NE from Roberts Lake

A favourite backroads ride

Roberts Lake is ~30+kms north of Campbell River along the north Island Highway (Hwy19). Just to the NE, there's a cluster of backroads, lakes and Rec camping sites, several of them along the stunning east coast, overlooking Discovery Passage. Pye Lake alone has 5 Rec sites, Stella Lake 3, and McCreight Lake 3 or 4 (most informal sites). There's excellent riding and remote camping and great seaside views.  

Some highlights:

  • Gorgeous seaside Rec camping at Elk Bay or Little Bear Bay. Lots of fine choices for lakeside Rec camping

  • Tough, remote riding along the west shores of Pye Lake

  • Stop in for comfort food (particularly in winter) at the excellent cafe on Roberts Lake

bikepacking McCreight Lake | cycle touring Vancouver Island | north from Campbell River

Riding south on Rock Bay FSR along the east shores of McCreight lake, heading back to the highway. Gorgeous winter riding day.

Days for Ride:  The ride starts and finishes in Campbell River. There's lots of route options, but this ride branches east off the highway on West Pye Main along west shores of Pye Lake (great ride), then back to the highway along Elk Bay Main. It's possible to do this as an overnighter, perhaps camping along Stella Lake. I recommend this as a 2 night trip, so you can enjoy the sites and some fine camping. Stay the first night at tiny, beautiful West Pye Lake Rec. Then an easy riding day to visit some spots in the area before camping seaside at Little Bear Bay or Elk Bay for night 2. Overall, the ride is 141 kms, about half on the paved North Island Highway. I've shoehorned a few side trips in here, to bring attention to some worthwhile spots. You could choose to exclude these: particularly, 13 kms round trip down & back the east shores of McCreight Lake; and, separate 8 km round trips (4 kms each way) to visit Little Bear Bay & Elk Bay Rec sites.  Note there's a marine log sort just north of Elk Bay Rec Camp, so you may hear machinery during the day, and will likely encounter truck traffic unless it is the weekend. 

 

Difficulty:  Moderate. There's quite a bit of public access to this area, particularly along Elk Bay & Rock Bay Mains. So this can be a good ride for those just getting comfortable on the backroads. That said, West Pye Main is fairly remote and rough in spots. Further, in my 2 visits to this area, there has been considerable logging activity both times (which may no doubt have changed). If you visit in the dry summer, bring a dust mask. It's also a fairly hilly ride in a few spots, although elevation only goes up to just over 300m.

View west from tiny Stella Bay Rec Camp -on a gorgeous day. Just a little further along to the west is the main larger Stella Lake Rec Camp, a popular spot in season. There's a couple of more tiny camping spots along the lake.

Stella Bay Rec Camp | NE of Roberts Lake | cycle touring Vancouver Island

There are interesting side trip options.  

  • Check out the Campbell River NW Lakes ride page - the cluster of lakes actually extends north with several roads connecting to the North Highway near Roberts Lake, and this ride here! If you had the time, you could easily combine these 2 incredible backroads areas into a longer ramble.   

  • Needless to say, you're on your way north here, where rides abound. There are options around Sayward (check out the Lower North Criss-Cross) , or check out excellent Schoen Lake Provincial Park, a nice 87kms (day's ride) north, then off highway.  

  • Or, hop onto the North Island Highway .....

  • SEPTEMBER 2018 UPDATE: Coming south down Island in my car, I camped at McCreight Lake Rec. I decided to check out the rough Bear Bight backroads network I see on my map to the NW from north McCreight Lake (Pye and Stella Lakes are to the SE). I was able to get in a ways but met gates and a trench (which would not have been a problem on my bike), so was not able to get too far. I did find 2 basic tiny informal camping spots.  This area is tantalizing: I have heard one can reach the seaside and camp, so this seems to be worth a return trip.

Little Bear Bay Rec Camp | bikepacking NE of Roberts Lake | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Popular Little Bear Bay Rec Camp. Some sites are rather exposed in winter, but others have more cover. See dock across the way - that's from a fish hatchery. A river flows into the bay here, so there's fresh water close by.

