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Vancouver Island Road Trip: The Comox Valley

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

The stunning coastlines of British Columbia invite visitors to connect with nature. Vancouver Island is renowned for its stunning natural landscapes, diverse wildlife, and rich adventure activities but there's the other, quieter, more reflective side of all this natural beauty that appeals to a more sedate style of travel. If you are looking to linger where watching tides roll in and out while marine animals and shore birds pass by, walking nearby trails through peaceful, second-growth forests and quirky woodland gardens, yet is still close to all the urban services and conveniences, you'll find the Comox Valley is a splendid place to explore.

sunset over the Salish Sea with a rocky beach

An Overview of the Comox Valley

The Comox Valley is the area hugging the eastern coast of Vancouver Island south of Campbell River to the north of Parksville and spreading into the central mountains. It is the traditional territory of the Puntlege, E'iksan (ik-san), and K'ómoks peoples which collectively are known as the K'ómoks First Nation. The three main communities are Comox, Courtenay, and Cumberland and there are several smaller hamlets in the area. The Town of Comox is a seaside community that is very popular with boaters, Courtenay is the largest urban area, and Cumberland is a former coal mining town with a charming village vibe.

map showing location of Comox Valley on the east coast of Vancouver Island

I've travelled in this area multiple times over the years. Previous posts about other destinations in Comox Valley include Oyster Bay Shoreline Park, Miracle Beach, and Black Creek. Today's post will focus on the area around the friendly hamlet of Merville, about a 5-minute drive from Courtenay, where I used Kitty Coleman Provincial Park as a base for exploring the immediate area.


Getting There

Check out my Port Hardy post for detailed information on getting to Vancouver Island from Vancouver by air and by ferry. There is an airport in Comox. From the Duke Point Ferry Terminal a bus service, Island Link, is available with a route to Courtenay. As explained in previous blogs, your most convenient (and sometimes only) choice for travelling around is to rent a car, motorhome, or campervan. I go into detail on some options for rentals in my Telegraph Cove post


City Of Courtenay

Courtenay is the big city of the Comox Valley. The downtown core includes unique shops, restaurants, pubs, and cafés. There's a strong arts culture in the city which is evident in the numerous galleries, museums, and festivals. The city boasts a great trail and park system. With a huge offering of accommodations, from luxury resorts to campgrounds, hotels and Bed & Breakfast choices, travellers shouldn't have any problem finding a place that suits their style and budget.

colourful street scene looking down a shopping street

image; downntowncourtenay.com

Merville

Merville is a small hamlet about 13 km from Courtenay. It was a major logging camp and hub in the 1890s but the community began when returning WWI soldiers began homesteading in the region.


I had arrived here after bidding farewell to the rainy but enchanting Miracle Beach following the recommendation of a young ranger. He made several recommendations based on my preferences but suggested I make Kitty Coleman Provincial Park in Courtenay my first choice.

empty stone bench with water views of the Salish Sea and the Sunshine Coast

Things to Do Around Kitty Coleman Provincial Park


Explore Comox Valley: Courtenay/Comox/Cumberland

From the popular Mount Washington ski resort with one the deepest snow bases in North America in the winter to excellent summer boating and clear-water diving activities, or year-round renowned wellness spas, wineries, cideries, and stunning trails, there are enough choices to keep any visitor busy for weeks. I suggest checking out the Comox Valley web page for the most up-to-date information about special events and vetted businesses.

3 glasses of cider on a wooden plank. Far left is deep red, middle one is pink, and on the right is a clear cider.

check out Coastal Black Creek Estate Winery

Seal Bay Nature Park

The area that is now Seal Bay Nature Park was first logged in approximately 1913 and then again in the early 1920s. Signs of this logging past can be seen in the springboard marks still visible on the old-growth stumps. Several of the trails follow the rail grades once used to haul logs. At one point during the logging years, a small Japanese camp, complete with a sawmill, was located on the beach.

dirt path through a lush forest with wooden railings on the left.

The area on the water (east) side of Bates Road and the marsh area on the inland (west) side of the road was originally part of a larger area offered to WWI soldiers as settlement lands. The soldiers opted not to claim these lands, so the government retained ownership. Locals successfully lobbied the local and provincial governments to have the land designated as a park in the 1970s.

A look deep into the forest with the forest floor covered with ferns

This is a great place to spend a full day enjoying the well-groomed meandering trails. Some of the trails include steeper switchback trails and lush fern-lined ravines. The east side of Bates Road (the water side) attracts hikers and dog walkers, while the west side is more level and attracts bikes and horses -- dogs are not allowed on the west side.

ground level photo of rocky beach showing large barnacle-covered rocks with the Salish Sea and Sunshine Coast in the background

I walked on the east side. Three trails wind down to the beachfront where lucky visitors may spot seals, birds and maybe even a whale. Just be aware that although whales and seals are a fairly common sight, they travel on their own schedule. If you do see them, it's a rare but awesome treat. Save some energy for climbing back up those trails.

