Gold River, Tahsis & the Far West Coast
Gold River, tantalizingly named by the Spaniards way back in the 1700s, is 90kms west of Campbell River, all on paved Highway 28. Traffic is sparse. One passes grand Upper Campbell and Buttle Lakes, with great camping and riding options, then through Strathcona Provincial Park, Vancouver Island's crown jewel, with a succession of Recreation areas just off the highway for hiking, scenic viewing and picnicking.
Highway 28, alongside the Elk River, in Strathcona Provincial Park (on a drizzly day)
Gold River town has a population of ~1,300, with all the tourist comforts, to go with its astounding outdoor recreation backyard. 14 kms south down the Gold River one reaches Muchalat Inlet, part of Nootka Sound, one of many mighty, fjord-like fingers that bring ocean waters deep into heart of rugged west coast Vancouver Island. To the NW is the remote village of Tahsis, itself at the north tip of narrow 27 km long Tahsis Inlet, the end destination of this fantastic backroads bike tour.
Both Gold River & Tahsis are located within the traditional territory of the Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation, whose people have lived here and in Nootka Sound for countless generations. Tahsis takes its name from a Mowachaht word, Tashees, meaning “gateway or passage”.
Coming into Gold River. The commercial areais ahead to the left. The road to Tahsis branches off to the right here. Up the little hill behind is a pub where I had a good meal.
The ride to smaller Tahsis (population 300+), truly the "end of the road", is ~65kms. The road is a mix of well-maintained dirt track and older paved road. It is used by both the public (including some non-4 wheel drive cars) as well as the forest industry. It is well signed the whole way. The ride to Tahsis and back can be done in 2 days (not easy!). I did this as a 3 day, 2 night ride, complete with a 30km side trip down the eastern shores of Tlupana Inlet.
Bridge over the Tupana River, which I followed up west from Gold River to ~600m Bull Lake Summit, still covered with ice and snow on May 1
STEEP!! That was my word for this ride. With the rugged fjord-like coastline, everything goes sharply up and down: mountain slopes (and cliffs), fierce rivers, streams and waterfalls cascading down beside the road, and the road itself - multiple prolonged riding stretches with grades up to and above 15 degrees. One earns one's passage.
Waterfall (one of so many) tumbling down to the Conuma River
But it is glorious riding. If you like swift, scenic rivers for company, then this is the ride for you, as much of the ride is spent followig the Upana, Tlupana, Conuma, Sucwoa and Perry Rivers - all swollen with urgent spring run-off.
Perry River, atop the height of land before it rushes down to Tahsis Inlet
There are fine camping options for this trip. At Gold River, I camped at the riverside town campsite, 5kms south along the road down to Muchalat Inlet. In Tahsis, there's a comfortable riverside campground just south of town along the banks of the Leiner River (recommended). And there are a number of less formal wild camping options along the way.
Informal camping on south shores of Lake Malaspina, ~10kms before Tahsis. A sweet perk here is that which ever way you head out in the morning, you'll start with a serious descent.
Both Gold River and (more so) Tahsis, like many smaller communities on Vancouver Island, have been struggling economically since local mills closed down over the past several decades. Gold River absorbed another blow last year when the main grocery store in town closed.
Logging continues, but the jobs are way down from mill days, and the towns are striving to reinvent themselves as outdoor adventure destinations, with an emphasis on some of the world's greatest sport fishing and boating.
See lower right of the sign. Tahsis calls itself the birthplace of BC - where Captains Cook, Quadra & Vancouver first encountered BC's beauty.
On my return ride, I took a side trip down the east shores of Tlupana Inlet (see map below) to Cougar Creek Rec Campground. A highlight of the trip.
Tlupana Inlet, from the eastern shores
I arrived at Cougar Creek Recreation Camp, just another old marker on my map (I thought), likely a tiny, basic, perhaps no longer maintained spot to spend the night. Hah! The host and hostess were there already sprucing things up for the official opening in a few weeks. There are 65 sites, wonderfully maintained, amidst giant trees, set back from the incredible shores of the Inlet.
Cougar Creek Campground, from the extensive docks
Everyone told me that the site is jam packed through the peak summer months - so much so that locals stay away. The top attraction is the fishing and boating, and folks keep coming back from around the world. Who knew?! Kudos to BC Recreation Sites & Trails for maintaining such a great spot.
My Cougar Creek campsite at dusk, with the Inlet visible through the trees
This was a fine, memorable ride in one of Vancouver Islands less known corners. Tough climbing. A real sense of the wilderness - steep slopes, grand oceanside coastlines and fierce rivers. Recommended.
Me, at a lunch break along the lower Conuma River