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Quadra & Cortes Islands

Fav ride for all

I had done this ride ~20 years past. I had fond memories, so this January I headed back. I loved the ride - island ambience, ferries and excellent camping. The distances are not great, but sharp hills abound, so you'll feel you've done a tough little ride. I've included here a major side trip to north Quadra, which involves dirt logging mains, but these are regularly used by the public, and I expect most riders will choose to exclude this backroads section.  

Some highlights:

  • Island ambience - wonderfully, when I reached Cortes, I noticed that many passing vehicles (and there wasn't much traffic) were waving to me

  • Excellent camping at Smelt Bay (see honourable mention campsites) and Main Lake Park rec site (uncertain whether this is open for use in season).

  • Tough, scenic riding, mostly on paved roads (except north Quadra).

  • Indulgences along the way - coffee at Quathiaski, Heriot Bay, Squirrel Cove, Manson's Landing

Looking out over misty Main Lake from my camp at the Rec Site, at dusk on a winter's eve. The Provincial Park has 7 boat accessible camp spots (no facilities) and the Rec Site serves as a boat launch/parking spot. Not sure whether camping is still allowed in season, but there are fine tent spots and an outhouse. It was a beautiful spot.

Main Lake Provincial Park Rec Camp | Cycle touring backroads of Quadra Island | cycle touring Gulf Islands

Days for Ride: I started & finished in Campbell River at the downtown ferry terminal. The ride could be done as a worthwhile overnighter if you simply follow the connections out to Smelt Bay to camp for the night. This would be a 56km ride, round trip - not counting ferry distances: 3kms to Quadra & 12+kms from Heriot Bay to Whaletown on Cortes,  


I did it with 2 nights, including one in NE Quadra at Main Lake Provincial Park (see  photo above), and added a little side trip on Cortes out to Squirrel Cove. My overall distance was ~175kms round trip, with 145kms land riding. My trip north on Quadra, to Granite Bay then Main Lake (much of it dirt track), added 58kms. I'd been told Granite Bay was worth a visit: although the ride was OK, and the bay scenic, I think it could be ignored, unless you want a nice place for a lunch break. Heading out to Squirrel Cove, vs directly to Smelt Bay Camp, added an extra 13kms on Cortes (and a couple of tough hills).  


Difficulty:   Moderate, if we exclude dirt road portions up in north Quadra Island. Other than these stretches, the rest of the ride is all pavement.  Shoulders are limited to non-existent, but traffic is light and drivers seemed really considerate. Elevation is not high, but be preparted for some steep, sharp little climbs, particularly on Cortes. 

Quathiaski ferry terminal, Quadra Island | cycle touring Quadra Island | cycle touring Gulf Islands

Quathiaski harbour, west Quadra Island (BC Ferry jetty can just be seen at left). There's a small village with grocery store and coffee shop within a km of the docks. It's only a 3 km ferry trip back to Campbell River.  

Not much in the way of additional side trips, as the island road networks are limited:

  • I didn't do the 4km ride to Rebecca Spit, jutting south of the ferry harbour at Heriot Bay on east Quadra (my nominee for the nicest harbour). It's a park and looks incredibly scenic. 

  • Off the roads north on Quadra (Hyancinthe Bay & Granite Bay FSRs), I saw a number of Parks department maintained trailheads branching up to the NE from the road. So there's some hiking about. In Main Lakes Provincial Park, there are 7 boat-in wilderness campsites 

Passed by this colourful stump on the way out to Granite Bay. Whether these are forgotten toys or some sort of backroads shrine (I've seen a few), I've no idea, but somehow it all made sense. 

Backroads art or shrine nar Granite Bay | cycle touring backroads of Quadra Island

When I reached Cortes I started to note that most vehicles passing by waved to me. Very cool. When I asked an old timer at the Squirrel Cove store about this, his view was that this was all about money: much of Quadra, particularly the east near Campbell River, has been bought or developed by 'outside' people putting expensive homes in place (some of them jaw-dropping). For many of these newcomers, the island is just a suburb for larger Campbell River. 

Smelt Bay Provincial Campground | cycle touring Cortes Island | favourite capground

Approaching Smelt Bay Provincial Park along the SW shores of Cortes Island. The recently upgraded camping area of the park (very nice) is ~1/4kms up the hill in behind the beach.  

Here's the distance / elevation chart.  

I started my saved ride in Campbell River at the ferry terminal, and ended it on the way back when I reached Whaletown on Cortes for the ferry back to Heriot Bay on Quadra: back from Heriot Bay to Campbell River follows the same path I took to start out. So there's 2 ferry stretches in the chart below: 3 kms from Campbell River to Quadra, then 12+kms from Heriot Bay to Whaletown.  

The main thing you should take from this chart is that, although the elevation really only gets up to ~200m (so not high), there's a lot of sharp little hills to contend with. The final stretches from Manson's Landing out to Smelt Bay are reasonably flat. You will earn your passage.

fav ride Distance / elevation chart | cycle touring Quadra & Cortes Islands | cycle touring Gulf Islands

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 terminal, it's 3kms sailing over to Quathiaski Harbour, then under 8kms E/NE to Heriot Bay terminal. North from Heriot Bay to the fork to either Granite Bay (NW) or Main Lakes Provincial Park (NE) is 10kms. From this fork to Granite Bay is 10kms further, or to Main Lakes Rec Camp is 9kms. The sailing east to Whaletown Harbour on Cortes is 12+kms. Then almost 10kms to the junction east to Squirrel Cove or south to Mansons Landing & Smelt Bay. I headed east, 6kms to Squirrel Cove, then 18kms S / SW past Hague Lake and Manson's Landing to Smelt Bay. Heading back the next morning to Whaletown directly from Smelt Bay was 20kms.  

Route Map:  Quadra & Cortes Islands

As discussed, you can choose to exclude the ride north of Heriot Bay on Quadra island, or the Cortes Island side trip out to Squirrel Cove

Route map for Fav ride | cycle touring Quadra & Cortes Islands | cycle touring Gulf Islands
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