A view of the switchback forest trail lined by wooden safety railings.

Nymph Falls Nature Park

Another day trip that I thoroughly enjoyed was my day at Nymph Falls Nature Park. Take the turnoff from Forbidden Plateau Road to find the entrance parking area. There is no fee to use the park or to park, making this activity another one that is easy on the wallet.

Forest view. Central tree has a wooden sign saying "Nymph Falls" with an arrow pointing left.

Nymph Falls is a favourite of locals and visitors alike, and it's not hard to see why. The Puntledge River creates a series of picturesque step cascades. The falls are surrounded by the towering trees of the lush, old-growth forest.

The park is an idyllic setting with well-maintained trails but one of the highlights of Nymph Falls Nature Park is taking a plunge in a pool created by the falls, affectionately known as "the hole." The water is invigoratingly cool, making it the perfect way to cool off on a warm day. As I floated in the pristine waters of "the hole," surrounded by the natural beauty of the forest, I was in a serene oasis where I had one of those fabulous "I love my life" moments.



Kitty Coleman Woodland Garden

Just outside of the gates of Kitty Coleman Provincial Park is a private woodland garden that welcomes guests by donation. The owner of this property, Brian Zimmerman, has been the community Santa for years, converting his barn into Santa's workshop and hosting photo sessions and community Christmas events. The story of the Kitty Coleman Woodland Gardens is one of inspiration and dedication. With a deep love for the natural world and a passion for gardening, Brian embarked on a journey to craft a garden that would inspire and captivate.

An square entrance gate made of driftwood, welcoming visitors to Kitty Coleman Woodland Garden. A large Canadian flag flies over the gate.

Zimmerman blended native plants with carefully selected exotic species to create a harmonious tapestry of colours and textures. In the spring, this garden is a riot of colours from the hundreds of rhododendron and azalea bushes.

close up of a knick-knack display on an outdoor shelf of a wooden barn. Focus is on wrought-iron star

The Garden is a multi-faceted masterpiece, with different areas that beckon visitors to explore including woodland trails that meander through the property leading to groves, water features, sculptures and art installations.

Throughout the garden are carefully curated spots designed for quiet contemplation, relaxation, and meditation. The labyrinth walk is accompanied by the low melodic sounds of chimes hung in the trees.

A view of the stone labrynth showing pathways lined with stone.

The Kitty Coleman Woodland Garden is open to visitors from spring through early fall. It's a seasonal delight, so be sure to plan your visit accordingly. The garden is typically open during daylight hours.


Rating Kitty Coleman Provincial Park Campground

When rating the campgrounds I visit, I look at 6 criteria: Location, amenities, campsites, nearby activities/services, noise levels, and aesthetics.


I'm looking for easily accessible locations for road trippers travelling along the major highways, preferably with beautiful natural settings, charming towns, and/or unique attractions. I expect a campground to include a flat private campsite site with access to clean water and pit toilets. Showers, flush toilets, and power hook-ups are appreciated extras. I don't want to be disturbed overnight by the sound of passing trains or groups of partiers but a little highway noise doesn't bother me.


My rating system is outlined below. A typical BC Provincial Park Campground would score 3 tents in all categories: 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ (5) Wow -- Special/unique in some way. Stay as long as possible.

🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ (4) Great -- better than expected, you'll want to linger a bit longer here

🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ (3) Good -- as expected, fine for a couple of days

🏕️ 🏕️ (2) Not So Great -- it'll be fine for a night, but look for something better

🏕️ (1) Ick -- I won't be back.


long view of a rocky beach strewn with logs. In the distance a car is at the boat launch with tall trees in the background

Kitty Coleman Provincial Park is a small provincial park that is often overshadowed by the bigger and more well-known parks in the area -- it isn't even mentioned in the 2023 BC Parks Camping Guide! The vast majority of people using this park are current or former BC residents. Kitty Coleman Park offered one of the most breathtaking views from a provincial campsite that I have ever been blessed to experience.

a tall back camp chair facing the Salish Sea on a sunny afternoon.

Behind every picturesque park lies a fascinating history, and Kitty Coleman Provincial Park is no exception. Kitty Coleman was a remarkable Indigenous woman born in the late 1800s who married a white settler. Kitty is mentioned in quite a few court documents from the 1890s and into the early 1900s for running a brothel and being cited for unseemly behaviour. When her husband was sent to jail she lived on this beach selling fish and berries. Locals referred to it as Kitty Coleman's Beach and that was the name chosen when the park was formed.

rocky beach with a driftwood fort and many gulls. A sign in front of the fort is labelled "Fort Naps"

Location 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️

This is a fabulous location for making a home base for exploring the area. It is located within a short drive to both Courtenay (15 minutes) and Parksville (1.5 hours). There are long rocky beaches with trails and unique places to explore in the area.

map of the locations mentioned in the blog

Amenities 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️

There are clean (and actually quite attractive) pit toilets. No showers are available but I found the Lewis Center in Courtney offers a free shower program. Since I passed the Centre on my way into town, I extended my stay knowing I could shower daily. The park includes a busy boat launch and a large covered picnic area that was used for several private events while I was there. There are power outlets at the picnic area, which campers could use to top up batteries. No WiFi but the cell connection is strong.

