Tsable Comox Lakes Loop

A favourite backroads ride

This ride starts in Courtenay (my backyard), heading ~8kms SW to the companion village of Cumberland (a mountain biking hub) and then west into the backroads. Day1 is a climb, a thousand metres up into the Beaufort Range to camp along the shores of remote (and hard to get into) Tsable Lake. Next day is a steep descent down an old switchback track, too rough to ride most of the way, to the SE shores of Comox Lake. One can then ride to nearby Willemar Lake for another night's camping, or head back to Courtenay by the tough, hilly west & north shores of Comox Lake.  

Some highlights:

  • Tough 1,000m climb up the backroads into the Beaufort Range

  • Gorgeous high altitude camping, after choosing your spot anywhere along the shores of Tsable Lake

  • Successfully making the connection down to SE Comox Lake via a rough old decommissioned switchback track (some thanks, no doubt, to the quad community)

  • Workout riding the hilly west & north shores of Comox Lake back to Courtenay

This ride also has the advantage of serving as an alternate route from the Comox Valley down to the south end of Comox Lake. This can be useful as sometimes there is a closed logging gate for those heading south at the NE of Comox Lake. Note though that this ride is high enough that for over half the year it is blocked by snows.

JUNE 2018 UPDATE: If you like climbing up into the high Beaufort Range, take a look at this Honourable Mention Fav Backroads ride up to Poum Lake, not too far SE of Tsable Lake. It's reached via the Buckley Bay Main network, climbing up from the east coast.

At the rough pullout camp along Cleo Lake, around 550m up into the Beaufort Range, along the route to Tsable Lake. It was late April, and the lake still froze over during the night. A buddy shared a waypoint with me that calls this Davis Lake, but I think it's Cleo Lake, according to my map.

Some highlights:

  • Tough 1,000m climb up the backroads into the Beaufort Range

  • Gorgeous high altitude camping, after choosing your spot anywhere along the shores of Tsable Lake

  • Successfully making the connection down to SE Comox Lake via a rough old decommissioned switchback track (some thanks, no doubt, to the quad community)

  • Workout riding the hilly west & north shores of Comox Lake back to Courtenay

camping shores of Tsable Lake | bikepacking Beaufort Range, west from Courtenay | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Quiet night camping along the deserted shores of Tsable Lake. I had to lock my bike up above and haul gear a few hundred metres down a steep rough trail to the lakeside. Well worth the effort. JUNE 2018 CAUTION: a friend had his bike stolen from up near here. If you leave your bike, make sure it is locked & hidden.

Days for Ride:  The basic ride is an overnighter, although I recommend taking a second night to camp at nearby Willemar Lake (which I've kept as part of the route map). The ride itself is only 94 km. If we take out the 8km side trip (16km down & back) to camp at the SW end of WIllemar Lake, it's only 78km. But there's slow going getting into Tsable Lake & down to Comox Lake.  

 

Difficulty:   Experienced. The climb up to Tsable Lake is tough. Getting into Tsable Lake involved hauling gear several hundred metres down a steep, rough access path. Camping is informal around the lakeside shore. This is not so far from civilization but feels real remote. One can meet logging and gates on the Cumberland (Trent River Main) side as well as the Comox Lake perimeter ride. Dust can be an issue (bring a dust mask in dry summer). The descent from the Beaufort Range down to SW Comox Lake is rough and rugged, but well worthwhile (not a vehicle track, though a determined quad rider might make it down). 

Switchback descent down from near Tsable Lake to SE Comox Lake.  Major stretches were too steep for me to ride, but there were no major blockages (a couple of quad workarounds).  

Decommissioned track rough descent | Tsable Lake to Comox Lake | bikepacking west from Courtenay

There are interesting side trip options.  

  • A big option is to head south towards Port Alberni (day's ride) from South Comox Lake. You could continue south from Willemar Lake to Nimnim Lake & the Oshinow Loop ride. 

  • W / SW of Cumberland, a mountain biking hub, on your way up to Tsable Lake, there's a real hinterland of backroads and lakes and camping options (e.g. Davis Lake, Hamilton Lake). For those more technically inclined, there's lots of mountain biking trails. 

