There's a major inland hinterlands south of Courtenay, stretching down to Horne Lake, between the well travelled east coast, and the north/south oriented Beaufort Range, getting high up into the mid Island. There's no communities, campgrounds or popular lakes to attract people. Not surprisingly, the logging industry has been active, and the backroads network is mostly oriented to haul logs down to the coast. A number of rivers and creeks - Trent, Tsable, Wilfred & Rosewall to name a few - make heading south through this hinterlands a challenge.
This pic is a little south of the upper Tsable River, the largest river in this hinterlands, with (thankfully!) a backroads bridge ~4 kms up from the coast. You can see Denman Island & the Strait of Georgia below, with the mainland mountains in the distance.
I set out to find a new backroads connection from Courtenay south to Horne Lake, that would not travel on either the big Island highway or the smaller old coastal highway. After a number of forays, and quite a few dead ends, I found a continuous pathway. As you can see from the map further down the page, the route is definitely not a straight line. That said, there's some real rough stretches, a couple of modest creeks to ford, a decommissioned creek bridge to clamber over, grand views and fine riding. When I was exploring the Buckley Bay Main network, there was some active logging in the works, so I met a couple of trucks.
For me, my traditional backroads route from Courtenay SW to Port Alberni has been via Comox and Elsie Lakes, on the west side of the Beaufort Range (vs this route up from the east coast). You can check out this other fabulous backroads ride (complete with lots of camping and lakes) here.
Giving my ECR a break after reaching another deadend. Not the first or last time while exploring for this backroads connector.
Check out the map below. The ride is 90+kms to the west (interior) end of Horne Lake. There are a few places where one can decide to head down to the coastal highways, including Buckley Bay or Fanny Bay (Cook Road). If you want detailed directions, complete with an elevation chart, check out this local content page. And, for the last segment into Horne Lake, as well as a handful of backroads options if you want to continue SW from Horne Lake on the backroads down to Port Alberni, have a look at this Fav backroads ride.
As this ride takes a number of older, no longer maintained connections (and doesn't take many others), the directions I've written out can get pretty complex (though I hope not too confusing). Send me an email from the Contact page if you'd like to get the GPX track to load on your Garmin compatible device.
The route elevation gets over 300 metres in a few spots, and up to 450m along Cook Horne Bowser FSR on the last leg to the inside, west end of Horne Lake. This means it will be snowed in during winter months. I usually figure snow can be an issue on a typical winter once one gets above 200m. The major river to ford is Trent River (Tsable River is bigger, but there's a bridge). In late May, water was just over my ankles when I forded the Trent - deep enough you may want to ensure you bring some sandals. In spring during the snow melt high-water, things would be deeper. There were a couple of other smaller creeks to ford (Cowie, McNaughton), but I was able to cross both of these on stepping stones.
The logging company has decommissioned the bridge here over Cowie Creek, and they seem pretty serious about blocking 4 wheel vehicles. There are 4 trenches and a whole bunch of big logs to clamber over. The creek itself was not much, but lifting the bike over was some effort.
This connecting backroads ride south from Courtenay is a fine option for those riders who prefer rougher tracks and riding (there's quite a few of these hardheads out there), or who may just like a little variety and VERY little company (if any). And this is good chance to see a new hinterlands. I'm sure there are other options that will connect southwards (though manageable river crossings are limited). Let me know if you find a good alternate pathway.
The pic below is off Buckley Bay Main, looking SW to the Beaufort Range. There's a whole world up here above the popular coast.