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Gold River Tahsis

A favourite backroads ride


That's a first impression from this ride. The coastal mountains rise steep from the shores, river valleys are steep, streams, rivulets and waterfalls tumble down steep slopes, and the road is real steep in places - extended stretches up to 15%, with one stretch up to 18% grade.

But it's also grand territory and fine riding. Some highlights:

  • Surprising Cougar Creek Rec Camp (a favourite campground) along scenic Tlupana Inlet

  • Tough climb up to Bull Lake Summit (~600m). To compensate, a leading candidate for best end of ride descent, coming east down from the summit back to Gold River

  • Long stretches riding alongside a succession of fiercely tumbling rivers - Tupana, Tlupana, Conuma, Sucwoa, Perry


For more info on riding out to Gold River, check out the Strathcona Park (& west to Gold River) favourite ride.

Road to Tahsis along Tupana River | bikepacking Gold River to Tahsis | cycle touring Vancouver Island

The Tupana River, as one climbs west from Gold River up to Bull Lake Summit

Days for Ride:  I did this ride over 3 days and 2 nights. It could readily be done as an overnighter if one left out the side trip down the Tlupana Inlet to Cougar Creek Rec Camp (a very worthwhile side trip).  The overall distance starting and finishing in Gold River was 170kms, of which 30 kms was the side trip south to Cougar Creek Camp, so ~140kms round trip to Tahsis.


Difficulty:   Medium. I'd guess that roughly a little under half the ride from Gold River to Tahsis is on old, pot-holed paved road. The other half is dirt track, muddy in spots (I had poor weather). The side trip south down Tlupana Inlet is a rougher dirt track, and one must be ready for trucks heading to the seaside log sort. 

From Gold River, one can easily reach Tahsis by simply following the signs. There's off and on public traffic, including non 4 wheel drive cars. The medium difficulty rating here is largely due to the steep, high grade riding stretches, and the fact you should expect to meet truck traffic. I mentioned mud - this usually means that in a hot, dry summer stretch, there might dust issues. I did my ride at the end of April, and encountered snow atop Bull Lake Summit (it had been an ornery winter). 

Three Sisters waterfalls, about 20kms south of Tahsis. There were countless furious creeks and waterfalls tumbling down beside the road along the way.

Three Sisters waterfalls | Gold River Tahsis Road | cycle touring Vancouver Island

There are interesting side trip options.  

  • Gold River offers a number of options, including north past Muchalat Lake, then heading along the White River to Sayward, or further north on Nimpkish Main to Woss (see Lower North Criss-Cross fav ride)

  • It's possible to head south from Cougar Creek Rec Camp another 11 kms to the end of the road at Tuta Bay Marina & Campground. I have been told it is nice (the riding no doubt is great), although not as nice as Cougar Creek, a favourite camp.

  • See Strathcona & West to Gold River fav ride, which has some ideas on places to check out on your ride west from Campbell River

  • As the crow flies, it's less than 20kms from Tahsis to Zeballos. I tried to piece together a possible backroads route, but, after  chatting with locals, concluded this is NOT currently possible (bridge gone & completely overgrown). However:

    • I've been told by a few folks that in 2019 there is a commitment with funding to start to build a "groomed trail" between Tahsis and Zeballos​. 

    • If the connection can be made (riding & hauling?), one could ride a fantastic loop: Tahsis to Zeballos to Woss to Gold River (Muchalat Lake) then Tahsis.

Malaspina Lake informal Camp | bikepacking to Tahsis | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Malaspina Lake Camp, about 10kms south of Tahsis. There's a 1/2kms track around to this south end of the lake, a beautiful little spot, though perhaps exposed in a storm. This is a height of land, so whichever way you're heading, you'll start the morning with a fine descent. 

Both Gold River & Tahsis Tahsis are located within the traditional territory of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, whose people have lived here and in Nootka Sound for over two thousand years.

Gold River, with a population of over 1,300, is located just past the west boundary of Strathcona Park, at the end of Hwy 28, 89km from Campbell River. Gold River was named by the Spaniards in the 1700s.  Built in 1965 to service a community dependent on a newly built pulp mill, Gold River was the first town in Canada to have all underground wiring. When the pulp mill closed in 1998, the community’s focus turned to rebuilding and attracting more tourists to this recreational area. It's been a struggle, and last year the only major grocery store in town closed.  I camped in the fine municipal campground about 5kms south of town along the river, as it heads towards Muchalat Inlet. Or, check out Muchalat Lake Rec Campground, a favourite campground, 16 kms to the north along the backroad to Sayward or Woss.