  • There are also options up off the west and north shores of Comox Lake as you make your way around. I've been a few kms up Cruikshank Main, following the real scenic river north to an informal river pullout campsite. Cruikshank Main, though, continues far up beyond, to the borders of Strathcona Park. And, north of NE Comox Lake is the extensive Forbidden Plateau riding area, criss-crossed with old roads and mountain biking trails.  

Valley Link Highway | Toma Main south from Comox Lake | bikepacking Courtenay to Port Alberni

This photo is near where the BR43 switchback comes down to South Comox Lake from up near Tsable Lake up in the Beaufort Range. Long past, they thought to make a shorter connection to Port Alberni, & called it the 'Valley Link Highway'. There's still a couple of these signs left (here with gunshot holes). Today, the Valley Link is more commonly called Toma Main or 'Comox Lake (CL) Main'

I'd advise against trying this trip in the reverse direction. The challenge would be the steep decommissioned switchback track up from SW Comox Lake to near Tsable Lake. Further, when I last reached NE Comox Lake (near Courtenay) on my way home from Port Alberni, there was a manned gate, and I was told they were only allowing non locals through to Comox Lake on weekends (though they were fine to let me exit the backroads to continue on my way back to Courtenay). 

View east up Willemar lake from Rec camp at SW end. Excellent ride along south shore of lake, and you'll certainly have your privacy here. Note logging along north shore. There are also several, more developed Rec sites at the east end of the lake, which you will reach first as you ride in, and may prefer for your camp.

SW Willemar Lake Rec Camp | bikepacking south of Comox Lake | cycle touring Vancouver Island

Here's the elevation / distance view:

Check the left elevation axis here, which measures well over 1,000m up. See also the tough little the divot down into then up from Tsable Lake at the top. Like many high elevation lakes on Vancouver Island, Tsable Lake is a little like a crater, and this trip it involved a tough go hauling gear down to the lakeside (see pic below).  

The bracketed section is the side trip into Willemar Lake. If you want to tackle the overall ride as an overnighter, you can simply exclude this portion. Finally, note all the little bumps on the home stretch ride around Comox Lake - these are another hard go, and on most elevation charts would look more daunting (our high left side scale here keeps them looking tiny).

Distance elevation chart for Favourite backroads bike tour, bikepacking, high elevation Tsable Lake in Beaufort Range, Willemar Lake, Comox Lake, Vancouver Island, Courtenay
Tsable Lake access track | Beaufort Range west of Courtenay | bikepacking Vancouver Island

Heading down to the left here, you see the start of the overgrown track down to Tsable Lake. It soon gets much rougher, so I locked my bike to a tree near here, and hauled my gear down.

JUNE 2018 CAUTION: a friend had his bike stolen from up near here. If you leave your bike, make sure it is locked & hidden.

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 downtown Courtenay SW to Cumberland is ~ 10kms. You access the backroads south off Dunsmuir (main strip), near the junction of Sutton & Comox Lake Road. Loop south then west then south again, mostly on Trent River Main (TRM), for near 38kms before reaching up above Tsable Lake. See photo above for entrance to trail several hundred metres down to lakeside (there may be another way down, but I could not find it).  

 

Next morning, backtrack for ~2.5kms and you'll see a turnoff left/west onto BR43, which I've also seen called TRM6000 on old maps. From here it’s 7kms switchbacking down the escarpment to Toma Main just SE of Comox Lake. This track was mostly walking the bike for me, with stretches of treacherous big rocks and a few past slides or log barriers (with workarounds).

Then it’s a flat easy ~2kms to the SW corner of Comox Lake and the junction south to Willemar Lake. Then only 3 kms to the near east end of the lake, or 4+ further kms out to the remote SW camp (recommended - see pic above). If you just head back along the west & north shores of Comox Lake, it’s ~20kms to the bridge over the Puntledge River at NE Comox Lake (~1.5kms past the logging company gate that is manned most workdays). From there, it’s soon pavement, and mostly downhill, for the 8+kms back into Courtenay (mostly along Comox Logging, then Lake Trail Roads). 

Route Map: Tsable Lake Comox Lake Loop

Fav ride route map | Tsable Lake, Comox Lake, Willemar Lake | bikepacking Vancouver Island

Looking east back to Cumberland, the Comox Valley, the Georgia Strait and the BC mainland in behind. This is from ~400m up, SW of Cumberland, climbing up into the Beaufort Range. It was late April, and backroads above ~600m were still clogged by snows.

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