Comox Lake: A Vancouver Island Gem

Just up the road from the terrific little historic town of Cumberland and with amazing views of the Comox Glacier in the background, Comox Lake is one of the top destinations on Vancouver Island. A man-made lake that was created in 1912 after the building of the Comox Dam, the rocky north side features a wide swath of dead trees sticking eerily out of the shadows, the shore littered with fascinating driftwood and deadfall, making for some very unique photo ops.

Check out: The Ultimate Vancouver Island Road Trip Itinerary

This beautiful recreation spot is a few hours drive north of Victoria and is located in the Comox Valley (not surprisingly). This large, scenic lake is just a 10-minute drive inland from the Strait of Georgia and is a popular destination for outdoor activities all year-round.

How big is Comox Lake?

At roughly 15 km long but never more than about 2 km wide, the lake covers over 5,000 acres (2,100 hectares). The lake is a reservoir for drinking water and for hydroelectric power.

How deep is Comox Lake?

Comox Lake, BC reaches a maximum depth of 109 metres (350 feet), although the mean depth is “just” 61 metres. The point is, this thing holds a lot of water.

Comox Lake Activities

Comox Lake Fishing

Famous for its excellent trout, char and salmon fishing, avid anglers flock to glacier-fed Comox Lake and its tributaries, the Puntledge and Cruikshank rivers. And if you ask nice, local fishermen might even offer advice, rather sneakily and under their breath like they’re passing along state secrets or their favourite password, usually suggesting you’ll have the best luck between 6 and 9 am and that the best times of year are spring and fall.

Comox Lake is also included in the Cutthroat Trout Reward Tag Program, a clever process for tracking and analyzing the cutthroat trout population. You can check their website for exact details but the gist of it is you can “win” $100 if you happen to catch and report a tagged fish.

Comox Lake Boat Launch

Thanks to its size and impressive depth, Comox Lake is great place to get out on the boat. The boat launch is found on the south side next to the campground and main beach area. The office is open daily from 7am-10pm and you have to make sure you pick up a pass ($8/launch or $55/season) before launching. Although, keep in mind that just having a pass doesn’t guarantee a parking spot and you are never allowed to leave your boat moored overnight. Non-motorized vessels such as canoes and kayaks can be launched for free.

Comox Lake Boat Launch

Where to Swim at Comox Lake

When coming in from the main road you first reach the parking lot and boat launch, with Cumberland Lake Park Campground and picnic areas located directly beside it. Just past this you will find Comox Lake Beach and a designated swimming area that is protected from boat traffic. This is the best place for Comox Lake swimming but you can also swim from docks, boats, and other beach areas.

The protected swimming area at Comox Lake

Water Sports on Comox Lake

Comox Lake is a water sports mecca on warm summer days, particularly when the wind is down and the surface is glassy and reflective. It is possible to enjoy a variety of different water sports, including kayaking, canoeing and paddle boarding, all of which can be rented at West Coast Water Sports in the Cumberland Lake Park Campground. During busy times it is a good idea to book ahead.

Single Kayak: 1 hour $25 / 2 hours $40, + $10 per additional hour / full day $70

Double Kayak or Canoe: 1 hour $30 / 2 hours $50 + $10 per additional hour / full day $80

Stand Up Paddle Board Rentals (SUP): Adults 1 hour $25 / 2 hours $40, + $10 per additional hour / kids 1 hour $20 / 2 hours $30, + $5 per additional hour / full day $70

Or if you want to combine exercise and leisure, maybe you want to try out a Hammocraft, two connected paddle boards featuring their own hammocks for those times when you need a break and just bobbing along on your board simply won’t cut it.

Hammocraft Rentals – $45 for 1 hour / $70 for 2 hours ​/ fits 4 people.

Comox Lake Hiking Trails

There are quite a few good hiking trails either along or just off the shores of Comox Lake, plus dozens more within easy reach around Cumberland. These four hikes are all found near the Comox Lake Dam, not far from Cumberland along the Comox Lake Logging Road.

Puntledge River Trail West

Hiking time 1 – 2 hours

Distance 5.5 km

A good starting point is the easy trail running along the west side of Puntledge River. Relatively flat, this trail offers nice views of the river while running through typically varied Vancouver Island forest. There are even benches for when you need a break and a number of boardwalks and log bridges to spice things up. You can turn it into a loop by crossing the river using the penstock right-of-way and private logging roads to come back along the River Trail East, or go up over the hills to the west, returning along the shore of the lake.

Puntledge River Trail East

Hiking time 45 – 90 minutes

Distance 4 km

Offering similar scenery to that on the west side trail but with a couple unique features in an eagle head carving and pleasant Palm Beach.