Arriving in Gold River from the east. Just after this info kiosk, there's a road branching right to Tahsis and Muchalat Lake. Up the hill behind is a pub where I had a decent dinner. To the left is the commercial area, and beyond, the road to the town campground and Muchalat Inlet.

Reaching Gold River on Hwy 28 | cycle touring Vancouver Island

By local accounts, smaller (population ~300), more remote Tahsis is having a tougher go of things since its mill closed down. As with Gold River, forestry remains the local economic base, but the employment generated is just not enough. They are striving to reinvent themselves as an ecotourism destination with outdoor recreation, stunning coastal scenery and a walkable village.

There's a fine village campground, Leiner River Rec Camp, just a couple of kms before Tahsis, where I camped just back from the river.

Majestic Tlupana Inlet, from the rugged eastern shores. On my way to Cougar Creek Rec Camp (a Fav camp)

riding shores of Tlupana Inlet | Cougar Creek Rec Camp | bikepacking from Gold River

Here's the elevation / distance view:

You can see below that one starts with a good climb up to Bull Lake Summit (~600m). There's some real steep stretches on the dirt track. Then one follows the Uplana and Conuma Rivers down to the north shores of Tuplana Inlet at just past km40. Then climbing again, alongside the Sucwoa River to Malaspina Lake (~240m). Then it's downhill to Tahsis at the head of the Tahsis Inlet.

On the return trip, you'll see the Cougar Creek side trip down the eastern shores of the Tlupana Inlet - a 30kms round trip. There's a good descent following the Tlupana River down to the seaside for ~10kms (and a less pleasant climb back up).

Fav ride Distance / elevation chart | Gold River to Tahsis | bikepacking Vancouver Island

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.

The ride starts and finishes in Gold River's store area. One heads north for a few kms before crossing a bridge over the Gold River where it is joined by the Upana River. The junction goes north to Muchalat Lake or west to Tahsis (our route), following Head Bay Road (aka Tree to Sea Drive). The 65kms route to Tahsis is very well signed, but let me call out some mileage markers.  

Around 17kms further climbing alongside the Upana River gets one up to the summit (~600m) at Bull Lake. Then a swift descent, following, first, the Uplana, then the Conuma Rivers to the north head of the Uplana Inlet. After ~3kms, you find yourself on pavement - intermittent for the rest of there way to Tahsis. 7.5kms past the summit you'll reach the turnoff south down the eastern shores of the Uplana Inlet, which we ride on the return trip. From this junction, it's another 11kms to the signed access track to Conuma Rec Area on the south of the road. This is ~1/2km before a Fisheries facility. Then ~2kms to the north end of Uplana Inlet, and ~5kms to the NW corner of the Inlet where you'll start to climb up alongside the Sucwoa River. In under 9kms you'll reach Malaspina Lake, a height of land at ~240m (the access track to camp around the lake is about 1/2 km before you reach the lake). Then you follow the Perry River down (nice descent)~9kms to where it flows into the Leiner River. Just past there is Leiner River Rec Campground (good spot to camp). Another 2kms and you'll reach the seaside near the end of the Tahsis Inlet. 1+kms will get you through the old mill part of town to the bridge over the Tahsis River. The town stretches a little up the hill for a km or so down the west shores on the inlet.

On the way back, I headed down Tlupana Main (called Galiano Main on some maps) down the eastern shores of the Tlupana Inlet for 15 kms to Cougar Creek Rec Camp (a favourite campground, well worth the visit).  For the first 10kms it's mostly a descent along the Uplana River to a seaside log sort. There's truck traffic to the log sort and the road was muddy (dusty in summer, no doubt). Then a further 5 kms of hilly, windy dirt track to the campground. Great riding. Needless to say, it's harder on the way back to the main road.

Below the route map is another map that better situates Gold River and Tahsis within the wider Island region. 

Route Map: Gold River to Tahsis

with side trip down the Uplana Inlet

Fav ride route map | bikepacking Gold River to Tahsis | cycle touring Vancouver Island
Wider Area Map Showing Campbell River to Tahsis Region
Fav ride area map | Campbell River, Strathcona Park, Gold River & Tahsis | cycle touring Vancouver Island
Tahsis village | bikepacking Gold River to Tahsis | cycle touring Vancouver Island

This is at the end of Tahsis Inlet, just before the bridge over the Tahsis River. This is the area where the old mill was. Most of the newer town is along the western shores of the inlet after the bridge. The old port is mostly deserted today.

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