A wooden pit toilet building.

Campsites 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️

The cost per night is a bargain at only $20 per night. The actual campsites were narrow and had no privacy between neighbours.... but each had a grassy area on the opposite side of the road with a fire pit and beautiful unobstructed views of the Salish Sea. These spots felt more private than the actual campsite. The sites were fairly level and had a good balance of sun and shade. Helpful Hint: The site numbers are etched onto concrete pads on the ground.

campground view showing multiple RVs parked close together

Nearby Activities/Services 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️

Nymph Falls, Seal Point, and the delightful Kitty Coleman Woodland Garden are just a sample of what is available in the area. The nearby towns and villages of Courtenay, Comox and Cumberland offer a wide variety of activities and excursions from spas to foodie experiences.

looking down a set of wooden stairs leading to the water's edge

Noise Levels 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️

Because of the boat launch, the section I was in buzzed with activity during the day but at night, I went to sleep listening to the waves.

Aesthetics 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ 🏕️ I spent a great deal of time enjoying the lovely beach area and views across the Sea. I appreciated the bunny who visited me daily. The fish cleaning activities at the boat launch attracted many gulls, turkey vultures, crows, and the occasional eagle.

Final Thoughts

The Comox Valley, with its natural wonders, charming communities, and hidden gems, has left an indelible mark on my journey. From the rugged beauty of Kitty Coleman Provincial Park to the serene oasis of the Kitty Coleman Woodland Garden, the valley offers a diverse range of experiences for every traveller.

sun filtered through a forest with a fern-filled floor.

Whether you're drawn to the thrill of outdoor adventures, the solace of tranquil gardens, or the rich history and culture of the region, the Comox Valley has something to offer. It's a place where the soul can reconnect with nature, where friendships are forged around campfires, and where the beauty of the landscape leaves an everlasting impression.

The author's legs propped on a step stool overlooking the Salish Sea

As you plan your own Vancouver Island road trip, consider including the Comox Valley in your itinerary. Whether you're exploring the pristine coastline, hiking through ancient forests, or savouring the local cuisine in the charming towns, you'll find that the valley holds treasures waiting to be uncovered.


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14 Kommentare


Gast
21. Nov. 2023

I confess that I would love (and indeed it's a dream of mine) to spend a season in a place like this. To disconnect from the world and just enjoy the best that nature has to offer, in the peace of a forest, by a lake. I can see myself in your beautiful photos! Adding that moment to the winery experience would be heaven on earth :)


Angela | Home - (blondearoundtheworldtravel.com)

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Gast
03. Nov. 2023

I've started to catch up on the latest Race Across the World Season 3 series and this time, the teams have to cross Canada. The first stage took them via Vancouver Island and I felt super happy knowing and recognizing a couple of spots thanks to reading your blog and Emma's (the teams started in Vancouver). It's a gorgeous island with deep and untouched nature, I can understand the reluctance of Canadians to extend infrastructure there, but one or two busses running only once per week is hardcore!


Carolin | <a href="https://solotravelstory.com/">Solo Travel Story</a>

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
03. Nov. 2023
Antwort an

It is fun to recognize places on shows like this, isn't it? We don't get Race Across the World but I am going to search it out. Public transportation is definitely a challenge -- part of the reason that a road trip is the way to travel Vancouver Island.

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I love the names of these places - Oyster bay, Miracle Beach, Black Creek, all very evocative and descriptive.

With ski resorts, summer boating and wineries there is more than enough to do here let alone the mountains and trails.

The waters of the Nymph Falls Nature Park look very enticing and I'm glad to read that you had a "love my life" moment there.

The Kitty Coleman Woodland Garden looks so creative and unusual. I'd love to see the woodland artwork there.

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Emma Gilbert
Emma Gilbert
30. Okt. 2023

I didn't know Courtenay was such a big place but it looks like there's plenty to do around the area no matter if you're in the towns or not. Kitty Coleman PP looks incredible, the trails especially. I definitely understand the "I love my life" feeling when seeing some of these places in BC - Although mine is usually more a "I can't believe I love here" moment.

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
30. Okt. 2023
Antwort an

It is one of my favourite areas on the island... I have seriously considered relocating! Here's to many more "I love my life" and "I can't believe I live here" moments for both of us!

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Gast
29. Okt. 2023

I think you've officially persuaded me to head to the Vancouver area next year! Such beautiful landscape and wildlife and small towns to explore. Would definitely camp so I can truly experience the landscape!

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Lyn (aka Jazz)
Lyn (aka Jazz)
30. Okt. 2023
Antwort an

I know you will love it! There is such beauty in every direction. I'm obviously biased about camping but I truly believe it is the best way to experience our wilderness. The affordability of camping is just the icing on a traveller's cake!

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