North Shore Trail

There are many trail options between the River West Trail and the lake that can be combined into a walk anywhere from 4-10 kilometres. Likewise, if you feel like working up a sweat you there are options that take you steeply up into the hills for great views or stick to the lower trails to enjoy a nice, easy stroll. Whatever effort level you choose we would recommend coming back along the lake on the rock beaches past the best of the deadwood and massive stumps left behind after the arrival of the dam.

Sun coming through the trees on Comox Lake hiking trail
Woman climbing hill on Comox Lake trail
Silhouette of old tree stumps in front of Comox Lake

Twin Lakes Trail

Hiking time 10 – 20 minutes one-way

Distance 600 m

What this short little jaunt lacks in distance it makes up for by passing not one, but two, additional lakes in less than a kilometre. Starting from the Comox Lake Dam Picnic Area, most people combine it with the Loop Trail.

Loop Trail

Hiking time 15 – 25 minutes

Distance 1.7 km

Heading down into the forest southwest of the picnic area, it is a surprisingly varied trail with benches and a log bridge over a picturesque little stream.

Cumberland Community Forest

Falling firmly into a number of categories, Cumberland Community Forest is a 500-acre protected natural area popular with hikers, bikers, joggers, artists, naturalists and families. There are dozens of trails that can be combined into hundreds of variations, long or short, strenuous or leisurely. The trail network stretches from the edge of Cumberland all the way to Comox Lake.

You can use the interactive Community Forest Trail Map to plan out your route, or just show up and wander where your mood takes you. There are two spots we would especially recommend. The first is the Allen Lake eastern viewpoint (reached via the Crafty Butcher trail), a gorgeous spot, especially on a calm day. The other is the China Bowls waterfalls, which are really less waterfalls and more a series of intricate pools carved out over millions of years. They are at their best during the drier days of summer (if there has been a lot of rain the river gets high and they become more like small, less photogenic, rapids).

Comox Lake Bluffs Ecological Reserve

This outstanding protected area is a unique and fascinating place to explore, especially in spring when the wildflowers are in full bloom and the bald eagles are on the hunt. It is a bit of a climb to the edge of the bluffs but you will be rewarded by reaching a steep cliff overlooking the lake. Mossy and atmospheric, the area also features plenty of interesting Manzanita bushes and smooth, slippery rocks.

Trent River Falls

These falls are just off the highway on the other side of Cumberland. They require just a very short hike (15-30 minutes depending on your route) and offer a range of different viewpoints, some of which are easily reached, others which require some rope-assisted climbing. These 10-metre-high roaring falls are impressive from every angle and in summer the calm(ish) pool below them is a popular swimming spot. The falls are accessed from a small parking lot on the west side of Highway 19 next to Trent River Bridge. You can either (carefully) cross the highway for a more direct route or follow the trail down and under the bridge that takes a little bit longer but passes by another, smaller set of falls along the way.

Mountain Biking

Cumberland Community Forest is one of the best mountain biking destinations in British Columbia. With dozens of trails ranging from flat and easy to steep and technical, each biker can design a combination that fits their personal preference. A few local favourites: Space Nugget is a smooth, flowy single-track, Bear Buns is a fast, bermed descent, Thirsty Beaver features several boardwalks and A-frames and Queso Grande is a difficult, technical cross-country trail.

You can plan out your routes online with the interactive Community Forest Trail Map or stop in at Dodge City Cycles to pick up an official trail map and maybe get some advice from a local expert.

Of course, this is prime mountain biking country so there are more options besides the Community Forest as well.

Bear Bait Trail

Biking time 20 – 40 minutes

Distance 4.7 km

Elevation Gain 125m

Open to mountain biking only, this trail follows a similar route to the Puntledge River East and West hiking trails. And don’t worry, you are not actually any more at risk from bears on this trail than anywhere else in the area (as always, we recommend leaving that bag of raw meat at home).

Bevan Trail

Biking time 20 – 40 minutes

Distance 4.8 km

Elevation gain 125m

This intriguing historic trail follows old logging roads from Comox Lake Dam to Puntledge Diversion Dam, passing some of the most fascinating remnants of Cumberland’s former coal mining history along the way, including the ruins of the No. 7 mine and Canadian Collieries (Dunsmuir) Ltd. Intake chamber, flume and penstock. There are a number of small loops just off the main trail or you turn it into a larger loop around the river using private logging roads, the Nymph Falls trail network and connecting to Bear Bait trail.

Comox Lake Bluffs Ecological Reserve

Biking Time 2 – 20 minutes

Various locations

Distance 100 – 800 m

Elevation Gain 1 – 125 m

Open to bikers and hikers, this unique area has several short, difficult trails featuring fast single-track, log ramps and thrilling jumps that are recommended for experienced bikers only. There are several points of access along Bear Bait and Bevan trails.

