Horne Lake Port Alberni Wheel

A favourite backroads ride

Horne Lake is a popular recreation destination about 7kms inland from the east coast of central Vancouver Island.  

For cycle tourists, a regional campground (3 clustered camps, actually) along the west end of Horne Lake is a fine destination accessible for all - a recommended overnighter from Nanaimo or Courtenay, or stop along the way on longer rides.

 

The west end of Horne Lake is also a surprising backroads riding and connections hub. This Fav ride details a bunch of connecting routes, mostly to Port Alberni. With multiple options, I've packaged things for this page a little differently. There's no "one long track": rather, check the map below, showing the different routes, with links below to more info on each option. 

I call this ride the "Wheel" as west Horne Lake is like a hub, with connecting spokes spinning out to the east, south, SW, west and north, with lots of remote and tough central Island backroads riding.

JUNE 2018 UPDATE: I've just added a local content page to ride the backroads south from Courtenay all the way to Horne Lake, through the rarely visited hinterlands inland from the popular east coast, yet still east of the central Island Beaufort Range. See also more detailed thumbnail link further down the page.

Camping at the west end of Horne Lake. A popular place with 3 neighbouring camping areas. Good, treed sites, with basic services (potable water at the main camp area). $25/night in season along the waterfront. An issue is swimmers' itch: they say it comes from water fowl, picked up from water grasses along the shores. Swimming off docks or boats is not a problem.

Horne Lake has a curving east/west orientation, and it's about 8 kms riding the main north shore road from east to west. This last stretch in from the coast is a well maintained dirt track, manageable by all touring bikes (can get a little dusty in hot, dry summer).

Highlights of this ride:

  • camping at the regional park at W Horne Lake (note comments beside above pic about swimmers' itch)

  • chance to visit famous Horne Lake Caves, reached through the west end of the lake. Well worth the visit. Check out the link here

  • there are 5 backroads "spokes" fanning out from the west end of Horne Lake: all get into some rough and remote backroads riding

  • see pic below. Several routes give you fantastic views from north above Port Alberni 

  • Informal pullout camping options along the Qualicum River north of W Horne Lake.

This pic is from the "Beaufort Range" option from Horne Lake out to Beaver Creek Road NW from Port Alberni. We're about 400m up here, overlooking Port Alberni and the Alberni Inlet in behind. The descent gets a little hairy in places.

Bikepacking Port Alberni | bikepacking Horne Lake to Port Alberni

Days for Ride:  

If we assume a start from either Courtenay to the north or Nanaimo to the south, then this ride can pass through Horne Lake and down to Port Alberni via Lacy Lake in one long hard day. But you'd miss the chance for some camping on Horne Lake or the Qualicum River. Try to plan for at least one night somewhere near west Horne Lake before tackling the connection to Port Alberni the next morning. 

If you are coming north from Port Alberni, some of the connecting options get REAL hard and steep, involving long stretches of hard pushing. The easiest route options would be to ride the highway east from Port Alberni up to the top of "the Hump" (400m), then branch north off-highway via Loon Lake Main.

 

Difficulty:  Medium. 

There are some real hard stretches on some of the routes, with a need to push/haul things. The connection south from SW Horne Lake gets remote with a real rough stretch. Coming down to Beaver Creek Rd via Beaufort Range includes a km or 2 of rough going.

Cycle touring Horne Lake | bikepacking Horne Lake

This pic is from the ride along the less travelled south shores of Horne Lake, looking north across the lake. After the last stretch of cottages, there's a fine long ride on a basic little road, one of the most enjoyable riding stretches of this Fav Ride (then things get a little rough as you reach the SW corner and start to climb).

There are great side trip options.  Here's a few.

  • From Port Alberni, options are endless. I'll just call out the Beaufort Range connecting option, that comes down to Beaver Creek Road, a half dozen (paved) kms NW of Port Alberni, near Stamp River Falls, an Honourble Mention Fav Campground. This is the start of the direct route for the amazing Fav Backroads Ride north to Courtenay. See pic following from SW corner of Comox Lake.

