'll reach a bridge over south Brewster Lake. Continue straight along the east shores, now on Menzies Main, for 2kms to the triangle junction with Long Lake Main, heading north. Stay on Menzies heading east for ~6kms to the junction north to Morton Lake Provincial Park. I suggest Morton Lake as a night 2 camping spot, 8 kms up the east shores of Mohun Lake, but you might choose to just pass straight by, and ride the final 10 kms of backroads to the North Island Highway. Then a final 14+kms south to Campbell River.
NW Campbell River, a few kms along Hwy 28, which heads to Gold River, a short distance before you reach Elk Falls Provincial Park. You'll see this little bridge going up to the right/north. There are often vehicles about for hikers. This is one of several routes into the lakes and backroads, sometimes known as the Loveland Bay route.