Over the years, on rides like this, and farther north, I've almost always stopped at Roberts Lake cafe. There's a few rental cottages there as well. Nothing real special, just toasty warm, with comfort food. At the south end of the lake, there's a nice lakeside Rec site ~1 km off the highway via a small access track. Not sure if it gets busy in season, as it's tucked off in the corner of the lake. If I recall it's set up for day use, with picnic tables, outhouses, dock and beach access.  

Junction of Elk Bay & Rock Bay FSRs, on a cold winter's day. As you can see there's a good little hill ahead of me

Rock Bay FSR and Elk Bay FSR, Stella Lake, favourite backroads bike tour, bikepacking, north Vancouver Island, Campbell River

Here's the elevation / distance view:

This is a round trip, with some side trips (there & back). The left elevation scale is ~ 300+m, not too high, but as the ride dips down to sea level a few times, there's definitely some climbing (see above pic, coming up from Elk Bay).  

The start and finish of this ride are on the north Island Highway coming up from (then heading back to) Campbell River. You can see the good hill to start & finish below, but the climb (and return descent) are gradual, 300m over 10 kms. One turns off the highway on the way up at ~km39, into West Pye Lake, ~8kms past Roberts Lake. This is followed by a sharp climb. You'll also see several good hills after the descents to the coast at Little Bear Bay and Elk Bay.

Fav ride distance / elevation chart | bikepacking NE of Roberts Lake | cycle touring Vancouver Island
Stella Lake Rec Camp | fav bikepacking ride | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Can't resist adding this photo from popular Stella Lake Rec, taken on the beach at dusk

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.

From Campbell River it's ~32kms to Roberts Lake along the North Island Highway. Then several kms to the north of the lake, where you'll see the Elk Bay FSR junction you'll come down to rejoin the highway on the way back. The ride continues 5kms further along the highway to the junction right (north) onto Pye Lake West FSR. You could go another 3kms to larger Rock Bay FSR, and if you're planning to camp on McCreight Lake, this would make sense. But Pye West is smaller, rougher, with less traffic, and goes 5+kms to the small Rec campsite that I liked (could fill up in season), then a further 3.5kms north to Rock Bay FSR. If you want to check out McCreight Lake from this junction, the side trip is 8 kms. It's a long, windy scenic lake. The best camping option is the formal rec camp, the first you'll meet as you head south. The others are tiny, informal and basic.

 

From Pye West, heading east (right) on Rock Bay Main, it's 5+kms to the junction branching SE to Stella Lake. From here it's 4kms further to Little Bear Rec Camp along the seaside (recommended). Or, it's 3.5kms to tiny Stella Lake North Rec Camp (see pic), another 3.5kms to Stella Lake Rec Camp (nice, quite developed site, with beach - recommended), and a final ~4kms to the junction with Elk Bay FSR. From here, it's 4kms down to Elk Bay Rec. I really enjoyed this seaside camping spot, with a creek at the south end for water. There's an active seaside log sort ~1 km north, so there may be considerable truck activity along Discovery Main in behind. I arrived later in the afternoon, so did not experience this. Heading back to the highway on Elk Bay FSR from the Stella Lake junction is 11kms.  

Checking the map below, you'll note the main ride track does not go into NE Pye Lake, where there's 4 Rec camps and a blue alternate route track. There's nice riding heading in. The first, Pye Bay, is fairly large and developed, and recommended. The others are tiny.

I added a note above about a car trip scouting the Bear Bight backroads network, NW from McCreight Lake. I met gates so did not make real headway. I'm told one can reach the coast and camp, which suggests this area is worth a return visit on my bike.

Route Maps:  NE from Roberts Lake

I haven't shown the start and end of the ride, heading north (or returning) on the North Island Highway from Campbell River. It's ~32 kms from Campbell River to Roberts Lake.  

Fav ride Route map | NE of Roberts Lake | Stella Lake, Pye Lake, McCreight Lake | cycle touring Vancouver Island

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