  • Several connecting routes to Port Alberni go past Loon Lake, atop "the Hump", just east of Port Alberni along the north side of the highway. The south side of the highway will get you onto Cameron River backroads network, tough climbing up into the high lakes around Mounts Arrowsmith & Moriarty (see Labour Day Lake ride). 

  • Horne Lake is only ~8kms east off the Coastal Island Highway. So a visit to the camping area, and maybe some backroads exploring, is easy to fit in as you are heading up or down the Island (or perhaps doing the Van Isle Sunshine Coast loop). 

SW Comox Lake, heading home into Courtenay, after a tough backroads ride north from Port Alberni, starting out along the direct route via Beaver Creek Road NW from Port Alberni. I sometimes do these 2 together as a loop so I don't have to retrace my steps. There's a grand hinterlands NW of Port Alberni, with lots of options to explore.

bikepacking Museum Main to Bamfield Highway | from Upper Nitinat River Valley | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Elevation / distance view:

The elevation view below is ONLY for the short access ride into west Horne Lake from the coastal highway to the east. There are additional distance / elevation views below the map following, for each of the other connecting route options.

Pay attention to the elevation and distance along the axes for the different views, as they are not always comparable. Below, the elevation along the left axis only rises to 200m, and you can see it does this over several kms once you branch east off the coastal highway. So - a steady climb, but nothing dramatic. You cross the big Island Hwy after ~3kms, and reach Horne Lake after ~8kms. There's a few little rises along the north shores. You'll be on a well maintained dirt road for the last 10k or so.

It's ~58km north from Nanaimo (Departure Bay Ferry) to Horne Lake Road, west off the coastal highway. Or, ~55kms south from Comox ferry terminal outside Courtenay.

 

Main camping area at west Horne Lake (~1km before the Caves HQ). You'll reach here first if you ride in the standard route along the north shores, and it's the largest of the 3 neighbouring camping areas. You can also get rentals (kayaks, paddle boards), potable water and ice cream (!) here.

For the distance & direction guide, I've put the directions after the maps following, with sections for each of the connecting routes you see in the map spinning off from west Horne Lake (except for the standard access route, which is above).

 

The first map shows the wider area, and the second zooms in and gives detail on the connecting "spokes" of this ride.
 

Map1: Horne Lake Wheel Area Map
Map2: Zoom into W Horne Lake Connecting "spokes"

Here's a list of the connecting segments in the above map. There are sections for each following (or you can click on a link in the list to jump straight to a section):

  1. Standard Access (to west Horne Lake; with elevation map above).

  2. Cook Horne Bowser FSR north access (backroads route to W Horne Lake from north)

  3. Lacy Lake & powerline down (reaches Port Alberni behind north Walmart & Starbucks)

  4. West Horne - Loon Lake (south to top of "Hump" along Hwy, east of Port Alberni)

  5. Beaufort Range - Beaver Creek Road (6kms NW of Port Alberni; start of direct route north to Courtenay)

  6. Horne Lake south - Loon Lake (south to top of "Hump" along highway east of Port Alberni)

Here's some guidelines for choosing a connection option:

  • the fastest route into Port Alberni is via Lacy Lake and down the powerline track. The Beaufort Range route is almost as quick  although you end up a little NW of town

  • the West Horne Loon Lake option could also connect through Lacy Lake, but it's an SOB of a climb up from west Horne Lake 

  • The saner route options for going south to north are the ones via the "Hump" and Loon Lake (you get to do most of your climbing on the paved highway shoulder)

  • South Horne Lake has some fine riding, and heads into the area with the most logging activity (at least during my May 2018 ride)

Bikepacking Cook Horne Bowser FSR |  bikepacking Horne Lake

Cook Horner FSR (aka Cook Horne Bowser FSR), accessible off both the old coastal highway, as well as the big Inland Highway. This is a sure thing, assuming the snows have melted above 400m, with no need to ford Rosewall Creek. For most of this route in to west Horne Lake, the road is well maiintained and good riding. A few mean stretches (short, 18 degree hills).  

