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Nanaimo: Mid-Island Hub

Local Bike Maps & Off-Highway Paved Route Options

Nanaimo isVancouver Island's central hub  and 2nd largest city (after Victoria). It's a common place for cycle tourists to visit, either travelling up or down the island, or arriving/departing via one of the 2 BC Ferry terminals: Departure Bay, right in town, with ferries to Horseshoe Bay in west Vancouver; or, Duke Point, south of Nanaimo, with ferries to Tsawwassen, south of Vancouver. 

The main Island highway here is generally busy - 4 lane, with big shoulders. There's actually a perimeter highway route that curves inland around Nanaimo on 'the Parkway'. Or you can choose to take the busier highway route through the city. Bear in mind that the city route is through malls and the downtown business areas: if you want to do Nanaimo justice, make sure to branch off and spend some time on the walkways along the great downtown harbour area, complete with little ferry connections to nearby islands (and some touring options).  

Here's the sections you'll find below, with links should you want to jump straight into a section:

Rotary route nanaimo
Nanaimo harbourside walkway | cycle touring Nanaimo

There's a fine harbourside walkway stretching for several kms along Nanaimo Harbour, as well as up the narrow straight looking over to Newcastle Island. This is easily accessible if you are coming off the ferry in Departure Bay.

Rotary route nanaimo

Rotary Route - Cycle Touring Nanaimo to Victoria


I found this fabulous map on the Bicycle Maps resource page of the well known Greater Nanaimo Cycling Coalition webpage. You can click on the section title above, or smaller map below to get to their actual map, which you can zoom into to check out the map details properly.

This Victoria to Nanaimo is actually a route tackled by many cycle tourists, and thus one the website had been missing. It's also a route through some of the busiest traffic on Vancouver Island, so getting off the big highway will be something some cyclists should appreciate. I've also linked this map off the Victoria and Nanaimo area pages.

If you follow the link then zoom in to the map, you'll see that their default route in purple is largely off-highway wherever possible. You'll also see some blue/green alternate routes.

The map includes a pop-up zooming into Nanaimo area south from Departure Bay ferry terminal. See also the sections below for more possibilities, as Nanaimo has lots.

Victoria Nanaimo cycling route map | Vancouver Island cycle touring routes
Nanaimo communty routes

Nanaimo Community Routes & Maps

Check out a couple of valuable websites. ​​

There are a couple of fine riding trails worth calling out if you are cycle touring through Nanaimo. Check out the links for more details and maps:

... 20+ km paved path connects south Nanaimo near Extension Road in Chase/Cedar to North Nanaimo near the ``Welcome to Nanaimo`` sign at Mary Ellen Drive... trail follows Highway #19 for much of the way. Here and there it gets into forest and parks, dips under the highway through tunnels and over via bridges. Some parks (with toilets, benches & some picnic tables) on or near the trail include Colliery Dam Park, Buttertubs Marsh, Northfield Park and Brannen Lake. 

Nanaimo cycling map | cycle touring routes Nanaimo
TCT Nanaimo

Trans Canada Trail (Great Trail) - Nanaimo south to Duncan

UPDATE: Thanks to Don of Victoria for this Nov 2021 update: Apparently the TCT south from Nanaimo to Ladysmith is not well maintained or signed, is real rough in places, and has some stretches through industrial areas. In spots, the trail is even hard to discern. Don found the ride "interesting and enjoyable", but not at all what he'd expected.  Be forewarned. 

There's work happening on this stretch of the TCT. I've not been too keen as the route has largely, to date, been simply identifying secondary roads off the highway that they are designating as part of the TCT route.  That said, 2 things:

1.  off highway alternate routes are exactly what we are all about in this section!


2.  they've been building, and have now started to open up new trail segments. The map below shows the Haslam Creek Trail, from south Nanaimo south to north of Ladysmith. They highlight that this is more a hiking and mountain biking trail, though I've heard of bikepackers doing the trail (in other words, not for most cycle tourists). Here's a PDF map of this new section. This link is to the TCT page on the new Haslam trail. You'll see some sections along the left of the page, so you can jump to other nearby TCT segments (e.g. CVT). A great advantage of this TCT site is that you can download *.GPX track files for your GPS device.

However, the work around Haslam Creek shows they are serious and making headway. I've downloaded and joined together all the TCT segments from Duncan to Nanaimo. You can see them in the map pic below. Major stretches of the off-highway route - eg via Crofton and Saltair to Ladysmith - follow the same route as the Rotary Route above.  I have not yet ridden this, and depending on the bike and gear I have, may not attempt the rougher Haslam Creek segment. I'd encourage you to check the TCT page your selves, and see what might be useful to planning off-highway routes. 

Greggs nanaimo routes

My Nanaimo Off-Highway routes

On occasion, I have wanted to get off the busy highway heading out of Nanaimo. In the north, Nanaimo to Parksville, I've explored some options and saved tracks (see following). I haven't included a longer, hillier route that tries to stick as close as possible to the seaside through north Nanaimo - it's just too complicated to explain.

I hope to add a 'south from Nanaimo' route in the future. That said, it will likely follow pretty closely the road options for the TCT route

North from Nanaimo (see map below)

The City of Nanaimo Bicycle Map (above) shows a good off-highway route to start north through Nanaimo, but it doesn't go all the way out to Lantzville.  So, from the city map, starting at Departure Bay ferry terminal:

* outside the terminal, take the right up the hill (~1km)

* keep on Departure Bay Road, which angles right above coast for ~2kms

* Departure Bay becomes Hammond Bay Rd (pretty busy artery, but with shoulders most of the way), which you'll follow north then west for almost 10kms until the junction with Uplands, where you'll turn right

Hammond Bay is a busy arterial route, though with decent space for cyclists. I have ridden this route. The bike map (above) suggests another route I have not yet tried. Rather than turn onto Hammond Bay, stay on Departure Bay Road when it angles left/inland for 2+kms to junction with Uplands Road, where you'll turn right. Then just stick on Uplands for 5+kms to the junction with Dover (past the junction with Hammond Bay), where you'll turn left.

* under a km will get you to Dover Rd where you'll turn left.  Under a km on Dover, then turn right on Dickinson Road

* follow Dickinson 2+km (near seaside), then right onto Lantzville Road

* Lantzville Road 3.5kms, then right at Y junction onto big highway

* you've now got an unavoidable 6km stretch on the highway until the junction after Nanoose Bay, with a gas station and store at the turnoff right/north.  Thankfully, this is a nice, breezy seaside stretch with big wide shoulders.

North into Parksville from the south

* the turn-off right/north after Nanoose Bay is onto Northwest Bay Road. Wonderfully it loops and winds its way, almost 10kms into the south end of the Parksville & the Old Island Highway, which branched off from the big Highway only about a km south. 

* from where you rejoin the old highway, you are about 1.5kms south of the turnoff to Rathtrevor Provincial Park (Honourable mention Fav campground -usually booked in summer). From there just keep north into Parksville town centre.

Cycle touring route map | off-highway Nanaimo to Parksville | cycle touring Nanaimo to Parksville | cycle touring central Vancouver Island
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