Rock Climbing and Bouldering

One of the more unique options on Comox Lake is the “Warm Up Wall”, a beginner climbing wall near Comox Lake campground. Island Alpine Guides also offers an Intro to Rock Climbing at the Comox Lake crags, where most routes are easy enough for beginners, with permanent bolt anchors and rappel stations.

Rock climbing gear (climbing shoes, rope, chalk bags) and “Beta” (detailed info on climbing routes) is available at a number of shops in nearby Courtenay such as the Blue Toque and Valhalla Pure Outfitters. “Comox Valley Climbs”, a book by John Waters, is available at the campground office and is a useful resource for climbs in the area.

For those who prefer to stay a little bit more horizontal, bouldering is available next to the campground. This is something you can enjoy without any special equipment, taking on as much or little difficulty that you choose.

Coal Creek Historic Park

This wonderful homage to the region’s past offers an inside look at the fascinating history of the Cumberland coal mining industry, including the remains of Chinatown, Japanese Town and a pair of former mining sites. The park is located right off Comox Lake Road about halfway between Cumberland and the lake. It can be reached by car, or on foot along the South Wellington Colliery Railway Trail or the Cumberland Community Forest trails. You can find walking tour brochures online or at the entrance to park.

Disc Golf

Located in Coal Creek Historic Park, this 18-hole course passes through a wide range of terrain from easy, open meadows to tight, technical forest areas.

Free Park Programs

The Cumberland Lake Wilderness Society (CLWS) provides interpretive hikes, kid’s programs and evening presentations at the campground for both campers and community members. You can find out details on current programs at the campground office.

Picnicking

Along with the great Puntledge River hiking and biking trails described above, the river also boasts the Comox Lake Dam Picnic Area. There is a parking lot, beach, pit toilet, information displays, a great viewpoint and, of course, some handy picnic tables. There are also several public picnic areas along the beach next to Cumberland Lake Park Campground.

Picnic with a view!

Day Trips Near Comox Lake

Campbell River, about a 45-minute drive north of Cumberland, may be a large population centre but it features some outstanding scenery and excellent hiking. Elk Falls, in particular, are very impressive and the Ripple Rock trail offers tremendous views.

View from the end of the Ripple Rock hike

15 minutes south of Comox Lake you can take two short ferries across to quirky Hornby Island, a fun little place that features great hiking, biking, beaches and camping, as well as a thriving art community and several great wineries.

Hornby Island, British Columbia

Winter on Comox Lake

Although summer is definitely the most popular time to visit the lake, there are plenty of winter activities to keep you busy as well. The hiking and biking trails may get muddier during the cloudy, wet winter months but they almost never shut down. Rock climbing and bouldering are still possible as long as you choose a relatively dry day. And, of course, with more rain the many waterfalls in the area get even more wild and photogenic.

Nearby Mount Washington offers skiing, snowboarding and tubing during the winter months, while the trails around the resort are perfect for snowshoeing and cross-country (Nordic) skiing, both great ways to enjoy the scenery and get a little exercise.

Cumberland Lake Park Campground

The only thing better than visiting Comox Lake on a day trip is sticking around to enjoy some Comox Lake camping for a few days. Often mistakenly called Comox Lake Campground, the well-equipped campground has everything you need for an easy, enjoyable vacation getaway, including 14 serviced and 34 unserviced sites, a group campsite, concession, camp kitchens, swimming float, boat launch, dock and hiking trails. The campsites have a choice of lake front and surrounded by the forest. The campground is the main gateway to lake activities and is located at the end of Comox Lake Road, just 3 kilometres west of Cumberland.

You can book sites online (recommended in the height of summer) and plan out your stay using this handy online campground and activity map.

Lake Comox Campground spot with view of the lake
Lake Comox Campground spot in the woods
The Comox Lake Campground public bathrooms

How to Get to Comox Lake

Comox Lake is located about an hour and a quarter drive north of Nanaimo and is easily reached from Highway 19. Just take Exit 117 to Cumberland, then from the town head south on Sutton Road and follow it to the right as it becomes Comox Lake Road. The campground is just a few kilometres out of town.

To reach the Puntledge River area on the north side of the lake, go north on 4th St in Cumberland to Bevan Road, take a left and follow this for about 6 km before taking another left onto Comox Logging Road, then it is just a few kilometres farther.

Summary

Comox Lake is the crown jewel of the amazing natural wonderland around Cumberland. With a wide range of activities, phenomenal scenery and one of the best campgrounds on Vancouver Island, it is a must-see addition to any Comox Valley itinerary.

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1 thought on “Comox Lake: A Vancouver Island Gem”

  1. Sounds like a really swell place, but can i park my van by the lake and live there for a month? I know there is quite a large community of van dwellers in bc that may not always be welcomed.

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