 

2. Cook Horne Bowser North Route

This is an excellent backroads riding option if you have the time to take a little longer (and higher) route in to west Horne Lake. For the most part the road is well maintained. You might meet logging operations (I have not, on 2 rides). As the elevation goes up to 450m, higher stretches could be snowed under until late April or May.

In the map above you can see a couple of options at the north of this northern access route, separated by Rosewall Creek Decom Bridge. The more northern option is usually not viable as one must ford Rosewall Creek (in truth, a river). The north track is included as some backroads riders like to choose routes that avoid the highways. Cook Horne Bowser FSR, which I rode for this route, is south of Rosewall Creek. In the elevation chart below, you'll see a divot just before km16 where I descended down to the torn out old bridge to check things out - it was mid-May and the creek was still too high to ford (which is usually possible to do in latter summer). If you want more info on the north route, email me.

Cook Horne FSR (aka Cook Crk Horne Bowser FSR) turns west off the old highway ~12kms south of Buckley Bay ferry terminal (to Denman). It's well signed as it's also an on/off road for the big inland Highway which you reach after ~2kms. Once you cross the highway and start to climb it turns into a well maintained dirt track (see pic above). Almost immediately, it hooks left/south, and then does a lot of winding. Follow for 13kms from the big highway then keep a sharp eye out for the track descending down to Rosewall Creek to the north (if you want to check it out or try to cross). You'll follow the south of Rosewall for the next 3.5kms. Then, a sharp left up to 450m, heading SE for the final 13 kms. There's a long sweet descent roughly following the Qualicum River. Just before you reach west Horne, there are a number of informal riverside pullout camps - cleared areas with fire pits. The route finishes at the Park HQ for the caves. From there, it's 1km east to the main camp, or 1km south on a small (signed) track to the other 2 SW Horne camping areas.

Powerline track down to Port Alberni via Lacy Lake route from West Horne Lake. This would be a real tough go if you tried climbing south to north. This is the most direct route to Port Alberni from West Horne, and you'll enter Port Alberni in the Cherry Creek area, the newer NW part of town, with malls and food / coffee options.

 

3. Lacy Lake & Powerline Down Route

This is the original route I found years past. We start from the HQ building for the Park & Caves, 1km west from the main camping area, and where a track branches south to the other 2 camping areas. Head NW 1.5kms along Cook Horne Bowser FSR to a junction west with a bridge over the Qualicum River. Take this, and you'll start to climb.

After a bit, things will open up from past logging and you'll angle SE. At 4kms from the junction you'll see small Esary Lake down below to the west. Keep going another 2.5kms and you'll come to a gate ahead (the road angles west). Further ahead you'll see the hydro powerline coming from the NE. If you go around this gate you'll shortly reach Lacy Lake. As you see on the elevation chart below, we're up over 400m here, so this can get snowed in. From the NW corner of Lacy Lake, there's a track below the powerline just back from the lakeside which heads NE and can connect you (after a tough 1km) to route option 4 up from West Horne Lake. Or keep going to the lake. Along the west shore there's a rough little track down to the south end. I've camped at the clearing at the south of Lacy Lake in the past when I got caught late. This is a water source lake for Port Alberni, so be mindful. From the south, you'll see a rough old track. I believe this goes down to north Port Alberni, though I have not yet tried it. 

Backtrack to the gate leading into Lacy Lake. Follow your road right and after 50 or so metres, you'll see a steep track heading up south. Follow it up the rise (some pushing), and from here you'll see the track that follows the powerline SW down (see pic above). At the top, do not take the track directly under the line, but, rather, the 'other/better track' that switchbacks around the powerline.

At the bottom of the powerline, you'll come into the informal Port Alberni Motocross park. If you angle to the west/right you'll get to a gate near a farm and Milligan Road. Follow Milligan west for 1+kms, then turn left/south onto Cherry Creek Road for 2+kms south to the Port Alberni Highway, just south of some malls.

West Horne Lake, seen from up above to the south. This would have been along route #4, up from the camps along west Horne Lake to Loon Lake.  As you can see, it's a climb up. I can't see the powerline down from here (after coming up from Port Alberni, it goes down to Horne Lake), but it must be pretty close to the right.

 

4. West Horne Lake Camps to Loon Lake

Horne Lake is oriented west to east, but at the west end there is an arm that bends south. It's pretty wild, with a couple of creeks and no road connection from the west end to the south side road. As noted above, the west end of Horne Lake has a 3 part regional campground. Two of these parts are down the west side of this SW arm of the lake. 

This segment would be saner to ride from south to north due to the tough climb one sees in the pic above: that said, in keeping with the theme of west Horne Lake as a hub, we are starting from west Horne Lake.

It is just over a km south from the park HQ down the west end of the lake to the 2 smaller camping areas (about 1/4km apart). The track behind these lakeside camping areas continues south after the camps. 

1+km south of the last camp and ~250m up, your track will switchback back to the NW just before crossing a creek. After ~1.5km of climbing, it will switchback back to head south again (~300m). Keep south for over 3kms (up to ~420m) to a junction with a larger cross road that I think is a branch of the Loon Lake network (maybe LL66). You'll know the spot as you'll be under the powerline coming from the NE. If you kept going straight on the rough track under the powerline, you'd reach north Lacy Lake in about 600m. From there you could follow the powerline down to Port Alberni (see Lacy Lake Powerline route above). However, we are heading to Loon Lake, so we'll turn left/SE onto the larger logging track, and follow it SE, looping east, then south for 4+kms to the junction with Loon Lake Main coming from the east. You can see below that we are getting up near 500m elevation around here. We'll keep heading south, now on Loon Lake Main which bends south at the junction, for ~7 kms, past many smaller branch intersections, until we reach old train tracks, and shortly after, paved Hwy 4 to Port Alberni. You'll be atop "the Hump", 400m up. This is where the elevation chart below ends. A 1/2km before the highway, you'll also see a track off to the east, which goes 1/4k to Loon Lake, which has a decent little Rec Camp along the lake shores (though a party site in season). 

If you're heading to Port Alberni, you can now bomb down the shoulder for 4-5kms (yipppeee!). Or head back to the east coast of Vancouver Island (Parksville or Qualicum).

A rough stretch coming down the Beaufort Range track. Looks like it may have seen better days. Somewhat miraculously, particularly as my planned route did not work out, this got me exactly where I hoped to go - in behind Beaver Creek Road NW of Port Alberni, with paved road access.

 

5. Beaufort Range to Beaver Creek

This is a favourite new option and a fun ride. It didn't work out as expected but got me where I wanted. I'm going to cheat a little with this route description by starting at the gate just outside/north of Lacy Lake. To see again how to get here, check out the start of the Lacy Lake Powerline route above. 

Beaufort Range here doesn't mean the mountain range. My Backroads Mapbook calls a track/route we follow here in places "Beaufort Range".  

This time, we'll keep heading right along the road from Horne Lake that continues west north of Lacy Lake. After ~2.3kms you'll reach a Y junction. As you can see below, we're up over 450m here. Beaufort Range continues to climb to the right, and I initially followed this until a deadend. For the left option which descends, there's a sign for McLean Main as well as HLN100-97 (a branch off Horne Lake North). So I tried this left option, which was not on any of my maps. It's a steady descent for almost 3.5kms on a well maintained track. You'll see a rough track off down to the left. This seemed like a continuation of the Beaufort Range route that was on my map, so I took it. Down SE about 1/2k where you'll cross the old railway tracks, then it angles sharply west to continue the descent for close to another 1/2k. Here things get really rough (see pic above). One reaches the Log Train Trail, a fine well groomed trail that goes all the way into Port Alberni. 

Just across the the Log Train Trail, you'll see a dirt track heading SW. It seems this is the east end of Smith Road. Follow it for over a km and you'll reach the backside of the grounds of fantastic McLean Mill, an historical site (well worth visiting). From the other side of the McLean Mill grounds, continue on Smith Rd (now paved) SW for another almost 3kms and you'll reach Beaver Creek Road. Left/ SE will take you back into Port Alberni (~6kms). Or, 6kms right/NW will take you out to Stamp River Falls Park (an honourable mention Fav Campground). This is also the start of the most direct route for the Fav backroads ride north to Courtenay

 

LATER ADD-ON PIC: I was intrigued when the Beaufort Range route down took me through historical Mclean Mill. I took my parents to visit. Bottom left: we took the old classic train from downtown Port Alberni, with Port Alberni residents waving at every crossing as we passed. Top left is the main old mill, restored inside to match the original design and equipment. Top right, a pic inside the old blacksmith's shop. Bottom right is outside the little cafe and gift shop. There's a fine new campground, which looked like a place I'm definitely going to check out. The campground fee also gets you in to the historical sites.

The rough track from the far west corner of the south route from Horne Lake. In another km or so, this will climb to reach a currently active logging road, LL88 (Loon Lake, 8.8 kms from the Main, I was told by some helpful truck drivers who helped me when I got a little lost).

 

6. Horne Lake South to Loon Lake

We talked above about the south bending arm at the west end of Horne Lake, and the fact there is rough terrain and no road connection around this arm. This route option follows the south side of the lake almost to the very SW, and then climbs up to the south to reach Loon Lake.  I had never ridden the south of the lake and it is a fine ride with little traffic and some beautiful cottage/home properties (most of which look new and expensive).

We start just east of the east end of Horne Lake where there is a junction along Horne Lake Road. The main route continues along the north, but we'll turn left SE back onto Marshland Road. After ~1km, we'll turn a sharp right onto South Lake Road and follow it along the south of the lake for 6kms to just before the road ends, where we'll see a strata corp gate for a small track up to the left (with a quad workaround ahead to the right). Take this left (you have no choice), and follow the basic little track for almost 5kms (some great riding - I saw no traffic or cottages). You'll now be heading down the east side of the arm that bends to the south at the west end of Horne Lake. Your road will have been getting smaller and smaller (almost a trail) and you'll reach a small creek where the bridge seems washed away, and there's a rough stretch to climb on the other side. In a hundred metres or so, you'll reach an old road so things improve. Go right towards the lake then you'll angle south for almost a km and you'll intersect LL88 (Loon Lake 88, with sign!). Go left. I initially tried going right where my map showed a possible route, but hit a deadend (#$!#).

You'll head south on LL88. After 4kms and a climb up above 440m, you'll reach a junction with Loon Lake Main (yahoo). Go right/west, and follow for 2+kms to the junction with LL66 coming south from the north. This connects with the route that Option 4. West Horne Lake Camps to Loon Lake followed. We'll keep heading south, now on Loon Lake Main which bends south at the junction, for ~7 kms, past many smaller branch intersections, until we reach old train tracks, and shortly after, paved Hwy 4 to Port Alberni. You'll be atop "the Hump", 400m up. This is where the elevation chart below ends up. A 1/2km before the highway, you'll also see a track off to the east, which goes 1/4k to Loon Lake, which has a decent little Rec Camp along the lake shores (though a party site in season). 

If you're heading to Port Alberni, you can now bomb down the shoulder for 4-5kms (yipppeee!). Or head back to the east coast of Vancouver Island (Parksville or Qualicum).

The powerline is a reference point for a number of these Horne Lake connections. This shows the north end of Lacy Lake, looking NE. Note the little track up to the left of the lakeside (centre left). If you followed this, you'd connect with the track coming up via segment #4 - West Horne Lake Camps, to Loon Lake. If you were to head SW under the powerline (behind direction of pic), the track would shortly head down to Port Alberni.

 

Check this page out for local info on getting off the highways south of Courtenay (though this is not really a backroads riding page)

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.

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Caution - Safety First:

This website does not encourage anyone to undertake activities in the backwoods without considering fully issues of safety, access and readiness. There are no guarantees with any information provided in this website.  Please read  the FAQs, research further as appropriate, and use your judgement at all times